Doctors Without Borders arrived today. There is a team staying with us here in the guest house. They are Canadian—I think. All francophone, so I’m assuming from Quebec-ish. Really, you would think this to be an event of little significance to our team, and technically it is, but my naturalistic observation of my own reaction to their coming was a demonstration of “how far I’ve come” and how much I’ve changed in the past 20 days. When they showed up, you would think I would have been thrilled to see other Westerners, but really it held no significance for me—having been in the community for a while, I regarded them as somewhat “other”, which is strange, because I’m about as white as they come. But I think it speaks to just how accepted I’ve been in this community as an extension of FPM, and the importance of what we are doing. Despite the parade of children frequently following me around, I’ve been amazed and surprised that the community here has been so open. Because I’m with Mary, they automatically see me as someone with the potential to help and to understand them. Again a testament to the fact that this really Mary’s journey, and not mine. Owing to all of Bob’s hard work, and ESPECIALLY DS Mulongo and his wife’s hard work, I am able to be viewed as an extension of this community (As a visitor, I can never really be fully integrated in the community, naturally, but certainly there are shades of integration). Even in my brief time here, I believe I have heard more about the complexity of the problems here than it is possible for other outside organizations to “hear”. Many organizations “do” great work—doctors without borders included. (Which, do not misunderstand, I cannot speak highly enough of—they been here doling out MUCH-need measles vaccinations…) But our place is different—we “hear”. And so today I feel like I learned the difference between “doing” and “hearing”, it’s not for me to say that one is better than the other— but now I have really learned the difference.
It’s fitting that this was my observation for the day, because our “agenda” was particularly in keeping with that theme. This morning we visited Dr. Paul at the Zone Desante (Health Zone) which, from what I can gather, is a sort of combination specialty clinic, distribution center, and research center. It is one of 550 similar “health zones” in Congo. They have a special maternity clinic there, and also a clinic for people who have AIDS or are HIV positive. It’s really a wonder to behold, because they are using almost 100 % solar power (they have one diesel generator also) and it appears to be quite efficient. However, the highlight of the morning was talking with Docteur Paul about some of the health problems here. He was speaking mainly of Malaria, which is a HUGE problem. It’s so prevalent here that it requires the utmost diligence to prevent it, which requires resources most people don’t have. Additionally, there is a serious lack of clean water here (which I have spoken of before) and unclean water is breeding ground for mosquitoes. He said that UNICEF had at one point endevoured to provide a mosquito netting for every house, but if you have 10 children, 1 net isn’t going to cut it. And if one person in the family has malaria, it’s a lot easier for everyone else to get it, so even if you can put all the kids under the mosquito net at night, if mom gets malaria, it’s likely everyone else will get it too.
After visiting the Zone Desante, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the guesthouse where we received the pastor’s wives. They came to speak to me about some of their personal struggles, and also to gift me with some BEAUTIFUL fabric, out which we will have a more-traditional Congolese outfit. I know this probably makes me kind of shallow given everything else, but I LOVE the clothes here—they are so beautiful and tend to be made out of brilliantly bright swaths of fabric. So I’m really excited to wear mine. As much of a “feminist” as I sometimes am, I LOVE wearing dresses and skirts—plus you would not believe how HOT and uncomfortable pants are out here, so it’s really just more practical. (I feel a little bit sorry for the men in that regard—but only for a second.) Additionally, the skirts are really just giant sheets of material that you tie around yourself, which makes them practical to use as many other things (like bedsheets, in a pinch) and also are able to be worn by women during their various stages of pregnancy.
Tomorrow is our “preparation day” for our trip, after which we’ll be gone for a week or so, which means I won’t be posting for a while. After that, I’ll only have about a week left here before I depart for the states—hard to believe!