Furah na Amani! Joy and Peace from Bukoba, Tanzania!
I’m so sorry that I’ve been out of touch with you for so long! Please forgive me! A lot has been going on and though I should have been better at keeping you posted on my adventures here in Africa, in some ways I think it may have been good that I have had time to process some of it before sharing it with my support team. I’ve been here a little over eight months already, and I can honestly say in retrospect that I have been through a lot of culture shock in the past months. Some days it has been difficult to remain positive about my service here, but I feel like those feelings are starting to diminish and I am able to be a little more objective about life here. I know that this is normal, and that everyone goes through periods of ups and downs with regard to culture shock, but sometimes it’s hard to recognize it for what it is when you’re in the middle of it! I have really missed writing to update all of you, and I’m glad that I am starting to feel more like talking about my life here. In my last update I promised to write to you about our October medical team. Instead of doing that right now, I’d like to give you a summary of what’s been going on here from October until February.
As I said, in October the four missionaries living here in Tanzania helped to welcome a short-term medical mission team from the US and Canada. We had a great time visiting and working with them to provide medical care to people in rural parts of the archdiocese. The people we served included members of Orthodox communities and also people who were of all different faiths. We were welcomed with enthusiasm everywhere we went. Many of you have seen pictures from that team on my Facebook website and I’d like to go into more detail in a separate update about the logistics of hosting a team, as well as what a medical team experience is like. More on that soon! The two weeks we spent with the team were wonderful—exhausting, but at the same time refreshing. It was good for the missionaries to have the opportunity to visit with people from “home,” and it was even better for me, personally, to feel like I was able to put some of my medical skills to good use. It has been difficult to focus mainly on language and cultural acquisition. As a nurse, particularly a labor and delivery nurse, I am used to a fast pace and to “immediate gratification” in my professional life, if you will. I know that God has been teaching me patience, but I have been a reluctant student to say the least!
In November, I got back to my “normal” schedule of daily language study, as frustrating as it was not feeling like I was making a lot of progress. It’s difficult to learn a language when you’re not in an immersion environment. Living with two other American missionaries is good for my emotional health—I need the socialization! But it’s a challenge to force myself to speak something other than English when I have them around. Part of it is that with two missionaries who have more experience living here than I do, it’s easy for me to get comfortable and allow them to do the tasks I would find challenging but which they have managed to navigate. For instance, something as simple as going out to buy phone vouchers or bottles of water was something I was avoiding in November. It was scary to me to be out and about on my own, to have to negotiate prices and basic conversations—especially alone and without the “backup” of a fellow missionary. However, both in October when we hosted the team and also in December, I was pushed to get more involved in everyday life here, to actually put my Kiswahili to the test! In October I’d been asked to help purchase medications we would use for the clinics, and it involved several trips into downtown Mwanza to negotiate that, as well as leading the short-term team members on expeditions to collect the meds. I’d been nervous about it, but managed it without much trouble. As it turns out, it was good that I became more comfortable with Mwanza, because by December I would be back (unbeknownst to me in October!).
Part of November was spent working on various administrative tasks to prepare the Orthodox clinic for registration and re-opening. Many of you know that the Orthodox “hospital” I was asked to come work in was suddenly and unexpectedly closed last year. We have since learned that it does not qualify as a hospital due to staffing and facility limitations. After much frustration, the local Church administration and members from a Greek NGO which finances the hospital came to the conclusion that a new application for registration needed to be submitted—this time as a “health center” or outpatient clinic. That work has been an ongoing process, and in November we welcomed a representative from the Greek NGO who has been working feverishly to help gather the documentation needed to get the registration. Felice, my fellow missionary and another nurse, has been working closely with this gentleman, as have I. We are dealing with every logistical thing you can imagine—from trying to get a reliable water supply for the clinic to hiring staff, to organizing supplies and medications and preparing for an inspection. I was more involved in this process in the beginning, but in the early part of December plans changed unexpectedly.
One night in December I got a text message from James, my fellow missionary in Mwanza. He had been travelling in Kenya for about a month and had recently gotten over malaria. He texted to me to say that he was having trouble breathing. I Skyped with him and could tell from the video that he was really having some significant respiratory symptoms. It was ten thirty at night, though, and James didn’t want to go in search of medical help that late at night. I encouraged him to make sure that one of his friends in Mwanza knew he was ill and that he would have someone to help him in the middle of the night if he needed it. James agreed. By the next morning I learned that James had, in fact, gone to the doctor and that he’d been told he had malaria. James didn’t think it was an accurate diagnosis, and he was feeling much worse so he sought medical care at a different hospital. I then received a text message saying, “Have been admitted to hospital, on oxygen.” I was worried, but not alarmed. I asked James if he wanted me to come stay with him, expecting that he would say yes. James wrote back that he was okay, but he would appreciate company. About an hour later, as I was trying to figure out travel arrangements, I got another text: “Being admitted to ICU. They are taking away my phone. Please come.”
I spent the next two weeks in Mwanza, the first few days in the company of fellow missionary Michael Pagedas. I was really grateful to Michael for travelling with me and for helping me to navigate the logistics of getting on the overnight ferry, finding my way to the hospital, and then searching all over an 800 bed hospital to finally locate James! Michael ended up returning to Bukoba a few days later, and by that time I was starting to feel like I could handle staying in Mwanza alone. It helped that I was familiar with the city, with the hotel staff where I stayed, and that I had developed a relationship with the Church staff. Everyone was very helpful, including a cab driver Michael knows well. I was also grateful for the help of the hotel driver, who took me to see James every morning at 6:30 am and even came in to visit him with me!
I learned a lot from visiting that ICU and from trying to glean whatever medical information I could from the brief visits I had with James, and occasionally with his nurses or physicians. I was actually really gr