As promised, my trip from Kalukembe back to Lubango was a memorable one. After saying goodbye to the Cummings and the hospital staff, I found myself riding shot-gun (because I am ‘o dotora’) in a four door pick up truck with a total of five passengers, six if you count the rooster in the flat of the truck. I welcomed the company, because that meant the driver and I were not sitting in silence for the entire drive. Instead, I listened to them chat away, switching from Portuguese to Umbundu, as I looked out the window at the beautiful sights. We passed women washing clothes in the rivers and public taxi’s carrying people packed like sardines. One even had about a dozen of live chickens strapped to the roof. Increadible. Unlike the road trips I am used to – packing the car with snacks and stopping only for bathroom breaks – we made plenty of pit stops on the way. We picked up a variety of fruits at a street side market getting swarmed by the children trying to sell their products and we stopped for water at a random spicket. Just as the sun was setting, I was dropped off at Sheila’s home (a missionary who teaches at the Theology school in Lubango) where I was pampered with running water! The evening came to a close sharing homemade pizza with many of the missionary families living in Lubango.
Usually, it takes about 10 hours by car to travel from Lubango to Cavango where the Kubacki’s live. Because I was in Kalukembe when they made the drive back, I had the exciting opportunity to fly in a 4-seater puddle jumper plane with Bret (the MAF pilot) and a fistula patient. The views of Angola from 9,000ft were exceptional. We flew over many villages surrounded by crop fields and rivers snaked through the landscape. During the flight, I kept thinking about the experience from the perspective of the patient and her mother. They struggled to use the escalator at the airport and now they were flying. How fortunate are we?!
The Kubacki’s home has an incredible view, and a short walk down the path leads to the river where there are rumors of crocodiles and hippos. We are officially in The Bush, so the homes are made out of mud and sticks surrounded by fields of corn. As we drove in from the landing strip, we passed waiving children and baby goats.
There is no rest for the weary here in Cavango. Tim (Family Medicine and ER trained) and I spent time at the clinic on both Saturday and Sunday, tending to some very sick individuals. The clinic/hospital here is drastically different from Kalukmbe. It is run by three very talented male nurses, with no lab tests or imaging. Medicines are running low and the government is not making it easy to obtain more. The patients roam the clinic grounds, receiving their medications daily from the nurses. Only the deathly ill stay on beds in the one room Ward. Here in The Bush, the gender dynamic is very apparent. The women often remain quiet and do not make eye contact, with the men speaking for them. Children use the bathroom anywhere. One boy peed during his exam, leaving a rather large puddle.
The nurses (who have about a year’s experience in medical training) work more than 100 hour work weeks, dedicating their lives to the people. Tim and I often talk about some of the frustrations with medical mission work, especially in trying to get the nurses to trust and know that our medical knowledge is based on evidence and years of education. Because of the war that happened in Angola, the people are very skeptical of people who claim to be bringing aid. We realized that these men work tirelessly because they know what it is like to lose a child to a tropical disease, and they are trying their best to make sure the same does not happen to the families who travel hours by motorcycle to seek medical attention.
Medical missionary work means thinking long term, not coming temporarily with all the fancy equipment. Being a constant learner and working with the medical staff is key, building up the trust in the medical system that is already in place.
Monday was filled with consults from early morning until late evening. Many of the patients are malaria positive, but we saw other patients with TB, pelvic tumors, joint pain and pregnancy check-ups. Most patients say ‘Doi na minha barriga’ (Pain in the belly). Tim is being incredibly patient with me as I learn to use the ultrasound with even more precision. I have successfully put in an IV, aspirated an abscess and determined the sex of a baby using the ultrasound.
Tim ends every consult with a prayer over the patient. He emphasises the importance of showing the patient that we are asking God to bring healing and to reveal Himself, even after their treatments are over. Many Angolans do not live past the ages of 40 or 50, making this life very short lived. By revealing the loving God through prayer, we are showing that faith offers eternal life which is much greater than this temporary one.
I am humbled every time I am reminded that God is using Tim and me as His is tools to bring about relief from disease and ailments….