As I sat on the simple wood bench on the women’s side of church this past Sunday, I was overwhelmed with the sense of gratitude. I have been in Angola a month now, and have been trying my best to be absorbed into the culture. I have learned to put extra emphasis into my greetings, being truly present in the moment as I share a handshake or kisses on the cheek. I have shared in the great joys of good health and shed tears as patients suffer from painful ailments. I am constantly reminded that just being human is the best way to embrace the community of a village.
The worship service was delightful. Men on one side, women on the other and children roaming between. It started with the youth and adult choirs marching in, singing beautiful hymns. Their harmonies gave me goose bumps. As I looked around, every person was singing along. The village is not that large, but if I closed my eyese I would have thought there were hundreds of people by the volume of their worship. Amazing. During the announcements, Betsy introduced me to everyone. I was welcomed with smiles and a round of applause. Although most of the service was in Ngangala, the sermon was translated to Portuguese. Not exactly sure what was said, but I read the 1 Corinthians passage and enjoyed the corn stalks used as props. All in all service was about two hours long. A wonderful time to be in a prayerful community.
The most beautiful part of the service was during the collection of gifts. The people of the Cavango village are incredibly poor, so their 10% tithe of their income was presented in corn. One at a time families placed corn into a community basket. What is collected is used to help feed the elderly and guests to the village. Grace at it’s finest.
A few times during the weekend, I was able to take walks to the river that is a few kilometers from the village. I would sit on a rock listening to the rushing water. The time in silence was a time to be refreshed. The variety in landscapes in Angola is enough to leave you in constant awe.
I cannot express enough how valuable my time spent in the clinic has been. Almost every moment I am learning from both Tim and the patients, expanding my critical thinking skills as I develop a differential of diagnoses. We have been seeing 40+ patients each day, with a vast span of health problems. No complaints here, as I really think my ultrasound proficiency and clinical skills are improving greatly. It has been a real joy to see the children improving from malaria as the medication works it’s magic. We end each consult in prayer, raising our hearts to God asking for His healing and mercy. Such a beautiful way to humble ourselves, being reminded that all healing comes from God.
I have joked with Tim a few times that my ability to come up with a list of disease possibilities in residency (starting in July) may be a bit skewed since I have spent the last month dealing with tropical diseases. I wish I would have started from day one, but I have now begun to compile a list of pathology we have seen, both in Kalukembe and Cavango. The diversity and complexity of some of patients is really neat. When we sneak home for lunch every day, both Tim and I try to look up information about diagnosis and treatment options of the complex cases. Medical detective work at its finest, especially with minimal resources.
One day this week involved another road trip. Before you get all excited about another solid story, let me stop you right there. It has not rained since our trip to Huambo, so the roads where much driers and more easy to manuever. Rest assured, there were still plenty of bumps but there was not the constant fear of getting stuck. I rather enjoyed it, as we set off just as the sun was rising. We passed numerous villages and plenty of people. The children were out playing with tires and sticks, make-shift cars and chasing eachother around. People waived as we passed.
We set off to Cachiungo on a quest to obtain TB and leprasy medications from the government. Theoretically, they are to provide them as needed and free of charge. In reality, there is no prediction as to what will happen every time Time drives the 4 hours north. This time, we were not succesfull in gathering the TB medications because there was no supply, but we got some leprasy meds and spent hours meeting with the Health Department personel. Tim left feeling upbeat about the relationship building, hoping to lead to better communication and access to medications in the future.
To finish the week, I traveled with the Kubacki family from Cavango back to Lubango. It was a total days journey, half on dirt roads and the other half on pavement. The trip showed me another glimps of more Angolan landscape. I also learned to better check my surroundings when using the natural ‘water closet’ – I got some throns and burrs in very uncomforatable places. Made for a good laugh when we all gathered back into the car. We passed the time with good old fashion conversation, deepening my sense of community and fellowship with the Kubacki’s. I am really learning what it takes to be a medical missionary.
When I decided to embark on this international medical, it was my hope to embrace the culture and the identity of Angola to my best ability. Little did I expect to also share in one of the common diseases…malaria. A mosquito (or two) was nice enough to pass along the wretched disease. Experiencing the illness has given me a greater sense of emphathy with the patients we see each day. I know first hand what it is like to be rocked with a fever, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue…. and I was able to sleep on a bed and have a flushing toilet. I literally cannot imagine being sick, sleeping on the dirt floor. I am incredibly thankful for medications and good health. I am now back to full strength!
For my last week and a half, Tim and I are off to even more remote Angola to reach people who are in great need of medical accessability. I am told we will be living even more simply and eating like the locals.
I am going armed with an open mind and heart.