Today was a day of surprises. I was a part of a four member group that traveled to New York. New York is a local village that is slightly less industrialized than the city that never sleeps back in America. We ventured down some very bumpy, dirt roads for a day of medical outreach.
Our first surprise of the day came when the vehicle that was supposed to transport the doctors never showed up. We had originally planned to arrive at 9:30 but, because we had to transform our four-runner into a shuttle, we didn’t arrive until noon. I was anxious about this because I knew that there were women and children, some who had walked many miles, waiting for us. But we are on Africa time, which means sometimes things take a little longer than normal.
When we arrived at the clinic, I was surprised by the number of patients waiting to be tested. The lead doctor quieted everyone down and went over the process for getting tested, as well as receiving nutrition packets that provided food, information about the delivery process, and when to take children to get vaccinated for different diseases. She then directed Emily to the nutrition station, Garrett to the pharmacy station, and my dad and me to the laboratory.
This is when surprise number three came. With a doctor’s help, we would be drawing blood from pregnant women to test them for HIV and malaria, and children for malaria. My dad and I prepared the test kits, and the doctor showed us how to draw blood, get the blood onto the kit, add the buffer, and read the results. I don’t think many of the children had ever seen a white person. It was extremely humbling for me as a person who usually has a gift with children. Some of them began to cry the moment they saw me or my dad. We did not help the situation when the next thing that happened to them was a prick of the finger. Only seven children didn’t cry. Every other child cried and resisted the test. It took four of us to hold a few of them down. Throughout the day we tested 126 women and children. None of the women tested positive for HIV, praise God. I would say about 40-50% of the patients tested positive for malaria.
I was extremely surprised by this. I knew the malaria rate was high, but to look into the eyes of the children who had the disease, and know they didn’t yet know they were sick, made it real. The medical outreach trip was even more eye opening than I could’ve expected or imagined. It is not something that I will forget easily.
Surprise number five was possibly the happiest of all. When we returned from our day in New York, I walked into the MTC, dragging my feet. I was exhausted and saddened by the conditions of the people I had spent the day with. But when I walked into the common room, there, sitting on the couch, was my pen-pal, Abdul Kamara. I had never met Abdul in person, but I recognized him immediately. He stood up and I rushed to him. I gave him the tightest hug I could. He even spun me around! I got to sit and catch up with him for the next hour. We talked about school, and family, and goals. It made me realize how the similarities we share far exceed our differences.
The last surprise of the day came as I was leaving vespers. Olson, the 13 year old girl who has become my closest new friend at the CRC, handed me a letter. Olson has braided, un-braided, and re-braided my hair every afternoon. When she finishes she takes my hand, and we walk around the compound and ask each other questions about the cultures we live in. She told me to read her letter when I got back to the MTC. I opened the letter as soon as I stepped foot into our compound. It was a heartfelt note about our friendship and what she thought of me. I have not given anything to Olson other than a hand to hold and a head of hair to braid. But apparently, through her eyes, I have shown her how to take pride in her country, her faith, and everything she does. I was astounded by her maturity and trust in God. I am not sure I deserve the credit she gave me, but I am moved by the love she exudes and embodies.
Today was a day of surprises, good and bad. It is not a day I will easily forget. God showed me patience, despair, servitude, humbleness, friendship, and kindness all in one day. I pray that I keep my eyes this open when I return home.
Submitted by Hannah Berlin