31 December 2013

Lessons on Caring Until it Hurts

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
                                         ~Mahatma Gandhi

Last week a man came to my gym looking for a new pair of metal forearm crutches.  I asked for his paperwork.  He didn't have anything . . . claimed he had been told by the security guard at the front of the hospital that all he had to do was come down to see the white lady who gives away crutches for free.  I told him he had to first pay for a hospital card then pay for the crutches.  He said he had no money.

Maybe it was because I had already paid for several other patients' care that week . . . or because I had just come from a meeting with the hospital's director discussing the charges that would be implemented on 1 January for all therapy services . . .  or because I don't think giving everything away for free is the solution for poverty in Niger . . . or because I didn't like this guys attitude thinking he could just rock up to our gym and demand that we give him things . . . or because he wasn't satisfied with the wooden crutches we have, he wanted metals ones.  Regardless, he was going to have to follow the rules, like everyone else.

So what's he got to do with Mahatma Gandhi's opinion on Jesus and His followers??

I'll get there.

But first I want to tell you a story about a woman I met today.

28 December 2013

A Year Already

Christmas was just the other day . . . and New Year's is on Wednesday . . . and somehow it just now hit me that 2013 is T-3 days OVER!  How did that happen??

It was this time last year I said goodbye (again) to my family and so many of 'my people' with whom I had spent six months reconnecting in the US.   I'll be honest, it wasn't easy getting on the plane . . . I had no idea what this year was going to bring . . . it had the brand new potential for such great things and also deep heartache.  Being back home had started to feel a little normal, but so did returning to Niger once I stepped foot on the ground. 

I can't believe it's been twelve months . . . it barely feels like twelve weeks!  Where did it go!

But so much has happened!  Our therapy department went from living in a walk-in-closet to being a proper gym!  I nearly died scaling a treacherous waterfall in the jungles of BurkinaFaso (okay, that may be a slight exaggeration . . . but it felt treacherous . . . and everywhere in the world is a jungle compared to Niger!).  I led an improve training session on burn splinting and positioning for doctors and nurses from across the African continent (they were so hungry to learn!!).  I survived a collision with an exploding donkey (thank God the truck's windows were closed!!  YUCK!) . . . and walked amongst giraffes and hunted elephants (simmer down PETA, I was shooting with my camera!).

And then there were these twelve moments:

25 December 2013

The View from Here: My Day as a Tourist in Galmi

Last Wednesday was a public holiday: National Day.  I think it has something to do with no longer being a French colony . . . but I'm really not sure and have been too busy converting photo formats and therapizing patients to bother googling it.

Since I tend to be more of a procrastinator-type personality . . . though I prefer works-best-under-pressure . . . I decided not to tick of the many things on my Don't-Have-A-Honey Do List and be a tourist for a day instead.

Seven of us non-Nigeriens trekked to the far reaches of our village and went to visit with the Clay Pot Maker, the Blacksmith, the Spoon Welder and the Baker.  It was fascinating and lots of fun.  We were followed by hoards of children who loved having their photos taken.  And by the end of the day, my camera was as exhausted as I was.

23 December 2013

April Fools!

The other day I went to the workshop to snag a set of keys for a hospital vehicle I was borrowing for a few hours.  The shop was technically closed, as it was a public holiday, but D. who manages our maintenance department was working anyway.  As I entered his office, I greeted D. and the Fancy Man sitting with him.

I knew this man a little . . . he sometimes contracts with the hospital's construction project, and he once brought his son to see me, hoping I could get him a prosthetic leg.  So, I've seen him around, but other than the standard greeting process, we've never really had a conversation.

Until then.

21 December 2013

I've Got Your [Naked] Back

I woke up this morning feeling confident about my Hausa . . . I've had a few surprising interactions this week when I understood what was being said and the Nigeriens I was talking to didn't turn to someone else for clarification!  It may seem small, but for me, successful communication attempt was a huge victory.  My Hausa still leaves a lot to be desired, but I can make a few jokes and I've gotten really good at pretending to understand what is happening around me.

I woke up this morning feeling confident about my Hausa . . . let's just say, I shouldn't have.

13 December 2013

Immanuel: God's Great Act of Vulnerability

I wrote this for SIMNiger's bimonthly newsletter.  Based on the feedback I got from my colleagues, I thought I'd share it here.  Only twelve days till Christmas . . . and regardless of cultural traditions, it is the day that we who follow Jesus have set aside to remember His birth.  He came into this world humbly, and that is how He lived.  We have a lot to learn from His example of humility, compassion, and, yes, even vulnerability:

It’s starting to feel like each term has it’s own theme.  As the first year of my second term draws to a close, it’s become obvious that this go around is all about vulnerability.  Many of us subconsciously define vulnerability and weakness as synonyms . . . but I continually face the reality that vulnerability is actually quiet strength.  

Living vulnerably requires courage and risk.  It is blessing at the risk of pain.  But God calls us not to a life of self-protection, rather of self-denial.  The Christian Life demands the Death of Self,  and if I am to live as a disciple of Jesus, I am called to follow His example of a life lived out in the quite strength of vulnerability.

10 December 2013

Babu Husband, Babu Car

'Déborie, was that your car I saw you driving earlier today?' Granny asked me.

'Uh-uh.  It is the car of the hospital.' I answered in broken Hausa.  'I with boxes big . . . there are muscles . . . but . . . boxes big BIG!!  I no walk with boxes.  I pick up and boxes go inside car.'

Granny's head nodded in understanding but the blank stare on her face betrayed her.  She didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

Maybe it's because I didn't actually know the Hausa word for 'box' but instead just pointed to one and said 'this thing'.

'Wait until B. gets back.  He'll explain whatever it is you're talking about!' Granny smiled, revealing her goro stained teeth.  'Déborie,' she started again.  'Why don't you have your own car?  Foreigners are rich, you should have a car!'

I paused, wondering if I had actually understood her correctly.  I played the words around in my head again . . . I was 87% sure that's what she had said.  So I answered her with the first thing to come to mind:

'Babu husband, babu car!'

04 December 2013

One Story I Couldn't Tell

A friend of mine in the US has been using a lot of creative and energetic means to generate funding for and interest in our little therapy department.  One of her ideas was in the form of family Christmas presents . . . the gifts for her loved ones: stories from patients, in their own words.

I use this blog as a space to tell stories . . . my stories.  The stories of my experience as an Occupational Therapist in a decent sized mission hospital on the south side of the enormous Sahara desert trying hard not to screw up too much as I wade into the murky waters of cross-cultural, trilingual living.

I tell my stories, because they are the ones I know.  But every once in a while, I'm given permission to tell someone else's story.  So, my gift to you is E.'s gift to her family: a story from a patient, in her own words.

One of those stories comes from B., a woman you met in October (don't remember her? No worries! Click here).  At that time she couldn't walk and could barely speak.  But, that was just the first chapter!  Her story hasn't finished yet!

02 December 2013

F. is Still for Favorite

I've been working with my little pal, F., since July.  Four months prior, her head, face and hands had been severely burned by hot water.  It has been a very long road, and will continue to be, but today was one of those victorious days that doesn't come around all that often.

One of the major complications to F.'s case is that her left eye has had severe contractures in both the upper and lower eyelids.  Our incredible chief of surgery had already tried twice to release the contracture and apply a small skin graft under the eye . . . both times the graft site became infected and the transplanted skin didn't take . . . both times the contractures returned.

Last week was round three.