Umphumulo, South Africa

Friday, June 3, 2011

Coming To An End, But It’s Not Over Just Yet…

It’s been close to 10 months since being in Umphumulo and time has surely done almost every single thing you can possibly imagine; from flying by to just staggering, but overall the time has been full of smiles and cries, laughs and frustrations. It’s really, REALLY difficult for me to just sit here and sum up how my year has been for me, better yet what this year MEANS for me. Since arriving in Umphumulo’s Church Center the people I’ve met that have turned into friends and the friends I’ve made that have turned into family are really what have made my time here unforgettable. Throughout the year I have managed to grow in a way that is indescribable, I have learned how to become a stronger independent, young woman of God, and I have most importantly learned the way, the feeling, and the smell of Ubuntu that my rural Zulu community is continuously showing me and their neighbors.

So where to begin… Maybe for me, I knew this year was about trying to figure out if I really wanted to attend medical school. Well, after volunteering at the local hospital, I MOST DEFINITELY want to go into healthcare, but maybe not in the doctoral position. I have found that as I shadowed the doctors in the Umphumulo Hospital that I do love to work with them and see the things that they can do, but the time they all spent away from their own families was a deal breaker for me. Yes! All the doctors have told me it’s not that big of a deal, but then again none of them are female and most of their wives are at home, by choice not by force I might add! I couldn’t see myself not raising my own children one day… so I’ve made my decision to apply to a Physician Assistant program once I get my feet soaked back into my own home grounds. With much discernment and taking this time to really understand what I want for myself and what God has gifted me with… I can live life being okay with becoming a Physician Assistant. Yes, I still get the shaking of the head when I tell the doctors (more specifically Dr. Pukana and Dr. Gervais) that I’m going to PA school, but with the letters of recommendation they’ve written for me I know that deep down they are so proud of who I am and will become. I’ve been really blessed to have the doctors at the hospital around too; Dr. A. Pukana, Dr. G. Kabeya, Dr. E. Rajaram, Dr. Raj, and Dr. M. Parastzak… they have all been a big part of my life and growth here in Umphumulo.

Then there’s the community… who would have thought that I would have learned more about what I want to do and who I am just by being with the community. There’s this saying in isiZulu that goes, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” In literal translation this means, a person is a person by other people. When you read the word ‘by,’ however, it’s not the ‘by’ in the tense of being a result of other people, but more along the lines of being along side or next to other people. So read the literal translation again… For me this means, you are who you are as a person, but you can’t live on your own. I’ve seen that when those who have what some may see as ‘everything,’ they still go to their neighbors home to ask for something. This is not because they are stingy, but because they want that relationship; it’s more in the tense of making sure their neighbor is okay.

After the people living around where I was living started becoming more comfortable around me and I them, they kept ‘visiting’ my home and then ask for something; whether it was onions, sugar, flour, tomatoes, etc… they just kept coming to my home for something. At first, it bothered me! But as I became understanding of how the community works… better yet how my community is with one another and not trying to bring others down, but grow together… I began to see that we help one another because we may need the help in the future; not that we are ‘expecting’ the help in the future because we know we may need it one day, but we help because that’s our humanity.

Have you heard the statement, “It takes a community to raise a child.” Forgive me as I’ve forgotten who made the statement, but what this boils down to is that we cannot have everything, ALONE. God made each and every one of us to love and to have relationships of all kinds. He brings people into our lives for EVERY reason; to explore and not become closed minded about other things. Lord knows that I have learned how to accept that the way I chop onions and the way onions should be chopped in South Africa are very different, but by accepting our differences and continuing to learn something new from each other… the relationships we make within our community will continue to grow WITH and ALONGSIDE one another.

So what exactly does my time in South Africa mean to me? It’s a time to understand the real meaning of who people are. It’s a time to see people and not just brush by them. It’s a time to greet someone and ask how they are and really mean it. It’s a time to accept God’s people and recognize that no matter where I am He shines in each and every face. As for the MUD3 group, I believe this year was a mixture of a time to become more independent, a time to understand who we are, a time to reconnect, a time to get away from troubles and pressures, a time to become more faithful, a time to get out of the rate race that was unconsciously pulling us in, and a time to understand what God wants us to do with our lives. Like stated in 1 Corinthians 7:7, God has blessed each and every one of us with our own gifts. Within the MUD3 group we each have our own specialties and after this year I think that most of us will have an idea of what is to happen when we get home. I’m not saying that I have a definite plan myself, but I’ve an idea that I can only hope will turn out the way I’d like. After being in South Africa for almost a year ANYTHING can happen; as life has its way of unpredictability!

And so, God continues to work with me and through me in ways that I may never even understand or know. Above all, the relationships I have and the people I have met along the way are signs that He is seeing by what I see, He is hearing by what I hear, He is experiencing by what I do, and He is living by opening my eyes and calling my name. I’m continually grateful and blessed to remember that wherever I am and whatever I am facing God always knows, same goes for you too! With the month I still have left, I will continue to be with my community and can only imagine what’s in store for all of us here… until next time, hamba kahle (go well)…

On and Off, On and Off…

Upon my arrival to Umphumulo (11 April 2011), where I was on an awesome adventure visiting Jessie in Kimberly and Andrew in Bloemfontein, the rain and cold weather quickly followed my path. For Umphumulo, when there’s rain that means the electricity will be going and then the running water will just stop coming out of all the taps. It’s almost crazy to say, but I’m so used to these occurrences that when the electricity goes out or the water turns into drips I just say to myself, “Oh Umphumulo… no stress, no worries.” But this past weekend, I had a nice Sunday afternoon to really think about what was happening when all of these ‘series of unfortunate (to some) events’ occur.

Let’s take a moment to get an understanding of South Africa… at least the places that I’ve seen. When it comes to the cities, like Durban or Johannesburg (Joburg), electricity and running water outages are rarely the occasion, but when this does happen in the once in a lifetime event ‘the people’ are quick to recover the problem within hours. Now let’s look at rural South Africa. When the electricity turns off… it’s not because of the shortage in the switchbox (where back at home we would just go to the switchbox and ‘flip the switch’ and then BAM! the electricity is back.), but it is the overuse of electricity in the bigger cities that is making the rural areas run dry of power. So you may think to yourself, how does she know this for sure? Well being the clever scientist that I am… and needing to stimulate my mind when the power does turn off… I thought to myself, “Is there anything else that’s happening throughout this country at the same time Umphumulo becomes even quieter besides the wind or rain that causes this bittersweet occurrence?” Well, to my surprise I most definitely discovered a common theme, but is it coincidence… I’ll really NEVER know.

What I found was when there’s a BIG sporting game being aired on TV (especially when the game is on one of the four basic channels that are aired to the entire nation)… Umphumulo is sure to lose at least the electricity. As I mentioned this to one of the Bishop’s daughters a while back, it was this past weekend where she told me that she thinks I’m right. Not only was it NOT raining at the time, but there was a Chiefs Soccer game being aired on TV this past Saturday night and after ~30 minutes into the game… POOF! the electricity was gone. All I could literally do was laugh, and I laughed even more when I received an SMS (text message) from one of the other YAGM living in Joburg telling me she was out watching the Chiefs game; lucky girl living in the ‘big city.’

Don’t get me wrong… Umphumulo is a wonderful place to live in; as it has taught me how to slow down and see people instead of hurrying up and passing people by. Life is too precious to live on your own, and Umphumulo has helped me to understand the ‘true’ meaning of what that means. But as far as the electricity and water situation goes… I’ll never really know if it IS the ‘big’ cities sucking the power from the rural areas dry, but one thing I know for sure is that Maphumulo is constantly living in the hands of this on and off, on and off game the power likes to play. Is it frustrating? Sure, but living here for 8 months now… it’s just a daily part of life, and of MY life too. So when you’re leaving your room, bathroom, kitchen, or garage I hope you take a second to turn OFF the power instead of leaving it on… and think of me! I feel like I understand my dad more as he was always telling us to open the blinds for natural light or open the windows for cool air during the summer (maybe he did this more for the electricity bill, but whichever works!)

In the mean time, I can only hope that this problem will be solved, especially for the rural areas of South Africa. It is definitely something that needs to be looked into and most definitely something to continue to look forward to in the years to come. But for now, we will all continue to just live as we are and enjoy the times we spend together… with or without electricity! Until next time… Hamba Kahle…

On the Road to Umphumulo…

Throughout my time here in Umphumulo (and everywhere/whenever I had the privilege to visit the other volunteers in Soweto, Bonaero Park, Kenosis, Kimberly, and Bloemfontein… so far!) eating, socializing, believing, praising, and just being has always been a BIG part of my experience within South Africa. When I first arrived in Umphumulo, the first major cultural custom I experienced was the traditional and everyday foods that are deliciously consumed on a daily basis; beef curry, butternut, beetroot, coleslaw, and rice. As I quietly, but politely ate my entire dish I couldn’t help but see how food brought people together... let me further explain.

These days (after 8 months as of 18 April 2011), whenever there is a meeting held at the church center I always seem to find myself helping in the kitchen… it is here where I have learned how to perfect the traditional dishes that are enjoyed daily, have felt the most at home, have experienced a sense of ‘seeing’ and getting to know the ladies that work at the church center, and have seen myself become a happier individual when it comes to cooking for 5 people or over 100. I have also been approached by random pastors asking me if I’m the “volunteer who cooks the delicious food at the church center.” As I smile and giggle, I respond with, “I don’t know… but I am the volunteer who lives here!” Isn’t it funny how when you do something for others without literally knowing it’s a good deed… it tends to turn back around and compliment you; as far as I know I was just learning how to cook these dishes so that I could broaden my love/hobby for cooking. But when it comes to food, especially here in Umphumulo, that’s where the socializing, the business, and the life begin.

I have most definitely learned when it comes to food there will always be fellowship, culture, and faith experienced at some point in time; sometimes all three will be experienced within the same meal too! As we all take part in eating, we pray before we eat, we talk amongst each other, and just enjoy the time spent with one another. To my surprise this is just merely a part of culture within the Christian community. Back home in San Antonio, we do the same things… before we indulge ourselves into the fabulous food (hopefully it’s Mexican too!) we pray and then enjoy each others company. However, it’s the food we are eating that makes each experience a specific cultural one, but when you look at the ‘meat’ of it all… it’s all the same.

The relationship between all four (food, fellowship, culture, and faith) is the ‘coming together’ that makes the experience more enjoyable. When we cook we add the spices and the ingredients together to make the meal what I like to call “getting happy,” when we fellowship we all come together to share the good news (or bad depending on the situation), when we get to know other cultures we get together by coming out of our own comfort zones to find others teaching us so that we may acquire the ‘true’ understanding of how and why things are done the way they are, and in faith we come together to praise our Heavenly Father. If I had to come up with a phrase to sum all of this together, it would have to be, “Food makes the world go round,” as food is really the center of the ‘togetherness.’

In a country where there are 11 official languages and therefore different cultures, what you eat and how you eat it really depicts where you come from. But no matter what languages I hear around me, no matter what types of food I am eating, and no matter if I am eating with cutlery or my own hands… what I have experienced in my times within different parts of South Africa was the same. I sometimes laugh when I think how each and everyone of the 11 volunteers in M.U.D.3, including myself, are really experiencing the same things but in different ways. This really has me get a hold onto believing that God really does work in mysterious ways.

As I read the story “On the Road to Emmaus,” (Luke 24:13-35), I was left with amazement because as Jesus broke the bread, he gave thanks for it and then passed it out for those to eat. But what is even more breathtaking is the conversation that was taking place, the fellowship, before they ate, and they didn’t even know they were talking with Jesus. It doesn’t matter in which order you do these things, what makes this story in the bible, the things I have done at home before coming to South Africa, and the everyday things I’m currently experiencing in Umphumulo and everywhere in between beautiful is that we are all doing the same things.

God has been with me in my cross-cultural experience surrounding food and fellowship in South Africa because I have been able to grow and learn more about myself in a very different way. For example, cooking the native foods, as a non-native and getting compliments has allowed others to see me as more open minded to learning other cultures and being respectful to it. For me, I see God working in all the faces that get to taste what I’ve made because it’s a chance for everyone to see that it’s not the appearance of a person that allows them to cook only certain foods, but the love of cooking, the open-mindedness of learning, and the interdependence of being that makes my culture and the Zulu culture I have been learning mutual… and when two cultures can become one in the same, that is when God is at work.

So, whether I am at home, visiting family in Mexico, or here in South Africa… with food, fellowship, culture, and faith the togetherness and the interdependence I’ve encountered has been an act of God working through me and the wonderful people that have crossed my path thus far. So like “On the Road to Emmaus” story, Jesus wasn’t known present until the end of the day… so was I unaware of God living through the food, fellowship, culture, and faith I have been experiencing here in Umphumulo, and I’ve been here for 8 months now! Do you see why I believe God works in mysterious ways… until next time… hamba kahle…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What’s Life Without Death…

It’s been a crazy week for me in Umphumulo, but with being here for over 6 months now… you could probably say to yourself, “What’s something new??” Well as the sun rises each morning… so do the adventures of this beloved place called Umphumulo. A day after my birthday there was a crazy, unexpected accident with one of the co-workers for the SED Office, Samke (remember her from one of my previous blogs with the chickens as her children). Well to make a long story short, she recently passed away on March 5, 2011 due to heart complications. I knew of Samke’s illnesses as I would see her in the Umphumulo Hospital as I shadowed the doctors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The doctors ordered tests after tests and we examined the results and did what they could. The day she became severely ill, a couple of her family members, Nomfundo, and me took her to the hospital in Stanger; the closest city that could help her condition more than the hospital in Umphumlo. It was then three days later at around 3:30pm that I received a phone call that Samke was gone. As soon as I heard of her passing, I had no idea what to feel… but I was informed that people were gathering at her mom’s home, just south of Msomi Village. So I just stopped what I was doing, grabbed my house keys, and headed for her mom’s home. After a good hour or so of walking through tall grass, slopes, dusty paths, and feeling the beating sun take its toll on me… I thought of nothing but the memories that were made on these paths when I’d go home with Samke; it was a feeling like no other, but I must simply state… I was in a bit of shock because I realized how sad I was to lose someone who really DID become a part of my family.

If you know me well enough you would then know how much family, friends, and relationships of all kinds mean to me. What it means to have their support, what it means to hear their opinions, and what it means to be there for them too. As I reached the doorway of MaSamke’s simple, yet beautiful home I couldn’t help but remember that this was the exact spot where I had FIRST experienced the feeling of Ubuntu that’s consistently present in my rural home of Maphumulo. But as I took off my flip flops at the front door (due to the dust that now covered me from my feet to about halfway up my lower leg), I respectfully walked in and made eye contact with MaSamke. Knowing that she speaks no English, I coyly smirked at her, nodded my head, and tried with all my might to bite my tongue and not shed a tear. As MaSamke continuously looked at me in my eyes… I felt she understood everything I was trying to say to her, but didn’t literally say. She then got up from the floor, nodded back at me, and gave me a heartfelt hug full of love, full of faith, and full of Ubuntu. That was all I needed and maybe that was all she needed from me too. I then made my way to other co-workers that were present and just heard the news themselves. I gave them hugs and then made my way to sit in the room that was full of Zulu mats placed on the floor.

As I sat, I watched how people of all directions were coming into MaSamke’s home at random times, introducing themselves with a Zulu hymnal or traditional song, and then saying a prayer. Here it was… the Ubuntu. How did they hear of Samke’s death? How did they know where her mom lived, as Samke’s home was in another village? With all the questions that were running through my mind, with all of the emotions of confusion, sadness, and shock I was feeling, and with all the beautiful Zulu traditions that were taking place in front of my very eyes… what I feel it all boils down to is how many opposites we all face in our daily lives. I remember playing over and over the song, “Life is Wonderful,” by one of my favorite artists, Jason Mraz, as I came back to my home at the church center. And then I found it odd that I would listen to this song as I went through this time of preparation, sadness, and then happiness for Samke’s funeral. If you’ve never heard this song by Jason Mraz I STRONGLY recommend that you take this time to look it up and REALLY listen to it. Life is full of opposites, but there are only opposites because there are two parts that have a role; that is what makes life wonderful. Some of my favorite parts in this song are when it states, “… it takes some bad for satisfaction… it takes the dust to have it polished… it takes some silence to make sound…” To realize when we become satisfied we have to have gone through some bad times, to realize how nice and polished we as human beings or even items are they have to have been amateur or a bit dull, and to realize the sounds, music, and tones that surround our daily lives we have to experience silence, stillness, and peace in our lives too. With all the opposites that I have experienced throughout my time in Umphumulo, I see it is the opposites that have molded me into the new person that I feel myself to be; it’s the blessed curses that have defined me even more.

Yes, Samke will be dearly missed… her light in the SED Office was one that shined in everyone’s eyes and contagiously made their own light shine too, but as with life comes death. And here, I’m learning death is celebrated as much as life is, and yes, there are those that mourn… but it’s knowing that she has now made her way to the heavens above, made her way home, and now resting in peace that had the community rejoicing and reminiscing without sorrow.

What’s life without death? What’s the sun without the rain? What’s sound without silence? What’s health without illness? What’s love without pain? These are all questions that lead me to, what’s God without faith? Throughout the Bible there are so many lessons on having faith in God and as a result your life will be exactly the way it’s supposed to be. To be devoted to Him, to trust Him in every way, and to have the utmost confidence in Him to guide our way… all comes down to your very own faith. As this melancholy time of Samke’s unexpected passing slowly drifts away, I remember that it is His will… period. Things around Umphumulo are becoming more spirited, life is moving along, and our faith still holds strong because “1faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see… 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:1, 6 NIV). And that my friends is enough for me. May you all continue to enjoy, struggle, learn, and grow from the opposites in your life… until next time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Close Your Eyes, See With Your Heart

Have you ever been so prepared for something that you wake up in the morning and you couldn’t get that nice cup of freshly brewed coffee, but you don’t care? Then, you feel so overwhelmed with confidence that those you come into contact with just want to know what’s going on, why you’re smiling for no reason, or they even want to be with you or near you to catch this contagious ora of optimism that seeps our of your skin like the sweat dripping off your face after a nice long run. Have you ever been this prepared before? Well, imagine being like this and then once you get to where you’re going… have it all taken away with a sudden change that’s not in your control. All of your hard work, research, and organization down the drain, and only to find that you’ve now to do things on the top of your mind, maybe with a bit of anxiety and not with the full effort and dedication that you’d like. This, my friends, is what it is like at the Umphumulo Public Hospital… and I think now is the time to reflect on the 5 to 6 months that I’ve been shadowing, learning, and most definitely growing from what being a doctor in the rural hospital of Umphumulo is like.

I wake up every Tuesday and Thursday mornings at a quarter til 6 to take a nice walk or jog around Umphumulo (of course when it’s not raining heavily too), get ready for the day, head to chapel for morning prayer at 8, and then around 8:30 I take my nice little stroll towards the hospital. At the beginning, getting to the hospital was a bit awkward; as I walked through the entrance gate with stares of ‘what are you doing here?,’ but I walked in with my head up, my eyes observant, and my unconscious smile still intact… tell myself that the road I’m about to embark will turn out nice and smooth, in due time! Today, as I walk through the entrance gate, I greet everyone with such cheer and whole hearted excitement that everyone from the security guards to the sisters (nurses) to the doctors to the patients see me, greet me, and the awkwardness that was once there has dissipated into the midst of the past. It’s going to be a good day no matter where I end up observing and I’m going to learn something new no matter where I ‘plan’ to be. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to experience being in the HIV&AIDS Counseling and Testing Center (CTC), Outpatient Department (OPD), Maternity Ward, Theatre (Surgery), Casualty (Emergency Room), Pediatric Ward, and Female Ward. I’ve also been blessed to have a few of the doctors take me under their wing in which I am consistently and intriguingly observing different procedures, listening to how and why they make diagnoses, and asking all sorts of questions; it’s the questions part that the doctors are so captivated by as they don’t really know where my questions keep coming form because I have now been going to the hospital for some time now. With that in mind, let me explain some of the things that I’ve grown from while being here.

One of the first things that come to mind when you thing of South Africa, or maybe even Africa, is HIV&AIDS. Yes, there is an ongoing epidemic of HIV&AIDS within this country, but as far as education, becoming aware, and getting tested is concerned… it IS there! Most people know their status, more people are aware of how it’s contracted (this begins as early as primary school), and proactive advertisements, information pamphlets, organizations (like the Diakonia Aids Ministry connected within ELCSA), and even newsletters of all kinds are being made so that people can have easy accessibility to the hows and whys for preventing and treating HIV. Amazingly, one thing that I have learned since being here is that you can still have children while being HIV positive too! Of course there is a regimen that is to be done before, during, and after birth, but the treatments that are given and the medications taken have really decreased the risk of the child contracting HIV too. As far as the CTC is concerned, every day there are people lining up to be counseled and tested and then counseled again if one’s results turn out HIV+, and every day there are people coming in to get their medications to keep a strong, healthy, and long life. The sisters working in the CTC at the Umphumulo Hospital are really one of a kind, are sincere helpers, and are strongly educated in what they are doing too; as I’m sure this is how it is like all over the country whether in hospitals, clinics, or surgeries (private practices). Even though this epidemic causes a significant amount of deaths every day… the fight against it is ever growing each day too.

Then there’s the OPD and Theatre. These departments are where I spend most of my time as Dr. Pukana, Dr. Kabeya, Dr. A. Rajaram, and Dr. E. Rajaram are always requesting my presence; hence I am under their wings the most which doesn’t bother me one bit! In OPD I observe all sorts of healthcare aspects… from triaging patients to seeing results of all kinds (X-rays, blood serums, sugar levels, etc) to diagnosing. One of the things that I really feel different about is my quality of patient care. When I first walked into the entrance of the Umphumulo Hospital no one (patient wise) looked a bit thrilled to see me walking by or sitting next to the doctor in OPD as they took the seat in front of us. Well two reasons immediately came to mind: 1) they’re not feeling well hence their visit to see us, and 2) I’m the only light skinned person in this entire facility that walks around the buildings and doesn’t look like a doctor! As the days became weeks and I become more familiar with how things are done at the hospital I was getting a bit ‘flustered’ with being seen by just my appearance. So, as I walked into OPD and began helping the nurses with triaging one morning, instead of staying on my chair… I sat next to the patient and became eye level with them as I began with the “what brings you in today?,” kind of questions. This automatically let them know that I am no better than they are, there is no need to feel intimidated by me at all, I will help them to the best of my ability, and that their concern was really my concern too. I’ve learned that in this Zulu culture I am in, because I look different I will be treated as a guest… all the time; I can’t change this as it is their culture and what respect is. It’s this beautiful presence of Ubuntu and the Zulus practice it daily, but now that I am here and the ‘honey-moon phase’ has been long gone I can only hope that others, especially in the hospital, will see me and not just thing, “what is she doing here?,” but I want them to think and maybe even express, “Thank you for just being here because it made me feel more comfortable when I was scared and didn’t know what was going on.” I know how doctors have their ‘what the heck does that mean’ lingo, but I want the people coming in and out of the hospital to feel that they are going to receive the best healthcare that can be offered here and just because they don’t know what this or that means, doesn’t mean they are not going to get help or even have to feel intimidated for coming to the hospital at all. But as each day is never the same in OPD and the cases are always random, I just walk in, smile, follow, listen, and learn. With doing that, I have learned more about myself and the passion I have for being in healthcare, and the patients are feeling better too!

In the Theatre, most procedures that are done at the Umphumulo Hospital are Cesarean Sections (C-Sections), Tubal Ligations, Circumcisions, and Abortions. Most of the time, I am observing the “Cesars,” or what I’m used to calling C-Sections, but I have been to at least one of each procedure. Most of the procedures actually take longer than what they are supposed to as there becomes a shortage of supplies. So, going the long way tends to be the most efficient way, but both Dr. Pukana and Dr. Kabeya explain everything to me as far as what is being done and how it would be different if they had a certain material. As far as C-Sections go, I have shadowed Dr. Pukana (what takes the role of the Anesthesiologist) give the Epidural, keep track of the patients vitals, and most importantly as the patient how she’s doing throughout the entire procedure. I have shadowed Dr. Kabeya (who takes on the role of the Suregion) scrub in, deliver the new born, and then suture the openings that were made for the delivery. And I have shadowed the Pediatric Caretaker who is the sister or sir that assesses the newborn as soon as he or she has been delivered. They clean the newborn, check reflexes, give a routine injection, and then wrap the baby up to be seen by the mother and then the newborn is taken to the maternity ward. The only one I have not shadowed is the assistant surgeon (usually done by the matron or head nurse), but my time will come soon! My favorite part about being in the theatre during C-Sections, hands down, is being a primary witness to life. No one can take away the feeling of seeing a newborn and then hearing a newborn cry. Also, getting to scrub in and witness how learning never ends because no matter how many procedures I have been in, there is something else that I missed. Learning is not always about already knowing too, and I’m discovering that saying I need help (not just while I’m at the hospital too) really defines a person. So, when I take my little stroll back to the church center, I find myself with this little light inside that never fades away because of several reasons: 1) questions that I ask, 2) new people that I have met, and 3) patients that I have served alongside—it may be small to the sisters or doctors, but big to the patients… and even me!

Just recently, I have also spent lots of mornings in the Maternity Ward too. Here, Dr. Kabeya makes his daily rounds of the soon to be mothers or patients who were admitted and are having some kind of unknown complications. Most of the time, the patients that Dr. Kabeya and I see are in their third trimester, but we also see patients who have found they are pregnant and want to abort. The Umphumulo Hospital takes these patients very seriously and therefore, there are steps that are done to ensure the patient is aborting for the correct reason. Counseling is done pre and post procedure. The maternity ward is nice to be in as well, as I’m not just learning from the doctor, but the sisters who work there too. Plus, my hand holding skills are becoming quite popular amongst the mothers too! =D

I have only been to the Pediatric Ward once out of the time that I have been going to the hospital. My one day shadowing Dr. Kodagiri, I have found that maybe I can’t work with children, especially in the rural aspect. The doctor there, however, is quite knowledgeable about what to do for any child that is ill; as that day we say children suffering from epileptic spasms, respiratory illnesses, Tuberculosis (TB), and HIV. As the Umphumulo Hospital is rural, sometimes not all of the supplies or equipment that is needed can be offered or provided to the child. As I asked questions, some of the responses I was given was, “Well we should, but we don’t have that equipment or another machine to offer.” So, I have found that following the doctor in the Pediatric Ward was a bit too disheartening for me, especially knowing that there could only be so much done for the children. In the mean time, when I pass by I never hesitate to say hello and offer a smile to the children and sisters, but I prefer not to know their cases.

In Casualty I get to see almost everything and anything with Dr. Pukana or Dr. A. Rajaram, who ever is working at the time. From motor vehicle (MV) accidents to major lacerations to broken bones to snake bites… this hospital sees it all. When I first walked into this hospital, because of its placement I didn’t really thing they saw these kinds of cases, but then you shouldn’t ever judge a book by its cover! So what has happened to me over the months that I’ve been here is that I’m beginning to feel comfortable at NOT being so good on my toes. When there isn’t much going on in Casualty, however, this department tends to help with the overflow of patients that are coming into OPD. The busiest times in this department are usually around pay days and weekends, but other than that they do get the occasional cardiovascular, low glucose, MV, ect. patients that need to be seen urgently. Being a rural hospital, I sometimes feel like I’m in a show on the Discovery Health channel; as everything can be an organized chaos. However, it just goes to show you that people in this area are also getting the urgent care that they need too, and the doctors that I’ve worked alongside really know their stuff. As far as I’m concerned, they always like my questions as it keeps them on their toes too!

I have just recently (like late January) begun observing in the Female Ward. Here I follow the NEW doctor, Dr. E. Rajaram, with her daily rounds and get to experience what a doctor would probably see on a Medical floor of a hospital. At the Umphumulo Hospital the males and females are separated if they must be admitted into the hospital. So there is a Male Ward too, but unfortunately I am not allowed to volunteer there because most patients have an infectious disease and the doctors preferred that I just observe in the Female Ward. Following the doctor here has been a great experience because I am able to read charts, see X-rays, observe minor procedures that the doctor might need to do to determine the prognosis of the patients, etc. It is a bit like being in OPD, but more inclusive because we can actually sit down and see patients for more than 10 minutes or so… that’s what I enjoy the most. It’s also nice when a patient comes back to the ward for a follow-up visit after they have been discharged. Getting to see a new, healthy, and vibrant looking person compared to before is one of those feelings that take your breath away, and all you can really do is smile! It has also been nice to get to talk with a female doctor… as the female doctors at the Umphumulo Hospital are only 2 of 11. I’m sure being a female doctor in the Female Ward also puts the woman at ease when she makes her rounds… so this also makes my learning experience more ‘comfortable’ for me too.

One of the most interesting things I have learned from the doctors here at the Umphumulo Hospital is that every doctor is not specifically specialized in any one field; all the doctors routinely switch wards every three months or so. This is because in order to work in a rural hospital the doctor must be knowledgeable in everything that is offered, like a General Practice Physician, due to a shortage of staff. Being a rural hospital, it sometimes amazes me at the distances that several of the patients travel to receive medial attention too. I have heard stories that have changed my life, observed procedures that have changed my life, witnessed the reality of this rural hospital that has changed my life, and been alongside all kinds of individuals that have changed my life too. It is always a humbling experience for me to be here and it has allowed me to literally close my eyes and see with my heart. And even after all of this, I have found that this is who I am and where I want to be… because I am NOT filled with apprehensiveness, but with power, love, and self-control that His Spirit has given me like stated in 2 Timothy 1:6-7. and finally, knowing that I have a strong interest with healthcare, I will continue to use this gift God has blessed me with because Romans 12:6-8 guides me to do so.

I hope you all discern, listen, and discover the gifts God has blessed each and every one of you with, as each person has their own. When you find it, don’t turn away from it no matter what anyone (even your own family) may tell you. It’s kind of like SEEING the wind for the first time, no one can really pin point and articulate this feeling of your own, but it has some kind of effect to feeling in awe, with understanding, and heartfelt satisfaction. And that’s exactly what’s been slowly, but surely happening to me. Until next time… hamba kahle (go well).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy Merry New Christmas Year…

So it has definitely been a little while since my last post, but I can assure you it has been a bit of a journey for me too! I spent Christmas at Kenosis where I was visiting another volunteer’s placement site. It’s really amazing how each and every one of the volunteers alongside me are really having their very own experiences as we are all being in very different ways. With that in mind, I met some of the orphans, some of the foster moms, some volunteers from Germany, and the Sisters (Nuns) that Kenosis houses. Due to the holiday season most, but not all, of the orphans and foster moms were at their original homes, but that really didn’t burden my experience of Kenosis.

So Christmas day… it turned out to be a very bright South African experience! Kate, Amanda, and myself woke up, got ready for church, and then loaded the Kenosis Kombi where Sister Happiness, Sister Lindeni, and Sister Sthembi took us all to the ELCSA church in Imbali. Now I must admit that I was very thrilled on this very event because it’s really not every day that you see nuns in a kombi and driving it too!! It was AWESOME! On other notes, it was a very simple service that was full of singing Christmas songs in Isizulu, a nice message of why Christmas is celebrated, and of course saying, “Ukisimusi Omuhle,” (Merry Christmas) and then giving a nice, warm hug to those all around us. We then loaded the Kenosis Kombi again where Sister Happiness dropped the three of us at the kombi rank. From here we headed to the Maqoqo Township, which is a rural village outside of Pietermaritzburg, where one of the Kenosis foster mom’s invited us for Christmas lunch.

Upon arrival, we started right away with helping Thandekile in the kitchen as she was the only one cooking for about 25 people and at the same time watching and trying to entertain about ten children! The three of us ended up making potato salad, beef curry, stiff pap, cole slaw, chakalaka, and for dessert custard with fruit. We also helped with taking turns in entertaining the children in the midst of all this cooking too… it was really a challenge trying to cook and clean and keep things as organized as possible when you had children between the ages of 6 to 15 poking you every so often! But none the less, it was nice being able to help Thandekile, play with her children (most are her foster children), have the opportunity to talk and meet her and her neighbors, and most importantly be in her home and experience the simplicity of Maqoqo. As time quickly passed by, the three of us then had to leave Thandekile and her children to go to a Christmas dinner that the Sisters were preparing back in Kenosis. As much as we all just wanted to stay and just be in Maqoqo… taking in the air, witnessing and experiencing the joy and love everyone has for one another, knowing that we all now have a home in Maqoqo, and learning that Christmas really is not about gifts… we said our goodbyes, but only to experience more of the “blessed unexpected” that is South Africa.

Christmas dinner was just about ready when we arrived back in Kenosis. As each and everyone took off their shoes before entering the Sister’s home, I noticed that the sisters had set up a nice buffet style meal that included mashed butternut, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, and for dessert custard, fruit, biscuit (cookie), and whipped cream layered in a big bowl; a very simple and satisfying meal. As the 20 or so of us talked amongst ourselves, it was soon time to clean up. So Kate, Amanda, and I headed towards the kitchen to help put leftovers in containers and in the fridge, wash and dry the dishes, put the dishes in the cabinets, clean the counters, and sweep the floors. What was probably the best part of this meal was cleaning up with the sisters. As the three of us came into the kitchen to start helping we all, in some odd way, began to sing hymns in Isizulu as the cleaning process continued. It was so much fun being able to sing, clean, and dance and WITH the sisters too. To see the light, smiles, and joy in each and everyone’s faces was really a piece of the spirit living and being expressed in each and every one of us… this will really be a Christmas to remember! After cleaning, we then said our goodbyes and headed back to Kate’s room where the three of us were able to have a bit of a traditional Christmas of our own; listening to Christmas music about snow when there was no snow anywhere to be seen (at least this was a BIG change for Kate and Amanda), opening presents that we ended up buying for each other, and reading a Christmas book before we all fell asleep (thanks to Kate’s mom who sent her a Christmas book for Christmas in the mail). Christmas day was definitely filled with unforgettable events, love of family, warmth of friends, and the spirit of Christ… which is how Christmas is like at home in Texas.

Now for the New Year! Can you believe it’s already 2011… as 2010 brought about great things for me (graduating from TLU and then finding myself coming to South Africa), ringing in 2011 in Lesotho was definitely something I’d NEVER dreamed of one day doing. And just so you know (as I thought these were some pretty interesting facts), Lesotho is known as the ‘mountain kingdom in the sky,” for the magnificent and wondrous Maluti Mountains make this country the highest elevated country on Earth and they still have a reigning king and queen, and some describe this country as ‘sitting on top of South Africa,’ as this country is surrounded by South Africa and its lowest elevated point is higher than South Africa’s highest point. So yes, I was in Lesotho with eight of my other MUD family members to bring in the New Year. Lesotho included a great deal of hiking, exploring, and laughing, but it also included a great deal of peacefulness, being, and witnessing. Now I’m no preacher, but Psalm 30:5 (“…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”) quickly comes to mind when I think of our Lesotho adventures because pretty much most of the time we were in Lesotho it rained… and not just your average 30 minute or so “light” rain either… it really poured, for hours at times too. But even with the rain coming down, it did not alter our great experiences. We all still managed to have a great time with each other… as not having a good time has never really been the case when we all manage to be with each other.

Some of my favorite parts of being in Lesotho were hiking and getting to the top of the mountains where you could really witness the beauty of this country (I got some really great panoramic pictures too!), playing Uno around the table (a fun filled card game that brought a piece of home to our journey into Lesotho-thanks to Christine for bringing the cards along too!), banging pots with spoons as the New Year came in (all for Kate-as this is what her family does as a New Year’s tradition… and I must admit I may be brining this fun filled experience home for when 2012 comes along!), riding a pony just like the Basotho (thanks to Andrew who introduced us all to Rose and Kennedy, the people in charge of an HIV/AIDS orphanage that Andrew’s nonprofit organization-Bloom Africa- raises money for clean drinking water) who own a horse and know friends who allowed us to borrow more horses for riding in Lesotho, meeting the Thorns, Rose, and Eric (the amazing people who provided lodging for us, helped us with transportation from Roma to Ramabanta and vice versa, and put our feet in the ‘right’ direction as we explored the paths while in Lesotho), and getting over the flooded bridges caused by the heavy down pours from Ramabanta to Roma (what a stir of emotions this brought to us all!). Lesotho is really one of those places that will never get old as you look at its scenes over and over again. I remember feeling like a broken record at times as I would state to myself how beautiful this place was and then still not even believing that I was actually there. You can literally take several pictures of this beautiful country and send those pictures home to let others see what you’ve seen, but it still would not portray the wonders this place has you feel or give any justice to the originality of its culture and peacefulness until you witness it for yourself. It’s the part of the commercial that I would consider “priceless,” MOST DEFINITELY!

With that said, Christmas in South Africa and ringing in 2011 in Lesotho was extraordinary. I hope each and everyone had a great time at home, with family and friends… as a part of me wished I was home doing the same things that are done every year! However, 2011 is here and I’m still learning about myself as my South African hosts continue to lead me; especially when I arrived back in Umphumulo with NO water and electricity! Funny thing though, is that I was expecting the unexpected. Oh Umphumulo… what a great place to be and breathe it all in! :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Living Simply or Simply Living…

To have been posted sometime early this December...

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I passed by this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson when reading a newsletter from a fellow YAGM and thought it coincidental because of what has recently happened at my placement site. I find it continuously intriguing on how comfortable I ‘think’ I am with knowing, being, and living in Umphumulo’s church center when this mysterious place can never really be predicted. But it is this unpredictableness that continues to define me.

Last week was probably the MOST eventful 5 days since being here for over 3 months at the center, but not in the sense of having to be here or there as an agenda is at hand… more in the sense of where are we going to get water, where are we going to cook, and how are we going to retrieve hot water to bath ? Now, I’m quite used to the occasional power outage that Maphumulo gets due to the aggressive rain and thunder or high winds, but there’s still the running water OR even the mysterious reasons as to why the running water isn’t working, but there’s still the electricity. However, as I dreaded this ever happening, you guessed it! Someone somewhere, somehow cut the electrical wires that provide electricity to the church center and since the water connections are, for a reason I still don’t understand, connected with the electrical wires… the church center was out of running water too. It became a dim Friday afternoon after hearing this news with Nomfundo, but that really didn’t bother us as we always find a way to entertain ourselves in these kinds of rural Maphumulo ‘living simply’ situations.

Saturday morning came and the situation at hand was still no big deal, but then Nomfundo heard from Dlamini, the handy-man for the church center, that it was going to be like this until someone could come and diagnose the problem; this meant we had to wait until Monday before anyone could do anything. I thought to myself, “Ok, no big deal. It will only be the weekend.” So, before Nomfundo and I went along with our plans for Saturday, I decided to call Baba and Mama Mabaso and let them know of our situation and see if we could stay at their home, the electricity and water only being a problem for the church center. With the gracious and hospitable family the Mabasos are, luckily they said Nomfundo and I could stay with them, but the church center’s situation was only about to get a bit dimmer.

Come Monday, of course the first thing everyone was paying attention to was the electricity and water; how can a business run without either? Unfortunately, with all of the phone calls and talking to people that was done on Monday, no one could come to the church center until Tuesday morning… another day. So everyone living on the church center premises had to endure the situation at hand still. This included getting water to fill our buckets that were loaned to us by Samu, the church center’s Center Leader, and then figuring out how we were going to cook… this really did take all evening. Tuesday came, and sure enough the electrical guys came to look at what was wrong. Well, it turned out that the parts that were needed to fix the wire had to be ordered due to not having them at hand. In the end, no one knew how long that was going to take as it could be days, weeks, etc. At this point, I was frustrated with how the situation at the church center was going and I was upset because all I wanted to do was wash my hair; crazy to admit but it’s true! After explaining and venting to Nomfundo, she ended up being very understanding towards my ‘cultural differences,’ and told me to not worry. She then jokingly told me that we were going to check into a hotel tonight anyways. This then made me feel terrible with myself because I began to feel like I was acting selfish; knowing most of the families living around me go without running water and sometimes electricity daily . Nomfundo, again, told me to not feel bad or terrible or even upset with myself because it’s just new and different, and she made a good point in stating that the electricity and water was totally out of our control anyways. You see, it is sometimes the unexpected situations that are out of our hands that can make us or break us, and after my ‘cultural breakdown’ I began to look at the entire situation differently… this is Umphumulo’s ‘simply living.’ It also made me think… at least I’m not having to go through all of this alone . Nomfundo and I, once again, spent the evening getting water and figuring out how we were going to make dinner, but overall by the end of the day I was just astonished at how much of an understanding, blessed, and strong woman Nomfundo is. Being friends, sisters even, with her has been one of the utmost gifts God has ever sent to me and I am continuously learning through her, with her, and alongside her.

Wednesday… day 5 (at least for Nomfundo and me). I woke up this morning with a new attitude and a new mind, and we all went to work with everyone leaving at 1pm, as there was still nothing anyone could really do without electricity. After work Nomfundo and I walked towards the guest house to visit Mandisa, a new visitor staying at the church center for the weekend who just happens to be a pastor too. The three of us were just having a casual conversation that turned into a little bible study; I love these random acts of God. Mandisa turned her Bible to Psalm 92:2 which states, “proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,” and as we read the verse aloud we each took turns to explain how we interpreted it. After what turned into an hour or two of talking about this lovely verse, we all noticed how late it was getting and we still needed to fill up our buckets with water and make dinner, something that was beginning to feel like a daily part of life. As we all headed out of the room and into the hallway, I turned to my left and BAAAM! Like when you walk into a room and everyone screams “SURPRISE!” I noticed the hallway light was ON! As I started jumping up and down and screaming, Mandisa and Nomfundo were soon to join in on what epiphany I was most definitely having. We then started hugging each other as the jumping and screaming continued for what felt like 10 minutes, no joke! I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life and I will never see electricity the same way again. We then rushed out of the guest house to check our own homes on the church center premises to discover that the electricity was REALLY working. The next thing that was needed was the water, but with the electricity working the water was soon to follow.

The following days in Umphumulo have been very thankful, rejoiceful, and charismatic… especially from me. Some may think it’s just another casual day of work, but for me it’s another day “to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that [I] have lived and lived well,” like Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it. It’s having the opportunity to thank Him in each morning that passes and then giving all of my faith to Him to watch over me in every situation that comes and goes, like stated in Psalm 92:2. It’s being able to see the wonderful people that fill up my life here, and it’s even being here in my so called ‘living simply’ life that I am noticing how challenged I really am, how blessed I really am, how faithful I really am, how enduring I really am, but most importantly how true to others, myself, and Him I really am on a daily basis. I can’t really put into words how different I feel or changed I have become after the past week without electricity and water, but as the unpredictableness of Umphumulo still staggers around all I can do is smile and continue on with the day. I am living simply, but I am also just simply living… whether on my own or with my ‘partner in crime,’ Nomfundo.