Monday, March 26, 2007

African Friendship

One of the best things about having been here for so long is that we actually have gotten sucked into being a part of the social system.

I have this friend. He's really cool. He's probably about 7o years old (he doesn't really know for sure), he comes around with a sharpening stone attached to a bench that he carries on his shoulder. He has cataracts, so he can't really see people too well. I let him sharpen my knives and especially our yard tools (a curved knife that is used to cut grass called a whipper and a machete) and I give him enough Liberian money that I know he could eat for the day - I overpay him. His name is Wayga. (that's how it is pronounced - who knows how it is spelled? He doesn't) I respect him because he doesn't feel sorry for himself and does what he is able to get along.

Wayga has been coming around for at least 3 years. He tells me stories of when ELWA was just being built (he was just a boy). I think he really does believe in Jesus, and he talks like he has no regard for traditional beliefs, but that may be just talk. He did tell me a story of how he and his friends once stole the food that was left out for the spirits in his village. So maybe it isn't just talk. He also tells me what people are saying on the street. That is interesting.

Anyway, I enjoy my friendship with Wayga, and we do help him a lot when he is in a jam, like when the owner of the house he lives in put him out, or when he is really sick. But it isn't all one-sided. A few weeks ago he brought us a big stalk of giant bananas. Maybe the biggest bananas I've ever seen in Liberia. The following week, he brought a bunch of very fresh greens that he had grown himself.

It is lovely to receive such gifts, and I feel happy that our friendship is genuine - that when Wayga has the means, he finds some way to bless us. But, well, in Liberia, you have to know that when you receive a gift you will someday have an opportunity to say thank you, somehow. Saturday afternoon, Wayga came to us, very concerned about his sister. I wish I could dramatize the way he explained how she was feeling like a hole was burning in her heart (he kept twisting his index finger into the table or his palm), and she was having chills - I had to call Rick because he understands the way Liberians describe symptoms - I had no idea what Wayga was talking about. Anyway, she probably just had a bad case of heartburn or maybe an ulcer. So I gave him something to take her to the emergency room to get some medicine (about $5 USD).

So that is it - that's what it means to really be a part of things in Africa. You give, you receive, you give again. There is no such thing as medical insurance, or any other safety net: friends are your safety net. So you cultivate friendship with whatever means you can, storing up "insurance" for when you need it. But we especially appreciate when some people don't just look at us as givers - they integrate us fully into their system, treating us as they would any other friend. It is sometimes uncomfortable, because it is so personal, and we Americans are not used to this kind of interdependence, especially financially. But now that we know it means that someone really regards us as their friend, we enjoy it really. And I just had to laugh when Wayga came, because there was simply no way I could say "no" after he had brought us such lovely gifts over the past few weeks. I told Rick about it and he said "I think that sounds like a blog entry" so now it is!

Friday, March 16, 2007

A holiday hike

The Sacra boys (minus Max, who is in Dakar) went for a walk with the Goodnow Guys this afternoon. It was a holiday today (JJ Roberts' Birthday... he was the first president, so it's kind of like Presidents' Day in the US) so Tom Goodnow and I decided to take a walk with the kids. Within the first 5 minutes we managed to get one of our guys into a deep muck hole in which he lost his sneaker! The victim shall remain anonymous for now.

So, after recovering from that mishap and changing shoes, and exploring some more swampy bushy places around behind our houses, we wandered over to the "Rock Quarry" across the main road, where they break bedrock into little pieces by hand to make crushed rock for construction. Here is a friend of mine paying for some crushed rock to add to his "for sale" pile.
It goes for about 50 cents a bucket...

Friday, March 09, 2007

today with Dr. Rick

Hi from Dr. Rick.... sorry to have been so scarce since January.

I spent the day today at the hospital. Arrived around 8:40, after a few urgent emails this morning at home. I’m so excited about the new ultrasound machine that Dr. David McLaughlin got the Sonosite company to donate (and he also contributed several probes to make it operational). Dr. Ben Kanwee, one of my Liberian colleagues, did all the ultrasounds today but called me in a couple times to “consult”... mainly OB patients, a few gyn cases, one lady who probably has cancer in the uterus (but looks like it may be cured by surgery).

Dr. McLaughlin helped me in the office today, so after seeing a few outpatients, Sis Bee Mason from the Counseling Dept (the folks who take care of our PLWAs.... people living with AIDS) came by to let me know about a patient she wanted me to see. The lady had been getting sick over the last few years, off and on, and had been diagnosed with HIV infection at another clinic. But she decided to come to ELWA to get her long-term treatment. She had just started taking ARVs (Anti-Retrovirals—the “real” AIDS drugs that, if taken properly, can suppress the virus and restore the immune system) about a week ago. Over the last few days she had increasing rashes on her body and itching, and now for the last day she’d developed red, itchy eyes. She was reacting to one of the ARV drugs—a reaction that could have become life-threatening if she hadn’t come and reported it right away. The road to recovery and health for someone with AIDS isn’t easy, and requires lots of interactions to deal with side effects, drug reactions, and other infections like TB or diarrhea. After talking a while about her medications and what our plan would be for dealing with this drug reaction, I asked her a couple questions about her family and home situation. Unfortunately, she had informed a couple family members she is living with about her status, and they are thinking of moving out.... just when she needs their support! She started to choke up. Fear and Stigma are very real here, and our counselors have to work very hard with clients, helping them figure out who to inform about their disease, and how and when. I gave her some words of encouragement and told her to come back in 5 days for another visit.

I reviewed the statistics for the first couple months of this year—last year we diagnosed 222 new cases of HIV infection, including 20 children. So far in January and February, we have diagnosed 50 new cases ( if this 35% higher rate keeps up, we’ll diagnose over 300 cases in ’07). In addition, around New Year’s we started offering testing to the pregnant women in prenatal care, and we had 10 cases of HIV infection out of about 225 women tested. So this is quite sobering. We have 200 patients on ARVs now, up from 90 when we got back in June of 2005.

Seeing our PLWAs get the care they need, including real human touch, love, and support, is a big part of what motivates me to be here... thank God for such a great group of Liberian believers to work with on this ministry!

Just a nice boat going by at the end of the day to share with you a picture of the end of the day here in Liberia.......................................