Mmm how to describe today….interesting? Humbling? Eye opening? All of the above? We started our day going to the Linda community with one of the African Impact staff named Kathleen and our “guide” Andrew. Linda is one of the poorest provinces within the Livingstone suburbs, and as we walked the dirt roads littered with, well, litter, it became very apparent that life for people was difficult in this place. According to Kath, most of the men and women are unemployed, and because of this they gather with friends early in the morning to begin drinking their day away. How sad! However, this wasn’t even the start of the problems that we saw.
Most of the people in Linda and Livingstone in general cook using little open top charcoal holders that they just place pot directly on in order to heat their food. However, while these little stoves are effective at getting very hot in order to cook the food, they are also effective at holding in the heat, too. This means that there are often burn accidents when adults and even little children trip or fall on them. For instance, we saw a man today with epilepsy that had had a seizure a few years ago and fell on one of the stoves. While most of his skin had healed, one of the sores on the top of his foot had reopened and…it wasn’t pretty.
That’s the thing though. For these people, these kinds of wounds aren’t uncommon, so most aren’t too phased by it anymore. It’s just an inevitability in their minds, I guess. While he was the only burn victim we encountered today, most of the patients we helped, meaning cleaning and dressing wounds and giving out ibuprofen and acetaminophen, had foot wounds that had usually started at a blister that then became infected and had never been given the proper care or rest in order to recover from. So guys, seriously, take care of your feet! Also, DON’T PICK THE TOP SKIN OFF OF A BLISTER AND THEN JUST LEAVE IT OPEN WITHOUT AN ANTISEPTIC OR ANTIBIOTIC OINTMENT! I would venture to guess that if more people here just left their blisters alone and let the top skin do it’s job–i.e act as a protecting barrier to the raw skin underneath–then many of these infections and recurring wounds could be avoided. But that’s just my two cents worth.
One really interesting thing that we learned before we went out is that 1 in 4 people in Zambia have HIV/AIDS, but yet it’s still this big taboo thing that most people refuse to talk about. So not only are they not talking about it or being educated on how it spreads, most people who need care for another issue will avoid going to the clinic because of mandatory HIV testing, and they really just don’t want to know if they have a deadly illness or not. So on top of probably being HIV positive, they also won’t get treatment for their primary problem. Not that the clinic can help them very much though. Due to lack of funding, supplies, and adequate staffing, most clinics can’t treat patients unless patients can pay for their appointment, treatment, and necessary medical supplies up front. And there’s no such thing as health insurance here, so visits tend to be expensive, hence why people most people avoid the clinic as much as possible.
This was so saddening to me. I never realized how much I took for granted the fact that I have a doctor that I can pretty much contact whenever I need something, and 90% of the costs are covered by a great insurance plan. I can be treated for simple cold sores or even allergies, and these people are living for years with open, weeping, and infection prone sores; one man we saw today even had a toe wound that looked like it had gangrene and would have to be amputated in order to avoid having the infection spread even further into his foot. And, oh yeah, he only had four toes to begin with, likely due to needing an earlier amputation as well. Basically the conditions here are dreadful by the standards of the healthcare system I grew up having available to me.
The amazing thing is though, the people here are still some of the friendliest people I have ever met. Everywhere we went, kids and parents would wave to us, and some of the children would run up to us saying “Mzungu” which means “white person.” Many of these children would follow us for a little ways, trying to get as many high fives as possible; one even held my hand as we walked for a little bit. Their smiles and laughter are infection, and I can’t help but notice that I want to be a friendlier person because they are so welcoming in return.
After home based care visits, all of the BYU medical volunteers went to the Marumba Old Persons Home (the only one in Livingstone in fact) to visit with the elderly persons there. Like most things here in Livingstone, compared to the old persons homes back in the USA, this one’s standard of care was abysmal. But, it is also the best that can be maintained for the region, so I guess it’s better than having these people out on the streets. We played a great game of Chair Bingo with those that showed up for our activity, and the main purpose was to help them stretch and get a little movement in for the day. Barbara and Behmi, African Impact staff members, helped to translate instructions and conversations between the volunteers and the patrons. we also played a rousing couple of games of Uno and Jenga, as well as passed a couple of different balls around to introduce ourselves and get to know one another.
One of the most humbling parts of this visit was going around to each of the rooms and giving water to those with cups, bottles, or pitchers to hold the water we could give them. According to Sjeel and Kath, most people here will drink one cup of water a day at most, and sometimes they’ll go a whole day without water. It’s not that potable water isn’t available, it’s really just a cultural thing. However, as we came around, seeing the elderly persons shuffle off into their rooms as they saw us approach with the “Mzungu” water to get their cups and shuffle back out as fast as possible really made me want to cry. How often do I just dump out old water because it’s “stale?” How often do I take for granted the fact that I rarely have to go without water and that I have fewer health problems because I understand how important water is for the body? The most impressing moments were giving water to a man who just kept saying thank you because he said he had been thirsty and he was just so glad we came with water for him; the other was a man who immediately drank the entire cup of water we gave him without an apparent breath for air, and then he ever so tentatively reached his glass out for more. Of course we filled his cup, but just seeing the drive with which he drank, it was apparent that for him, this was a real treat.
In many ways, this can be an allegory for the gospel. If we view the gospel like the living water that it is, then it becomes obvious that we need need the gospel to survive in this world. While we have the choice is we want want no water, one glass, or as much water as we need, when we’ve been deprived our souls know, and they thirst for more than just one cup in order to heal and be made whole. How grateful I am for the opportunity I have had in my life to learn the gospel of Christ and come to His well of living water. While I definitely don’t always appreciate it as I should, today’s experience gave me a newfound appreciation for how blessed I truly am.
Well folks, that’s it for tonight! Until tomorrow, ¡adios!