Wow, I can’t believe our time in Zambia is through. It seriously feels like yesterday that we were arriving, yet at the same time it feels like it’s always been home. It was the experience of a lifetime, and I’m so grateful that Braydan and I were able to join this amazing group for a month as we learned about and served the people of Zambia.
While in Africa, we were given two major assignments that we were required to do along with our daily journals and final paper, which was to write/create vlog posts about A Day in the Life of an Intern and one entitled You Are the Gift. Braydan and I are working on piecing together the day in the life vlog post, but until that’s done, I’ll be writing about the assigned You Are the Gift post.
I don’t like to think of myself as a gift. Or at least, I didn’t. It felt pretentious and rude, something that only someone with a massive ego would think about themselves. I mean, come on, we critique womanizers by saying that they think they are God’s gift to women. While it’s true that humility requires a deference towards one’s possible importance, I’ve come to learn that being a gift to others should be the ultimate goal service.
While in Zambia, our mission (and yes, we chose to accept it) was to be of service to those in need. We were medical interns, not doctors, but to the people we visited and helped, we could’ve been heroes. But if we’re being honest, while I loved serving, I felt like I was having a hard time connecting with the patients we were visiting. With the native coordinators, I could laugh and joke and easily become friends; however, with the patients themselves, that was an area in which I struggled.
I’m not an overly social person, and talking to people is often something I have to force myself to do unless I feel very comfortable right off the bat. When you’re assessing someone for symptoms and possible causes, it’s easy to forget that there is an element of humanity that must be employed to put the patient at ease. In the beginning of our internship, I let Braydan be the element of humanity while I jotted down notes or redressed wounds. However, as I became more comfortable with the routine and the people we were visiting, slowly my stoic shell began to fall off.
The people of Zambia are incredibly friendly, and even when they’re in pain, they are kind. It’s not hard to believe then that being around friendly people made me more prone to being friendly. Joking a bit with patients here and there, finding common ground with them and doing my best to connect with them became a new goal.
Sister Sharon Eubank offered a unique perspective on how giving of yourself is worth much more than giving of humanitarian supplies. She asks, “What would it look like if each of us were our own well-stocked humanitarian organization? Instead of just giving out tangible goods in foreign locations, what if we had the richness of dispensing healing, friendship, respect, peaceful dialogue, sincere interest, protective listening of children, birthday remembrances, and conversations with strangers? What if that was what your humanitarian organization did? This kind of humanitarian work can be done by anybody and it can be done at any time. And you don’t need warehouses or fundraising or transportation. You can be perfectly responsive to any need that comes to you, wherever you are.”
That inquiry caused me to stop and ponder at how well I was doing as my own humanitarian organization. Was I dispensing healing? Well yeah, that was my purpose in being there, and since no one died on my watch I’d take that as a win. Was I offering friendship? Mmm yes, it just took some easing into. How about respect, peaceful dialogue, sincere interest, and all of the other attributes Sister Eubank mentioned? I was doing my best.
But I still didn’t feel like a gift. I didn’t see how what I had to offer the people was anything more than the supplies I was carrying on my back and the knowledge in my head. It wasn’t until my last week in Zambia that I began to see how I could be a gift along with the aid we were offering.
If you’ve been keeping up with my other posts, then you know that the medical interns were tasked with creating basic medical workshops to be given to a group of grade 8 children and a young adult class. While there, I had some of the sweetest interactions with the kids and with the adults that I had never expected. In a weird turn of events, I ended up team teaching with one of my “students” who had heard my lesson before. He did phenomenally! I was so surprised that he had actually paid attention to anything I had to say–and paid enough attention to be able to teach it to other people–that I was pretty much speechless afterwards.
And that’s when it started to dawn on me that maybe I did have something to offer these people besides my lesson plans. My quirky teaching style and sassy attitude had students laughing as I was teaching, and maybe their enjoyment and ease in the environment made it easier to learn. Who knows?
My final time out in the “field” doing home based care though, that was where I really realized that I maybe I am a gift, or at least, I could be if I really put myself out there. Again, if you’ve been keeping up, then you’ll remember that during my final week, I visited with a man that has a terminal brain tumor. I was the only intern that spoke with the man as I was the only one there with any knowledge about the brain (since I’m studying neuroscience) and was really the only one that could empathize with him on any level because of a back injury I had suffered last year.
Even though we later found out that he was terminal, which was something he didn’t know, he seemed to be somewhat more at ease with life when we left. Benny bestowed upon me one of the best compliments I’ve received when he told me later that he thought I had really helped the man with his struggles. I was touched. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to use my neuroscience studies and the trials I had been through to connect with someone from a land and culture so different from my own.
While neuroscience was my choice to study, my injury and the struggles I went through with it, were not my choice. After my surgery, and the difficulties I had with the pills given to me, I had to wonder what the purpose of the trial was. I already knew my back had issues, so why did Heavenly Father prevent the injury, which by all means should’ve healed on its own, not heal? Tears were shed in anger, frustration, and pain, and I didn’t understand what I was supposed to learn from it all.
As we drove away from the area, I had at least a small understanding of why I went through the trial that I did. In order to be the gift for someone else, I had to have an experience that would allow me to build a bridge of understanding with someone of a different culture, a different race, a different age, a different gender. Pretty much someone who was the epitome of different from myself. To be a gift for him, to ease his suffering and bring him peace of mind, I needed to experience something like the pain he was experiencing.
From all of the lessons I learned in Zambia, that may have been the most impactful and profound. I may never know whether or not the man’s wife ended up sharing with him that he was terminal, and I will likely never know if he came to peace with the fact that he will die, but I do know that in the time I was there, the conversation we had and the struggles we shared were what he needed right then. He needed a listening ear and someone to explain to him why things were happening the way they were and how he could ease the emotional burden and turmoil placed upon him by his illness. He needed someone who understood, and in that room full of people, I was the only one even close.
This experience taught me that often, it is not the backpack full of supplies that helps the most. Adages about keeping your head up and forgetting your worries are nice, but how helpful are they? In truth, while my fellow interns and Benny are fantastic people and full of wisdom, they would not have been able to be the person that Benny’s friend needed to hear from in that moment. The best gift we can give someone, then, is the gift of our unique and authentic selves.
We have been given blessings and trials for our unique and personal paths. Some of those blessings and lessons learned from trials are for our benefit; but I’ve found that more often than not, they are for us to connect with and benefit someone in need. In those times, we are called upon to be the gift for the person that needs us most. While it may feel like there will always be someone more qualified, someone more social or better at X, Y, or Z, remembering that you are there and not those other “better” people is all the empowerment you need to embrace your ability to be of service and remember that you are the gift.
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