Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ethiopia July 2008: The days that followed...

It's been several days since I've been able to put anything down in writing. We have been traveling, working, and being exposed to a different way of life, a different way of looking at how people are treated and how people live. We've seen everything from the ordinary, to the extraordinary and beyond. There have been moments of confusion, happiness, frustration, and wonder. We've seen children who are so malnourished that they don't even measure on our growth charts. We have seen poverty that is indescribable, and beyond description. We have seen people who are so dirty that their skin is not even visible. We've seen deformities, untreated injuries, and birth defects. We have seen babies suckling at the breast crying because there is no milk to be had. And we have seen the smiles on the faces of those whom we helped. It has been a remarkable few days.

We have seen an amazing amount of patients, averaging 350 to 400 patients a day. Our dentists have been averaging 80-100 patients a day. The actual number of patients we've seen so far doesn't really matter. Its how they've reacted to how we've cared for them that makes a big difference. There are patients for whom we've not been able to help and there are those for whom we've made a difference. The pictures speak for themselves.

A few days ago we split the team into two sending one team to Zeway and the other team to Bahir Dar. Each team saw over 300 patients in the two half days of clinics that were held. The team that went to Zeway drove by bus for several hours, and the Bahir Dar team flew. There was time for some sightseeing, and for reflection. But most of the time was spent doing what we came to do: to see those who sought our help, physical and emotional and spiritual.

Yesterday we went to a project in the outskirts of Addis Ababa called Kotebe. Again, we saw extremely poor and isolated human beings, living day to day with nothing but the clothes on their back and existing on an occasional meal of bread. And today, in stark contrast to what we've been seeing, we met with the President of Ethiopia, exchanging "thank you's", us for the privilege of being here in his country and him thanking us for helping. The pomp and circumstance of the event was interesting at best, but cemented for me the vast differences that are evident within a social structure in a Third World country. For what it's worth, the President of Ethiopia heard that we were here because of the healthcare needs of an impoverished lower class and all I can hope is that he felt some discomfort with the fact that people from another country had to come to his country to care for his own people. I am perhaps a little cynical, but after all that we've seen in the past few days one can only wonder how those behind those palatial walls can rest comfortably at night knowing that just outside their gates are children who are dying of starvation, and mothers struggling to find a meal for their children. But then again I look at our own circumstances in the United States and know that there are those who sit behind palatial walls knowing that just outside their gates there are poverty-stricken areas of urban cities, the Appalachia's, and the ghettos, where the human existence and suffering is no different than what we are seeing here.

These have been difficult days, at least for me. I see the unwashed and hungry children in my mind every time I close my eyes. And I see the hopelessness in the eyes of those who came wanting more than we could give them. The last patient I saw in Bahir Dar was an old man of 90 years. He was walking hunched over with a walking stick, blind, and alone. A stranger had brought him to us. He sat next to me and as I held his hand, he told me he was blind, he lived in the street, he had no money, no family, and that he was hungry. I asked him how I could help. He looked at me through eyes that hadn't seen life in years, and said quietly, "Can you help me die?" I never answered him. I didn't know how. I simply held his hand and kissed his cheek and said a silent prayer. He was a Muslim looking to us for help. As I watched him walk away I wondered whether I fell short of what I came here to do. To show those who are hurting that there is still love to be had. And I will wonder for a very long time, if he ever got over wanting to die. I can only hope.

In all things give thanks,