Saturday, November 26, 2005

Thanksgiving thankfulness

November 24, 2005 Thanksgiving.

I have to admit I was not in the best mood waking up Thanksgiving morning. I’m homesick, exhausted, temperatures are sweltering again inside the tent and because it’s an American Holiday and we are an American NGO it’s vacation staffing (only 2 nurses) which is really impossible to safely run the hospital and health center given that we are full of patients with malaria and the waiting room is full of new cases. So I am working on Thanksgiving – for the first time here I’m grudgingly working – I’m impatient with my nurses, impatient with my patients… tired of the onslaught of malaria that doesn’t seem to be ebbing at all, tired of all the things I can do little or nothing to change in these refugees’ lives, tired of working under these conditions without the proper staffing or medications… in short I’m a particularly bad version of myself. To make matters worse we are on our last bottle of quinine tablets without any way to get more for the next couple of days and I can just picture the scene of patients in rigors swamping the health center in the upcoming days. I really don’t know if I have the strength for it…

But grace comes in the most unexpected of times and places – (hence the word “grace”) and about 4PM a *huge* UNICEF truck comes roaring into the camp trailed by the requisite entourage of children running behind. I had written a letter to the UNICEF health division a few weeks back after their education staff had visited the camp. I hadn’t heard back so I tried emailing the same letter to the education staff member that had given me his card. Still no reply so I had pretty written them off as unable or unwilling to help… then in another moment of grace I was having lunch with Andria, a Canadian UNHCR intern (specifically in HIV concerns) at the Novetel when I was back in Kigali when lo and behold a UNICEF physician comes to our table to greet Andria. I am introduced and immediately (perhaps a little too enthusiastically) jump straight to business – asking her if she has seen my letter… she says no, but gives me her card and encourages me to email a copy to her so she can forward it to the head of the health division. I do later that night and invite the head of the division to come visit the camp.

Later that week, Kofi who is a Togolese physician – head of the Rwandese UNICEF health division shows up at the camp. He is a large man who speaks his mind directly and forcefully – it is refreshing after being frustrated with the Rwandese penchant for circular pronouncements. Although after his visit he said he couldn’t *promise* anything, UNICEF was shifting warehouses in Kigali and he stated that he should have some things that could help. The next weekend we are back in Kigali and Theo and I call Kofi and visit him at his residence – and he says he has signed a requisition for a huge amount of supplies – 4,500 blankets; 4,500 jerry cans, educational kits, recreation kits, health kits… and we should be expecting them early in the week.

As the week goes by I have to admit I had my doubts (I’ve become a little jaded with all the unkept promises I’ve been hearing) and Thursday arrived still without the truck. But come Thursday evening, Thanksgiving just when I am mired in self-pity and frustrations here comes this massive truck filled with supplies and suddenly I am thrilled.

The UNICEF truck drawing quite a crowd at the camp

Unloading the boxes with one of the refugee scout leaders

There are 2,000 tablets of quinine in addition to a huge amount of recreational equipment and school equipment for the children as well as medical / surgical supplies, It is a gift at just the right time for the refugees and just as quickly as the weather changes here – my spirits are lifted and I am energized enough to help unload the truck (which causes quite a stir among the refugees). I am constantly amazed at how and where help comes – just when I feel like despairing there always seems to be an opening that allows us to slide by again… *grace*.

Now if I were *really* African, I would have been able to balance the box without any hands!

I hope everyone had wonderful Thanksgivings – mine turned out to be lovely after all. Thanks also goes out to singer-songwriter Ralston Bowles for sending me his CD “Carwreck Conversations” – all the way over here in Rwanda from all the way over there in Michigan. I had used a quote from his song “Fragile” in my quotes of the week and a friend of his saw it and told him about it… I had to admit that I had only ever heard other artists cover the song and hadn’t actually heard *him* sing it… something that has now been happily remedied… the CD is truly inspiring and thought provoking… visit to get your own copy!! So I will leave with a quote from another of his songs…”Draper”

“I don’t believe that I’m a cynic, I don’t believe that I don’t believe

I don’t believe that any slogans are going to bring anyone relief

I just believe that I am moving toward learning how to fly

I just believe that life is more than rehearsing how to die…”

All my best,