Well… That was a little nuts!
Summer is over, Fall (make that Winter) has come again in Alberta, and Nadine and I find ourselves getting back into the thick of things here in Burundi.
Coming back “home” to Alberta was surreal for both Nadine and I. It was absolutely amazing to reconnect with friends and family, and yet it was absolutely exhausting in every way. Emotionally, physically, mentally, Nadine and I experienced a taxing of ourselves that rivalled some of our more challenging times here in Burundi, believe it or not! As the morning, noon and night of our days began to get filled up, our calendar ran out of space and our minds nearly did the same!
This is not to say that going home wasn’t desperately needed and wanted. The hugs, smiles, gestures of kindness, and the warmth that we were received with gave Nadine and I much needed encouragement and grounding, particularly heading back into Burundi for Round 2!
It was a huge transition in so many ways for us, returning back to Canada for a month and then speeding back out here again (Hello, culture-shock!). The jet-lag we experienced was worsened by the lack of sleep we endured while in Edmonton, and the transition has felt anything but smooth for us. It’s been an unexpected challenge to be sure.
For one thing (or several), we’ve returned to a ferocious combination of biting fleas and bed bugs, no running water, and multiple “compliments” of how fat we’ve become! “Yes, thank you,” is the proper response to that last one, although it’s a little tough on the self-esteem!
Homes of Hope, where we live, is now a little bit emptier! All of the friends and fellow volunteers we’ve been working with and beside for the past 18 months have all transitioned back to the USA/Canada/UK. That’s the nature of doing work like this; people come and go all the time!
Right away when we returned to Gitega, we said goodbye to Hannah and Andy, our UK volunteers who were with us since soon after the clinic opened. Andy converted our truck into an ambulance with lights and sirens, helped install our solar panels, built a Burundi-style infant incubator, and helped get our malnutrition project ready. Hannah left behind big shoes to fill, being an incredible nurse, and left us with a variety of texts and documents regarding best-practice, paediatric care, treatment algorithms, and even a portable suction machine (that we’ve had to use multiple times!).
So, yet another transition for us and for the clinic. We’re now building up our staff with two new hires, a nurse and a bookkeeper. A bookkeeper is my first step in delegating a few of the many responsibilities that I’ve taken on as the clinic director, a move that has been advised by a number of trusted and respected friends! During our time here, Nadine and I have constantly had to keep thinking transitionally, ensuring sustainability not only for the clinic, but for our roles in the health center as well. Over the next 17 months, every move we’ll be making will hopefully set up successful transitions in our roles as the medical and executive directors for Shammah.
Some transitions have been more than a little jarring! I wrote a joke on Facebook about how much we were charged for our month of cellular service back in Canada, and said I couldn’t wait to go back to Burundi, “the land of reasonable cellphone pricing.” Oh, how little did I know! In a rough change of pace here, all our local phone numbers got cut off and we’ve had to reregister everything! The nasty bit of it is that it also happened to every other Burundian, and you can just imagine the lineups at the office! Yesterday, a riot almost broke out as I was getting my cellphone set up again, with over 150 people trying to rush into the office, while over a dozen armed police officers looked on. Insane!
And speaking of transitions, we have an incredible update for you! God bless all of those who gave to support Anesie’s procedures here in Burundi. If you don’t remember, or didn’t read, a while ago we posted a blog to fundraise for Anesie, a lovely Burundian woman, suffering from epilepsy, who had a seizure and fell face first onto an open fire. Suffering horrific, life-altering (and potentially ending) burns, Anesie came to us several weeks after her initial accident, having received horrible care from a number of facilities close by to us here in Gitega. We cared for her, dressing her and clearing up her infections, and then partnered with Dr Jason Fader and Dr. John Cropsey at Kibuye Hospital (about an hour’s drive away from us) to give Anesie the surgeries and procedures she would need to save her life, and save the remainder of her vision.
Well one of our most favorite moments since returning to Burundi has been when Anesie came to visit us at Shammah! Having been discharged from Kibuye, a couple of months and several procedures later, the results are absolutely amazing! Anesie still has sight in one of her eyes, and her burns, which previously left her skull exposed, have been completely covered by skin grafts! Remaining is one small bone spur that needs to be removed, but otherwise, she is happy, healthy, and free of infection! It’s an absolute miracle that so many of you are a part of. Truly, our staff here did not believe Anesie would survive, but she is a trooper, and God isn’t done with her yet! We’re excited to share with you the pictures of how she looks like today.
In all of this, we are reminded that God is good. Life is hard, transitions aren’t easy, but God never transitions, he never changes on us. That is a good promise to cling to in times like this that prove to be unsettling and difficult.
Even the clinic is experiencing change, as over the summer and as we’re working now, our daily patient counts have fallen significantly. At our peak, Shammah was operating at over 25 patients per day, and now we have settled around 11. The dry season typically results in fewer clinic visits, with most farmers not having the money to go, and malaria transition rates going down, but we’ve noticed something far more sinister at Shammah. We have had patients and community members come in telling us of rumours that are spreading that Shammah charges 10,000 BiF ($6.10 USD) just to allows someone to come in the door! We are realizing that there are people out there that don’t want Shammah to succeed, and they’re actively spreading lies about our clinic. On the contrary, the average patient pays the equivalent of $2.75 USD for their entire consultation, laboratory tests, and medications! We are recognizing that we have to be more active in promoting the health center, and we’re taking steps to do so. It’s discouraging and disheartening to see, but we are trying to have faith that we’ll push through this challenge, while also trying to take action to make sure we can continue to grow, advertise, and extend our reach within our community, to build trust and relationship with those around us.
We’re encouraged daily by our staff, who remain some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and we’re also blessed by many community members, former patients, and children from around the area that are now starting to frequent the clinic just to spend time with us! It is those relationships that hint at what is possible if we were able to connect more fully with the community around us.
We were encouraged by so many of you during our time home. It was incredible to meet new family additions (we missed one really special wedding while we’ve been gone, but we’ve missed 8 babies being born!), and to spend precious time with family we haven’t seen in a while and much-loved friends. The messages and pictures that you all send from back home always encourage and bless us. There are so many people to thank, and you all know who you are. We love you very much!
Moving forward, we’re planning community outreaches, radio advertising, meeting with community administrators, and continuing our mission to collaborate more fully with the Ministry of Health. I’ll be attending a health workshop in Uganda at the beginning of October, and we hope to send Nadine to a women-in-ministry workshop in Tanzania!
We’re working hard to take all of the advice that we were given back home about taking time outs, spending more time with each other as a couple, and taking better care of ourselves! We’ll try, I promise!
We’ll work to get our updates up and running with more regularity, and with less words to read! For reading this whole thing, I thank you! God bless, and you’ll be hearing from us soon!
Please pray for us this week and next, as we add two new members to the Shammah Health Center team!
Love from Burundi,
Well… That was a little nuts!