Prepare yourself for a fairly long update, as it’s been a month full of crazy happenings, even in the mundane.
First, the big picture things I have learned:
I have experienced things I never thought I would and have come away with a bigger and better picture of what tropical medicine looks like. I have developed a greater appreciation for missionary doctors, as they are working under conditions that are less than glamorous, and with extremely limited resources. I have also come away with a greater respect for the African people groups here; they have learned how to be extremely resilient and they thrive in what can be such a harsh and unforgiving environment. There is nothing quite like the Congo, and yet it is so similar to the other African countries I have experienced, that it was easy to feel at home quickly.
I think the only way I can give a glimpse into what this past month has held for me is by giving you a few of the big highlights, so here they are:
- I saw three different births, and assisted with all of them! All three were very different and very high stress.
- The first was a C-section. I soothed the mother, assisted with the clean-up of both mother and baby, and later helped clean out a dental cyst she had. She apparently liked me a lot; so much so she allowed me to name her baby! (For those wondering, I named it David, after my brother).
- The second birth was natural, but it was a 16-year-old girl and her first birth. She had a tough time of it- in fact, she ended up needing an episiotomy. Needless to say, I almost passed out and had to leave for a bit, although I did come back to help as they stitched her up without any pain medication.
- The last birth was actually supposed to be a C-section, but as the nurses prepared for it, the baby showed up unexpectedly fast! It was a breech baby and came out bottom first. As soon as it was out, the nurse told us it was twins! The second baby was then born feet first, and mother and babies were all healthy (which here is pretty much a miracle).
- I almost got hit by lightning. I did not realize that this area of the world was one of the most heavily struck by lightning, and I now have a healthy fear of thunderstorms.
- I biked through the jungle, walked through the jungle, and boated through the jungle. The rainforest atmosphere here means that you are never not sweaty, but it makes for a BEAUTIFUL landscape.
- I attended church in a pygmy village and fell in love with the Aka people (the pygmies in this region). They are some of the friendliest, most unassuming people I have met, and they love showing people how they survive in the jungle.
- I learned that I really enjoy wound-care and that in the Congo it is so necessary to teach people how to take care of themselves in that respect, especially those with neglected tropical diseases like leprosy.
And then the smaller, everyday parts of this month. These are the tinier, yet no less important, memories I will take back with me; my how-to-survive-and-thrive guide to the Congo:
- Rock a headlamp
- Bike through town without getting hit by a motorcycle
- Bike through town without hitting goats, chickens, or children
- Eat ants with your bread and accept it as a fact of life
- Enjoy using milk powder with everything (there’s no milk here)
- Make killer pancakes
- Cope with a newfound celebrity status
- Avoid exploding car batteries
- Enjoy cold showers
- Drink hot tea as a way to cool down
- Use charades as a language
- Eat fish without swallowing the bones (a hard thing to do here)
- Eat safou
- Make spaghetti using corned beef
- Swing on a vine with an audience
- Avoid daily marriage proposals
- Live without power. Or wifi. Or cell service.
- Laugh with the people
- Laugh with the people at yourself
- Remain flexible and teachable, even when you don’t want to
- Kill cockroaches with a flyswatter
- Sleep under a mosquito net
- Accept the name “mondele!” (white person!)
- Enjoy the peaceful evenings
- Eat fou-fou and kwanga and enjoy it
- Think of 85-degree weather as ‘cold’
- Eat Jumpy with everything
- Type in French
- Write prescriptions in French (supervised, of course)
- Accept all-night church parties as normal
- Become best friends with ear-plugs
- Navigate the market
- Eat crocodile
- Sew up Chacos. And tennis shoes.
- Recycle everything from pasta bags to medicine boxes into something useful
- Sit in a pirogue without tipping it over
- Accept sweat as a natural part of life
- If you’re an hour late, you’re early
- Avoid 4-foot-wide potholes
- Eat a smoked caterpillar
- Bike through the mud without getting stuck
- Avoid the hungry, worm-ridden cat
- Kick a soccer ball with some kids
- Take lots of pictures
…and so much more! I hope that this has given you a glimpse of the joys (and some struggles) that I had here in the Congo! I hope once I am in Uganda that I will have a bit more consistent contact- until then, peace and blessings.