Friday, August 29, 2008

My friends- Chris and Julia

Yet another week has ended at the Good Shepherd. It’s only been two weeks and yet I feel like I have been here all my life. I definitely have a “routine” during the week, but it helps to have a routine when everything else around me is chaotic.
I have stopped having the nightmares. I’m still not sleeping well thanks to mosquitoes and mysterious noises throughout the night. I confided in my friends that I was having nightmares and they identified with me immediately. Julia told me that she had nightmares every night for a month when she first arrived and Christina (Chris) told me that she takes drugs to help her sleep. I guess this is just all part of the experience. At least I know I am not alone.
I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you a bit about my two best friends in Swaziland.

Chris, as mentioned previously, is from Cincinnatti. She is my mothers’ age (very, very young…) and she has worked in Swaziland on three occasions. Back in the States, she works for a programme which visits homeless shelters and provides health care for those who can’t afford it. She has also worked in the prison system and I think this woman has seen a lot in her lifetime.
Chris makes me laugh everyday and it’s not just a giggle. She is so incredibly funny that I often find myself rolling around in my chair, tears streaming down my face and my sides ache the next day because I laugh so much. She is a ray of sunshine in this place. Chris struggles a bit with the walk back from Siteki. She gets a little breathless, so she stops, has a cigarette and continues on her way. I love her for this. I also love the fact that she hugs me everyday. I am a very tactile person and that hug everyday just gives me the strength to carry on.

Julia is a truly beautiful spirit. She is 23 years of age and has just graduated from nursing school. She has been in Swaziland for almost 12 months and she is very much a local. She speaks almost fluent SiSwati and she understands this culture better than anyone else here. She has really helped me a lot in trying to understand some of the crazy things my patients do. She works for the Home Based Care Programme which visits various “homesteads” (communities) and provides them with basic health care and much needed food. She goes into people’s “homes” and she really does pay witness to the good, the bad and the ugly. Her maturity is far beyond anything I have ever witnessed in any other 23 year old. She is incredibly brave and has a compassion that rivals that of Mother Theresa.
Julia is also a little “Bohemian”. She wears a scarf around her head and today I saw her walking through town with a sack of flour balanced on her head. If it wasn’t for her white skin and pixie-style haircut, I’d swear she was Swazi. Julia has really tried to encourage me to embrace life as a Swazi. I’m afraid she is encouraging the wrong person. I don’t have the heart to tell her that she’s talking to someone who is still applying anti-wrinkle eye cream twice a day and still wearing matching underwear. Speaking of underwear, this is one of the suggestions she has made to me. She has suggested that I just “let everything go” and not wear a bra. I have never been one to obsess about my breasts (other than spend extraordinary amounts of money on underwear- but I am the sister of a lingerie designer so I feel that it is a Genetic problem), but since being here I now have a true appreciation of the effects of not wearing a bra. Swazi women have breasts unlike anything I have paid witness to before. I see a lot of breasts because none of my patients wear clothes. There is no such thing as hospital gowns. Anyway, their breasts are nothing short of pendulous. The other day, I was in outpatients with a woman and her baby. Whilst talking to the woman, the baby reached into her blouse, grabbed her breast and swung it to the other side, lay down and held her breast with two hands as if he were holding a bottle. The breast was able to stretch that far! It was one of those many moments where I had to wear an expression on my face that read “Yes, I see this type of thing in Australia all the time” It’s extraordinary what gravity does to these women. It doesn’t matter if they have had a baby or not, they just look different and Julia suggests that this may have a genetic component. Whatever it is, I can assure you that I will not risk this effect by going without a bra. The other day, Julia and I were walking into town when the wind lifted her skirt. She absently said “Gee I’m lucky I decided to wear knickers today”. I’m not even going to go there……

I love these women to bits. I am overwhelmed by their courage, their kindness and their strength. They will see me through the difficult times here in Swazi and I can only hope that I provide them with some sort of comfort too. Chris says that she finds my consultations with patients hilarious. I certainly do have a unique style. Remember, not many of my patients speak English, so everything is said through an interpreter. The other day I had a woman with urinary stress incontinence. She had had 3 babies and now every time she coughs, sneezes or laughs, she has a little leak. I decided to teach her how to do pelvic floor exercises. This is not an easy task when your patient doesn’t speak English. Anyway, without even thinking, I put my hand between my legs and started pulling a face to demonstrate that I was squeezing my muscles in my nether-nether regions. As I said, I do a lot of things without really thinking how ridiculous they must seem. The patient, the interpreter and Chris were hysterical and Chris now refers to me as an expert in Keigel exercises-Swazi style.

I am very excited about my weekend. Chris, Julia and I have hired a car and we are going to drive into Manzini. There is a large supermarket there and we plan to stock up on groceries so that we can have a bit more variety in our diet. We are also going to have lunch at a restaurant called Swazi Candles. The girls assure me that I will love it. I am looking forward to getting away from Siteki for the day.
On Monday, we are going to the King’s 40th birthday. I have decided to go afterall. Everyone is going and I don’t want to be left alone here. Julia really wants to dance with the other women. This will involve her being bare chested. I am going to support her as God-knows what kind of trouble could erupt when a white girl is bare breasted. I know that last November when I got a little intoxicated at an Emergency Medicine conference, I threatened to dance at this festival to increase my chances of marrying the King, but I can assure you, I will remain fully clothed on Monday. Until then- have a good weekend.


catngirls said...

Oh, Mel... you make me laugh and want to hug you for all that you are seeing and feeling during this time. Your stories are so incredibly interesting and insightful. I am so glad to hear you are finding comfort with those around you. I must share with you that I am hooked on your blog I check it a few times a day for some perspective on life. I want you to also know that my students are also hooked on your stories. I shared a few things when we started talking women healthcare in my psych class and now they want to hear your whole blog everyday when they come to class. We've read up to last Sunday, what a powerful tool this has become to them as they realize there is more to our world than what they see on a daily basis and on the news. Thank you for your strength and courage to embark on such an adventure that some of us will never have the courage to do! YOU are amazing!!! Much love & support,

OzThoughts said...

G'day Mel!

You reminded me of this:

Love and peace


Rae said...

Mel! Loving the blog, every couple of days I log on and see what you have beenup to. I have shed a tear or two along the way, and I have had some palpitations reading what you are going through. I think you are amazing, and am just glad that you have found chris and julia and that you can get truly deserve them! You rock!!