Sunday, October 5, 2008

Extraordinary people

I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about a few remarkable people that I have met recently.

Jenny is a 5th year medical student from Aberdeen, Scotland. She has been with us for 6 weeks and sadly she leaves us next week (but not before we throw her a big Swazi birthday party on Tuesday!) Jenny and I get on famously because we both share a passion for any food that is sweet. It is no exaggeration when I tell you that Jenny consumes large quantities of chocolate and sweets on a daily basis. On a particularly good day, she will also eat cake. Whilst I share her passion, I sadly cannot partake in her daily menu. Her metabolism is AMAZING and she maintains her super-model figure despite the thousands of calories she consumes. She is 22 on Tuesday and I keep telling her that once she reaches the dreaded 30 she will no longer be able to eat like this, otherwise she’ll end up with a butt as big as mine.
Jenny also loves shopping and when we are particularly bored, we will sit and imagine what we would buy if we were back home in our respective Western Countries. Last weekend, Jenny and I went away together and spent a great weekend shopping for local souvenirs and eating good food. I will always look back fondly on that weekend as we drove home, with barely any petrol in the tank and dodging cattle, goats and policemen as we made the treacherous journey home.

Last weekend, I also had the privilege of meeting two friends of Julia’s who were here to visit for a short time.
Emerald is a young girl, with a big heart from Maine in the USA. She went to university with Julia. Emerald has been working in Uganda for a year now. She is working on a project which houses, feeds and educates children who are orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Emerald is gutsy and very brave. Nothing phases her and she works very hard, in a difficult country, to try and bring some decency to lives of these children. Emerald is returning home in January. She is returning to the States via Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt, across the Gaza Strip and into Palistine and Isreal. I think she is crazy and I told her so.

Farrah is a delightful girl from Ireland. She studied gender issues at university and now she works for Non-Government organisations in Uganda trying to ensure that men and women receive equal benefit from these charities. Farrah tells me that in Uganda, women are not only second class citizens, a car is considered more valuable than them. It simply breaks my heart. Farrah has just renewed her contract and will be staying on for her third year in the country.

The girls told me a lot about Uganda. In comparison, they thought Swaziland was incredibly civilised and simply amazing. From what I understand, they live in conditions a lot rougher than I am privileged to be in. Their options for food are a lot more limited and their accommodation not so comfortable. They were overwhelmed by the facilities at Good Shepherd. In Uganda, if you go to hospital, you have to take your own bed linen, your own food and your own relative to care for your daily needs. The floors are not washed daily and there is excretement and vomit everywhere. Patients lie on the floor between beds. Violence is common and if you are caught stealing you can possibly be stoned to death or have your hand amputated. Since hearing their stories, I realise how lucky I am to be in Swaziland. For all its problems, I can assure you that here at Good Shepherd, the patients are cared for and I am not allowed to enter the ward until all the patients are washed and the floors have been cleaned. I am truly grateful.

Later in the week, I met Andrew and Kristen. This married couple, both 25 and from Boston, have come here as part of the Peace Corp.
Andrew was a social worker who worked for the Department of Child Safety and Kristen was a paediatric oncology nurse.
The Peace Corp was established in 1960 by John F Kennedy when he challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. It has now become an international agency devoted to world peace and friendship. Peace Corp volunteers can work in education, youth outreach, community and business development, agriculture and the environment and health and HIV/AIDS.
Andrew and Kristen are in Swaziland under the umbrella of health and trying to develop a programme to help prevent/ treat or alleviate the suffering of HIV. They are required to stay with a local family and get to know the local community so that they can design a project that best suits the local community. They live with a Swazi family of two adults and 3 adolescent children. They live without electricity (like most people in Swaziland) and they share a communal latrine with the family and a few neighbours. When I say latrine, I mean a pit toilet. This is something I simply could not cope with. They do not have a shower or bathing facilities. They use a bucket and water that they need to retrieve themselves daily. I understand that they have a little gas stove and Andrew is currently trying to look at novel ways of creating a refrigerator that does not require electricity. We cooked them a great meal and we intend to make this a regular occurrence for these extraordinary people. I think they are among some of the most delightful people I have ever met and I know that we are going to become firm friends. They simply embody the concept of humanity. They have given up everything to help this country and unlike myself, who can take a shower everyday and have electricity (most of the time), they are doing it at a grass roots level. I have enormous admiration for these people. They are committed to two years here and they are unable to stay away from their community for even a night. They had to walk for about 40 minutes to reach us here at the Good Shepherd and we offered them a bed because it was late when they were about to leave. They had to decline because it is against the ethos of the Peace Corp for them to stay elsewhere. I asked them if there was any food that they particularly craved and they unanimously said “Italian”. This was an incredibly sign, because basically, that’s all I’m able to cook well. Next Saturday, we plan to put on a big Italian feast for them after we search this country high and low for a few key ingredients!


graeme said...

Dont forget the garlic bread

graeme said...

Dont forget the garlic bread Mel!