Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Friends at Bulembu

Less than one week to go before Mum, Graeme and Rachel arrive in Swaziland. I am counting down the days, hours and minutes. I miss them so much. I am going to have to try and remember the feeling of missing them, because I will need to draw on the experience the next time they drive me absolutely nuts……
Their bags are packed and they have informed me that amongst a huge amount of donated items they are bringing with them, they also are bringing 1500 donated condoms. I have to admit, I wasn’t overly thrilled when I heard this. Whilst I am certainly not against condoms, I just am fearful that if word gets out in Siteki about the donation, I will forever be known as the “condom doctor” and this is certainly not the legacy I intended to leave behind.

Last weekend, I was incredibly blessed to have my other “family” here with me at Bulembu. Kristin and Andrew made the treacherous trip here and they arrived on Saturday morning. It was wonderful spending time with them and showing them all that I have discovered here at Bulembu. We enjoyed ourselves playing with the orphans, eating good food and sleeping in plush surrounds. Kristin called upon my skills as a doctor when she randomly fainted, but I think that good coffee and red wine were a shock to her system. She recovered without complication. They had to return home to Siteki on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t our last goodbye- I will be catching up with them again over Christmas when my family and I are in Siteki. I feel like the luckiest person in the world having them in my life. I love them dearly and consider them part of my extended family. They have certainly embraced me with tremendous kindness and comfort and I know that our friendship is going to span a lifetime. When they left, I was filled with an overwhelming sadness. Whilst I battle with my guilt about leaving Swaziland, I also battle with my desire to remain here with them so that we can see this adventure through together. I suspect I will spend the next two years worrying about their safety and comfort.

I have made other friends whilst staying in Bulembu. One of my good friends, whom I have dinner with every night, is Lorraine. She is a social worker and has recently left Zimbabwe to take up a position here in Bulembu. We have spent countless hours talking about the conditions she has left in Zimbabwe. Her husband came to Swaziland first and she soon followed him. Trouble is, they were so uncertain about the conditions in Swaziland, that they left their 18 month old son in Zimbabwe with her parents until they found stability here in Swaziland. Now that they are both employed, they are trying to get their son a passport so that he can join them. The regime in Zimbabwe is so bad that obtaining a passport may be quite difficult (and will probably require a lot of money to bribe officials). I cannot imagine what it would be like to live with this kind of uncertainty. They had to leave Zimbabwe to escape a brutal regime and now they have to anguish about getting their son to join them. (not to mention the concern associated with the current outbreak of cholera)
Before getting her job in Bulembu, Lorraine has worked in other orphanages throughout Africa and she has described absolutely horrendous conditions and appalling abuse of children. She has also told me of some of the terrible abuse that children have had to endure prior to reaching the orphanage and some of the stories have made me physically sick. There may well be an international charter that tries to protect the rights of children, but it is certainly not enacted in some parts of Swaziland. Thankfully, things here at Bulembu are a refreshing change for her and I know she will do well. Her role will be to provide counselling for some of the older orphans and hopefully she will help co-ordinate some international adoptions. Whilst I am particularly involved with the orphanage that looks after babies and toddlers, there are other orphanages here that house older orphans. One of the places here called “Jacaranda” exclusively cares for girls that have been abused (in all forms) and I suspect she will have a role in their rehabilitation as well. Lorraine is an extraordinary woman working with extraordinary people, so there is great potential for her here at Bulembu.

I have also had the pleasure of catching up with a man called Volker, whom I met at the Board meeting when I last came to Bulembu. Yet again, another extraordinary person. To simplify his role here, I can only describe him as another “Bill Gates” but on a smaller scale. He was an entrepreneur in Canada when he decided to focus his efforts on establishing Bulembu. He is a very clever business man who has been very successful but has now devoted his time, knowledge and resources to establishing and maintaining this novel place. The first time I met him, I was incredibly intimidated by him. I thought my role in Swaziland paled in comparison to his work here (and I still feel the same way) but I am no longer intimidated and we have become friends. He teases me incessantly and laughs a lot at my expense, but he is sensitive to what I have seen here in Swaziland and the other night, after Kristin and Andrew left, he paid witness to one of my unfortunate “meltdowns”. He could tell that I was a bit down, so he asked me to join him outside for a chat. He smoked and drank red wine whilst I cried and cried about the nightmares I am still having about my time here in Swaziland. I spoke of my enormous guilt and the sense that I am “abandoning” the disaster here. Perhaps it’s his wisdom and experience that he has accumulated over the years, but he was able to talk to me in a way that made sense and gave me tremendous comfort. I appreciated his down-to-earth response and the fact that he doesn’t see what we are doing here through “rose coloured glasses”. I haven’t made an enormous difference here, but the reality is that no-one, despite their best abilities and intentions can make a huge difference here. It’s all about doing our little bit for the time that we are able to do so. I am currently reading a book at the moment called “The problem with Africa” and whilst it talks about international aide on a much grander scale, it also highlights that there are problems here that will perhaps never get better. Quite a sombre concept but helps put my experience here into perspective. I appreciated his paternal overtures and the wisdom he kindly afforded me.

Heather and Andy Sullivan and their daughter Cassi also provide me with a “home away from home”. I spend most afternoons with them and their small group of orphans. They also allow me to use their computer to type out my blog in a word document- something I am particularly grateful for. They are looking forward to meeting my family next week.

My “official work” continues, although no way near as dramatic as what I have experienced at Good Shepherd. Lots of ankle sprains, lacerations and bouts of gastro that leave me terribly disinterested, however, I did evacuate a girl yesterday with appendicitis and I hear she is doing well after surgery in South Africa.

Today, Neil and I spent the morning teaching the nurses here how to treat acute emergencies. I spend the afternoons typing up protocols for emergencies as well as simple “clinic” presentations that I got particularly good at dealing with during my time at Good Shepherd.

I spoke to my Dad this morning and he asked me how I felt about Christmas that is just around the corner. The truth is, it doesn’t feel like a typical Christmas here and I suspect many in Swaziland who are particularly afflicted with poverty won’t even know it’s Christmas. It certainly will be a different Christmas experience for me, but at least I will be with my family. 5 days to go…..