Friday, March 25, 2011

A Day at Bere

I hear the familiar splashing sound of someone drawing water from the well. In a matter of minutes I hear my family begin to chatter. Sunrise must be soon. I don't want to get up yet. It is finally cool and comfortable for sleeping. My body is still fatigued from a night shift I'd done the night before. Reluctantly I prop myself up with my elbow in my mosquito tent and feel around for my Bible. I ask for God to use me today.

It is not long before a clap at my door signals the beginning of breakfast. Directly after breakfast Pierre, my African father, starts up the motorcycle and we are off. The wind still has a morning coolness to it as we whiz past children running to get to school on time. We almost hit a pig. I duck down a little and close my eyes briefly just like every time I think we're going to hit something.

We are first to arrive for hospital morning worship. I sit down on one of the concrete benches and look up into the green expanse of mango branches. Large bats are flying back and forth. I squint my eyes trying to get a good look at their strange wolf-like faces. Degaulle, the landscaper has sat down and is peering through his trifocals at a Nangere Hymnal. Soon others join us as we sing a song or two. Then comes a worship thought and prayer requests.

After worship I head to the Surgical Department. On my way I stop to see Honorie, a maternity patient I had taken care of on night shift. She was already here when I came to Bere and I've watched her waste away. She had a ruptured uterus, had a wound infection after surgery and now is just failing to thrive. Last night I had to hold her head up so she could drink water dribbled into her mouth. This morning she looks like living death. I squat by her bed and call her name. She isn't with it at all. I bow my head and pray for God to either heal her or give her rest. Unable to help any more I move on to my department.

Nothing much is happening. Salomon and I fold dressings and sit on the desk swinging our legs. We talk and I attempt more French. Finally its time for dressing changes. Today I'll be doing them. We start on the hardest one. It is a man with a gaping wound in his upper thigh. I unwrap the bandage and pull out the packing. After pushing on it to get all the puss out I begin the painful process of cleaning the wound. I pack a bleach solution soaked compress down in the wound and it seem like I'll never get to the bottom. The man is in extreme pain but only whimpers softly. I breath a big sigh of relief and satisfaction when I'm done. I think he does too.

I walk down to hall to Maternity and find Honorie's bed empty. I glance up at Danae with a questioning look. Danae tells me she died 5 minutes ago. God answered by giving her rest. Danae had given her every antibiotic in the book plus nutrition shakes, and worked to strengthen her muscles. We all felt disappointed and sad.

After work I go over to missionary compound and spend some time with my friends. The kids are hanging out under the mango trees like they often do. We chat and laugh for awhile. Around sundown I figure it’s time to head for home. The full moon is up and beautiful in the faintly pinkish sky. At the split in the road I see some kids throwing a bucket lid like a frisbee. One of them overshoots and it lands close to my feet. I smile as I pick it up and throw it back. They giggle excitedly and throw it to me again. I move off the path a bit and now we have a triangle. We throw the bucket-lid frisbee back and forth. Soon more kids join and there is a lot of laughter. Kids take turns giving me high-fives and retrieving the lid the times I miss it. We hoot and exclaim over every good catch or botched throw. In the coolness of the dusk and under the beauty of the full moon I feel the sadness of the day melt away. I live moment by moment here, and this moment of playing with children is happy. We're carefree and having a big time. It gets too dark to see. After telling the kids we should play again sometime, I head home.

At home I settle on a mat with my family. The kids gather around. We start acting silly and singing the nursery song "Frere Jacques" with our noses pinched. I don't think the kids have every tried this trick. We all have some good belly laughs. After a while the kids all curl up and fall asleep. I'm right in the middle of them all thinking how blessed I am. This has been a typical day in Bere. It has had both hard things and fun things - sad times and happy times. I look at the moon until my eyes refuse to stay open. I drift off for few minutes before heading to my hut. My head lamp shines on my hut wall and reveals two things I wrote with chalk.
Kuma Kura and Dieu est amour.

God is good. God is Love.

Kuma Kura

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Your Bouille & Rice Shall Be Sure

I had this impression I would be continually hungry in Tchad. I pictured myself squeezing between herds of children trying to get one spoonful before it was all consumed. There is no doubt this has been the experience of some, but I couldn't have been more off-track. My stomach stays in a nearly permanent state of "over-fullness". I will figure out the system yet, but for the time being I pray specifically for my stomach when I get up in the morning.

The food has not been very problematic for me. My evening meal of bouille with slimy sauce is quite edible. Their bouie (rice porridge), Gat-toes (unsweetened doughnut) and sugared beans are delicious. But in great quantity any one of these dishes can challenge me.

At meal times I am often served my own personal portion while the family eats off a platter. I have started calculating and have decided I am served 1/3 of the amount that feeds the family. For example: 3 Bouille loafs are served to my hungry family of 8 or 10, while I am given a whole loaf of my own. This could just be chalked up to generosity, but they aren't satisfied unless I eat 3/4th of my food. A typical loaf of Bouille resembles a loaf of artisan bread the size of a small dinner plate - only much denser and more filling than bread.

At the beginning of the meal I attack my food with gusto. At the half-way mark my stomach says "enough!" My chewing slows ever so slightly. My African mother or sisters have very keen eyes and seize the opportunity to command me to "Eat!" I've tried every polite argument, hand gesture and pitiful look, but all to no avail. If I fall short of their expectations I get a click of the tongue and a disapproving look.

If I happen to miss meal time, never fear! My meal will be waiting for me whenever I return. I may have already eaten at a missionary’s house or accepted the hospitality of another family. No matter. "Rochelle, manges!" I’ve tried: "Oh, no, I've already eaten" and "Oh, that's ok, I'm really full" or "My stomach is very small"--all to no avail. The food is set before me with finality. Woe be unto them if I should ever experience hunger!

To my African family: there may be millions starving in African, but thanks to you I will never be one of them.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

All Through The Night

Olen poked his head around the curtain in Medicine.

"Hey Heather Rochelle." (This is his preferred name for me.) "Any chance you could cover Surgical/Maternity Wednesday night. There's a nurse who doesn't show up. "

"Sure thing" was my reply, but really I was filled with silent dread. Working an 18-hour nightshift had been a fear of mine. Other Student Missionaries had told me stories that would chill any nurse’s heart. I had never worked anything beyond a 12-hour shift and most certainly had never worked over-night in my life. Might as well do both in one night—with a language barrier. Why not?

I arrived at the hospital at 2:30 pm to look over the charts and try to ask some questions before the previous shift melted away. An hour later I had feelings much like a ship mid-ocean leaking like a sieve. It was only 30 minutes into my shift and I was in way over my head. A lady was flailing wildly due to a fever, an IV was leaking, another IV had come out, a huge wound dressing hadn't been changed, and a baby in critical condition was in need of IV medication but the family had no money. This necessitated a frantic search for a government slip for urgency for Danae to sign. I was being told to write orders I'd never done and my limited French vocabulary had long since run dry. Standing in line at pharmacy I had a chance to mentally refocus.

"Talk faith, not doubt."

When I returned to my department, help had arrived. Hamadou took care of my IV's while I filled out orders and charts. Danae got the fever patient settled down and gave instructions on her overnight care. Cory translated and tracked down people for me, while Ndilbe changed the wound dressing. Before I knew it 6 o clock meds had been given. Everything became quiet so I headed to Danae and Olen's where I was fed royally with potatoes, chili and a big frank. Cory stayed around to help with 9 o clock meds. I finally sent him home at 10 pm.

I settled down in the Maternity office. For the next few hours the two other nurses working would come to check on me. There was a baby who required an IV push every 6 hrs and fed every 3 - 4 hrs. He was premature and feverish. At first he didn't want to suck, I was encouraged by his angry cry. He had some fight still in him. By the end of the night he was doing A-OK. After a 2 am med I curled up on an exam table and slept ‘til 4 am when another med was due. When I went to give the IV medication I discovered that in a feverish delirium the lady had pulled out her IV. Unsure how to order a new one I ran for Salomon. He came right away and didn't stop helping me until all the 5 am meds were given. Grateful for all his help I went to help him with his morning vital signs. In turn he helped me with mine.

It was with particular gratefulness I noticed the sky growing brighter. Wearily I trudged home in the blinding morning light. My family was already busy bagging nuts and brewing tea for market. I had collapsed in my mosquito tent when there was a clap at the door. Time to eat. Neither I nor my stomach was in any mood to eat, but I put myself together again and opened the door. They had brought me a platter with 4 huge donut things and a mug of tea. I was grateful for their kindness. I was able to consume all of it (except the syrup tea) and was just excusing myself to go sleep when I was instructed to "wait". They weren't finished feeding me. The next course was sugared beans. By the time I finally lay down it was nearly 9 am. By 10:30 I woke up slippery with sweat. It was time to vacate my hut--a.k.a. "the oven". I went in search of cooler parts of the earth such as the shade of our family palm tree. There I enjoyed the pleasant wind and was able to rest a bit more despite being surrounded by a lively family discussion consisting of whooping, laughing, clapping and "Mood-dung yell-talking" **. It made me smile, but not sleep.

God is faithful.

**The language my family speaks is very loud and angry sounding. They are not upset...just very loud. It can still make me jump. : )

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Need

We are trying to change a wound dressing. The patient has lost a tremendous amount of skin due to necrotizing fasciitis. His life hangs in the balance. It all depends on us holding off infection as he heals. He is young and has much to live for. As we unwrap the old dressing, flies descend like a plague. I vainly try to wave away the swarms, but no matter how violently I fan they still crawl around on his raw flesh. Those same flies haunt the outhouses just outside. I glance up at the ripped and torn screens on the windows and frown. If I could just fix those...but how. The next day the guy has a fever. My shoulders sag a little. I'm going to try to come up with something to make due, but new screens are what is needed. They certainly can't cost too horribly much, but probably it is more than I can swing with my limited funds. New screens on the windows and doors would cut down on the infection rate in our hospital tremendously. In short, it is a simple thing that would save lives...precious non-replaceable lives.

A patient is recovering from a surgery. The surgery went well and they should be up on their feet in no time. However after a stay of several days in the hospital they start to run a fever and vomit. Its malaria. Now they face another week in the hospital. In another case a lady comes in for a minor procedure and must stay over night. We send her home. Within a couple weeks she's back with malaria.

This hospital could benefit from having mosquito nets.

One last things has been pressing on my mind. What a difference a fresh coat of paint could make. Pediatrics looks wonderful, but all the other departments have dull gray, chipped paint on walls and beds. If someone would hand me several buckets of paint and a paintbrush I could really do something. To bad things cost money.

I don't have these things priced yet, but I will. Soon. Seeing at least one of these projects begun before I leave would make me radiantly happy!

Donor Instructions added 4/20/2011:

Donations may be made to Adventist Health International, the umbrella organization for Bere Hospital Chad. Visit their website
1) "How Can I Help"
2) "Financial Donations"
3) Decide if you want to give by Paypal, phone, or postal service
4) Important: Mark you donation
"Bere Hospital Chad: Heather's Wish List"

**To add this note to Paypal donations:
Right under the Shipping Address you will see the words
"Note to Seller"
Click on the word "Add" In the box that pops up type
"Bere Hospital Chad: Heather's Wish List"

Thank you. Your friendship and support mean so much!
(Posted on Heather's behalf by her mom, Paula Haynes)

Monday, March 14, 2011


I like smiling. Laughing is even better. For a time, life in Tchad felt too serious and severe for smiles or laughs. Not now. They fill my days. Here are some things that make me smile.

5:30 am. The roosters have been going off since 4 am, but causing no great disturbance. Then the silence shatters like breaking glass. Good Morning my friends! There are two donkeys who live over the fence from me. On a random whim I christened them Bert and Ernie. They always greet the day with gusto. Just recently I noticed a third little one whom Brichelle has dubbed Elmo.

A little girl wanders into our courtyard. Her eyes are locked on me. Solemnly she offers her hand in polite greeting. When I look away I feel something on my arm. She is stroking me. She toddles around me. Starring intently at my arm she goes to stroke it with her feather light touch. She's so intense. I crack up.

We're at the river splashing and dunking. I get out to warm up on the sand and my friend Papa joins me. He starts copying everything I do and say so I decide to have some fun. I point at him, he points at me. I strike a "thinker" pose and he does the same. I look at him sideways and he looks at me sideways. We both bust out laughing. Finally I end the game by running full speed into the river. We both do belly flops.

I try to say "really?" in French and end up saying "how much?" That sort of thing happens a lot. Oh boy.

Sometimes in my hut at night when I'm dripping sweat, I like to imagine that its frigid outside and someone has just turned up the thermometer really high. Somehow it makes it feel better.

Moo-deng sneaks up behind me while I do dishes at Parkers and either yells or pours cold water down my back. When I come after him he will smile sweetly and say with his funny accent "Heather, my sister. I am your brother".

There is so much to smile about!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

These moments make my days

I'm taking an evening walk to the hospital. The warm sand is sliding through my flip flops as I walk. Halfway there I hear a little exclamation behind me and then the sound of little feet running. Turning around I see two little girls wearing big smiles running at top speed towards me. I smile too and open my hands to them with a look of happy surprise as if we are old friends. The little girl who reaches me first trustingly takes my hand. The other girl goes for my other hand but finds it full of things. For a moment we stand trying to find a solution to this problem. She solves it by taking the same hand already occupied with the other little hand. We walk the rest of the way together.

I come home after dark. My family is sitting on mats in the courtyard enjoying the coolness of the evening. I join them. The children regard me with shy smiles. My hands turn into sneaky critters that creep over the mat and tickle their toes. They giggle. Soon it’s an all-out game of "sneaky tickle hands". Worn out by this exercise, I flop down to look at the stars. The kids quickly snuggle down around me.

I'm done with work for the day. Esther is shelling peanuts on her front porch. I wander over to help. She shows me how to crack them on the cement. We watch and laugh at the kids as them play.

I am walking to church with Emma who is dressed in his best Big Dog Pajamas. At Sabbath School he is anxious I have a song book for song service. Convinced my English Bible must have the words, he insists I open it up. I end up "singing" from II Chronicles. During the sermon my little African sister, Sidoni, delights in flipping through my small French Bible while leaning on my knee. On the walk home Emma, Sidoni and I all hold hands and sing the closing song again. I try to teach them how to skip – unsuccessfully.

There is a young Arab man in Bed 16. He has been here for more than a week. His condition is grave and painful. I've made an effort to greet him and wish him courage. Today he asks my name. His name is Berthe. He smiles.

I visit a family with Tammy Parker. They let me hold the baby of the family. We are waltzing around as I hum. Suddenly there is a sensation of wetness. My scrubs have a nice dark spot on the leg. We all laugh. Life isn't complete, I think, without having a sweet baby pee on you.

When I understand enough French to catch their humor, and the glorious few times I can joke back.

These are what define my days. Not the heat, spiders or sandy food. Those things are hardly notable in comparison to these moments that make my days.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"God, You made even a Donkey talk."

"God, You made even a Donkey talk." I found myself mumbling in my pre-dawn prayers.
I think it’s safe to say that language learning consumes much of my thoughts these days. At all times my brain's processing rate is set on "High". No matter how foreign sounding the conversation, I watch and listen as if I understand. I am constantly on the lookout for familiar words or patterns. I am no language genius and learning French feels like climbing Mt. Everest.

French is not the only language that swirls around me. One time, Morning Worship at the hospital was given in French, translated into Nangere and then translated into Arabic. At home with my African family my ears are filled with Mood-dung (To those who have been here before and know better: pardon my many misspellings. I'm only sounding them out.) I ventured to learn "Hello" and "Thank you" in Mood-dung, but the rest sounds crazy-hard. If you want to say "tree" in my family's language, just make a sound which is a combination of little kids playing with cars and a horse snorting.

So far my comprehension of French results in a comical string of disjointed words. For example this morning at nurses meeting there was a big discussion, but what I understood amounted to:

Presentation...Three Problems!...Wait please...Rochelle (my hospital name)...Emergency Room, Pediatrics, Laboratory...Not here!...It's sad...Any questions? Thank you!

Very meaningful, I'm telling you. If I don't lose my sense of humor it is amusing.

I get genuinely excited when I understand a complete concept or sentence even if it may be only 3 words long. Following Olen and Danae on rounds has proved to be the most helpful language learning tool. I learn a lot of medical stuff to boot. In one day of tagging along with Olen I picked up some useful things like: "Lay down," "Turn over," "Every 8 hours," "Have you eaten? Have you drunk water?" etc.

Some days I feel like I've learned a lot. Others days I feel like I've lost ground. Just when I'm ready to despair of ever learning, God sends some encouragement.

This whole process has revealed my lack of patience. After a week I want to be fluent and am tempted to question my calling if I'm not. I have much to learn in these 5 months and not all of it is French. In the grand scheme of things, learning the lesson of patience and perseverance is more important than getting an "A" in French 101.