Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reflecting on "Hospital" ity

We have had our first close encounter with Zim hospitals. The occasion was Phil's rapid descent from a tree he was trimming, resulting in a shattered ankle and broken tibia and fibula. It happened around 5:30 p.m. and our dear friend (and nurse), Julie, came as soon as we cell-phoned her. She determined The Avenues was the place for Phil's trauma and we followed her in our car.

Upon entering "Casualty" which Americans would know as ER, the pace of time slowed. There was a doctor somewhere. There were people in uniforms, but no one was in a rush. We were offered a form to fill out within 30 minutes. When the doctor was available, it was discovered that we had not yet paid for him to look at Phil. So we filled out another form and paid. The good doc was an ob/gyn, but upon seeing Phil's ankle, declared it broken. He didn't know how badly, we would need an x-ray.

I needed to go to the x-ray dept, fill out another form (all with the same information) and pay another fee for the technician to take the picture. Then Phil was wheeled down the hall, the x-ray taken, and the doctor declared profoundly that it was "worse than bad." This did not bode well. It was clear that Phil would need to stay the night. An injection for pain was finally administered (about two hours after arrival).

Next, blood was taken. Oh, but there is no lab in the hospital, so Julie and I had to hand deliver the blood to an all-night lab some blocks away in a rather seedy neighborhood. We cruised the blocks until we localized the lab, shook the gate for the guard to wake up and let us in, took a complaining elevator to the 2nd floor, and submitted the blood. I filled out more forms and another payment (higher than the previous two) was exacted. Finally the blood was put into the centrifuge. The next client coming in warned us that the elevator was not working (had trapped him for a while), so we thanked him and took the stairs.

Upon regaining the hospital, we learned that now I would have to raise $1800 for Phil to be admitted that night. He could not travel and would not be able to go home, nor would he be allowed into the ward until they saw the green. It was 11 p.m. This is my first genuine encounter with an African Catch-22. Two of our team leaders tried to reason with them. Our mission has used them for years, and they have sent referrals to our mission hospital in the north. The matron finally relented and agreed to accept him for $500 that night. I had to go home and bring it before they would let me fill out the next forms and hope for his admission. After I paid that, they handed me the ER bill, I was stupefied.

Things take longer in Africa, you'd think I'd get used to it after two decades. He came in on June 31st and was finally admitted on July 1. He was exhausted with pain and bureaucracy. When they wheeled him up to his two-man room, the light was unceremoniously turned on, waking the patient in the other bed. Fortunately, he turned out to be a wonderful cell-mate and they are fast friends now.

The next day I attempted a variety of unsympathetic ATM machines, managed to find some money Phil had hidden and paid up for admittance. He was scheduled to be operated on that afternoon, but I had to come and pay deposits for the surgeon and anesthetist. After the surgery, I was called at home to come and pay for x-rays before he would be taken to diagnostic imaging. And so it went through the week. Each time a new expense appeared, I had to pay before it would be rendered.

I am still boggled that when he was coming home we were presented with another bill in the thousands. And he still has the surgeon's fee for the two operations. To be perfectly fair, the care was wonderful. The technicians and nurses were professional. The service was gracious. And the total cost was, of course, less than it would have been in the US. But the obvious priority of being paid was a reminder to me that as I am "serving" it is important for me to do it with a servant heart. Mercenary service is not really service at all, it is delivering a product.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Green Bus, a parable

Quite a long time ago in a country not far away, someone noticed that children liked going places. In fact, they were positively on a perpetual mission to get somewhere, so it was decided to help them get there. The best way to get a large number of children to a certain destination seemed to be a large bus. So the community united around the acquisition of a beautiful, grand, functional green bus.

The fact that not all the children wanted to go to the same place rather got lost in the shuffle. It became the thing to want to arrive where the bus was going. So any disinterested children felt an odd obligation to quiet their misgivings and just go along for the ride.

The bus was acclaimed a great success. Everyone loved how brightly green it was, how comfortable the seats were, how safely the driver drove and most of all, how all the children ended up at the same place after such a long journey together. Everyone commented on how it was such a boost for their socialization. As time flew by, the bus was improved: repainted (green, of course), reupholstered, dvd players were installed as well as a speaker system, head rests, blankets, and a nutritional food service.

As folks from the community developed a sense of pride in their bus, they sought ways to make their bus better than the buses in other places and a marvelous hodge podge of technological entertainment was installed in every nook and cranny of the bus. Clearly, this community loved and cared for their children.

For quite a while the bus was well-maintained, but it required more and more attention the longer it was on the road and the more high-tech paraphernalia it accrued. Gradually its oversight became burdensome and some minor items were neglected: oil changes, timing belt due dates, air filter replacements, to name a few. No one saw these things anyway, and as long as the bus was clean and the children were having fun, they weren’t felt needs.

It’s hard to say exactly when it stopped. In fact, it stopped gradually. At first there were a few days here and there that it just pulled over to the side of the road, usually for fuel, because someone hadn’t noticed the gauge. The children became accustomed to random stops and sometimes the bus didn’t move for a week at a time. But the children piled in each day, chattering happily, bouncing in their seats, being entertained and fed, shooting spit balls and having a good time. Not going anywhere didn’t seem to bother them anymore and their perpetual mission to get somewhere wasn’t as terribly important. Besides, the fact that the bus didn’t move as much made it much easier to hop in and out.

Finally, several years ago, the bus pulled over to the side of the road for the last time. No one realized that it would not be moving again. A few folks tried pushing it to get it started, but the children swarmed happily over their seats, watched their dvds, ate their snacks and certainly didn’t put up a fuss about not getting anywhere.

Now it doesn’t seem strange at all. Everyone sees the faded green bus on the roadside. The weeds are growing around the flat tyres. Most of the windows are broken, the dvd player plays as long as someone recharges the battery. But this is much simpler all around. After all, this way they don’t need a licensed driver, there is no danger of accidents, there is no needless expense for fuel, and maintenance costs are so very reasonable. Of course, there are a few malcontents who complain that the green is fading and demand a new paint job--after all, the bright green is so stimulating for the children. So it is repainted every now and then, and folks seem happier.

Now the children hop aboard the bus and sit or stand or jump in their seats; when someone reminds them they are traveling, they all make engine noises in their throats and pretend to turn steering wheels. The fact that they disembark where they embarked in the morning doesn’t bother them in the least. They know that they are getting somewhere because they have been told so.

And the green bus sits.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Greenfield was his name.

Two weeks ago when I went to coach my four English self-learners, I came up short against the reality of how harsh life is in Zimbabwe, even for those to whom it is not strange and foreign.

Shonas, all Africans, really, have a greeting protocol. It follows our “how are you? I’m fine” western one, but goes a bit deeper. After they’ve said they’re fine the next few probes bring out whatever is under the surface. That was the point at which I learned that Greenfield had died in a tragic car accident in the wee morning hours.

Greenfield was someone I wanted to meet. He lived in the pastor’s home along with the family and the six other young adult orphans. He was thirty, educated, employed and helped some of them with their studies. When I saw some of the corrections and comments on their papers, I asked who he was and found out he was another “big brother.” Greenfield carried his weight and then some. He invested in his extended siblings and honestly cared about them.

So when I arrived and saw the pain in all the faces, the story soon came out and it was obvious there would be no coaching that day. Part of my sadness comes from not meeting this young Kingdom builder. Part comes from the reality that we do not know the whole story. The accident was a head-on collision with a police truck around midnight. All three young men in Greenfield’s car died instantly, and they have received the full culpability. They are not alive to give their version.

In this world we will have trouble. Take heart, He has overcome the world.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Uncle Julius, Post Script

I forgot to mention in my thoughts on Uncle Julius' passion for learning that later on in his adult life, Moody recognized the wisdom and worth of this amazing man. They graciously offered him an honorary degree, and he could become an alumnus without ever having attended.

He courteously thanked them, but assured them that the paper was not as important to him as the lesson he had learned. Does my culture value the paper which certifies the person or the person?

Monday, January 24, 2011

This Question of Education

In pondering the question of what education is and what constitutes an educated person, a gentle, humble servant of a man comes to mind. One of my many surrogate “uncles,” Julius Bergstrom was born in China to Swedish missionary parents before communism raised its head and expelled those willing to live in her slums and decode her ideographs.

Uncle Julius entered my life when I was two. I remember him and Aunt Thyra as a sweet childless couple who welcomed me into their home and fed me cookies and juice in my clueless, imperious years. Unable to return to China, the land of their childhood and dreams, they chose Korea as a springboard for sending the message of life and hope into China. Creating Chinese programs for the radio station to beam past the “bamboo curtain” was their legacy to tens of thousands of young people caught in communism’s brainwash.

Uncle Julius was modest concerning himself and lavish towards others. No one could have been prouder at my graduation from Trinity College--of course he came. And his gift to me was reflective of his confidence in me: a 20 volume copy of the OED, one he had used and cherished for years. He applauded my educational goals and believed in me, a shallow 70s child of my times. When he spoke to me, I believed I was nearly as bright as the pedestal he placed me on.

I loved him and Aunt Thyra through the years, visiting them in retirement, watching him cope as she withdrew into Alzheimer’s. I ached for him, missing the vibrant and gifted woman he married as she turned into a childlike girl. The only reminder of her delightful self was when she sat at the piano and played the hymns which seemed the mortar of a life built of sacrifice.

After Uncle Julius died, as I talked to Dad about what a dear “uncle” he was, I began to learn the depths of the man who set such store my by college education.

Uncle Julius had been homeschooled by his missionary parents and attended some Chinese schools. He was fluent in Confucian Chinese and read the classics in their originals. His accent and calligraphy were so perfect, he was highly honored by the Chinese. He was also fluent in Swedish, English was his third language (and later he would learn Korean, a fourth). When he finished high school, he applied to study at Moody Bible Institute. They rejected him because he had not attained their entrance requirements in a recognized high school. He never did make it to college, but committed himself to life-long learning.

I inherited many of the books from Uncle Julius’ self-learning library. His name is neatly penned in the front, with a small Chinese painting usually pasted near it. He read and marked the books, interacting with the authors. He didn’t fill his time with Grisham and Clancy. I have his Plato, his Aristotle, Homer, Augustine, Virgil, and countless others. He was truly an educated man. The academic community with its artificial standards could not recognize the light of learning in his soul. They were blind to his non-Western achievement. They were the losers.