There is a lot I could write about my work at the hospital, but I suppose I will start with an answer to the question, “what has been the most difficult thing about serving in Burundi?”. For me, the answer has been language. The language of Burundi is called Kirundi. It is in the same group of languages as Swahili. The language used in business and politics (and healthcare education) is French. Very few people speak any English at all. This was not a surprise to me, and I spent a considerable amount of time before we came here preparing for this by studying French independently. However, while it was easy to find computer based resources for studying French, it proved very difficult to find any native French speakers in Bellingham to practice with. Add to this my aging 40 year old brain, which is not nearly as spongy as it used to be.
So, what is it like for me to teach anesthesia to medical students and anesthetists in French? Imagine teaching a discipline which took 12 years of higher education to learn, but with the vocabulary of a 4 year old. It is hard. It is exhausting. It is often painful. It is probably even more painful for them to listen to me than it is for me to struggle with every word. But they have been gracious. And I am encouraged by the other missionaries I am working with, most of whom spoke little or no French 2 years ago, and now are able to converse with great fluency, using complex medical terminology.
Compounding this difficulty is the fact that most of the patients speak no French at all, only Kirundi. As it turns out, there are almost no resources to learn Kirundi outside of Burundi. So, I came with a handful of greetings and basic words (eg. water, coffee, chicken), but other than that, I’ve got nothing. Thankfully, we now have a Kirundi language tutor to meet with us once a week to help us get at least a basic framework for communicating with the locals. However, I had my first lesson today, and my tutor’s parting words of encouragement to me were, “with you, I don’t know if I will succeed”. I am hoping something was lost in translation.
In all this, I am comforted by the biblical account of Moses, who was self-described as “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). And God’s response? “go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak”. I know that I cannot succeed in this based on my own ability to learn French and Kirundi, so, I go with the hope that God is with me and can use me even with my stumbling tongue.