Monday, March 23, 2015

Walking With The Poor

“Poverty is about relationships that don’t work, that isolate, than abandon, or devalue.  Transformation must be about restoring relationships, just and right relationships with God, with self, with community, with the ‘other’ and with the environment.”

What is poverty?  One topic that has become of great interest to me since coming to Burundi is that of transformational development.  The above quote is from a book that I have begun reading called Walking With The Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development by Bryant L. Myers.  This book has helped me better understand the complexity of  poverty as well as the importance of approaching development work from a holistic perspective.  In addition to this, more and more I am realizing how confused my thinking about poverty has been and how much I still have to learn.  

Walking With The Poor starts with a brief history of the idea of development work, an idea that did not even come into existence until the mid 1900s.  While the idea of “charity” existed long before this, the idea of working towards development and poverty alleviation was not articulated until  more recently.  Even once this idea began to be discussed, for decades many considered poverty just in terms of material wealth.  Over the last 20 years, the discussion has shifted as our understanding of what poverty is has become more complex. 

The idea of poverty being about broken relationships has shifted the entire paradigm of development work, and I have seen how this shift in thinking is playing out here at Kibuye and among other development groups working in East Africa.  As an example, the long-term missionaries we are working with at Kibuye spent an entire year of language study before settling here.  They did this because they understood that one cannot develop meaningful relationships with people without understanding and speaking their own “heart language”.  They also have committed to being here for many years, because as well, relationships are not developed and nurtured over a few weeks but rather over months, years and decades.  While I have learned enough French to get by in the hospital and teach the points I think are important for my students, my fluency in French is far from being at the point where I can truly relate to the people I am working with (aside from the few who speak English).  And my Kirundi is almost nonexistent, which prohibits me from developing relationships with my patients, our guards and our house-helper (all people who I desperately want to know more deeply). 

I will confess that to my shame, my motivation for coming to Africa has often been because I want to rescue needy people.  The problem is, I am just as needy as the people I came to rescue.  And I am learning that, historically, it is the people and groups who have come with this very attitude who have done the most damage.  My thinking, my attitude, and my heart all need changing.

Another aspect of poverty that this book discusses, which was new to me, is the “poverty of the non-poor”.  While those living in poverty are often trapped in a web of lies about their own self-worth and value, the non-poor are often equally entrapped in a web of lies about the significance of their (our) wealth and material possessions, believing that it is our cars, homes and retirement savings that define us, and sometimes believing that because we possess these things, that our value and worth is greater than that of those without these possessions. As Brad Pitt said in Fight Club, “eventually, the things we own, begin to own us”. Sadly, this has often been (and still is) true of my own heart, and is often reflected in how I live.  Oh Brad Pitt, you are as wise as you are handsome.

This idea of poverty being about broken relationships also is a great reminder to me of the Gospel.  It was God who has done the ultimate work of restoring our broken relationship with Himself, by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to save, to redeem and to restore us to our Creator and Father, who loved us enough to not leave us in our impoverished condition.  This is for me, the ultimate motivation to continue in this labor.  This is the source of our drive, as well as the goal for which we strive.  May God receive the glory for His work.  

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.

- Dr. Seuss

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Boy and His Bird

For Biniyam’s 6th birthday we gave him a little chick. Because a chick would be lonely on its own we also gave his sisters a chick to share.   

“Pickily Pickle-Juice Pickle” is the name Bini chose. 

The picture above brought to mind one question, how long could a bird SO loved survive? Well, much to everyones surprise, she has survived a month and a half, making her the longest living chick in our little muzungu village.  Her sister, the girl’s chick, unfortunately lasted less than 24 hours before it was picked off by a bird of prey.  Since then many other pet chicks have been picked off by the brazen and ruthless crows and hawks that circle the skies above us. 

It has been fun to see Biniyam take on the roll of father and protector of his little chick, guarding her every move when out of her pen and gently instructing her on where she should go to hunt for grasshoppers. 

He obviously adores her (as do all the kids) and we are really hopping that she survives the rest of our stay in Burundi. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Answering your Questions

Well, we’ve been in Burundi for 7 months now, so I figured it was about time I got around to answering some questions that I’ve received in e-mails. A teacher once told me that if one person asks a question 5 others are wondering the same thing, so I decided to answer privately asked questions on this public blog. 

Why do you have guards?

I think the simplest answers and the one I assume is true is that we have guards because there have always been guards.  The house we’re living in has been in use since the 80’s by different missionaries and as a guest house and I get the impression that our guards have been here for a very long time.  The house is actually the property of the hospital and the guards are hospital employees.  

Do you feel you need guards?

To this question I would have answered “No” when we first arrived but over time I have really come to appreciate the fact that we have guards. So although “need” may be too strong of a word I do like having guards. Here’s why:
1) We obviously have more things than the average Burundian. Our house is open during the day as the house helper works and we come and go.  We do lock up our passports and valuables in a locked wardrobe, but it is nice to know someone is watching our house and our stuff, so even the things left outside, like umbrellas or soccer balls, don’t disappear. 
2) Our kids run free outside, there are three different groupings of houses and 3 different guards. It’s nice to know that there are other eyes loosely watching out for our kids and making sure no one is lurking about who shouldn’t be on the property. 
3) It’s very dark here at night. When I’m walking alone back to our house in the dark it is nice to have light from the guards fire and know that there are eyes watching out for me. 
4) When there are loud sounds in the night (usually avocados falling from hight trees onto tin roofs) it is nice to know someone is outside and aware. 
5) When our kids shed their shoes or leave toys around the yard their stuff ends up neatly placed back by our kitchen door. 
6) When I put a solar charging devise outside and then am away from the house when the rain rolls in, the guards move my devises safely under cover.
7) When I would forget to put the rooster in the box at night they chased him down and put him in so he wouldn’t wake us all up early in the morning. 
8) Our day guard washes our laundry. He does an amazing job getting clothes stained orange (from the red earth here) back to their original colors. 

How do “you” do laundry?

Since I already mentioned it above I’ll answer this question now too. 

In the mornings I put some clothes in a bucket and a little container of detergent outside our kitchen door.  Our day guard then fills a big tub of water from the spigot and washes our clothes by hand.  He then hangs them up to dry and at the end of the day, if it hasn’t rained, he folds the clothes, places them back in the bucket and puts the bucket of clean clothes in our kitchen.  Sometimes the clothes are still damp and end up hung around our house to finish drying.  During rainy weeks our laundry stays on the line for a few days trying to dry. If the laundry stays on the line for too long not only does it smell musty but moths can lay eggs in the material and then when you wear the clothing a grub will burrow under your skin.  This has only happened to a member of our family once. (I’ll admit it was me, I pulled a grub out of my hip with a pair of tweezers.) But, I feel it’s a small price to pay for having someone else fold all my laundry, a job that I feel I’m constantly doing back in the states. 

Our guard watching our kids play with fire. Roasting corn over the guards fire has become a favorite activity.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why medical education in Africa?

It is not entirely clear to me how I ended up with my family in Burundi.  I did not grow up wanting to be a physician.  I did not grow up particularly interested in Africa.  In fact, given my parent’s work, and my language study in college (Arabic), one might have suspected I would end up drawn to the Middle East.  However, sometime between finishing high school and finishing residency, I found myself more and more drawn to the continent of Africa.  It was not until my first year out of training in 2006 that I did my first short term medical mission trip, to Ghana.  I loved it.  I loved everything about that trip.  I loved the people I met, the work I was doing, and once I returned home, I could not wait to go back.  

So, why Africa?  The only answer I can come up with that makes any sense to me is that God has placed a love for Africa in my heart (and thankfully in the heart of my wife as well).  He has called me and my family here.  He has placed this desire in us, and He has opened the doors for us to respond to that desire.

So, why medical education?  My first several short term trips to Africa involved me DOING anesthesia, without much opportunity to teach.  Over the years, through personal experience as well as through reading several books on development work, I have been convicted that my time and effort are better invested in teaching rather than doing.  

Last weekend, as we were returning to Burundi, we spent Saturday night with our friends Randy and Carolyn Bond in Bujumbura.  Randy is the dean of Hope Africa medical school.  We got to talking about our love of maps, and he pulled up the map below to show me.  It is from a website called World Mapper.  This map shows the world’s countries enlarged or shrunken based on the percentage of physicians that country has working in it.  In case you missed it, Africa is the thin stripe right under Europe.  

So, why medical education in Africa?  I guess this is why.