Friday, October 5, 2007

some people call it hitting the wall

This week has been incredibly challenging. Arriving exactly at the mid-point of my four months of travels has been a week in which what's expected sure doesn’t seem realistically possible.

To be honest, I struggled today with being angry at the position I've been in this week. That was after I struggled last night with a moment of overwhelmedness and about the same time I was trying to take interview notes as we jounced down the less-than-smooth dirt-rock road. To begin to do real justice to these visits and collect all the information that was requested, I would need to be able to spend at least a week in each place. Instead, I've had roughly 24 hours in each town.

Here are some of the professional challenges encountered so far during this trip and especially this week (for the reading pleasure of all you working writers out there ;-) ):

--Having such little time in a place that interviews have to be as quick as possible, disallowing the chance to really connect with the folks I'm interviewing. That's not my preferred style. I consider myself a writer more than a journalist, someone who's in this for the opportunity to connect with people not just in it to get the quick sound bite and move on. It's about relationships, not just information.

--Having to work around language barriers and be vigilant to discern what people really mean when their English is poor or when someone else is translating for them.
--During the Bundibugyo visit, all of my interviews except for one happened either while we were walking or while we were driving on bumpy roads. Both activities do wonders for note-taking.
--Being unable because of time limitations to tell the whole story that I am beginning to glimpse in a given location and feeling the internal ache that accompanies the act of grazing over the surface of a story.
--Feeling like it's unprofessional to admit that you can't do it all and inhuman not to admit it.
--Accepting that gathering info and writing actually use up a huge amount of energy.
--Working within a tight time frame but being unable to actually control or dictate your schedule during that time frame.

So, that's the rant. Now on to more pleasant things…

Beyond the above-mentioned challenges, it was a delight to visit Bundibugyo. This district of Uganda is located in the Rwenzori mountains. The flight there was absolutely beautiful. We flew over a stretch of hills covered in small farms whose green fields were outlined with the darker green of trees and shrubs and then we came to the stunning mountains. As I understand it, they have a very high elevation, but they have the rounded tops and all-the-way-to-the-top foliage of the Appalachians rather than the severe angles of the Rockies. We flew up and over them and the clouds hugging their tops. On the other side was the lush green of jungle vegetation and the grass airstrip where we were greeted so warmly by folks working for World Harvest Mission.

The visit was great. The World Harvest folks are all Americans. It's been a while since I've been around so many of my own kind. :-) The non-Ugandans I've been around most here are all Europeans. In addition to visiting a couple of the projects World Harvest works on in Bundi, we got to participate in their weekly team Bible study and prayer time and be guests at a birthday party for one of the mk's. It was really nice to be included in all of those activities. I haven’t gotten to do much group Scripture study or prayer time these past couple months.

I ended up staying up late last night talking with Amy, one of my roommates-for-the-night and one of World Harvest's missionaries. She’ll be heading back home to the States in a month or so. It was so great to meet up with one of those people who is an instant friend and enjoy some refreshing conversation late into the night, especially since none of my old friends were on hand to help me out last night. :-)

For some reason (beyond, I think, the aforementioned professional challenges) this visit was more emotional for me than any of the others so far. The emotion was partly in the sense that somehow there are important stories there that should be told, but that I can’t tell this time around. It also hit while we visited two hospitals. At the second hospital we were in the room while the doctor we were accompanying performed four quick ultrasounds to check out four very different patients.

The first patient was a woman maybe in her late 30s suffering from abdominal pain. The doc wasn't able to discover the cause of the pain. He said gynecological care is very bad here—partly because the tools for providing good care are in short supply--so such pains can be very difficult to diagnose.

The second patient was a 36-year-old woman who is HIV-positive and pregnant. She hasn't felt her baby move lately. Happily, the ultrasound showed the baby to be okay still.

Patient #3 is the one that got to me the most. He was a decent-sized 6-year-old boy who came in with a woman I'm assuming was his mother. He looked so scared as he stripped off his shirt and shoes and climbed onto the bed. He never actually cried but was awfully close to it. He had a slightly swollen area in his abdomen that was causing him pain. He winced when the doctor put pressure on that area. The ultrasound showed it to be some sort of abscess that is apparently fairly common here but not in the States. It should be treatable with antibiotics.

After he got off the table and put his shirt and shoes back on, he stood by the door beside his mother. I was on the other side of her sitting on a chair and leaned around to wave and smile at him. I didn’t expect to get much response from him but wanted to comfort him somehow. To my surprise he shyly smiled back. Eventually I reached my hand out and he quickly and smilingly, though still shyly, came forward and shook it. We exchanged some more smiles though I really wanted to reach out and hug him.

The final ultrasound patient was a tiny one-month-old baby boy who’d been vomiting and was referred from an outlying hospital. Upon seeing the patient, Dr. Myhre immediately starting shaking his head, saying that this was not the right test for this baby. He performed the ultrasound anyway, but as he suspected it didn’t show anything. Then while he was feeling around the baby’s abdomen, it peed onto the floor. That, Dr. Myhre explained, actually told a whole lot more than the ultrasound did. “That tells us a lot. The baby’s vomiting breast milk but it’s not dehydrated.”

So, that’s a small snippet from the day. I was closer to tears today than I have been at any other point on this trip so far. I’m not sure why that hospital and those patients hit me so forcefully.

1 comment:

Cydil said...

Hey Kami -- I can't imagine what it must be like to hear so many stories and witness so many experiences firsthand. What a privilege and responsibility! I understand why you don't want to feel so rushed! How/when will you do all the writing you need to do for these projects? Is it something you will have to have done before you leave? Do you have that 'scheduled' in? Loved your photos on the Wunderli blog!