And the learning continues here in Angola. Truly stepping out of your comfort zone is one of the healthiest things you can do. It’s the arena where accelerated growth occurs. Examples of ways that this trip has afforded me opportunities to do this include:
1. Experiencing life in a culture foreign to me! I have gained a fresh appreciation for what cultural minorities experience when they come to a place like Ohio. It’s exciting but can be difficult if you don’t have somebody (like the Kubacki’s) to walk you through cultural norms and practices.
2. Struggling through communication with a language barrier — let’s just be honest, my Portuguese isn’t that great. So creativity comes in handy. Yesterday we went to one of Betsy’s (Dr. Kubacki’s wife) English classes. She is teaching several of the local villagers English and it was incredible to watch and listen as they practiced forming words like “work” and “three”. The “r” and “th” sounds are incredibly difficult for them. We had lots of laughs as they practiced on us. It was so much fun and really made me realize that there are many ways to communicate besides speaking. A smile. A hand on the shoulder. A nod. Incredibly powerful! Most people have probably experienced moments where those non-verbals have proven to be far more life-giving than words.
3. Showering less. Honestly, the people in these rural villages don’t really ever shower at all. And their culture doesn’t have a problem with it. Clean water is not always available and many people walk around barefoot. The floors of their houses are dirt. As I have experienced this culture, I have come to realize that westerners truly are “germaphobes” in comparison with most of the world! I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s just the conclusion I’ve drawn.
4. There really is no need for a cellphone out here because of the incredibly limited cell coverage. Back in the States, I surmise that my cellphone has become something akin to a “3rd arm.” Most of you know of what I speak. Just the thought of going anywhere without your phone might send some into a panic attack. Not that I don’t miss the extensive avenues of communication that it allows me to have…but it’s been so healthy for me to leave the phone in my bag.
5. The final way it’s pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone is in writing this very blog! It’s so not my personality to “put everything out there.” But as I sit here and type, it really does help me process and “chew over” the things I’ve experienced: the sights, the smells, the conversations, the culture.
Moving on to our clinic time…
We have seen some amazing people. It is so touching to hear their stories. Today, we interacted with a 61 year old woman who was such a beautiful person. She had walked 20 miles to see us. 20 miles.
That’s a far distance. But she wanted our help because she had ichthyosis, a skin disease likely caused by a parasite leading to “elephant-like” skin. We examined her and gave her some medicine that would alleviate some of her symptoms. She was grateful.
And had to make the 20 mile trek home.
Among the local villages, if a trip to the doctor takes less than a day’s walk, it’s considered a “short-distance.” Dr. Kubacki taught us a new phrase. He said that we should replace the term “third-world country” with “majority-world country.” The majority of the world lives a life that is far, far different than the western world. I am not decrying the material wealth that the we have received. I just think it’s important to realize that the majority of our human brothers and sisters live on far, far less than even the poor among us will ever experience.
One of the nurses that works at the clinic and serves to translate the Portuguese into the native dialect had a broken fibula that needed to be re-cast. He sat as Kyle, Dr. Kubacki, and I reinforced his plaster cast. We don’t have access to fiberglass casting materials out here (the standard of care in the U.S.) so we had no choice but to use old-school plaster casting materials. But as we were wrapping his leg he made the comment in Portuguese…”Look, I have a modern American cast!” And he grinned from ear to ear. He was grateful for such a “modern” treat.
Today before clinic began, Dr. Kubacki shared a brief story about Jesus with the patients who had gathered outside. We sat around and listened as he spoke about Jesus telling His disciples that He is “the Bread of Life.” The people listened, many hearing this strange teaching for the first time.
Afterward we asked him if the people understood. He said he wasn’t sure – but that it’s okay to allow people to wrestle with understanding. After all, Jesus did. More often than not, He would tell a story that would leave people scratching their heads. And then the people that were really searching would come to Him afterwards to ask questions to try to really understand. Many times people would approach Jesus saying: “I want to follow you” only to hear Jesus say (in so many words) “No, you really don’t.”
Truth sometimes stares you in the face and demands to be wrestled with. Questions like “who is this Jesus and what does He want with me today?” seem to be begging for a fight inside of our hearts. It doesn’t always come easily, wrapped in a pretty package. Often it requires struggling.
One last thing before I leave you — I have been saying repeatedly how “beautiful” the Angolan people are. Most of you reading this are westerners. Just like me. I just want you to know that:
You are beautiful people too.
So much about our culture is wonderful and the good things we have been given are not things that we necessarily need to feel guilty about. I just wanted you to know that.
Our Father looks down on all of us and desires for us to walk with Him today. Now that’s a thought to wrestle with.