The relentless buzzing of my alarm beckoned me from my dreams. If I could have rolled out of bed, I would have…but I was on the top bunk…so I carefully navigated down the ladder to the steady surface of the floor. I took a moment to briefly orient myself.
My name is Nigel.
I am a medical student.
And I am in the backwoods of Africa. Worlds away from my previous life.
With that much needed introduction to reality, I splashed some water on my face, threw on some clothes and tossed a few snacks in my bag. Good to go.
I made my way to the kitchen and was greeted by the morning faces of Kyle and Dr. Kubacki. The three of us weren’t about to win any beauty pageants…but I couldn’t deny that these were amazing guys to get to share the month with.
Last night, Dr. Kubacki went over today’s schedule with us. We would rise early, drive to the Cavango clinic to check on a patient, then head out for a two-hour road trip to Vicungo, a village where Dr. Kubacki holds a monthly clinic.
We packed up the 4 cases of medical supplies for the mobile clinic and headed to the car. As I rolled down my window, the cool breeze that drifted into the vehicle was a beautiful gift. The sun was bidding us good morning.
It’s the simple things in life, right?
Bouncing our way over this rough terrain to the Cavango clinic, I had to chuckle as I tried to sip my water, failing miserably thanks to the numerous African potholes that obstructed our way. I smiled.
It’s the simple things.
It was 6:30 AM. Oddly enough, I didn’t feel overly exhausted. On the contrary, I felt fairly alive. Life is a beautiful thing. What a gift to be able to breathe, to see, to think, and to feel.
After the short drive, the truck came to a halt outside the Cavango clinic.
Our patient here was a seventeen-year old girl whom we admitted yesterday for hypertension and ankle swelling. She was a few weeks post-partum. Normally preeclampsia resolves with delivery…but it’s possible for it to last several weeks afterward in some cases. We had given her some blood pressure medicine and although it was too soon to see if it had made any difference, we checked in on her anyway.
She was so shy — whether it was because of our white complexions or not, I can’t say for sure. Several times I caught her quizzical glance and offered her a wide grin. Each time she jerked her eyes away. I kept smiling as I remembered something Dr. Kubacki had told us on our first day here:
“Don’t be surprised if you don’t see as many smiles here in Angola as you might expect. It’s not because they are unfriendly.”
It’s just that, well…life is hard here.
The idea that life is meant to be enjoyed is a foreign thought to the rural Angolan culture. Inside, I wrestled momentarily. I come from a world that preaches the necessity of “doing what makes you happy.” They just don’t see things that way here in Angola.
I snapped back from my thoughts.
We had finished our brief work at the Cavango clinic and slowly meandered back to the vehicle, preparing to head out to Vicungo.
As we made it back to the truck, I grasped the cool metal door handle and pulled it open. An Angolan woman ran up to us. She was one of our tuberculosis patients and was receiving the two-month long treatment here at the Cavango clinic. In words that I couldn’t hope to discern, she explained that she needed a ride to the next village for the day and asked if she could hitch a ride. Since it was on our way to Vicungo, we happily agreed.
The group of us piled in.
In a stoic manner, our Angolan friend sat in the middle back seat, flanked on each side by Kyle and me.
We drove away, leaving the clinic in the rearview mirror. Dr. Kubacki conversed with the nurse in the front seat who had also joined the trip while the three of us in the back sat in silence. I can only imagine what she was thinking…sitting between two white guys. Probably for the first time.
The potholes jostled us around like blueberries in a blender. With every left turn, she was thrown into my shoulder. Every right turn, Kyle’s. What different worlds we were from…with no way to communicate beyond the expressions on our faces. But here we sat, like the three amigos, bouncing around side by side in the backseat of a truck. In the backseat of Africa.
It’s the simple things in life that, when reflected upon, can paint wonderful pictures, teach precious lessons, convey timeless wisdom.
When we finally hit a smooth patch of road, I pulled out a small bag of almonds I had stowed neatly away for a snack. I breathed a brief, silent prayer of gratitude for a mother who cared to pack them for me. I twisted my head to see the girl beside me.
I nudged her shoulder. She looked. I opened her hand. Her skin was tough. I looked at my own hand. Smooth, soft. It’s doubtful that she was much younger than me, yet something down deep communicated that she had been forced to mature much quicker.
As carefully as I could manage, I dumped a few of the treats into her hand. She accepted with a nod. I watched as she quietly munched.
Satisfied that she was content with the portion I had given her, I threw a handful back into my own mouth and chewed slowly. I gazed out the open window as the engine bemoaned the agony of traversing this rough terrain. The breeze that wafted in felt amazing. I was lost in thought as the beautiful scenery flashed across my gaze.
Today, I was able to share a pack of almonds with a young woman suffering from tuberculosis.
It sounds so small. So insignificant. So forgettable, I know. But it was a moment where the reality of my life and the beauty of simple kindness came into pristine focus. Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” He promises that when we speak kindness, express love, give freely of the little that we have…well…it’s the same as if we did it to Him.
My mind cannot grasp the love He has for us.
I experienced a tiny speck of that today.
With a pack of almonds.
When we begin to walk with Jesus intimately, I suppose that giving becomes the most natural thing in the world to our hearts. How can we hold on to our blessings when we serve a God who takes such pleasure in giving of Himself? The Kubacki family (and so many others back home in the US) are an amazing example of this to me.
I still feel that I have so much to learn…and a long way to go.
I wish I could chronicle every one of these “small” but profoundly moving encounters I am allowed to experience every day here. I probably experience similar moments back home in the States. Let me rephrase that: I am sure I experience similar moments back home in the States. But I think I am just too preoccupied with “doing” things. Too busy accomplishing tasks to notice. After all, why sit down and reflect when I can check one more thing off of my to-do list?
Why does it take transplanting myself to a poor foreign country to realize that real, true, relationship-driven life is experienced in between the many tasks on my list?
This journey in Angola has given me so much to chew on. I feel like a cow. Chewing, chewing, chewing.
My jaw is getting tired… 🙂
“Leave enough margin in your life to be a “Good Samaritan” when your day is “interrupted” by someone wounded.” – Dr. Kubacki
Dear reader, if you made it this far, I just want to thank you for taking the time to travel with me on this journey. I know you’re busy. Things to do. The fact that you spent a few of your valuable moments to jump inside my head with me…well, I am incredibly grateful. In turn, I hope that I was able to share some thoughts of value for you to consider.
May you live today knowing that you are loved by our Father in heaven. Because you are. Oh my friend, you truly are…