Friday, April 24, 2015

Day 4 - Tuesday - 9/27/11

Matt with his favorite driver.  I am just realizing I have no idea how to spell his name - Beniam?

 Korah #1 / Meskal / Mekush
Well, all the preparing in the world can’t possibly prepare you.  I know that these posts or pictures can’t possibly tell the story – the story of the sights, the smells and the moans and children shrieking.  Today was our first day in Korah.  This is a community that was originally started for all of the leprosy victims in Addis because they were cast out of their own families and communities.  There are mazes of corrugated tin huts side by side.  Our vans brought us through the maze to a community center called Hand to the Needy.  It was a simple building that we turned into our dental clinic – again, a sterilization area, a greeting area, 2 anesthesia spots and at least 4 dental areas.  Because of the missing equipment we were only extracting or handing out toothbrushes/toothpaste again. 
Waiting for dental care
The inside of a tin home within the compound
Dinner at Makush with Saba's children and some Thornes
Arriving in Korah and unloading the dental equipment
Beautiful kids all being so brave!
Ethiopia Smile kids on duty
Before the work begins with Holli, Mim & Glenda
Matt and his new buddies

Sallie and her newfound scarf-clad friends
Meskal bonfire
A man and his tools
Entertaining the crowd with bubbles
Today was the day that we all wore our Ethiopia Smile 2011 shirts. It is a very cool design in person, but for some reason it comes out looking all distorted in the pictures!  The people were all pretty patient waiting outside in the rain for their turns inside.  The younger kids did all crowd around the few windows to see what all the commotion was about inside, but that was the only light for the dentists, so that couldn’t last long.  I was surprised about how few people were truly deformed.  As this was originally a leper colony, I expected many more people with missing fingers or distorted faces or bodies (apparently that was more common last year).  The things that did stick with me were the smells and the amount of dirt.  Some of these people spend their day rummaging through all of the garbage brought to the city dump, so the smells were overwhelming at some points.  The dentists said that it was much worse in the close proximity of the patients’ mouths, as you might imagine.  Despite the level of dirt, the patients were so respectful of their surroundings.  We were having people lying down on very thin benches and nearly everyone took off their shoes and moved the sheet that was on the bench out of the way of their feet.  Again, some of the people looked so scared, so my job as patient buddy was so keep them company throughout the entire process.  Sometimes that meant holding their hands and letting them know it was ok, sometimes it meant hugging them or wiping the tears from their cheeks or sweat from their brow.  There were several times where it meant holding their baby while they got their shots or had their tooth pulled - usually away from their direction so that the baby wouldn’t cry harder than they did.  For the people who had to sit upright on the bench for anesthesia, it also meant holding his or her head to keep it steady for the shots.  When it was a child it often meant holding them down with two or three others so his or her squiggling around wouldn’t hurt them or get in the dentist’s way.  One boy about 6 or 7 came with his grandmother.  I immediately placed him on my lap and sat right next to the grandmother on the bench.  She took one look at me and then asked the biggest driver (they were acting as our interpreters) to come hold him rather than me.  It’s a good thing she knew her grandson, because it took all three of us to hold him down for one shot.  Of course you can imagine what the screams did for the people who were waiting outside and couldn’t see what was going on!

I probably had my hardest moment today.  A group of about five women came in together with babies.  I took one of them who was about 30.  Someone else held the baby in a separate baby while I brought her for her extractions.  She needed two teeth out, but it took a very long time.  She had a heart condition, so we had to make sure that she took some antibiotics before and she took all of her medicine.  She looked very sickly and she couldn’t lay down in a very comfortable pose because she had trouble breathing while she was on her back.  I don’t think that the anesthetic ever set in because while the doctor was literally digging her two rotted teeth out she was writhing in pain and squeezing my hands as hard as she could.  The extractions must have taken at least 20-30 minutes and I don’t think she ever got numb.  By the time we were done she was sweating and tears were streaming down her face.  Especially with a heart condition, getting the rotten teeth out was absolutely necessary for her health, but to see her pain was horrible.  After I let her rest for a bit I brought her to get her antibiotics, pain medication, toothbrush and toothpaste and then back to the circle of mothers with babies.  She took her baby back and had the saddest look in her eyes.  As I looked around the circle, I realized that these babies were all severely malnourished.  One was being unwrapped to be rewrapped - the babies are all always wrapped up so tight with so many blankets I don’t know how they can possibly regulate their own temperature.  One of my teammates told me that that particular baby was 22 months.  The baby could not have weighed more than 10 or 15 pounds.  That is when I lost it.  Between the pain endured by the mother and the sight of these babies, I practically ran to the corner.  I didn’t want any of the Ethiopians to see me, so I turned a chair into the corner and just sobbed into an extra shirt I brought.  Luckily, no one noticed me with the noise level so high.  I could barely catch my breath.  I know we’ve all seen those pictures of starving children on television, but I know I have never seen another human being in such terrible shape.

We had brought some formula to give to the director of the community center, so we ended up opening some of the cans and starting to feed the bottles.  We had no bottles and these babies couldn’t hold more than drops in at a time.  A few of the team brought them outside to a covered hut and taught the mothers how to mix the formula.  They gave them some formula and bottled water to feed them for 24 hours.  The mothers came back the next day and you could already see the brightness return to these babies’ faces.  We rationed out enough for each baby for a week, and the mothers are going to return each week to get more for the babies.  If they sell the formula or don’t show, these babies will not survive for much longer, so we can only pray that they do what’s best for these children.

After seeing over 200 patients, we had to start packing up.  There were lots of kids hanging around to just watch the white people and see if we had anything to give away.  Matt went outside and blew bubbles for them to chase and we gave out gum (sugar-free of course), tic tacs and stickers.  Even having their own possession like a sticker meant so much to them.  We gave colored handkerchiefs to some of the women and they were incredibly thankful. 

On the way back to the hotel we saw everyone tying sticks, special yellow flowers and dried leaves into tall towers with a cross made of sticks on the top.  Tonight was the start of the holiday Meskal.  I never quite fully understood it’s significance, so I will have to look it up.  Basically at sundown the towers were lit and they burned all across the city (and maybe country?).  We had our own little Meskal celebration on the side of the hotel with music, special bread and traditional Ethiopian dancing before dinner.  We ate at a restaurant/art gallery called Makush in the city.  They had some really cool paintings throughout the store and many of us ended up buying pieces for home.  The artwork was very cool (many of what I would call traditional Ethiopian style paintings) and the prices were so reasonable that I couldn’t resist! 

On our way home from dinner you could barely breathe from all the smoke from the burning towers, even more so than usual since the city air is usually filled with diesel fumes and smoke anyway.

After we got home, a bunch of us stayed downstairs by the bar for a long discussion about religion, God and faith.  It was intense, emotional, and enlightening to say the least.  This may have been one of my favorite parts of the trip for many reasons.  The views shared that night were all very personal, but were also so different than what I’ve heard in other similar discussions before.  I knew the Ethiopians would tug (yank?) at my heartstrings, but my teammates from around the country (and Europe) have won my heart way more than I ever expected in a very short period of time!  Pretty late into the night we all finally went to bed, but I have to say I did more tossing, turning and thinking than sleeping that night!

1 comment:

  1. One of the best moments of the trip for me by far! You are doing an amazing job with the recaps! Love re-living them with your words and pictures. :)