One of the more bizarre and heart-breaking days in Tanzania came 4 days before I was headed back to the States. I spent several hours “touring” the local hospital in Zanzibar. Zanzibar is very much a microcosm of third world countries in that the very compact island features the fancy tourism spots and five-star hotels right across the street from the people living on very little each day.
I connected with the co-founder of MED International a month or two before heading to Tanzania. Neither he or the other founder were going to be in Zanzibar when I was there, but connected me to folks on the ground that could show me around. I’m not sure the hospital administration really understood what the goal was and wasn’t exactly prepared for me the day I arrived! Still, they were very accommodating, but the trip turned into my “tour guide” — an engineer at the hospital — showing me from room to room pointing out the I.D. stickers on the equipment that MED International had assessed on their trip there last summer. Since I didn’t exactly have permission to shoot images of the patients, doctors, or other surroundings, I had to be sneaky in my endeavors. The fact that I don’t handle blood, needles, or anything medical related without passing out didn’t help! Nor did it help that I’m an incredibly emotional gal who saw some incredibly sad reality. I basically had to shut down my mind and heart and just shoot what I could.
Fast forward to my first Monday back in Nashville (exactly 2 weeks after visiting the hospital in Zanzibar). My BFF just adopted a sweet boy from the DRC and was taking him to the international adoption clinic. She also has a very mobile 3-yr old, so I tagged along for the day to keep B company while baby brother was being taken care of.
Wow, y’all. You wanna talk about contrast! The Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital is as nice as they come. As we roamed the halls and various play areas, I had a good giggle about how ridiculous life in America is. People actually expect a place like this. We need pretty colors, play areas, cafes, books and magazines, and other distractions while we wait for our turn behind the closed doors. I so wish I could show you the “waiting area” in Zanzibar. Basically, folks sit along the walls — outside, in 100 degree weather — and wait their turn. No iPads, smart phones, or other access to anything happening outside of where they are.
And once it’s their turn to see a doctor? Well, there’s no expectation of privacy! I can only imagine what the day to day is like with their ease of showing me — a white girl with a large camera — around every area!
I stopped them just before entering an operating room that was being used. No thank you. Even the empty operating room was enough to put my stomach in knots.
And the maternity/neonatal area? One small room with a few baby incubators and mothers sitting on the floor with their newborns.
Other scenes included a room full of beds (like 30 beds) where folks were being cared for, labs with test tubes all over the place, and many small exam rooms.
The ICU was another hard-to-get-through area. A mother holding her little girl’s hand, with only a small, dingy curtain giving her any privacy in what needed to be a private moment.
I’ve been there myself. In an ICU as a child where the outcome was unsure and initially quite bleak. However, I was in a fancy children’s hospital where I was showered with gifts and my parents were able to sleep/stay with me.
And while I am incredibly thankful for the great doctors who treated me, even they weren’t convinced that their work and the high-tech equipment used would be enough. I grew up in a church with great community and within hours folks were gathered around outside the hospital (because there were too many of them for the waiting rooms to handle) and prayed.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that I have no idea how prayer really works! Do we change the Lord’s mind? Doubt it. But when you spend two weeks in a hospital room with visits from numerous doctors and nurses coming to visit because they couldn’t believe you had survived, it’s hard not to put the pieces together.
Hang with me here, I didn’t intend to get into this much detail about my own experience, but I am getting to the point.
How much do we need?
I mean, really need?
And how often do the things of life distract us?
Technology, training, and luxury are great, great things and we are so blessed to live in a country where we have those assets at our disposal. But sometimes I wonder if we forget how desperate we are for the One who can handle all of our needs — without dolling it up in pretty colors.
I could see it in that mother’s face. Desperation. All that was in front of her was her struggling little girl and the doctors treating her. No phone to play on or book to read. Nothing to allow her mind to escape from the reality she faced.
And so I wonder, if we didn’t have those distractions would we find ourselves more often letting go of the control we only think we have? Would we face our struggles and uncertainties with more power rather than burying them? Would we be more vulnerable when vulnerability is all that we have?
Look around you. Better yet, look inside you. You don’t have to experience a third world setting firsthand to know that you are blessed beyond what you deserve. But you also don’t have to let a first world life convince you that you aren’t desperate for help beyond what this world can give you.