Since I left for Africa I’ve received so many emails from home – thank you! To be honest, I feel lucky to be in Africa, lucky these people are willing to tolerate my Canadian impatience, lucky these women have accepted me into their lives. I’ve come to realize that the life you end up with seems like two sides of a coin: heads or tails. Either you have money for food or you don’t. It’s pure luck which side you land on – I’m lucky to live in North America, lucky to have an apartment, a car, resources beyond my basic needs at my fingertips, loving parents and supportive friends.
So when people say, “What you’re doing must be so rewarding,” I think, no. I’m not in need of reward; I’m already well rewarded in life. The women in Kenya – THEY should receive the reward, for what they do is truly worthy. They tend to their numerous children and cook and clean without electricity or running water in an environment that’s always hot, dirty and sweaty. They live remarkably well in conditions Canadians couldn’t dream of on the worst of days. Meantime, I go home every night to whitewashed walls, a comfy bed and cooling fans, a full bank account … and the luxury of knowing that I am only visiting.
The experiences I’m having, however, I won’t soon forget. Take the other day: hot as a frying pan, no cooling wind. I could feel the sweat dripping from every pore on my body. With English-bulldog determination, I tried to focus on the task at hand when a woman came into our clinic dressed in her best attire – mismatched colours in all their clashing glory – a little boy in tow. I immediately noticed the child; his eyes twinkled like stars in the night, shining as if to gain the attention of the most devoted stargazer. He smiled at me, beaming, like I was the love of his life.
Then I noticed his elbows, fixed at 90-degree angles, and his lifeless legs. He resembled the children at the Port Reitz School for the Handicapped. Keith examined him while I, ever the eager student, stood anxiously over his shoulder. We both knew the affliction: a derivative of cerebral palsy. The mother, Rehema, took a seat in my consultation area and, rocking her son lovingly, gave me his history: three years old, the youngest of six, never seen a doctor. His father, she said, glancing at me then looking away, isn’t working. I bowed my head as emotion boiled up inside, immobilizing my speech. Squeezing my eyes to stop the tears, I scolded myself: “Pull it together Macpherson.”
I looked the mother square in the eyes and told her she’s doing a good job. “Keep loving your child, he is healthy,” I said, adding that his condition isn’t her fault. Like the flip of a coin it’s luck. There’s nothing she could have done differently. Later, as Keith and I walked along the beach, I reconfirmed to myself, “I am lucky and this woman deserves the reward.”
This week, you’ll see Keith back in the hot room; he left for Vancouver the other day. Funny to think that, after five years, a Bikram Yoga teacher and student would end up working together in a village in Africa! His hand in this project has been pivotal to the work I will do in the coming months. His careful diagnoses of and patience with over 400 children (and me) paint the picture of an acclaimed pediatric infectious disease doctor. I can’t imagine the journey without him, even as one ends and the other continues. Thank you, my friend; see you on “Sunday.”