By Zachary Gately, MPH - zgately.com
Entering week six is forcing myself to come to terms with my new life. It's not much different than than any life you live. I work too much, sleep too little, talk to my loved ones less than I should, and do not exercise enough. I may not have running water like you do and you probably don't eat lunch under a mango tree on the regular. Regardless, life goes on and so does the daily grind.
I cannot tell a lie, it's no cake walk here. I witness problems, illnesses, and heart break that may seem unfathomable in the 21st century or with a loving God in control of it all. Death is common in this country with the lowest life expectancy at birth in the world (CIA Factbook 2012) as is severe malnutrition, malaria, spousal abuse, and so much more.
Every Friday my view changes, though. I have the pleasure of working with a group of people who are dedicated to changing their health status and that of their community as well. This group, our Community Health Workers and Traditional Birth Attendants, come poised with questions, answers, enthusiasm, and an open mind. Some have not ventured far from their homes in Béré and many cannot fathom their lives without childhood deaths, ruptured uteruses, and malaria. Regardless, they persistently show up every Friday at 3 pm (many on Tchadian time, of course) to learn something new to share with their neighborhood.
Yesterday was a tiring day. Or maybe I was just tired. I haven't been the healthiest since coming here (strep throat, malaria, and giardia) and these last two weeks or so I have been sleeping earlier and earlier to give my body an optimal amount of recovery time (though it doesn't seem to be helping as much as it should). Thankfully, Tammy asked if she could have the student missionaries for the day to clean and decorate the classrooms at the school, allowing some much needed catch up time in research, planning, and dreaming. I sat in my Eno hammock (product placement, yes, but if you don't have one, go to REI.com) reading journal articles, malaria books, and USAID articles. Thoughts came and went, as did the breeze as I pushed higher and higher for what I want to accomplish in my time here. It was nearly overwhelming as I was coming to terms with the fact that this is my community now. I live here, I eat here, I shop here, and I work here.
Even so, not having a local Target, ACE, or In-n-Out can get frustrating at times. Tammy and Jamie had to run over to the next city over, Lye, and offered me a ride. I jumped in the car so fast as this 30 minute ride would be the farthest I had gone from the hospital since arriving (and it offered free AC!). Once there, we were able to buy things like extension cords, paper clips, and even a stapler! Other stores included a "hardware" store, a massive market with many venders, and other things that we did not expect to see this far from a major city. After Jamie had gotten all he needed from the "hardware" store, Tammy began perusing for grocery items that are hard to come by in Béré. We stopped here and there until we found a well stocked store with products that even surprised Jamie and Tammy. There were cornflakes, margarine, canned tuna, and even the Nutella-like spread that smothers your problems away! I went a little crazy at first but scaled it down to the necessities: Vaseline lotion for men, olive oil, and Ovaltine. Even though I now smell like I'm from the 1940s (watch out ladies), I was so grateful for the moisturizing healing after living in Sub-Saharan Africa for over a month. I can also pretend that I am in Italy rather than only using peanut oil and I will get my essential nutrients via the chocolatey goodness of childhood Ovaltine.
It is these little things that brighten my day. The opportunity to enjoy the little things from home while dancing with our host family's pouty 2.5 year old princess (the terrible two's is a world-wide problem that has to be fixed. Maybe WHO will put it in the next Millennium Development Goals!). Sitting here writing this, it still baffles me that I live here. If nothing else, I have grown to simply appreciate relationships while living here in "Le Quarter de Béré-Post." I appreciate my relationship with my family so much more. I am grateful for the encouragement from my friends. I enjoy my 90 second conversation with the compound guards every day, and above all, I see the need for a relationship with God.
This place is often labeled as a hard place to live, on physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, and gastrointestinal levels. It's also been called a place that people love beyond all measure. Miracles happen in a way that is uncanny and nothing else can explain the happenings. I can only thank you for your continued support and prayers. The little things make all difference.
"A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." Galatians 5:9, NIV.