Thursday, September 8, 2016
The Madagascar Medical Safari team (or MMS) set up base in an isolated village about a 90 minute drive (or 15km) away from the coastal town of Maintirano. They worked out of an existing clinical building where women might come to give birth or others would come for basic medical examinations. The doctors have been to this village before. An MMS is a shortterm medical team that will go out to a village for several days once or twice a year. The MMS has many villages to visit throughout the year, and the doctors volunteer their time away from their practice in the city to help with the ministry to the isolated people. I had the privilege to go and visit this team along with a group of faithful MAF supporters from all over the world, on a mere hour and 30 minute flight, rather than drive two difficult days in a 4x4 like Rob did 2 years ago.
The Airport Terminal in Maintirano
Our plane on the tarmac
Dr. Lee (Korean) and Dr. Fernand (Malagasy) were performing a hernia operation on a young girl in this primitive setting. I say primitive, as the door of the concrete operating room was no fancier than a wooden plank door, with a mosquito net hung in front. The room itself was probably just under 200 square feet and housed the bare essentials. Dr. Fernand attended the little girl as the anesthetist, and Dr. Lee finished closing up the site when I entered the room. Iodine, lots of iodine. Besides being primitive, and cramped, it was as clean as they could make it, and they had all the equipment they needed. The smell of bat urine (not uncommon guests in buildings) mixed with typical sanitizing smells you would sense in any normal hospital hung in the room. Across from the operating room, on the other side of the reception area, there was a small examining room where a nurse was helping take the next patient. Later that morning they were also working on a cleft palate, a common thing seen in Africa.
Dr. Fernand, antisethetist with the patient having her hernia operated on
In front of the small clinic, leading up to the crude reception area, a long line of locals stood sat and reclined hoping for their turn at seeing a doctor. A few mothers cradled babies, grandmothers, and older men also waited in the queue. There were no nice benches or cushy chairs, magazines, toys for the kids you might find a doctor’s office. No water fountain. They waited on the concrete sidewalk, or under the shade of a large of tree, in the dirt. At the reception table, a nurse was taking blood pressure, temperature, weighing, and the measuring the next patient. Behind the line of people, a window in the wall opened up to a limited pharmacy counter where there was a lady helping retrieve medicines and supplies.
Part of the queue, and the pharmacy
Patients waiting in the shade
Clinic bathroom facility
The community was introduced to the group of supporters we brought, and between surgeries, Dr. Fernand gave a speech on behalf of the community, expressing their thanks for helping supply skilled individuals for this short period of time, and asking us to bring them again. We, in turn, gave a speech (translated by Dr. Fernand to the people) explaining how honored we were to be able to visit and see first-hand the work we were helping to happen.
Patients and families listening to the speeches
Dr. Lee, (Korean surgeon) in reception area listening to the thank-you speeches
Dr. Fernand translating to the people for us
Addressing the crowd in front of the clinic
Shortly after our arrival a choir of ladies wearing long purple robes arrived to sing a message of thanks. With them were a group of children, obviously under their tutelage, as they sang in beautiful harmonies together--Just for us. While we sat there they served bananas, fresh coconut juice, coconut flesh and local donuts as their honored guests.
The choir that ministered to us
The kids choir
Cooking rice under the shade of the tree
Boys are the same everywhere :)
They had fun seeing their picture snapped
Thinking about the behind the scenes work that Rob does on the aircraft to help make it possible to get the doctors and all of their needed equipment out to the village, and the funds channeling through MAF to get fuel in the airplane, the team setting up food and lodging for the doctors staying in the village…. Lots of details, lots of team members.
One of the ladies I traveled with said, “It makes me think how fortunate we are to live in the first world.” Which sparked a brief discussion about how we don't get to choose our families or where we are born. I could just as easily be the one there trying to raise my family in the dirt with nothing except the clothes on our backs and rice for that day. We did nothing to be where we are, just as they did nothing to be placed where they are. Humbling thoughts.
When we flew back, I couldn’t help notice each tiny postage-stamp sized village I saw from the plane. No roads connected these villages, nothing but mud-brick structures with grass roofs neighbored by a few rice patties. I knew we were getting closer to Tana when I finally spotted a transport vehicle on a lonely dirt road below. Then I started seeing more villages, these ones closer together, with windy narrow connecting roads. Then more trucks on the road.
The starkness of the remote reality these villages experience is difficult to capture on camera, and even more difficult to write about, as I really can’t understand what it could be like to be all alone like that, in such extreme isolation from the outside world. I am only a click away from communicating with my family thousands of miles away. I tried to imagine a lady giving birth in the clinic we visited. I tried to imagine myself on that tiny operating table having a cesarean, or four (if I was fortunate enough). The thing is, however, I would have only survived the first pregnancy if the surgeon had been visiting when my baby was due. As I laid in my bed that night, I tried to imagine the group of boys I photographed and where they might be sleeping. I tried to imagine the complete darkness their village would be shrouded in come sunset. Of course, I can try and comfort myself with thoughts like, this is their normal, this is all they know. Perhaps for them…. But for me, for us who DO know better and have seen more than they, we must keep sharing our abundance, keep sacrificing our time, keep praying. We must not live forgetting about the least of these.