The smell of sickness hung in the air and kept creeping up my nostrils. I wished the walls were repainted more often, as blood splatter was often found above the beds. Although the room was the size of two single rooms I was used to, somehow there were 50 people crammed in this one open area. Privacy was something to be checked in at the door. Not so much as a sheet hung between each patient. Each mattress was so well used the cover was gone and the only thing left was exposed foam. I looked to my left and saw the two shared toilets for the entire facility. Not the porcelain ones I appreciate, but the hole in the ground type. This was sensory overload. This was a public hospital in Bujumbura.
A few of my friends and I wanted to see if there were people not being taken care of. People that don’t have family to bring them food and change the sheets. We wanted to be the people that listened to their story. People that would pray with them when they were in pain. Nursing care is nearly non-existent in a western sense of the word. No food is available to be brought to the patients when they are hungry. That is left to family. What if there is no family left? What if the family themselves can’t afford to eat?
For some reason a particular lady, nearly full term in her pregnancy and sick with malaria, came to the hearts of two of my friends. They spent time listening to her story, praying with her, and helping her with a few things. After sitting together a long time, they promised to return in the next few days to check back. A few days went by and I joined them in returning to see her and others we had met. An empty bed left us unsure whether this was death or better health? I couldn’t sleep that night without knowing. We remembered the area of town she said she lived in. That was enough for us.
Buzzing through the bumpy streets in her neighborhood on my dirt bike, I kept stopping to ask if anyone knew her. Finally, someone said they knew the street she was on. I turned off the main neighborhood road onto the one mentioned. Before me was a literal river of sewage and garbage. Feet firmly OFF the pegs and closer to the gas tank, I crossed. My amigo on the back held onto the back fender with his feet held up to the sides. Squishing and slipping through with who-knows-what stuck in my tires, we arrived on the other side. Moments down the road I stopped and asked another passer by. “Do you know this person?” He answered with a grin, “I’m her cousin!” and pointed to her house.
Dried mud composed the house and dirt was the floor. There was no water or electricity, but inside there was a familiar faced, smiling lady. Our friend was feeling better and happy to be home with her husband. I met her family and sat and talked for a long time. She was surprised we found her. I was surprised we found her. We discovered her husband was a fisherman and walked into the house with nothing less than a fresh catch of electric eel from the local Lake Tanganyika. They began preparing the eel to eat and I was curious about the taste, but thankfully, there wasn’t enough for us! We continued talking and prayed together that she would continue to recover and her baby would be healthy inside of her. As the sun was going down and the only thing left to see inside were eyes and teeth, I rode back home. I could sleep now. Surely, I’ll be back again.
This world is too big for anyone to change alone. Movements of people will though. Nobody will ever be part of the movement if they never become the individual that chooses to do something first. Get to living or get to dying.