3rd Clinic: Mansansa
Further afield than our two previous clinics, near the Congo border, our driver had to stop on the turns into Mansansa to be sure the rutted path wasn’t going to tip our tired bus on its side. Except for the bald dirt along which we lurched, the territory here feels impenetrable: tangled dry brush, camel-colored elephant grass, eruptions of chartreuse bamboo, and unfamiliar stunted trees.
Dressed in coat and slacks, Regional Chief Peter Zimba welcomed us and made sure we saw his handwritten sign taped onto the main cinderblock and roofed structure here, the dirt-floored United Church of Zambia, which on this day was our space. The announcement read:
We Welcome you all to OMNI Free Treatment and Clinic
PLEASE FEEL FREE.
EXPRESS YOUR PROBLEMS FREELY.
Wednesday 10th July. Thank you,
Health Care Chair Person
Apart from Chief Zimba’s serious dedication to bringing education, hygiene, clean water, and sufficient food to his region, he also has a penchant for canes. Peter Zimba is the man who, a year or two back, asked Gil Harrington why she had brought a golf club along with our crutches and canes. Gil turned the putter upside down, held the bottom of the club as a handle, and voilà! A gleaming modern cane immediately claimed by a handsome tribal chief.
This year, a friend from a Roanoke church made two unique canes for OMNI to bring with us to Zambia, stained sycamore sticks, the taller one topped by a deer antler fastened with turquoise pieces hanging from lengths of suede; the lesser one decorated with agates and an eagle feather. What better gifts for the Chief and for Mrs. Zimba, whose own excellent passion is contraception and keeping girls in school. How stunning, these accomplished regional leaders holding one-of-a-kind American canes.
I asked Chief Zimba to tell me about his land and his people this year. “Poverty,” he answered. “We are a very poor people, which is why OMNI means life to us. For example, my people can look up and count the stars tonight, and understand the idea of many. But they can never look in their home and count food.”
Mansansa was welcoming, heartbreaking, and finally—miraculous.
Dear 59-year-old Esther had had a troubled left eye two years ago, which became, for unknown reasons, infected so badly that the eye was enucleated (removed) as the best treatment to save her life. Subsequently, Esther endured two rounds of penicillin-based drugs, which unfortunately had zero ameliorating effect. The socket of Esther’s missing eye had become a cauldron of infection, a wound weeping pus and blood. So she arrived to us today.
We photograph patients only with their express permission, explaining that our presentation of their cases will benefit medical students, humanitarians, philanthropists, and social activists around the world. The patients, including Esther, are always more than willing to help generate interest in the plight of their people. Whether these photographs (posted below) cause you to weep or donate (www.omnimissions.com), please witness the degree of need we address.
Despite persistent flies, Esther’s eye socket and adjacent face were thoroughly cleaned; her unsanitary dressing upgraded; and she was given a different class of antibiotics as well as external antibiotic treatment, with vitamins, rice, soap, a washcloth, extra dressing and ointment, and a warm winter hat to hold down and to disguise her facial bandage wrap. She was so pleased to be attended so patiently.
And then, Ben. Ben is an adult orphan, 51, and he is also an outcast, because Ben’s left leg is an unimaginable disaster, his left shin hosting one of the worst and foulest-smelling Buruli’s tropical ulcers we have ever treated. OMNI’s Deputy Headmaster Kelvin Kaputula and I bathed, peroxided, and ointment-slathered Ben’s wound. This work took an hour, and then, Gil Harrington wrapped Ben’s leg while she instructed him how to do so for himself.
I asked Kelvin to translate between Ben and me. I learned about his parents’ deaths, and he learned about mine. I learned that Ben had been a skilled carpenter with a reputation for working hard and precisely. Maybe, Ben conjectured, someone had cast witchcraft upon him to begin this ulcer, because, he reasoned, in a land of little, failing people can be jealous of someone who is motivated to work so hard. No, we told Ben. No black magic caused his wound. The ulcerative skin disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans.
Ben’s ulcer has plagued him for FIFTEEN YEARS. So, with Ben, the OMNI team faced not just his obscene wound, but the crisis of Ben’s despair.
I told Ben that he must use his powerful mind to imagine that his ulcer was now his baby. You never leave a baby dirty and unattended. You never fail to take care of it. You never abandon it. Diligently, you must wash this wound, apply this medicine, use our supplies, and follow our instructions.
Then I showed Ben a photo and, through Kelvin’s translation, told him the story of my recent painting about a Himalayan stray dog who met an Ambassador in the west of Nepal. See the details in this painting, I instructed Ben. Look how I allow my pencil marks to show under my thin paint. I like to show the process and effort of my work.
Ben, I said, you were a skilled carpenter. You worked to make shapes and shelters from wood. You can not stand now to do that beautiful work. God willing, if you care for this wound as you would care for a baby, you can keep your leg from amputation, and more—
Ben, I exclaimed, we are giving you this extremely sharp, beautiful knife, but it’s not only for cutting vegetables.
We have spoken together today; we have learned of one another’s sorrows. We are together for a reason.
Ben, I want you to take small pieces of wood, and carve as if this knife were a paintbrush. You are free to claim your carpentry again. We are two artists. Your leg can heal. You are cursed by no one.
Ben! you can become, no—I declare that you ARE now, as of today—the Carpenter of Small Things.
I asked our translator Kelvin to ask Ben how he felt now after our morning and all this talk together. Ben thought, quite a bit, and then he looked at me, and said, in Bemba, one word.
When Ben left, those of us who had ministered to him also felt hopeful.
That’s exactly when our friend Mwela walked over to see how we were doing.
Mwela teaches 8th and 9th grade English, Social Studies, and Business Studies at our thriving Orphan Medical Network International School, here in Zambia.
In previous years, Mwela was always carrying a boy almost her size, on her back—her nephew and charge, Lupea—who had fractured his leg years before, which injury had never received proper treatment. That broken leg had contracted and malformed so terribly and painfully that for years, Lupea could not walk. But his aunt Mwela took him everywhere, a heavy burden certainly, but a boy she loved and was trying to raise, knowing he was loved.
Salaried by OMNI, Mwela was able last year to arrange for Lupea’s surgery, an amputation. After this amputation, Lupea was fitted with an artificial leg. And on that leg, Lupea learned to walk. And then Lupea grew strong, and confident.
“Look,” Mwela showed us, as her hands and Gil’s fluttered around a photo on her phone of the child turning 10 this August. “This is Lupea, taken just a few weeks ago, at his school, on Career Day. Do you see his miraculous smile? It is as if his soul has re-entered his body. And do you know what he told me?”
“What did the healed child tell you, Mwela?”
“Lupea said, ‘Of course for Career Day I dressed as a pilot, Aunt Mwela, because since I am now able to walk and run, why should I not learn to fly?’”