I miss Africa. Not so much the place necessarily; the garbage, the sweat, the bugs, the terrifying roads that take you anywhere. Maybe I don’t miss those things, but my heart misses Africa. I miss the way I felt there, I miss who I was there, and missing that has a way of creating a longing. A longing for the bugs, the garbage, the sweat, and the smell. A longing for the people.
I have only been twice, for just over a week each time. I travelled the Senegal, a country on the Ivory Coast in West Africa early in my nursing career with a group from church. We spent part of our trips in Thies, a city west of the capital Dakar. The cities feel much like the Middle East in my mind, despite the use of the French language. We also spent time in the villages, away from the cities and their influence, where the world seems back in time. N’diandiane was the village we visited predominantly, don’t bother searching for it on Google Maps, you won’t find it. Our trips were multi focal, between agricultural support, children’s ministry, general fellowship, and my area of interest, medicine. The trips were structured with time in the city for prep and planning, then a few days in the village, holding clinics and other programs by day and camping in the village by night. The model was based on the idea of providing services and creating self-sufficiency through education, provision, and autonomy. My church visits the same village multiple times a year for many years, building a relationship and allowing for self-improvement and self-sufficiency among the villagers.
I am not sure what exactly has caused my sudden longing. It may be the multiple African families I have cared for at work, the men and women dressed and speaking like my memories recall. Their food and smell so similar to a place I have been. Maybe it is seeing Mike Rufo at church last week, a dear friend and father if you can create a combination of the two, who planned the trips I went on, and now works for a Missions organization creating similar ventures for other groups in other countries. Maybe it is the present state of work, the feeling that the administration’s expectations of their nurses are simply that we give our meds and prevent infections and bed sores. Measuring a successful day by a live patient with no central line infection, ignoring the importance of actually caring for a human being, taking time to see them and hear them. Whatever it is, I am missing this place. I am longing for it.
I miss my nursing practice there, when the obstacle isn’t the correct dose and concentration of a Dobutamine drip, but rather how to start an IV on a sick child in a hut, focusing on finding a vein in her dry dark hands rather than the monster spider on the wall above her. Trouble shooting discharge education, not just rattling off a list of follow up appointments, but instead finding a way to get a grandmother her blood pressure meds in two months when these run out. Preventing the worms we just treated from reentering the intestines of each and every villager, the kids especially with their bloated bellies and pain. Keeping the young boys out of the mystery swimming spot where they are continually contracting the Schistosomiasis we just treated. I miss the nurse I had to be in those situations, the way I had to use my brain. I miss the nurse I had to be for those people. The nurse I could be for those people, when taking extra time with a patient simply meant the line moved a little slower for a culture of people who take no offense to waiting. I wish I could be that nurse here, but I am starting to think she only exists in Africa.
I miss being tired. Not the kind of tired American racing makes you, but the physical, emotional drain that a long day under African sun creates. The kind that lays you flat on your back on a mat under the stars, in awe of what you have seen and done in a day, in awe that you will do it again tomorrow.
I miss seeing. The night sky from a remote African village, the horizon wide across the flat land is enough to stop your breath. The sky dark, the stars bright, the sounds of the villagers putting children to sleep, the Call to Prayer booming from miles away. You see and feel all of it because there is nothing to distract you. No phone, no email, no television. It seems a challenge to even let your mind wander to home because it is so far away, so foreign from this moment and this place. All you can see, all you can feel is what is right there. The sky is more beautiful than you have ever seen it, and you begin to question if it is truly grander, or have you just not seen it this way until now.
So now I am longing for this place. For these feelings. Maybe it’s time to go back?