We have arrived! Having now made this trip 3 times prior, I now know what to expect: the plane ride is long (I hope no one sits next to me so I can stretch out–this is rare), Rwandan customs and immigration is a mess but I get through it eventually, and the night we arrive I am excited to see my colleagues on the team, but worry I will not sleep because of the time change (7 hours). My fourth journey was much the same as years past, which is a relief. Surprises are not generally welcome with long-haul travel.
We started our first full day at the hospital by greeting the Rwandan medical students who will be our translators and cultural guides for the next 2 weeks. In Rwanda, students start medical school directly from high school, and then spend 6 to 7 years in training. The first few years are all classroom work while years 3 to 7 are spent doing clinical work. The medical students we work with here are in their 4th or 5th year, which means that they are young and new-ish to medicine.
We then went to greet the women who will be our patients. These women come to the hospital from all over Rwanda and even from surrounding countries. They stay at the hospital in large tents (think outdoor wedding size) while waiting for surgery and after they recover. The tents are full of hospital beds, and sometimes there are not enough beds for everyone. This year, the women greeted us by dancing and singing, and while I could not understand the words, I could feel their joy and hope. Most of these women are here for the first time, but a handful had come back to say thank you after having surgery during a prior mission.
I am hoping to share some videos this year. The women you see in the front of the group are celebrating because they were operated on during a prior mission and were cured. As I stood and watched these women dance and sing, my heart was full and I was reminded yet again of how lucky I am to be a part of this experience.
You can see in the video that some of the women are carrying baskets. These baskets were full of peanuts, which the women had grown and were giving to Barbara (the director of IOWD) as a thank you for fixing their fistula. Many of our patients are farmers, and they grow the peanuts to support their family. We eat these nuts (roasted and salted) at our hotel every evening when we come back from the hospital. Each woman gave a speech about how thankful she was to Barbara, to God, and to the team for helping her get her life back. One woman had lived with fistula (and constant urine leakage) for 17 years.