Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

November 29, 2010

Greetings from Dar es Salaam, Africa! : An Update from OCMC Missionary Katie Wilcoxson

It has been almost three months since my arrival in Africa. It is nothing like I had expected as many things are in our lives. The top five unexpected things on my list are:

–How intense the sun is! There is a wonderful breeze everyday, but the sun’s intensity is astonishing.

–Being loved by some and thanked many times by most.

–The mosquitoes in Africa fly really slowly, so they are easy to kill. However, the mosquitoes are also stealthy with their biting.

–How it is very easy to buy everything one needs for daily living on the bus (dala dala) while sitting in traffic.

–How limited the food choices are in the city. I can’t believe how many “pub like” food establishments there are in Tanzania.

While I have been in Dar es Salaam, I have had many opportunities to learn about Tanzanian culture. Once a week we go on cultural outings: to the Tanzanian national museum, a tribal museum, and even shopping in a district called Kariokoo. I bought a tennis racket, a cutting board, congas (wraps that have many uses), tupperware, postal stamps, and internet usage cards.

One weekend I was able to talk with a Maasai man, who lives at the Salvation Army (where we have our Swahili lessons). I asked him if he could show us the famous “Maasai jumping dance” (Adumu). So he set it up and got some of his friends! We squashed 5 people into a taxi and headed off to a remote area with no paved roads. We bumped, screamed (mainly me), and laughed our way to where the Maasai men were preparing to adumu (dance). For the first time, our group of wazugu (foreigners) were not the center of attention. What I did not realize is that the Maasai people are just as much of a spectacle to most Tanzanians as are Americans/foreigners. So we (Maasai and wazugu) came together to celebrate Maasai dancing, but unintentionally celebrated our likenesses. We watched and cheered for 3 hours until they needed a soda break. I found out later that many in the Maasai tribe are Christian (mainly Roman Catholic). Warriors are the only members of the Maasai community who wear long hair, and they spend a great deal of time styling their hair. It is dressed with animal fat and ocher, and parted across the top of the head at ear level.

The next day, instead of attending St Paraskevi Cathedral, we visited a different parish, The Dormition of the Theotokos in the Mbezi beach region of Dar es Salaam. The church is located on the top of a hill. The nave is no bigger than two dining room tables placed side by side. The church was packed. Not counting the five of us, the faithful (including children) numbered twenty. The music we witnessed was from the angels. Everyone joined in singing the hymns, and the service reminded me of the churches my OCMC short-term mission team visited in 2002. I was part of a team of fourteen, then. We stayed in a small village called Kazsikazi. We joined the people of Kazsikazi in building All Saints Orthodox Church. Everyone–even the small children of the village– helped bring the empty bags of dirt to us to refill. We were given the task of digging out the area for the narthex. All Saints Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh, PA, sponsored the building of the church in the village of Kazsikazi. We also travelled with His Eminence Jeronymos to multiple parishes around the Bukoba Archdiocese. All that came back to me as I listened to the singing of the little children, men, and women: I could hear their gusto, passion, and love.

17 September 2010

His Eminence Dimitrios arrived from Greece. He wanted to take us out for lunch. To spend this time with His Eminence (H.E.) and my team before James left for Mwanza was very important to me, even though I was feeling sick. As the day went on I became more and more ill. I just thought, “it’s a virus, it will pass.” I had felt this way once before since I have been here in Dar es Salaam, and I was fine the next day after giving my stomach a rest and staying hydrated. I thought: “I am an ER nurse: I can treat a stomach virus.” But my sick feeling got so bad that I had to excuse myself from the lunch because the smell of the food was too much for my temperamental stomach. On our way home, H.E. was driving; the car ran out of diesel, and we had to wait for someone from the Cathedral to help us get home. At this time I was actually feeling a little better. We then made our way to the Cathedral where H.E. stays while he is in Dar es Salaam. Again my symptoms were becoming worse, and I requested that I lay down while we waited for a taxi to take us home. I got into the taxi, and we made our way back to the hostel. The last road to our hostel is a VERY VERY bumpy one. I usually love the experience of bumping around in the car, but this time was it totally different. I had never felt this much pain, thank God, so the tears came out in liters. At one point, I had to quickly ask that the car be stopped so that I could take a break from the bumpy road. This caused quite a traffic jam, as I was told later by my friends. I was able, with the help of the taxi driver and Michael, my missionary teammate in Tanzania, to get back in the car and finish our trip back to our hostel. I made my way up the stairs to my room. I got in my pajamas and lay down in bed. Felice, my missionary teammate, came into my room, and we talked about the days’ events. Our debriefing didn’t last very long due to the fact that she lost her voice. Felice reminded me she was just a phone call away if I decided I needed to go to the hospital at anytime. It wasn’t even two hours, before I realized the pain had started to increase in my stomach. So I got myself ready for a trip to the hospital and walked to Felice’s room. I woke her up, and we made our way to the hostel’s reception area. The taxi arrived, and we started on what seemed like a cross country trip to Aga Khan hospital, which was recommended by the hostel’s staff. At the beginning of our trip to the hospital the driver stopped to get diesel. After filling up the car, the pain in my stomach began increasing in intensity. The drive started to become overwhelmingly painful. It felt like we were only driving over rocks and not a road. On our arrival to the hospital, I crawled into the ER and was able to go straight back to a bed. I cried in agony and worked with the doctors and let them do what they needed to do to find out why I was having this pain. The pain never ceased even with the pain medicine I was given. Throughout the tests, I frantically tried to call the team, Michael, His Eminences Jeronymos and H.E. Dimitrios. Many of the phone numbers I did not have so I continued to call whomever I could reach. I spoke with Michael, and he started the phone chain to notify the Missions Department at OCMC, and the local clergy (Fr. Peter and Fr. Frumentios). I was all alone in my room, because in Tanzania the friend/family member’s job is to pay for each item that has been ordered by the doctor (doctor’s order), to take the blood to the lab, and to get the results. Felice was doing all this, and playing many, many other roles that night, and she showed peace through it all. It was incredible how much she advocated, consoled, and had such peace about the whole ordeal. Radiological and blood tests were done, and it was discovered that I had appendicitis. I was numb. I started crying and became terrified that I was going to have to have surgery in Tanzania. I told the surgeon that I needed to speak with my parents and friends in the states. I then spoke with my parents and told them what was going on. Since Felice was busy being my lab runner and bill payer, I felt very alone. I told them, I am so scared over and over. Then my dad interrupted said, “Katie you are not alone. You are never never never alone never ever. You have Christ Jesus, His mother, Saint Catherine, Saint Aidan, Saint Ann, Saint Brendan, Saint Elisabeth, the Archangel Michael, Saint James, Saint Dimitrios, Saint Jeronymos, Saint Innocent, Saint Nicholas of Japan, Saint Basil, Saint John the Forerunner, Saint Elisabeth the New, Saint David, and all of the saints in heaven. My dad prayed with my mom, Felice, and me. Christ Jesus, His mother and all of the saints in heaven were there with us in Aga Khan hospital that night. My father asked me soon after that, “Do you feel like you need to come home?” I immediately said “no”.

I have felt the calling to become a missionary in Africa for twenty years. My parents have been amazingly supportive all of these years. Through all of the difficulties I have faced and will face during the last twenty and the next two years, it is all for the good of my salvation. Even though one of my worst fears came true, it has only affirmed to me that only with Christ Jesus and all of the saints in heaven, can I continue to assist in the mission field in East Africa. This experience will not only help me to be a better nurse, it will also help me be a better person.

As a registered nurse (RN), I enjoy taking care of people when they are seriously sick. Many times it is hard to understand why someone is so upset over what is, to us, as medical professionals, a simple task/procedure. Many times, we as RNs think someone is over-reacting to their situation (getting an IV, or medication injection). As RN’s/doctors we lose our compassion for peoples’ fears. We get too busy and don’t find out the important things that give us the whole picture of the whole person. I have been a patient before; I have been in doctors’ offices; I have had a day surgery, and, once, I had to go to the ER after having surgery. But this time of being the patient opened my eyes to something, that I sometimes forget. As a nurse, I have always concentrated on what I needed to do to the patient to get them better. I often didn’t step back enough to listen to them. But, in this situation, even though I understood everything that was going on, it was just different. I tried to be an obedient patient, but the medical system is very different–not to mention the cultural differences and language. Everything that was done to me, I had done to others hundreds of time. But now I will try to understand and sympathize more with my patients about their fears and emotions that they might have when they receive unexpected news.

Ten days after being discharged from the hospital, I left Dar es Salaam with my fellow missionaries (James Hargrave, Michael Pagedas, and Felice Stewart) and arrived in Mwanza. Mwanza is where His Eminence Jeronymos’s Archdiocese office is located. We spent a day or so with His Eminence and then left for Bukoba, where we will live for the next two years. We will be working at Resurrection Hospital and assist in projects as His Eminence requests. His Eminence departed for the annual synod meeting in Egypt just before we left for Bukoba, and we have now been here for a little over a week. We have continued to unpack, and we are gradually getting settled in our home. His Eminence is schedule to return from Egypt at the end of the week. We will ask for his blessing to continue learning Kiswahili and to gradually help at the hospital. This is a very exciting time, especially for myself. I have been itching to start clinical work. Even though I will only spend a few hours a week at the hospital, I am so happy to start to “dip my pinky toe” into medical care in Tanzania!


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