I am so glad that you all enjoyed my video of my Swaziland medical mission. Unfortunately, the wifi was practically non existent so there was no writing about the trip while we were there!
The flight of any international trip is rough, but this one was especially long. In order to get us all checked in and situated, we had to be there over three hours before the flight left. Those of you that have traveled with me know that I am a TSA precheck, roll in as they are calling my name, kind of girl.
The first flight to London was ten hours, where a had a four hour layover. While I do not deny that four hours is a responsible layover, its too long to just grab some food and get to your next plane, but its also too short to actually leave the airport and do anything. The next flight was 11 hours. Not really any better (I know I’m moping but keep reading, it gets better).
We landed in Johannesburg, which we were told would be more accommodating about the amount of medical supplies we were bringing with us. Unfortunately, this meant we had a five hour ride to the hotel. We had two many people for one van so we split into two groups. As we went to cross the border, our other van was stopped when the driver told them that we were bringing medicine into the country. Oops, bad call. Our van continued onto the restaurant where we had dinner. I am not sure how they made it through but two hours later they finally joined us. By the time we arrived at the hotel it had been 48 hours since we had arrived at the airport in Phoenix.
Where we stayed
A lot of people have asked me what the place we stayed was like. I’m going to be honest, it was nicer than most places I normally stay at, but I travel cheap. It was situated on a golf course so there was a lot of land between rooms. The vans would pick us up in the morning and take us to reception where we had an entire home cooked meal. After clinic they would bring us back and we would have a feast prepared for our arrival. I am gluten free and every single day the host would make me dinner without the sauce or pasta or whatever was in it that I couldn’t eat. The rooms were clean and even had a TV and fridge. There was a pool, though it would have been too cold to use it even if we had time. We had hot water for every shower. Everything would have been perfect if the wifi was a smidge bit better! All together, it was quite the luxury in comparison to our stay in Kenya last year. (To see my Kenya trip click here)
Our clinic consisted of a big blue and white tent that was able to be torn down when we switched clinic sites. we had three smaller tents off to the side. One for pharmacy, one for HIV testing and another for people that wanted to pray with Pastor Greg. Prior to our arrival, the local group that we worked with had spread the word that we would be coming. While it was largely discussed by word of mouth, there were even a few flyers put up. People walked for miles around in order to receive care at our clinic.
After standing in line, they were registered into our system. We all had ipads, linked through some magical server so we could use them out in the middle of nowhere. From registration, the children had their height, weight
and upper arm circumference taken to determine if they were malnourished. Next they saw a provider, where we took a health history and did and assessment. They were treated where we could, and referred to a local hospital when their treatment was beyond what we could provide. It was disheartening knowing that despite the referrals, many people would never be able to afford further care. After seeing a provider, they were given vitamins and worm prophylaxis. They had the option to test for HIV then they could go to the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions. Rachael even had a little station to test people for reading glasses.
We saw and treated numerous conditions. Almost everyone that came to see us had a cold. We saw lots of kids with tinea, some with ear infections, others with headaches or upset stomachs. Many of the adults had high blood pressure which was astonishing considering most of them walk many miles each day. I had one lady who just needed a refill of her prescriptions. The hydrochlorothiazide was easy, we had that. Something for GI upset was easy, though it wasn’t exactly what she had been taking. But BICO? what on earth was that? I had asked all the doctors who were at a loss until I found the local nurse who told me that it was vitamin B complex. On our last day, a man showed up just as we were packing up. As one of the doctors assessed him, he told him that he had walked 8 miles there because he couldn’t have sex anymore and wanted to see if we could give him something to help (we couldn’t).
Working with families from different cultures is always rewarding, but comes with its challenges. We had translators and we usually started by explaining to them what we would be asking and what that meant. I shared a provider table with an incredible nurse practitioner named Judy. After realizing that they did not quite understand what an allergy was, Judy thoroughly explained it to both our translators until there was no doubt that we were talking about the same thing. At times, the translators would have to ask each other what something meant and would end up describing it until we understood. We learned that sometimes they tell us a diagnosis, such as asthma, when they mean a symptom, such as a cough. However, halfway through the first day many of them could get an entire history without us dictating what to say.
HIV in Swaziland
According to the CDC, Swaziland has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world. In the recent years, the government has made movements to change these statistics by providing free testing and free antiretroviral treatment for all citizens. The local missionaries we worked with told us that if you had to choose one disease to have in Swaziland that it would be HIV because it is the only time the government will take care of you.
The people we met were absolutely incredible. From our translators, to the families we met in clinic to the missionaries that made this trip possible. The kids were a blast and we loved being able to spend time with them each day after clinic
On our last day, we spent the morning in one of the poorest areas of Swaziland. We stopped at a local grocery store to pick up beans, corn, soap, oil, toilet paper and an assortment of other goodies to bring to the families of the area. The community leaders informed us of those most in need and we divided into groups to share out items with them. The lot was rented from a farmer who let them stay on a tiny corner of the land for a small fee that most people could not pay. While a few of the homes were made of concrete, most were patched together with mud and rocks, covered by a tin roof. None were any bigger than 10×10. The woman we were sent to deliver goods to was absolutely thrilled. You could see it in her smile how meaningful it was to her.
Rachael passed out rubber band bracelets to the kids, and of course they all got stickers. They wanted to be picked up, swung around. One tried putting a bracelet on Dr. Lara but, being made for kids, it broke before he was successful. A couple of the girls started singing this adorable song (see below). We asked our local translator what the sing-songy chant meant. She listened for a minute “it means they are the same.” Sure enough the girls singing all had blue bracelets. I guess kids will be kids in any continent, in any situation.
There is nothing more rewarding than losing yourself in the things you love. Between the people we met and the lessons we learned, we returned home with a bigger understanding of the world and of ourselves. I am so fortunate to have been a part of this Swaziland medical mission!