It’s funny how calmer I felt on my second day in Kigali. A 4:30am wake up, a bit of yoga and I was ready to take on anything. It’s time I mention how beautiful Kigali is. Even though I’ve seen almost none of it so far, what I have seen is rolling hills with beautiful green trees and the landscape dotted with houses. You can see the economic growth and everyone says it is very different from when the team first started coming here.
Friday morning I took it upon my self to go and have a look at the operating theatre. Lisa and Jen, two of the most decorated OHI participants (as in they’ve been on trips for years) kindly allowed someone relatively useless (i.e. me) to don scrubs and try not to get in their way while they unpacked and set up the theatre for the operations which were commencing on Saturday.
For someone raised on the TV version of hospitals there were a few surprises. The theatre has a collection of toys, for example. I expected, obviously wrongly, that the whole environment needed to be sterile. Jen told me that at home she has her bag in theatre, while doctors often bring their wheeled suitcases.
After faffing around there making a nuisance of myself I headed out with Richard to the airport to pick up 13 arriving team members. Previously we had had a run of cancelled flights, visa issues and a few lost bags. On our day we got all people, all bags and even managed to collect the day before’s missing luggage. And we got money (which had been an issue as no ATM would take our cards.) All in all it was such a productive trip we declared ourselves KINGS OF THE AIRPORT. It’s the little things that make you happy.
Settling in the arrivals, which consisted a few newbies like myself, I realised how I was starting to feel in control of things. I now have a local mobile, a reliable taxi guy (Juvenal) and a process for coordinating the 30+ people who may want to go out to dinner each night. So far so good. (I’m probably tempting fate by rewriting this.)
For a while the only thing I felt out of the loop with was the patients, as I hadn’t really been able to follow their journey as yet. (As I write this I’m listening to the ping of ICU machines as the first patients have come out of surgery.) The hospital decided we needed to obtain permission before filming anything (fair enough) but it put Richard out of action for a bit. And I’ve already contemplated throwing my computer on a number of occasions as uploading to the OHI blog is proving to be quite the challenge (this email functionality is so much better in these circumstances.)
I will say that the moment I saw the little patients waking up after their anaesthetic, clutching the soft toys or dolls we gave them, was the first punch-like emotional moment. This is what all the work was about. This is why everyone is here.
Later I tagged along with the surgeons to meet one of the patients scheduled for the next day. Little Honorine smiled and waved, high fived me and told everyone she’d have big strong muscles like mine after her operation. Gold.
You probably thought that given the nature of this trip there wouldn’t be huge paragraphs written about food. Well you would be wrong. Breakfast and lunch are provided by the hotel and hospital respectively, and are perfectly serviceable, if a paleo eaters worst nightmare.
For dinner we tend to go out, if not working or too tired. So far we’ve been to a high end place (not my favourite but I was jet lagged) a local pizza joint/sports bar which was surprisingly good and a team favourite Italian joint which was better than a lot of pasta I’ve eaten in Sydney. Most recently we had an Indian banquet at a place called Khana Khazana which was pretty fine. There may not be michelin stars, but Kigali hasn’t let the side down food wise. I’ve mapped out a week of dining for the team, which makes this trip pretty similar to every holiday I’ve ever had.
Sunday morning Richard and I went with JP (a former cardiac patient who now works counselling kids before their operations) to collect little Francisco from one of the orphanages in the city. Francisco is the baby who won everyone’s hearts when we arrived (no favourites) and he was coming in for his surgery. We drove through throngs of people coming out of the Catholic Church after mass, from one of the churches where people were massacred during the genocide. Down a red dust, pothole filled road we found the gorgeously planned out orphanage surrounded by french style gardens. There were around 60 kids there, some with physical or mental disabilities.
We spent most time with the babies, as Richard was filming Francisco, but I also got to meet some of the older intellectually disabled kids. We had special permission to take photos and film given the circumstances, as it is usually not allowed. I had the Portrait Equality polaroid and JP went a little snap happy with the kids, but it was great to be able to give the images to the sisters who look after them. There will be a lot more about this on both the OHI and Portrait Equality blogs as I get time to write it.
I can’t believe I’ve only been away 5 nights, as it feels like I’ve experienced a lifetime already (compounded by the fact I am only sleeping 4-5 hours a night.) Today alone I was shamed by the sisters for not being Catholic, hit on by the orphanage’s driver and one of the hospital staff has clearly decided it is his personal duty to convert me because I lent him my speakers so he could play really, really terrible electronic hymns in the office (I wasn’t popular with the rest of the team for that move.) I’m not sure what you did on Sunday but it probably wasn’t as exciting as that.
As I can’t post images I’ll attach a link to the OHI Rwanda Flickr page that I have set up – check out all the great work from our photographer Richard (and a few bad shots from me) – link here – ohikimgoodwin (or search on flickr for ohikimgoodwin.)