Coming here, I was aware that South Africa is not England. I was also aware that South Africa is not just one culture itself – any country that has 13 official languages is likely to have very diverse national identities!
I’ve seen several of my friends from Nigeria get frustrated with the Western tendency to think of Africa as one big, perhaps slightly backwards, country. Whilst I’ve always tried to avoid falling into that trap, I’ve still been surprised by the huge variety of ways of life here in Mseleni.
There are the university educated staff at the hospital.
- Some of those are Afrikaans.
- Some English.
- Some Zulu.
- Some British.
There are the staff who live outside the hospital.
- Some of them are well paid, and drive nice cars, and live in lovely houses.
- Some of them are paid minimum wage, and live in one room without running water or electricity.
There are the patients.
- Some of them live in the nearby town, and earn a good wage, and live comfortably.
- Some of them live rurally on their own land, and whilst not monetarily rich, eat enough on crops and cattle they raise themselves.
- Some of them live in desperately poor rural communities, and struggle every day for things we take for granted.
The variety raises some huge challenges to being a doctor out here.
It also raises huge challenges to being a person out here.
I am easily in the richest 1% of people who live out here. And that’s taking into account the fact we haven’t even been paid in 3 months!
How can we live a compassionate, meaningful life here, whilst surrounded by so much need. Is it selfish for us to have anything at all? A computer? A toaster? A bed?
Katherine already talked about it – we could pack up and run off to England whenever we want. So how can our commitment to a life here have integrity to those without that choice? We are like a blue bird in a photo I took last week: perched on the razor wire, but free to leave.
I don’t have an answer – my aim is to be open. To listen. To find out what the Father’s heart is for us here. Because if I try to force this, if I try to correct all the wrongs in this world with my own meagre resources, I’m just going to end up broken. Guilty, and broken.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
In every area of our life out here: medicine, family, church, friends, we need to hold close those things that God has given us, and let go of the things that stain.