Patient Presence

Feb 22, 2020

This was my third time in Myanmar at Lighthouse Farm in the past 15 months. I knew what I was signing up for….sleeping outside, no electricity, no real showers, no Wi-Fi… no problem. I’m a champ, I got this. That place fills me up in ways nothing else ever has and this time was no different…but it was a slightly more turbulent journey to get to those “happy place” moments. I’ve been reflecting on why it was so hard this time around and I’ve got a few theories: I spent the first several days really sick, vomiting more times than I thought humanly possible leaving me with very little energy to socialize. Longing but unable to communicate in deep conversation with the people up there because, well…my Burmese still has a loooong ways to go. Coming straight from a really hard and extremely emotional few weeks in Bangladesh and still processing all of that. In addition, months leading up to this trip I was going through a really hard time at work that left me pretty emotionally drained before even boarding that plane in Canada. And perhaps, maybe slightly, because I had a boyfriend to leave behind. Or my top theory is because of the Rooster that woke up me up every morning at approximately 4am. Aren’t they at least supposed to wait until sunrise?! I think all these things, plus more, left me pretty exhausted, making it that much harder for me to let my walls down and be truly present.

It was incredible, and perhaps a little overwhelming at first, the amount of people who came up to the farm for medical help. From first thing in the morning to late at night people would make their way up that steep hill. It was amazing to see so many familiar faces. Last year Cayla and I ran a little “Mom Pampering Day”. We met with the pregnant women, did some health education, shared stories and gave foot rubs. This year those moms all came back, with huge smiles on their faces to introduce to me their healthy babies! It was a good day. With many many cuddles.

But now is the part that is hard to write and hard to admit. After a few days of seeing patients from morning to night and spending several hours each afternoon doing health care teaching with Pew Wine and the amazing team she assembled, I caught myself feeling tired and impatient. I wouldn’t let it show to any of the people coming up to the farm but inside I was having thoughts of “ughhhh not another person! Can’t I just have a few hours to relax, journal, nap…sun tan maybe? Is this person even that sick?” I wanted to go fishing, on a hike and maybe a little afternoon yoga. I know, I sound pretty awful and selfish. A big part of me is thinking I probably shouldn’t be admitting this to everyone. It was also really difficult having every conversations being translated through someone; every conversation takes effort and A LOT of patience. Which I didn’t always have, especially by the end of a long day.

This is when I had a day that changed everything. Shalom, Danai and I woke up early and decided to walk to the village to visit the Mom whose daughter passed away a few months ago. The little 3 year old we fell head over heals in love with last year. Her death is still something that weighs heavy on my heart and something I think about regularly. Even more so when being back at the farm. I could hear her voice, see her dancing, and so easily recall her contagious love, energy and playfulness. The mom welcomed us in, we sat on her bamboo floor, I held her newborn baby and then showed her the photo album I made of her daughter. We both broke down in tears. She kept saying “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. Why did she die?” I had no good answer for her. I cried with her and my heart ached for her. The reality of the situation is that she should not have died. She needed a clinic, a hospital and basic treatment. I believe the Mom did everything she could with the limited resources they have. The injustice of it all was nearly too much to bare but it felt like such a gift that she would share those moments of grief and vulnerability with me. I comforted her, assured her she did everything she could. That this is NOT her fault and that she is an incredible Mom. I can’t imagine facing that kind of grief all while still having to provide for your family and care for three children, including a newborn. She is one strong woman.

After that visit our plan was to just head back… but things don’t typically go as planned around there. I was quickly guided into many different houses and asked to see sick people who were desperate for help but have been too weak to make it up the hill to the farm. These houses are extremely basic…to say the least. Sleeping on bamboo, many holes and leaks, one room for multiple people to cook, sleep and eat. No kitchen. No oven. No bathroom. No shower. No chairs. No beds. This is their norm.

After many house visits we started to make the trek back to the farm. We walked for what seemed like hours, in the hottest part of the day. I was dripping in sweat, my legs were exhausted, I was thirsty, dizzy and covered in dirt. It took every ounce of strength I had to hike back and then make it up that final hill. I finally arrived at the farm, took my hiking boots off, dumped cold water on myself and collapsed against the house looking out onto the rice fields and villages. I felt like my chest was being ripped open and I burst into tears. This sobering realization that all of these people who have been coming from morning to night to get help have had to make that long and exhausting trek. Without one complaint. I looked out to the far-off villages and thought of all the families sleeping on the hard bamboo floors, working endless hours in the farms, and lacking basic human rights…like a clinic, clean water and proper housing. It was in that moment that God reminded me why I was there. To love on these people, to build relationships, to bring hope and to be a shining light. I felt rejuvenated. I felt energized. I felt extremely humbled.

It put everything into perspective. From that day on, all those negative thoughts and feelings of impatience seemed to have completely dissipated. I was excited and honoured when people came to see me. I was able to give them my full attention and do everything within my means and abilities to help. It’s hard to explain but I just felt completely restored and overwhelmed with gratitude that they trust me and have graciously welcomed me into their community.

As I’m writing this and thinking back to the time I spent at the farm, I can’t help but smile and be filled with joy…and hope. I feel lighter. I feel those heavy walls broken down.

We still have a long way to go at the farm and in these villages but our dream of bringing a sustainable clinic run by locals is starting to come into fruition and it’s so exciting to be a part of! Pew Wine and her team are passionate, excited and dreaming big.

I can’t thank you all enough for donating financially to this endeavor. Your donations truly changed lives. I treated nearly 200 people, did many hours of health care education, and will fund at least 3 really sick children and their families to go to Yangon Children’s Hospital to receive the life-saving treatment they require but would typically be unable to afford and access. I treated children with high fevers, seriously infected wounds, infections to their eyes and ears, stomach ulcers and a lot of diarrhea and dehydration…to name a few things. It was great to be able to help and also educate.

Thank you for believing in me, encouraging me, not giving up on me even when I’m not at my best, praying for me and coming alongside me for this journey. None of this would be possible without all of you.

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