Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012

L to R: John, Abu the hospital plumber, me, the Director-General
of the hospital, intern Brian, USA Tony, and UK Tony


Friday Sept 14
We awoke to a rainy morning, which was a welcome sight after a couple of days of hot sun. The rain turned lighter and lighter as the morning went on, eventually stopping by late morning. We once again headed out to the hospital right after breakfast and our morning devotions. When we got there, the 3 teams (i.e. civil, electrical and structural) all got right to work. I, once again, headed out to…that’s right, more obligatory meetings! My hope was that I could somehow ‘protect’ the team from these meetings so they could do their work. Unfortunately, I was wrong. J
Ryan, our South African Mercy Ships’ host, went over to see if the hospital director was in today after his absence during our scheduled meeting the day before. Just our luck, today he was there!  He is a Lebanese man whose parents immigrated here when he was young. His dad had actually bought a ticket on a ship to go work in America, but the ship went to Guinea instead and they insisted he stay because he was needed there. Their family has lived here ever since!
He’s worked at the hospital for years, but was appointed by the President of Guinea to the position of Director-General of the hospital a year and a half ago. Since then, he has done a number of very good things to clean up the hospital and help improve it, so Mercy Ships thinks there is some real potential to work with him in the work they’re trying to accomplish on the site. The potential for working with this man is one of the reasons they pushed through an agreement to have us assess this hospital first. The government actually had been dragging its feet for some time, and our team’s visit was rapidly approaching without a deal in place to have us assess one of the hospitals. Finally, this man stepped forward and signed the agreement himself, ‘encouraging’ (i.e. forcing their hand) the government to get on board.
Looking down into one of the septic cleanouts - those are
cockroaches. I remember hearing somewhere that for every
cockroach you see, there are 100 others in the vicinity that
you don't see. Needless to say, there's a bit of a roach
problem at the hospital.
After meeting with him for about 30 minutes, he wanted to walk around to see and meet all the team members. He then mentioned that he’d also like all of us to come in the following day to meet with him as a team. So, not wanting to have yet another day taking up by a big meeting, I decided to call the team back in from the site and to get the big meeting over with sooner rather than later (note my task-oriented, all business Western mentality in full force!).
It was a very interesting meeting, though once again we found ourselves sitting in a room meeting with people instead of working! This trip is turning out to be the biggest lesson in cultural sensitivity of all my trips. One by one, the hospital director told us all about the things he’d done to try to improve the conditions at the hospital. He told us about all the challenges they faced there too, and how his maintenance staff were insufficiently trained - with most of those very maintenance staff right there in the room with us!
KC, dealing with his contact one of the last places
you'd ever want to be cleaning something with your mouth and
fingers and sticking it in your eye - near the medical waste
trash pile, which happens to be immediately adjacent to the
tuberculosis ward. You can remember him in your prayers. ;)
At first it sounded kind of funny, him building himself up while seeming to tear down his team in front of us. But as I thought back to some of our culture training material, in his cultural context he was actually advocating for his team by telling us how much they needed our help. The looks of agreement on the staff’s faces seemed to support this interpretation of his comments.
Overall, this trip really has been more challenging on the cultural level than any of my previous trips that I can recall. I think the language barrier has a lot to do with it as I have been much less able to chit-chat with the local people than normal. But also, I think the political situation here has had a big impact as well. Up until just a few short years ago, Guinea was under communist rule. As a result, though every bit as friendly as their African brothers in other Sub-Saharan countries, it seems that knowledge is held even closer to the chest here and there’s even more red tape to get through than usual.
It’s just my initial impression, and perhaps it’s primarily just the language barrier, but one thing is for sure – our team’s productivity has definitely been hampered by our lack of freedom to go and do as we please. Fortunately, the team has kept a good attitude about it all and we are still making good progress.
One funny anecdotal story from today: I was walking around with KC surveying the electrical demand on the site. We came to the computer lab but the worker who was leading us around didn’t have the key to go inside (it was closed for the day). We asked him, through our interpreter, how many computers there were inside. The interpreter relayed his response to us, “He said ‘there are somehow plenty’.” We got a good chuckle out of it, imagining inputting ‘plenty’ into the quantities column of our Excel spreadsheet file to calculate the electrical load on the building!

Saturday Sept 15
John and I playing follow the leader on site. John won.
Another full day at the hospital today as the team wrapped up their site investigations. It was cloudy, but the most humid of the days so far. Just walking around the site I was dripping in sweat. I know there are places in the USA with this kind of humidity, but something about the smoky, fermenting trash and sewage smell makes the humidity more unbearable. I can’t imagine that so many people in Africa know no other existence that this.
This is hard to fully appreciate at this distance, but this is a
hard thing to photograph without being very awkward. This
is pretty much how every hospital pathway looks - covered
with family who have taken up residence outside the ward
where their loved one is hospitalized. They spend all day here,
on the ground, eating and even cooking their meals over
charcoal fires, as they simply wait for their loved ones to
get better...or worse.
It’s these and other similar types of thoughts that really serve to challenge my pre-conceived notions of God. How can God intimately know and love and care for each and every person on the planet? When I see all these people who entire existence seems so foreign to me, it’s hard to imagine that the God I know and love and who walks with me every day as I fight such ‘difficult’ hardships as traffic and rude airport workers, is the same God who wants to work in these people’s lives too, and does so completely within their cultural context. If I’m being honest, it’s far easier for me to come work in Africa from the humanitarian standpoint – I see a physical need and have some training and a skill that can help them in their physical condition. But from a spiritual standpoint, it’s hard for me to imagine these people coming to know and serve the same God I know, and for the words of the bible to become fresh and alive in their lives just as it is in mine.
Brian and Clare, down in the hospital ward on board the ship,
where they spent most evenings! These kids had surgeries
to remove non-cancerous tumors from their faces.
Obviously, millions of people here in Africa have come to a very real and strong faith in God and do live with Him each day just as I do (albeit in a much different context), but my finite mind can’t imagine God working with them in their everyday lives and then still caring for my comparably meager concerns at the same time. When I’m at home, I pray for things like a safe car trip to drive a few hours away for vacation, or for the right school for our boys to attend, or worse yet, for a measly parking spot.
All of these requests, which often seem to account for a large percentage of my prayer requests at times, seem so trivial compared to these people’s needs, who bring their sick loved ones to a filthy hospital with contaminated water and virtually no operable equipment and truly have no chance but for their prayers to God. Is God offended by my trivial prayers in light of this? Or is He really able to handle both – the desperate, daily pleas of life and death in Africa and the ‘small’ prayers of a Westerner whose life is often consumed with nothing more than the distraction of merely managing a lot of possessions? I guess the end of the sermon on Sunday would tell us that yes, God can handle both. But for me, when I see the hopeless situation of the typical African person, it’s just really hard to believe that my trivial prayers even register on God’s radar.
Pondering what life must be like in Conakry, Guinea, which
was so ironic since at that exact moment I happened to be up
on a water tower at a hospital overlooking that very city.
No, I’m not having a crisis of faith here – or at least not one that would cause me not to believe anymore. God has proven himself to me many times in my life so I really don’t doubt his existence.  But yes, my faith is definitely challenged and my preconceived notions of who God is and what He is capable of from a standpoint of loving every person in the world have long since been shaken on these EMI trips. I’ve come to realize that the older I get, even as I feel closer to God as my relationship with him expands, I sometimes feel like I actually ‘know’ less about him and how he works.  Funny too, since I had God figured out pretty well by age 25 or so.
Writing this blog on board the ship.
Ok, enough pondering things that make me uncomfortable – back to the air conditioned ship and checking my email. I hope my coffee hasn’t gone cold.


Traci Morrow said…
Brad, you are such a great writer. Between your view of Conakry and KC's journal, I totally feel like I've seen it.
Thanks for taking the time to write and therefor; bring me with you on these trips. I'm so glad to have "been" there and travel down the physical and spiritual roads "with" you. :)

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