Saved by the Community

The anticipation of the GHC Burundi Quarter 1 retreat found me very excited. After the first three months, it was time to stop a little bit and take some time for evaluation and take a look back and forward, just to make sure that we are all still working on the same path of health equity and global health issues. I considered the Quarter 1 retreat a kind of self evaluation; a deep meditation on my own role as a Global Health Corps Fellow and on my own self development goals. To facilitate that kind of meditation, the GHC Quarter 1 organizers took all the Burundian Fellows to the “Blue Bay” resort, a very beautiful place along Lake Tanganyika. We were settled in tents, which added some “salt and pepper” to our Quarter 1. One thing I didn’t know was that for me, the worst thing was still to come.
The “Blue Bay” resort is on the road to the deep south of Burundi. It is the part of Burundi that seems the most like the Caribbean: a lot of palm trees, beaches with white sand, and above all, the calm and restful sound of Lake Tanganyika’s waves beating on its edge, just like it has been from the very beginning of the time, thousands of years ago. Mountains are all around. Far away across the lake, we could see an island. It seemed just like a big mountain. Some of the fellows started to let their imaginations wonder about that island. Mine did too. “Maybe people from that island still wear no clothes”, I was asking myself. In such a place, I could really feel the spirit of Burundi. The Spirit of a rhythmic beating drums. And of course, for the event, I had brought my guitar with me. But I didn’t know that for me, the worst thing was still to come.
The session started just after a cup of Burundian coffee. We discussed different points of the last three months of the fellowship. Fellows gave their views and impressions on their own fellowships. Catherine (Fellow from “Village Health Works”, in Bururi) talked about a theme “Relationships with supervisors as a fellow”; Armand (fellow from Life Net International, in Bujumubra) brought up the ambiguity found in the expression “increasing the number of people coming to a health center”. Is it by making them ill, or not? Till that time, for me, the worst thing was still to come.
So came the night. And then the sky put on her starry black dress. The waves kept gently crashing on Tanganyika’s edge, but just smoothly. We gathered around a big fire. Dinner was being served. Meals with French names were served. The air was filled with that kind of feeling that makes a man like me grab his guitar and start to make it gently weep. And so I did. The exotic feel of the place and the moment, mixed with the one of the audience were both such a very good source of inspiration. Songs just fell out of my guitar. Softness! After dinner, some went straight to their tents to sleep. A few of other fellows went to sleep only when they heard the sound of a hippopotamus. At that time, the one and only thing that I ignored was that the worst was still to come.
Once in my tent, sleeping was so easy. In the middle of the night, I woke up. A pain in my stomach was driving me insane. I couldn’t sleep again. I tried everything I could to make it stop, but in vain. Then I remembered that I wasn’t alone. I was in a big community, the GHC community. I just reached out to one of my tent mates, Zenon (a “Village Health Works” fellow). He is a doctor. I told him all that I was feeling. And suddenly, all the fellows around our tent passed the word to one another. So they started thinking about what to do. Lying in the middle of my sweats, with my body shivering because of the fever, I could sense my fellows’ deep commitment to health. Their love and care was all mine. Zenon, as a doctor, drafted a prescription. Triffin (fellow from SWAA Burundi, in Bujumbura) drove back to Minago to buy all the medications. In the early hours of the morning, I was already feeling good. I even attended the last day of the retreat. Only a few hours of night, I experienced the sense of the words “community” and “leadership”. Leadership is just finding solutions to everyday life problems that are found in your own community, either big or small. All I learned at that time is that as long as I’ll be among the GHC Community or any other community, I will have no fear. I’ll just bring any problem or anxiety to my community.