Summing up an experience of a lifetime isn’t my strong suite. Yet, I’ve been asked to write a little about the medical mission I was a part of this past month and so here is my attempt to do just that. In December of 2009 I learned I had been one of the students selected to join the annual Medicine for Mali trip to Mali, Africa. Hopefully soon I will have time to write a post specifically on Medicine for Mali and all the wonderful things it does for the country of Mali. But for now I’ll focus on my experience.
Our time in Mali was a mere two weeks but an awesome two weeks at that. Describing the details of a third-world healthcare system and lifestyle doesn’t seem possible. I believe most of us can’t even contemplate such a thing. Before leaving for Africa I dreamt of how I thought it would be, yet life in Mali was far beyond my thoughts. I couldn’t have imagined such a place because I have had no life situations that would ignite those kinds of images….nothing to compare that lifestyle to. In the same regard I could have never dreamt of the kind of love, joy and hospitality of such a poor people either. Going into the trip I prepared myself for the hopelessness and sadness of such a place. Yet the whole time I was there I was surrounded by and filled with a joy I have rarely experienced in my life. Granted there were hopeless situations all around. However, the people seemed to be joyful in the midst of what would break many of us. Where I thought I would see sadness I saw contentment and strength.
To say these people are some of the strongest emotionally, physically and mentally I have ever met would be the understatement of the year. I wouldn’t last six months living the life most of these rural Malians live day in and day out. Granted, there is always the argument that what we see as such a difficult lifestyle is actually simple and easy for them, because that’s all they have ever known. Though that is true, it doesn’t diminish how honorably they handle what I believe many Americans couldn’t. To see 4- and 5-year-old children washing clothes, grinding millet and sweeping the dirt floors is a good picture into their reality. Instead of throwing fits over watching “Dora the Explorer,” these children stoically abide by their cultural customs and do their part in keeping the family going. The Malian people’s strength seems to be instilled in them from a young age and grows as they grow.
I thought I would go to Africa and give everything I could to help the Malian people. Little did I know that instead they would help me way more than I could ever help them. These beautiful people showed me that richness doesn’t come from material possessions. That even a place that seems filthy and hopeless is full of happiness. They confirmed that instead of finding your hope in how much you make or how many accomplishments you achieve, life is truly about loving others and living joyfully while doing it. It’s a simple lesson I had to fly halfway across the world to learn; I’m so thankful I was given the chance.
I know you probably want to hear medical stories about our time there so I will try to write some more blogs shortly…be on the lookout.