primitive is relative.

I have probably started blog posts on five different topics over the last couple weeks, but I haven't felt like I could finish them - either the words just weren't coming, or I wanted to give some more time for my thoughts to marinate a little. So, instead, for today, I'll just share a quick thought.

I'm guessing that when most American doctors first visit the Bongolo Hospital, they consider it somewhat primitive. No large air-conditioned buildings, no widespread food or laundry service, no motorized beds and call buttons for in-patients. And though I believe it's absolutely amazing what God has built here and the wide scope of services provided, they're probably right - by American standards, it is primitive.

But today I attended the graduation ceremony and reception of Jean Claude Bataneni, who just completed his surgical residency at Bongolo. He was here with the PAACS (Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons) program. Tomorrow, he and his wife (also a doctor) and his two children are traveling back to his home country, Democratic Republic of Congo (also called Congo-Kinshasa, formerly Zaire), to work at the Nebobongo Evangelical Hospital. Outside of the operating room, there is no electricity and no running water. Compared to Bongolo, Nebobongo is primitive:

The area served is among the poorest in the DRC. The hospital has existed for the last 45-50 years as an orphan ministry with only intermittent outside support. The fees the patients pay do not cover the basic needs of the hospital. So more often than not, the staff does not receive a full salary. Yet the indigenous Christian community remains dedicated to the mission of keeping the hospital open. The pharmacy is never fully stocked and many repairs are deferred for lack of funds. The lab lacks most basic testing equipment.

The hospital is off the national power grid. So aside from the operating room which has a solar electric unit on the roof, the rest of the hospital has no electricity. They cannot afford the repairs or the cost of the diesel fuel to run the generator they have.

There is no running water outside the operating room. The steam to sterilize instruments is generated by wood fires. There is no sewage disposal system, so the hospital uses outdoor pit latrines.

I think primitive, like a lot of other things, is relative.

life in africa (part 3).

My friend Melissa asked a great question about the food that I eat here in Africa. And I've also gotten a lot of experience with getting around the city over the last couple weeks, so I thought I'd share about both of those.

(Want to know more about day-to-day life here in Gabon? Read part 1 and part 2.)


I live with Americans, so most of the time we eat a lot of the same food I would eat in the US. It's difficult to find prepared foods (though we do have some things from the last container order) but most everything else is available, at least for a price. The only things I really miss are berries (of any kind, but especially strawberries) and tortillas.

When I'm out during the day, I'll either eat something simple like fruit (bought from one of the roadside stands) or bean sandwiches (red beans, sauce, onions, and sometimes tomatoes or avocado on french bread). When we get together with our friends from OSPAC (the medical clinic), they make dinner - rice with a tomato sauce, chicken, and this fantastic peanut sauce are my favorites. They also usually served boiled plantains (which aren't bad) and manioc (a root vegetable, kind of like a potato).

Sometimes we get street food - chicken pieces, patates (fried sweet potatoes), and banans (fried bananas or plantains), all of which are so good!


For the first month that I was here, we hired a driver to pick me up each morning and take me to Hope House, and then to pick me up at Hope House and bring me home. Unfortunately, though, he wanted too much money, so for the last several weeks I've been using taxis and taxi buses to get where I need to go (now that I know my way around at least a little, and I can speak and understand enough French to get by...most of the time).

My roommate Hannah told me that every time she rides in a taxi bus, she thinks of Shakira's song Hips Don't Lie - and it's very accurate! Taxi buses are bigger than a minivan, but smaller than a typical 15-passenger van. Nineteen people fit in each one - the driver and two passengers in the front, and four people across the four rows in the back (including the person responsible for opening the sliding door). Each morning that I go to Hope House, I walk down the street to the taxi bus stop and take a bus to Rio, then cross the street (not easy!) and look for a bus going to PK12 (after which I can walk to Hope House). It's not always easy - sometimes there are more people than taxis, so it's a bit of a shoving match to get a place on one. Plus you have to be careful of pickpockets, especially in busy places like Rio.

Sometimes, when I need to take a few kids to a medical clinic, we'll take a small taxi. They're a little trickier, because you need to negotiate with the driver on how far he'll go and how much you'll pay. It's also not really safe for me to take one by myself, so I usually only do when I'm with one of my translators.

when it's not my story to tell.

One of the things I struggle with as I'm learning these kids' stories, is whether I have the right to share them. Some (many) of them are quite tragic, and there's a part of me that honestly wants to put them out here - to pull on your heart strings as they have pulled on mine, and to remind us all of the hard things that people all over the world face.

Yet, these aren't my stories, and so maybe they're not my stories to tell. After all, I would find it very odd if a friend were to write about the hard things of my life, even if I was willing to share it myself. It seems odd, doesn't it?

But here's the more important thing - while each of these children has a story of heartbreak, they also have a story that He has written, and that He is writing. It's a story of freedom, of redemption, and of hope. And maybe in the interest of trying to move people, to motivate them to give or even just realize how blessed they are, we neglect to tell that story.

I'm still wrestling through this one, and I'd love to hear feedback. What do you think? 

life in africa (part 2).

Here is more information about life here in Libreville (see part 1).


Right now Gabon is in the dry season. It is almost always cloudy, but rarely rains. The average temperature in Libreville for June - August is between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's really not that hot. The rainy season starts in September. I haven't been here during that time (yet).

Libreville is a city of around 800,000 to 900,000 people, and it comes with all of things you'd expect in an urban setting - traffic, crazy taxi drivers, and pollution. In addition, there's little to no regulation or monitoring of diesel or car emissions. And, sometimes, people clear out fields by burning them. So, sometimes it kind of stinks outside.


Before we came to Africa last year, I got several immunizations - Yellow Fever (required for entry into Gabon), Hepatitis A (first of two in the series), Meningococal, and Typhoid - and an updated Tetanus shot. Luckily, most of those vaccines are good for a few years, so I didn't need to complete any more (I had already taken care of the second Hep-A shot earlier in the year. I also take anti-malaria medication (Doxycycline) daily.

The biggest threat, of course, are mosquitoes. We have mosquito screens on all the windows at the house. I have bug spray for my clothing and lotion for my skin that I use most days. Mosquitoes are more of an issue during the wet season and at night. There are also bufudus - tiny bugs that you can't see, but that leave little bites on your skin that itch long after they've gone - but these are more of an issue in the jungle or at Bongolo.

Worms are also a common problem here. As a matter of fact, every patient who comes to the medical clinics at OSPAC gets worm medication, no matter what complaint brings them to the clinic in the first place. So we carefully wash produce, use filtered water, and wash our hands thoroughly before handling food. I also don't walk on the ground outside without shoes (to avoid worms that live just under your skin).

The estimated HIV infection rate in Gabon is between five and ten percent (ranked 14th in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook), so to be safe I also make sure any open cuts are covered with a bandage, especially when I'm going to be spending time at Hope House (at least until we've been able to get HIV tests for all of them).

It all sounds like a lot of extra work and precautions, but it's really not, I promise.

What other things would you like to know?