Friday, August 6, 2010

Week 10 (The Final Post)

At 5:30am on Tuesday, Graham and I crammed in a small Chinese van with Jin Shu, a doctor, a nurse, a driver, two staff members, and a reporter and cameraman from the Jilin TV station. We spent the day traveling to the rural towns, speeding by flattened corn fields and rice paddies, dilapidated and mud-filled cinderblock homes, wide-eyed farmers, and distressed families. We delivered supplies and performed a few minor procedures for a small clinic that had been devastated by the recent flooding. Although my purpose here is public health education—and I have no emergency medical skills—I was grateful for the invitation to join the team, even if the most that I could do was carry a few boxes and offer condolences in shaky Chinese.

Unfortunately, after a five day reprieve, heavy rains came again on Thursday. The bridges closed, and Jin Shu allowed many staff members to leave after lunch. However, we were awakened by sunny, cloudless skies on Friday morning, and everyone is optimistic that the worst is over.

In two days, we will fly to Shenzhen and cross the bridge to Hong Kong, where we will spend our last few hours in China (or perhaps I should say Asia, since few mainlanders or Hong Kongers say the city is truly Chinese).Yesterday, I spent the morning writing notes and preparing the American pins, pens, yoyos, books, candies, Beanie Babies, and other trinkets that we bought for the staff at the Clinton Museum store in May.

As we shopped for these goods in Little Rock and have collected gifts for family members back in the States, Graham and I have discovered that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive. We are well aware that the “perfect” watches, tea sets, mugs, and wallets that we are so sure that our family will love may be discarded as souvenir junk in a few months. After months of laughing at awkward translations on advertisements, warning signs, purses, and clothing, the matching t-shirts with cutesy creatures and sappy sayings will remind us of nightly walks through the city, trips to the crowded market, and dinners with friends from Bo Hua. Our friends back home, however, will probably just think that they are ridiculous.

The departure from Jilin will be bittersweet—with much to miss, yet much to look forward to in the months ahead. Although there is little that we can do to aid the flood victims, something seems wrong about leaving before the crisis has been resolved. The “I’ll probably never see you again” goodbyes are always clumsy, yet we sincerely anticipate returning someday (once Graham has finished his residency and I have a real job).

We have been blessed by the kindnesses here. While I hope that I have contributed to the systems of public health education and the planning for the new diabetes center, I am well-aware of the hours of work that have been done by Jin Shu, Li Wen Gu, and Ms. Wang just to make life possible for us. I won’t simplify or exaggerate the experience by trying to identify the impact that the past 10 weeks will have on my life in the years to come. But I know that I will always be grateful that these few months were a part of the journey.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Week 9

The worst floods in a decade have hit Jilin province, and according to the English news sources, anywhere from 29 to 928 people have died and over a quarter million people have been evacuated. Several rural villages have been wiped out, destroying homes and crops, and carrying livestock down the Songhua River. Apparently, CCTV (the state-sponsored television network) has arrived in town and is reporting on the event, but they are not giving many numbers to prevent too much panic. I think the lack of information may have the opposite effect.

According to my sources at Bo Hua, the River is regulated by a series of dams, and the local mayors have been hotly debating how much water should hit their cities. The federal government stepped in to resolve the problem, sending troops from a nearby city to maintain order and care for refugees. They are opening dams, but because of fears about the increasing pressure, most of the bridges (all of the ones closest to us) will be off limits until August 3. Banks, post offices, and other government buildings are closed.

Still, we feel fairly insulated from the chaos. Limited language skills keep us from eavesdropping on the crowds that line the river each evening and listening to speculations about the long term impact on the region. Our location in the city is relatively high, and although the flooding has submerged all of the paths, parks, picnic grounds, and festival tents that we frequent along the Songhua River, it still has about 10 feet before it reaches street level in our section of town. As I sit on the 6th floor of the hospital, I can hear fireworks, announcing a new marriage, motorbikes scooting through the street, and the hospital staff conducting business as normal. Hospitals have been ordered not to perform surgeries because of concerns about the cleanliness of the water, but the inpatient and outpatient departments appear to be running smoothly. I am continuing to prepare a Power Point on the quality and cost-efficiencies of diabetes centers that I’ll be sharing with Jin Shu and the hospital planning/marketing department next week.

But I cannot stop thinking about all of the lives that have been ravaged over the past week. Families have not only lost all of their material possessions, their entire livelihoods have been destroyed. I cannot think of a single that I can do to help, except sending up a prayer for their safety and peace.