Giving thanks (6/12/12)
Marrying someone from another country means you marry a lot of their customs. Some of them were big adjustments. Hominy and liverwurst (liver sausage and grains drenched in maple syrup). Birkenstocks. The Beastie Boys (music?). Some of them were delightful. Ben & Jerry’s icecream. Snow at Christmas time. Gorgeous secluded campsites in every national park.
But by far my favourite American tradition is Thanksgiving. A holiday set aside every year to sit down in gratitude and reflect on blessings. No gifts, no cards, just a meal with family or friends. I have gladly adopted this tradition, and although it doesn’t quite work in Australia in steamy November, we had Thanksgiving in July for the years we lived there, taking the opportunity to read the story of Squanto to tolerant friends who dutifully followed my emailed recipes to bring foreign dishes such as green bean casserole and pumpkin pie to celebrate with us at my parents’ home each year.
This year, Thanksgiving in Kijabe occurred 3 days before we left, perfectly placed for us to take stock of the last 12 months, to reflect in gratitude on the relationships and community we have developed in our African home. Jennifer invited the pediatric medical and surgical doctors and families to celebrate together, and when the numbers swelled to 41 Amanda Hansen graciously offered her slightly-bigger-than-Jennifer’s home to host us. Jennifer baked a massive mutant turkey, others pitched in with beef and ham, and everyone brought their favourite Thanksgiving dish & dessert and we sat down to just enjoy each other’s company.
When we arrived in April 2011, the pediatric department consisted of Jennifer and Immaculate, valiantly trying to juggle the load of the newborn nursery, pediatric ward, medical consultations from the surgeons, the outpatient department and the occasional ICU patient. As we left Kijabe last week, pediatrics was amply covered by Jennifer, Sarah Muma, Sarah and Rick Gessner, Ima & Erika with our outstanding clinical officer Lillian. Which is a good thing – in almost 2 years, our patients have swelled, with 3-4 children in ICU, multiple extremely premature babies and a full ward and outpatient department being the norm. Now, when there is a pediatric emergency in the hospital, there is a doctor who can help. Immediately.
Our hard working pediatric surgical team of Erik, Leland and Susan continues to set the standard of care in East Africa, complemented by our newest neurosurgeon Humphrey and our trainees Situma, Lebbie and Ken.
And in addition to the medical bodies in the room, Thanksgiving was a day of being surrounded by friends – not only colleagues whose company I deeply enjoy, but families and spouses whose love and support have ensured we have surrogate family. People we can call upon when children fall off of chairs and hit their heads, or wheeze in the middle of the night, or when I need someone to chat with over coffee, jog and debrief with or laugh with over dinner.
So this is a post just to express my thanks. To God, for providing the resources we need in Kijabe to do what we do. For providing friends and family when we’ve left friends and family behind. To you, reading this post, for doing what you’re doing to make this possible – for your partnership, support, encouragement and love which made you present at our Thanksgiving table in spirit, if not in person.
Thank you, and we cannot wait to see you soon.