Non Ministrari sed Ministrare
Not too long after my return from South Sudan, I came down with a mysterious illness that no one could say what it was that afflicted me. Whatever bug or minute virus was mightier than us mere mortals. Centuries ago the plague wiped out hundreds and thousands of people and HIV similarly has done its own fair share of devastation. However I had confidence then that I would recover and the cause of my affliction will likely remain unknown. (Addendum: the good Dr. CD Ashbaugh informed me recently that I had Dengue. I am glad it was not Chikungunya!)
It was exactly two months after the Boston Marathon when two of my children, Cara, Charles and I ran together through Brookline to Boston to complete the finishing length of the marathon that we were prevented from completing because of the bombings. My legs carried me well but I could still feel the effect of low red cell counts causing my lungs to complain of the lack of oxygen. Cara wore her beat-up T-shirt that she bought after I ran my very first marathon in 2007, it proudly proclaimed: "My Mom Ran the Boston Marathon!” At the end, my daughter and I left our old running shoes in the make-shift memorial at Copley Plaza.
Johnson from World Relief dropped me a line to tell me that my ram is still alive and thriving. He has plenty to eat now as the rainy season has arrived. The guard at Baow Camp is taking good care of him. I think he is equally amazed as I am that the ram has survived this long without being eaten.
Friends and some of my family back in Malaysia have always wondered why I spend time going to difficult and dangerous places to do medical relief work. Most say they could never do what I do and always after that comment there seems to be a pause and then they wish me a safe trip. For one thing when I was little I had the idea of doing something akin to helping people live a better life and how that was to be accomplished was something that I had to figure out for myself when I grew older. Sure I could very well enjoy my life here caring for my garden, reading a good book, painting a picture, sitting on my comfortable couch, digging my feet into the fur of my dog, Cosmo that was my foot stool and petting my cat, Marshmallow, which tried at all cost to de-throne my laptop so she could be my lap cat; however deep down inside I always know that I have to do something in my life that is more meaningful to me. And so I have a hard time formulating an answer to their question.
When I returned from South Sudan, the spring issue of Wellesley Alumnae Magazine had an article on “Exits and Entrances: Women’s Career in Transition” to which I eventually wrote my comments in three hundred words or less expressing some of my sentiments.
“Dear Editors: Many of us probably have occasions to face transition in our careers which could be scary because of the inherent uncertainties. In 2005 after I volunteered as a medical doctor in India in the aftermath of the tsunami, I left my position as a full-time Professor in Medicine and slowly carved out a part-time position in clinical medicine to enable me to continue to volunteer for several months out of a year. Over the last seven years, I volunteered as a mentor in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Vietnam, Tanzania, South Africa and Nigeria, in Haiti after the earthquake and during the cholera outbreak, in Libya during the war, the drought and famine of Kenya/Somalia, the Nakivalle Refugee Camp in Uganda, the Nyakabande Transit Refugee Camp for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and most recently in the northern regions of South Sudan where the nearly twenty years of civil war left it with very little functional healthcare system.
When I gazed into the eyes of a twelve-year-old refugee from the DRC who lost all his loved ones or took care of a woman with her brood of five children who walked for a month running away from the conflict in the DRC to the border of Uganda, half of her children were feverish with malaria and all of them exhausted and hungry or a Zimbabwean refugee who swam across the Limpopo River to South Africa, the promised land, risking loss of life and limb to the crocodiles; I struggled to understand the fierce driving force behind their desire to live, to survive, their resilience and patience in the setting of unrelenting waves of violence, harsh circumstances, inadequate food and shelters…One cannot help but be inspired by the courage displayed by these people who have so little in their transient existence in this world. The transition they face makes mine very insignificant indeed.”
Wellesley College, my alma mater's motto: Non Ministrari sed Ministrare (Not to be ministered unto, but to minister) speaks volume to what we should strive to be while living on this earth.