Thursday, June 13, 2013

For Your Eyes Only

 Yesterday, I took Trudy (age 12) to an eye clinic being held at an orphanage about 45 minutes away, just outside the Firestone Plantation, at a community called Cotton Tree. The clinic was being run by a group of people from Georgia.  This group comes every year and they go into the bush to an orphanage they began a few years ago. They added this orphanage in Cotton Tree to their itinerary this year, to help another organization, and then the head of THAT organization contacted me (Debbie and I had talked about Trudy's vision before).  I was very excited to have Trudy get a real eye exam.
The eye clinic was to be held from ten until four. We drove up to the building at 9:45am and we were the first vehicle there and everyone thought we were the eye team. I had Trudy, Patience (along for the ride; she is in the same cottage as Trudy), and Amanda and Sydney,  two mini missionaries with me. We were welcomed warmly, and immediately babies were handed to Amanda and Sydney. For the next two and a half hours, they never had their arms empty! And everyone always wants to touch the white people.  So children were constantly touching us. They love to touch our arms and run their fingers through our hair.
The two vans (which we had passed on the highway) pulled up soon after us. The folks from Georgia were nice people, but a bit overwhelmed. For several of them, this was their first visit to Liberia, and they had only arrived in country the day before.  There were hundreds of people crammed into this orphanage waiting for eye exams (or for whatever they could get!). Many of them were children under the age of ten. There were mothers with four/five kids in tow. And lots of babies....people thought the babies needed an eye exam. Not sure how that works. And there was no order. Just a mass of humanity all crammed into a room, waiting expectantly.
The Liberian man with a bullhorn was totally ignored. He told the people that anyone without an eye problem needed to go home. No one left. He told the crowd that only children older than ten and adults would be seen today. The five million kids all stayed and stared at him. Mothers with little babies sat and waited. The roar in the room got louder and louder, as people yelled across the room to their friends and children scuffled in the "aisles" ( I use the term "aisles" loosely, as there were NO walkways. Just people. Everywhere.)
Trudy and I waited on the edge of the crowd, waiting to see what would happen next. Upon their arrival, the team had said we would be first, as we had driven a ways and probably had things to do yet today. Obviously, for most of the others in the room, it was a social event. Cotton Tree is a very poor area and there is not a lot to do for entertainment. An eye clinic would probably be the social shindig of the month!
The team set up a registration table in the adjoining room, and the crowd surged forward. I told Trudy to stay with me and we pushed forward. At times it was a bit scary, as we were pushed from behind with nowhere to go in front! Mostly we stood, and then we moved about four inches. And then we stood again. And Hot! Did I mention how hot it was in the room with a million of people? A few years ago, I might have fainted, but now I am a pro, having endured many a hot, airless room waiting in various medical clinics. Of course, if I HAD fainted, I would not have fallen over, as I was nicely braced by people on all sides. And then the guy with the drum began to play. Ohnminegoodness! At that point, I was really kind of wishing I would faint!
Trudy and I finally made it to the registration table in the next room. There were people leaning over the table, telling the poor white ladies in "perfect standard English" that  they could not see far away or close up, they had runny tummy, their legs hurt, this hand was swollen, they had a cough for many weeks now, the one month old baby needed to see a was nuts! The man with the bullhorn was besides us, in the doorway, still trying to get people without eye issues to GO HOME.
This smaller registration room was also filled with people...mostly mothers with babies and lots of children. They had taken their chairs from home to sit and watch the strange white people. (It is not an uncommon thing to do here, to BYOC...Bring Your Own Chair). Trudy registered, was given a piece of paper and told to stand in the next line. Trudy turned around to get in the next line, and she was there. She did not move from the table, but just turned around. The next line was jammed up next to her. The room was so full of Looky-Loos that the ones who actually were to receive an eye exam were squeezed off to one side. That was the last straw! I could not stand it any more. These foreigners from Georgia were much too polite! I asked the ladies at the table if I could clear the registration room and reorganize the treatment line. They said Please do!
First, I kicked out all the Looky-Loos. I made at least fifty children go out the side door, and then kicked out most of the mothers with babies (Yes, I am the heartless one.) I had them all take their chairs outside. After we finally had some space to maneuver, I moved the treatment line to the opposite side of the door leading to the "exam rooms" (which were the orphanage bedrooms).  Meanwhile, Man With Bullhorn was keeping the first doorway blocked, so no one else could enter the registration room.  The room became quieter, organized, and the poor harried ladies at the registration table began to smile again. Man With Bullhorn only allowed one person in at a time now, as a space became available at the registration table. Folks received their treatment paper and walked across the room to stand at the back of the line. It was a beautiful thing to see! A cool breeze wafted through the room (Ok, I might have imagined that it was a COOL breeze, but there was a little air movement) and I am pretty sure that angels in heaven began to sing.
I did have to stand guard at the side door, as several kidlings kept trying to sneak back in. Finally, Man With Bullhorn got a security guard to stand at the side door. Yes, a little order is a glorious thing. Ah-h-h-h...
The optometrist in charge came out to say Hi. He thanked me for the crowd control. I told him that at our village, we do lines well. Trudy thought that was funny. The optometrist had heard of the foundation we are a part of, and he asked some questions about the village. He was wearing a cool t-shirt that said "If not me, who?"  
When it was Trudy's turn for an exam, it was such a delight to see how she could understand the English being spoken and follow the directions. And, yep, she is nearsighted. They fitted her with a pair of glasses. And the optometrist also gave her a pair of sunglasses. He liked Trudy. She was polite and well-spoken and a proper young lady. A wonderful representative of our village. And now she has a pair of glasses and can see. 
Trudy and I fought our way back through the big room on our way out. It was still wall-to-wall people, waiting to see the eye team for malaria meds, or Ibuprofen, or crutches, or burn medicine, or worm medicine, or clothes, or money, or whatever they thought they could get.  Oy! What a deal.
Patience, Amanda, and Sydney were waiting for us outside. They had been playing with little kids for the past two hours. Time to go! Amanda made sure that I did not run over any children as we backed out of the orphanage courtyard, and we got the Land Cruiser headed out of Cotton Tree. Whew!  We were all exhausted by this experience, and I am pretty sure that our new friends from Georgia slept very well last night, also. 
I am very thankful that God provided an opportunity for Trudy to receive an eye exam from a reputable eye team and that she was able to get glasses. Today, at church, she could see the pastor!  I am also thankful that our God is a God of order and peace. And we must demonstrate this whenever we can. If not us, who?
love, Babs