Last week I mentioned that I was heading into a tribal location to help our medical staff run a vaccine clinic, but due to some inclement weather on both ends, it was delayed until the next day.
Since we knew that the weather in this location can get real bad real fast, we opted for a dawn departure to make sure we got in before the weather turned sour. This means leaving our center at 5am, driving to the hangar where minimal staff prep and load the airplane so we can leave by the time the sun rises. After about 30 minutes in the air, and a breathtaking sunrise, we landed on an airstrip that’s about a six-hour hike from the village we were aiming for.
This particular airstrip is on a mountain ridge-top that seems to be just long and just wide enough for it. There isn’t much on either side except trees and rocks heading straight down. Oh, and you land going up hill (take off going downhill). It’s a fantastic sight!
We were met there by a helicopter that would shuttle us and cargo in 2 groups over to the village; I’m so glad we could skip the six-hour hike! This was my first ever bush trip, and I had no idea what to expect. Once on the ground, we were greeted by the whole village! They lined up from the “heli-pad” to the door of the makeshift clinic so that we could shake everybody’s hand and greet them.
After the first “group” of handshakes was a wall of greenery; big palm branches and banana leaves formed a beautiful arch. Suddenly music and singing came from behind the green wall – there was a group of guitars serenading us as we walked through the green arch, received a beautiful hand-woven lei (marigolds and hibiscus) from the young women of the village, and shook even more hands right up to the door! It was a welcome I’ll never forget.
Since our time was limited to a one day clinic instead of two, we jumped right to work. One of our nurses showed me how to draw vaccines from the vials into the syringes, and gave me a lesson in shot-giving. We set up different stations: a “check-in” where some of the church/village leaders greeted and signed in patients, recording their names and ages. Next was a washing station, where arms and legs were washed with soap and water so the shots could be given without introducing infection. Next patients received up to 5 vaccines (some oral). Finally, there was the lollypop station, where everyone received a reward for letting us stick them with needles.
We started with the kids, and went until we were finished with all ~250 of them before we broke for lunch. I learned that squirming and screaming kids are really hard to give shots to, and that leg muscles (when squeezed tightly) can bend a needle.
We finished with the kids about lunch time and when I looked outside I saw – nothing! It was completely socked in with clouds. Not rain, not fog, not mist – normal clouds. Because of the elevation and location of this village, the clouds just roll right through the village in the middle of the day.
Lunch was simple and quick – pizza rolls, and for those of us brave enough to try it – roasted guinea pig. Yes, you read that right. Hey, I tried it!
After lunch we got back to work, this time vaccinating all the adults. At the end of the day we saw about 440 people from two villages, and gave somewhere in the ballpark of 2000 vaccines.
We all went to bed really early, and were up early for another dawn departure to reverse the process (helicopter, Kodiak) to take us back home. It was a whirlwind, but so amazing to be a part of! Preaching isn’t always with a Bible, sometimes it’s by giving vaccines to keep a village healthy so they can live long enough to become missionaries themselves.