Monday, September 17, 2007
fire and light
I have a habit of staying up until the early hours of the morning. My five roommates would not appreciate the lights being turned on at 3:00 am, so I often resort to using the night glow feature on my travel alarm clock to navigate my way into the top bunk In the back of my six birth cabin. It can be both annoying, dangerous, and frustrating to stumble around in the dark. I've nearly fallen off my ladder en route to my top bunk several times.
Currently, on the Africa Mercy, we are performing burn contracture release surgeries. It is amazing how many pediatric burn patients we are caring for. Every Wednesday, we have continuing education and at the last session, I was told that burns in children are a common problem in the third world. Most of these burns occur from fire or hot liquid.
Liberia is a country without electricity. On Friday, I went to a craft market in Monrovia with friends and we stopped at a local shop to eat lunch. It was a cloudy, overcast day. Their were two tables on the porch that were occupied with other guests, so our group headed inside the shop, which was a small room with painted concrete block walls and doors that acted as windows. Inside, it was almost completely dark. I had to strain to recognize the faces of the people I was with.
Seeing we were stranded in darkness, the shops owner lit a candle and placed it on the table next to ours. The small light allowed some vision. The candle was the solution.
In that moment, I had a new appreciation for darkness and a small, deepened glimpse of Liberian life.
When the electricity goes out at home it is a nuisance. You can’t flush the toilet. You cant’ see your bed. You can’t use the computer or read a book. It’s even hard to talk to your family because you can’t see their facial expressions or their eyes. Life get’s a bit slower and less productive.
That’s what every night is like for the Liberian people. There is no electricity, so the city is always dark at night.
On Saturday night, as I drove back to the ship in a Land Rover, I noticed the flicker of candles from the houses along the road. In five minutes of driving I counted almost a hundred lit wicks. It made it obvious why burns in children would be a common problem. When you have a large number of people living in a small room with a dirt floor, and fire is your only light source, you are setting yourself up for an accident. Lighting candles in an over crowded space with children in close proximity is not safe.
But living in the third world isn't exactly safe.
Tomorrow, as you go through your day, think about all the times you use electricity. Can you imagine if it just wasn't ever there?
Welcome to Liberia.