Christmas Greetings (a bit late due to no internet service)

Dear friends and family,

I hope this finds you all doing well and that each of you had a lovely Christmas! Despite the warm weather here and being away from home, I am still managing to feel very festive.

On Christmas Eve, all the hospital staff got together for a party. After eating immense quantities of nshima (a mushy corn meal dish, similar to stiff mashed potatoes), fish, chicken and cabbage, we all lit candles and processed through the darkened wards singing Kikaonde Christmas carols followed by prayers and a short devotional. The patients smiled through their mosquito nets and many even sang and clapped along. It was a wonderful time and, I think, a true blessing to the patients as well as to me. I can’t imagine a better way to spend Christmas Eve!

This morning, I attended a Christmas service at the nearby Evangelical church. As people began to filter in, the building was filled with joyful singing and dancing. I was the only “mzungu” (white person) there, but I loved every second of it. There is something so contagious about the enthusiasm of African worship and something so enlivening about truly embodied praise. It’s beautiful to see people so ecstatic to come into the house of the Lord.

I had Christmas dinner with several missionaries here, which was a real treat. I have especially enjoyed getting to chat with some of the women who have been here long-term. I find their stories and commitment to serving the Lord inspiring.

One of the other missionaries and I went for a walk down to a nearby stream. Our guide was a little Zambian girl, Angelina. As we ambled down to the river hand in hand, several other little friends joined us and also wanted to hold hands, so that by the time we reached the water, we had quite the chain of children. We rolled up our skirts and tried to cross the stream by hopping from rock to rock, but when one of the little ones fell in up to her waist and began squalling, it was time to call it an evening. As we walked back barefooted in the red African dirt, I felt like I was reliving my childhood 🙂

Well, since I last wrote you, I was moved to the pediatric wards: Paeds I for surgical patients and malnutrition and Paeds II for medical cases. The main culprits for hospitalizations this time of year are the mangoes and mosquitoes.

It rains nearly every day here, and the mosquitoes are thriving and active. As I write this, I am doing my best to ward the nasty things off, but bite for smash, I think they still have the upper hand.

In the pediatric medical ward, about 80% of the cases are malaria. Children whimper in their metal cots with high fevers, their little tummies rising and falling with their rapid breathing. Others have progressed as far as renal failure or are seizing due to cerebral malaria. Very sad! A lot of what I am learning is completely new to me, especially since the discussion of malaria in my nursing textbooks was only about a paragraph long.

In addition to the rainy season it is also mango season, and with the ripening fruit, we have multiple kids in with fractures from falling out of mango trees.

I made two special little friends on the surgical ward, one with his left leg in traction after after a fall from a mango tree and the other awaiting a skin graft for a snakebite on his finger. Unlike most of the children on the ward, these guys often don’t have a parent or relative sitting with them, so during my downtime in the afternoons, I like to hang out with them.

The favorite pastime is drawing. We sit together on the stained and torn bed sheets and take turns sketching whatever comes to mind. Then we tape our finished artwork on the walls around their beds. By now we have quite the gallery with pictures of anything ranging from cars to snakes to birthday cakes. Throughout the process, I’m also getting some Kikaonde tutoring and gaining a rather eclectic vocabulary: “nyoka” (snake), “keki” (cake), etc.

I brought a bunch of stickers with me on a whim, and they seem to be a real hit on the pediatric wards. The kids like to put them all over their faces and arms until they are a fun, glittery mess of rainbows, hearts, stars, butterflies and flowers. It’s such a small, simple thing, but I am grateful for any joy that I can bring these kids during such hard and painful times.

As far as actual nursing goes, I’m getting to do a lot more than I expected. In addition to my fair share of injections, IVs, wound dressings, etc., I actually got to scrub in on/observe two osteotomies to correct “knock knees” and “bowlegs” when orthopedic surgeons from South Africa were here last weekend. So exciting!

Well, I am going to go ahead and close for now, so I can get some rest before another full day tomorrow. Love and appreciate you all so much!


Here is Helene’s first email report, 12/19/13

Dear friends and family,

I’m sorry for my delay in writing. The internet here is touch and go,
and I’m finally just now getting my little cell phone modem working.
After I finish writing this, I’m going to climb a nearby hill,
possibly even a tree to see if I can get within better range of the
cell tower 🙂

I’m sure that many of you know by now that I arrived safely at Mukinge
on Monday night after two full days of traveling between the U.S.,
Addis Ababa, Harare, Lusaka, the traffic and pot-hole filled streets
of Solwezi and finally Kasempa. I fell asleep on Monday to the sounds
of frogs chirping like pebbles plinking into a tin can and mosquitoes
trying to buzz through the net around my bed. “Yes,” I smiled, “I’m
back in Africa!”

I decided to hit the ground running, so I started work in the hospital
Tuesday morning. So far this week I have been working primarily on the
women’s inpatient ward. Most patients lie curled up in bed, their
gaunt bodies looking more like skeletons. Flies buzz lazily above
their heads, landing occasionally on the corners of their mouths or
eyes. The diagnosis is never mentioned above a whisper: HIV AIDS and,
of course, all the secondary illnesses that come with it, mainly
pneumonia. “It’s a real problem here,” explained one of the nurses,
shaking her head. “Anyone admitted to the hospital gets the test. We
don’t even need their consent.”

As I work with patients, I’m finding the language barrier a little
challenging at times, but am managing as best I can with my hands,
what limited vocabulary I am picking up and the interpreting help of
nursing students here. It’s amazing how much you actually can convey
with gestures and how much reassurance a simple smile can bring. One
elderly woman simply wanted to hold my hand. As I stood by her
bedside, we never said a word. She simply stared into my eyes and
squeezed tightly.

I was exploring the bookshelf in my room over lunch break today, and
came across an obviously well-loved Kaonde version of the Bible. I
plan to carry it with me to the hospital tomorrow to read with
patients in any spare time I might have and as much as they are
willing to tolerate my poor pronunciation.

Next week, all of the student nurses are leaving for their Christmas
holiday, so the hospital will be short-staffed, and I will have much
more work to do. “You came at just the right time,” one of the nurses
informed me. “God knows,” she smiled. I will also be rotating to the
pediatric and surgery units next week. The staff here is eager for me
to see and experience as much as possible during the short time I am

Yesterday we had an “open day” so that people from the area could
understand the services offered at the hospital. The morning was
filled with the last minute chaos of setting up tables, props and
writing out posters. All the while several workers were attempting to
balance a large, dirt-covered tarp precariously on three large
branches hacked from a nearby tree, a ladder and some rope. By the
time they erected their “tent,” we were all covered in red Zambian
dust and were sneezing it out our noses as well.

Two hours past the scheduled starting time (or pretty much right on
Africa time, haha), Chief Kasempa robed in glistening blue processed
in followed by three body guards and his tall wife, who wore an
impressive turban that made her tower above everyone else. We all
bowed down and clapped to show our respect. Finally the program could
officially commence.

As people walked through displays of posters and hospital equipment,
got their blood pressures taken and received information on HIV,
malaria and malnutrition, we also emphasized that behind all the
medical services it offers, Mukinge Hospital is also a place that
cares for people’s spiritual needs. The mission statement displayed
prominently in almost every ward states: “The purpose of Mukinge
Hospital is to reflect the glory of God by following the Pattern of
Spreading the Gospel established by the Lord Jesus, namely Teaching,
Preaching, and Healing (Matthew 9:35).” This is what makes Mukinge a
truly unique hospital, a place committed to the Lord and to serving
His people, not just physically, but by reaching out to their deepest
soul needs. I’m so excited to be a part of it in my own small way!

It has been wonderful to reconnect with my aunt, uncle and cousins
(the Amborski’s) while they are visiting in this part of Zambia!
Yesterday evening my cousins and I decided to climb up Mukinge Hill.
By the time we reached the top, the dark clouds overhead and the scent
of rain carried on the fresh, cool breeze, warned us that it was time
to make our rapid descent before the storm. As we scrambled down the
steep slope, I paused briefly to look out on the rolling hills and
expanse of green below. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such
beautiful country again. Somehow, I always glimpse God’s majesty most
clearly in the African landscape.

Well, I’m about to head out to one of the more remote villages this
afternoon, and this email has become rather lengthy, so I’ll close for
now. I hope you all are doing well. Thank you so much for your prayers
and support! Love to you all! I’m off to climb my tree 🙂


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