Saturday, August 22, 2009

Distance, relationships, and swine flu

A few months back when we were in Canada, swine flu (H1N1) was spreading and people were alarmed. This cartoon, that did the rounds on internet, made me smile.

Information was feverishly gathered and shared, and we all calculated our risk of exposure. In many cases, if you had been exposed to the virus, you were barred from your work place. Common concerns were “When should I go to emergency?” or “What is considered a ‘safe distance’ from others who may be infected?” and so on. If someone sneezed or coughed, a step or two back was in order. And we were all okay with it because we agreed…we didn’t want THAT flu!

In Mozambique, however, things have been fairly quiet regarding swine flu. Until earlier this week that is, when we heard that the first case had just been confirmed in Maputo. That same day while I was in our carpentry shop looking for varnish and paint brushes, one of the guys asked, “Senhora? We have a question. We heard on the radio about “Gripe Suína”. What is that?” It took my mind a split second to equate gripe suína with swine flu. Aah yes…it was time to prepare some swine flu fact sheets and get teaching underway.

By Friday morning the socorristas (health care workers) were well enough prepared to share the facts with the other 30 or 40 mission staff. Now, there are a number of the guidelines for helping to prevent the spread of the disease—one is to maintain a “safe distance” from people if they or you have symptoms. When the teaching was done, we had a question time. I expected questions related to disease severity, symptoms or treatment but got some unusual ones instead like:

“Why is its other name ‘H1N1’?” (Scientists…go figure ☺)

Then one of the guys asked this one, and I thought about it for a long time afterwards:

“So, we should maintain a 'safe distance' if someone has symptoms? But what if that someone is my friend? If I treat him that way, that’s not good.” He looked down and shook his head slowly and thoughtfully and repeated, “That's no good at all.” The others clicked their tongues, shook their heads and voiced their agreement. You see, a person can recover from many illnesses. But out here where hard times and tragedy are commonplace, without good relationships, you just won’t make it.

“These are guidelines” I said, “Review the information. Think about it. Talk about it. Surely the rest of the stuff is ok? Like sneezing and coughing into your sleeve instead of using your hand?”

There was a swift change in the mood as they guffawed at the thought of this. Then one guy got up and, smirking, moved far away from the coughing friend he had been sitting beside. Then they doubled up in laughter. Har, har har! That was very funny. I figure these jokes carried on for much of that day. Positive reinforcement is always good :)

Other news:

Plans are in place to take one of the mission’s sponsored students (in above photo) on a medical trip to South Africa in November. He will be seeing a surgeon (who has kindly offered the first consultation free of charge) regarding possible surgery to remove burn scar tissue that has crippled his upper body since he was a toddler. He is on the right in the above photo. On the left is João, who receives sponsorship to attend university in Maputo. They are both studious and hard working and they make our hearts proud.

This week Dwight has been visiting leadership schools in several remote areas in neighbouring provinces. Oh the joys of pack, pack, packing the essentials like: small generator, fuel, lights, extension cord, tools, food, medicine kit, sleeping bag/pillow, dishes, utensils, camp chairs, and so on.

Making it fit is also fun :/

Sure makes for a rather quiet house when it’s just me and the pets (who spend most of their time sleeping). But I don't mind, and anyway, I'm hardly alone. This is Mozambique and we have friendly neighbours all around. Not to mention that my closest neighbours, Rick and Heather, are so close we can talk to each other while standing on our owndoorsteps. Thankfully, that’s a safe distance to sneeze from too, although we trust we won’t need to worry about that just yet.


Penny said...

I appreciated the man's comments about friendship. :) So different from the way we think here in America. Thanks.

Russell said...

Oh, Africa. In hindsight I should have signed up for the H1N1 vaccination, but never assumed it to be that serious of a threat.