by Liz Connor
From the roof of the hospital, I watch the frenetic rush that marks the end of the day here. Women painted in brilliant color carrying sacks of vegetables and meat open the gates to their simple homes, ready to nourish their children. Men get up from café tables, lock shop doors, and honk their horns in impatience with traffic. The clouds become backlit by an orange sun as the wind rushes toward me, carrying the call from the six surrounding mosques. The people below pick up the pace, the men to prayer, the women to home, a never ending bending and bowing in loyalty to God and Family and Clan.
As the energy increases I am overwhelmed with the days falling off the calendar, closing my time here. And I wonder. What sort of devotion guides me to these moments? What kind of faith do I have in humanity to fling myself across the world to the Horn of Africa? What sort of prayer do I have for our future? What sort of pilgrim am I?
As I walk down the stairs back to the maternity ward, I know. Certainly. It’s the children that I come for. In reverence for their future I work. It’s the Africa I want to nurture, the little rays of light with dark eyes and playful smiles who will one day reshape our world and the destiny of this continent. The children who will become men and women and hopefully decide that violence is unacceptable, that humans beings are equal, that life is sacred. And in investing in their mothers we indirectly give them a chance to do just that.
For the past month, I have been working as a volunteer nurse at Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland. I have learned a ton about healthcare in post-conflict, resource-poor countries. I have also had the immense honor of learning from Edna herself about the realities of this place and the people who call it home. She has taken me on excursions off the paved road and into the dry desperate desert, and narrated a Somaliland about which most of the world is ignorant.
I have seen Edna’s life’s work manifest in these doctors and nurses, and in those intimate moments of being with patients in vulnerable places. I have had the opportunity to take care of mothers and babies, sick and well. I’ve connected with people and made stabs at their language, I have looked into eyes filled with pain and fear. I have worked on keeping several babies alive that had little chance, and watched the soul depart from others. These are small acts, but this is life saving and life-affirming work. Both for the patients and myself.
This hospital cannot save every baby, or every mother, and things don’t always run smoothly, but the fact that it exists tells women that they are worth the effort. It shows everyone in Somaliland that people are valuable, male or female, big or small, rich or poor, nomadic or stationary. It tells the children they should honor their precious fragile lives and the lives of those around them, as they grow and are pushed into the harsh world. It tells me that there is hope for a new Africa, for a new generation.
And for all of this experience and learning, and for all of the sadness and joy, I am grateful beyond words.
I am floored in my awe of this woman who could be discerning enough to recognize a need in the rubble of war and poverty, and find the strength and vision to shout a wholehearted “Yes” for her people. Because I think that is the right answer to the questions.
And from a little hospital in Somaliland, where miracles are being born every day, a hopeful pilgrim agrees with all of her heart and bows in reverence for the potential of this place underneath a desert sky.
The Nigerian poet Ben Okri wrote, on Africans:
We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of time
We are precious
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the Earth