In Windhoek for Two Weeks
“Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friend’s calamity. Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offence he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer.”
This morning, I left Ondangwa on a small plane (maybe 10 passengers). I sat right behind the pilots and had a good 180 degree view. It was fascinating to see Ondangwa and the vicinity from the sky. Homestead compounds were a patchwork of enclosed fields with the house off-center. My first thought was, wow, there are really no trees here! We were heading south and to the west was just sand. To the east, the scattering of trees seemed to increase in density towards the horizon, but maybe it was an optical illusion. Flying over the Etosha Pan was beautiful. The salt pan is a vast sea of sand in the heart of the north. It is a swirl of colors-yellows, browns, greens, blues, whites. I really enjoyed being in the small plane because it had a greater “feel” of flying and we stayed at a low altitude so I had a good view the whole time. I was surprised at how small Windhoek looked–just a little town tucked between all the mountains.
At the airport, a Peace Corps driver picked me up and promptly delivered me to the medical office. Here, I met with Clara and Dr. B. First, Dr. B asked me to tell him what happened “this time” (as opposed to all those other non-disclosed times). I told him what happened, trying to emphasize that “this time” was far different from all others. Again he recommended that I needed reconstructive surgery. This then brought us to the real issue. He informed me again that he was going to fax D.C. informing them of my non-disclosed medical condition. He then explained all the different options and scenarios.
I wish I could say I kept my cool, but the truth was that I was crying. Now, I don’t claim to be a saint, but I do believe in honesty and integrity and all those sorts of things. I like to believe I uphold them. It hurt to be called a liar. I filled out all those medical forms over two years ago, so I didn’t remember them very well. I asked if I could see my medical file, thinking maybe I wrote something about loose ligaments–some sort of defense. They gave me my file and I leafed through it, looking for anything that could save me, or at least the question that had incriminated me. And then I found it.
Question #51: “Have you ever been medically treated more than once for:” and then it lists several things, one of which is “Dislocated shoulder.” I had said no. The key words were MEDICALLY TREATED. I had never gone to a doctor for my dislocated shoulder. I always put it in myself. So I hadn’t lied! I had told the truth! Hope surged back into my life and dried my tears (it really was this melodramatic–I think the background music even changed). I was innocent after all! Dr. B was mistaken. I called him back into the room and asked if #51 was the problem (I thought there might be a question somewhere else that I had overlooked). “Yeah, that’s the big one!” he said, almost smugly, like ‘how are you going to get out of that?’ “But,” I said, with renewed confidence, “I never went to a doctor with my shoulder dislocated. I’ve never been medically treated.” He gave me a withering look, like ‘good try, liar.’ He said, “You told me yourself you went to a sports medicine doctor.” “Yes,” I countered, “but even then it was only once! And it was afterwards, just for advice on what to do…” Another withering look from Dr. B. I was now convinced he worked for the insurance companies. He said something like I was trying to get off on a technicality. Which may be true-but even then it’s a technicality in my favor, not his. “Besides,” he said, “you’re arguing with the wrong person.” So I let it go. But it seemed like he was the right person since he was the one accusing me.
Clara, bless her heart, was very happy to discover I hadn’t lied. She really was concerned about my health, not who was going to be responsible for paying for this. In a conspiratorial whisper she said, “Don’t worry. He leaves tomorrow.”
Friday 7 November
I’m staying in the “sick bay” at the Peace Corps medical office. It’s a good place with a small kitchen and bathroom, also a TV/VCR and CD player. While I was eating breakfast, Philomena (the other medical officer) came to tell me that a driver would take me to the orthopedic center to get fitted for a better sling. We went there and I got a great sling right away. It has all sorts of Velcro straps that can be adjusted and it is nicely padded and doesn’t hurt my neck. My arm feels great now. I’m still worried though because although it doesn’t hurt, I really can’t move it very well. It’s like the muscles just aren’t there or something.
We walked back to the Peace Corps medical office since the driver was dropping Dr. B at the airport and we would have to wait for an hour. It was a beautiful day and it felt good to finally be able to walk around without fear of my arm falling off. As we were walking, Philomena was telling me, “This street is not safe at all. I even witnessed a robbery here.” We turn onto another street. “This street is not safe. I never walk here alone.” Another street. “I am always afraid when I walk in this area.” But, by the grace of God, we made it back alive. (The area seemed perfectly safe to me.)
Saturday 8 November
It is ironic, I suppose, that, for all my cynicism and pessimism, when things go wrong my optimism emerges. I have the belief that, somehow, things will be ok in the end. It is also ironic, or maybe some form of karmatic poetic justice that, for all my whining about ice cream, now that I can have it here in Windhoek, I don’t want it. It seems that inevitably I will be in the states soon, so I want to relish my suffering a bit longer. I mean, I do want to come home, at the end of my 2 years. But not now, and not in this way.
I feel like I need to enjoy Namibia as much as possible now, but it’s hard to do in Windhoek. As the capital city, Windhoek is a reminder of what I’m going to be sent back to–SUV’s with just one person in them (instead of a small Corolla with 7 people in it like the taxis in the north), big malls and shopping centers, fast food that is actually edible, movies, ice cream, air conditioning…I haven’t seen a single goat, chicken, cow, donkey or pig since I’ve been here. I wish I were back at the school so I could at least be spending time with my learners–helping them prepare for their exams, discussing issues in palaver club, watching the goats and cattle go by…
Anyway, there’s not much new here–I’m just preparing my defense to be sent on Monday. Some of you have suggested trying to tell them how important my job is here–both to me and the learners (before I left both the learners and the principal vowed to write letters to prevent my leaving.). That was also my idea in the beginning, but I see now that that approach won’t work. Both Clara and Dr. B said that nobody was interested in that. All that mattered at this point is whether or not this is a case of non-disclosure.
Now, that just leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside, doesn’t it?
Tuesday 11 November
I’m still in Windhoek just waiting. I find it quite humorous that as a volunteer, I’m not supposed to leave my site even on weekends, and yet they can keep me here in Windhoek on “medical hold” for a week and a half right before my learners write exams.
Clara said my orthopedic evaluation was so they could decide if I really needed surgery, and, if I do, do I need it now or can it wait a year? She also said they would take an x-ray to make sure my shoulder was reduced (not dislocated anymore). No offense to the respected medical profession, but are they insane? Do they really think I’ve been walking around for the past 11 days with my shoulder still dislocated? See, this is exactly why I fix it myself and never see doctors about it.
As far as the whole non-disclosure thing is concerned, she said that it would take a while. Your guess is as good as mine as to the exact duration of “a while.”
Friday 14 November
I spent Wednesday with a volunteer from my group, Mara, who was down here for dental surgery. We made an interesting pair. She hates The Peace Corps and living in the north, and wants to have a medical excuse to go home. Although technically she can quit at any time, she doesn’t want to resign. Then there’s me, and I have a medical excuse to go home and I’m fighting to stay. I offered to dislocate her shoulder for her, but she wasn’t too keen on the idea.
When we walked to the movie theater last night, I had my first experience of harassment–men calling out “Hello beautiful ladies” and such things. So I figure it is because
At any rate, it was really annoying and I’m glad I don’t normally have to deal with it. I think a lot of the other female volunteers experience it on a daily basis.
Monday 17 November
Just got back from the doctor. Good news. He said my shoulder is not still dislocated. Also, he recommended physiotherapy, not surgery. He did say if I dislocated it again, he’d have to send me home for surgery. But for now, we’re going to try therapy. I have appointments this week, and hopefully I will be able to go back up north by the weekend. The therapist will teach me exercises to do, and then I will do them on my own forever and ever and my arm will never dislocate again. Let’s hope. So that’s the good news on this end. No news on the non-disclosure part. It’s taking a while. Maybe it will just get lost. Hopefully it’s not such a big deal now that I don’t need surgery.
They’re closing the office now, so that’s all I have to report.