I wrote the below words last weekend, but never posted them; it was such an interesting mix of awesome and awful, and I wasn’t sure what to share and I think I got distracted and then it kept slipping down the to-do list.
This morning I am reveling in a day off. Completely off. No school, no work, and that hasn’t happened in several weeks, I’m really, really excited about it. When I started this year I was determined I would take a Sabbath rest every week, but knew for this little chunk of three to four weeks that would be nearly impossible; two courses to run and a conference to attend in the span of three weeks, plus other things, meant pushing hard. I don’t mind it, really, as long as it’s a short season and there is an end in sight. We need, in our lives, rhythms of rest and work, and I know when I lose my rhythm everything just gets hard. As I read my words from last week, I recognize myself out of sync with the most important of things…
This week was our first medical training course in Benin.
My job is to organize all aspects of the course except delivering the teaching. I recruit instructors, sort out their arrivals and flights and collaboration and connection; prepare and organize all teaching materials, equipment, supplies, and paperwork; ensure everything is translated and provide translators when the instructors aren’t French-speaking; find and organize and pay for a venue and catering; coordinate with a zillion different people involved in providing participant lists and try to identify the best participants for various courses; organize participant invitations, delivery, confirmation of attendance, etc.; take care of various random things throughout the course like making sure people are where they are supposed to be, reorganizing room setup, etc.; and then follow up with every hospital represented, the instructors, the participants, and close out any outstanding logistical concerns like payment and reorganization of the now-disorganized supplies. I have a great team and am teaching a colleague how to do all of this so she can take over in the future – while this is wonderful, it does lead to many, many more questions needing answers. We also organize transportation, other activities for the facilitators, and airport transfers and hotel accommodation if there isn’t space on the ship.
This week’s course was SAFE Obstetric Anesthesia and it went super; the participants were eager and engaged, the instructors really fun and great teachers, and logistically everything went relatively smoothly even with a few unexpected hiccups. It’s a long week for me, as an introvert I recharge my batteries by being alone or being able to focus so an entire week spent pinging around putting out fires, solving problems, and answering questions in two different languages really wears me out. I really enjoyed the week; last night we all went out for dinner together and it was just really fun; kind words of encouragement from the team that this was one of the best trainings they’ve ever run left me feeling that the tired was very worth it!
While the week was amazing, running this course isn’t my only job. I’m also thinking ahead to the next course starting in a week; the conference I’m attending this week and was just asked yesterday to present at in a few days; the country-wide safe surgery training program I’m creating and managing that is in its busiest planning weeks right now; and the master’s degree program that is always lurking in the background, the deadlines of which are not flexible according to my working schedule and the 2500 word Ebola mitigation and prevention analysis and proposal due this weekend. I didn’t sleep well last night and I would rather not talk to anyone today, however in order to even get breakfast I have to face the dining room full of people which means I can’t spend the day in my pajamas as I would really like to…. Also in my head is that one person I am avoiding in the hallways because I know I upset her this week but I just don’t have the energy for one more crucial conversation, the other kind-hearted people who mean well but seriously, if another person asks me if I got hit in the face and I have to explain that no, I’m fine, I just have dark circles under my eyes because I’m tired and stressed and no, it’s okay I’ll be okay I just need to STOP TALKING so please take the hint… sigh.
Always in the back of my head is wonderings of the future, anxieties about more difficult conversations that will likely need to happen this week… I get a phone call from a colleague who needs some advice and I honestly just burst into tears. Some days the decisions of my own life feel overwhelming, I can’t possibly appropriately problem solve for someone else, too. How do you enforce boundaries in that situation, when I want her to feel supported and encouraged and not left on her own, when at the same time I desperately just need to be left alone and for her to just figure it out?
Sometimes this place is amazing, and I feel so blessed and honored and grateful I get to be here and do this thing. Sometimes this place is the hardest place ever. Sometimes I think I can’t possibly stay here even another day. So I look at hotels to get away for a few days soon or a weekend, and remember that grad school has drained my savings account and oh yeah, another bill is due in April for $9k and where is that going to come from, and I realize a getaway is not going to happen. Then anxiety about money kicks in and I start to wonder what was I thinking doing this thing without a consistent salary (though my donors are AMAZING). Maybe a job with WHO or the UN wouldn’t be so bad, though in reality working behind a desk might just kill me… but if it means I don’t have to face the possibility of seeing any dozen of 400 roommates just to pop a bag of popcorn that will be a suitable substitute for the lunch I forgot to pack at breakfast, maybe it’s worth it. I don’t know.
For now, I need to focus on the next thing on the to-do list.
Today, October 1
Well, I’m happy to report that the difficult conversations I was expecting this week were indeed difficult but ended well. The conference was great, the paper got written, we’re ready for the next course, the instructors of which arrive today and tomorrow. My Beninese family got to visit the ship and it was SUCH a joy to have them here. I got some sad news in an email and some good news in another; the waves and the rhythms of life keep rolling on.
Thanks, friends, for your support and love and encouragement through it all.