October 24, 2007

Dhanyabadh

2007 1530 page14 capHE SUN WAS JUST SINKING TOWARD the tops of the high, beautiful hills in northwest Nepal. It cast a few careless golden beams on the last disappointed patients who wandered around the closed doors of our little clinic. Sabbath was approaching after a long and weary week of travel and work, and we were eager to treat the last few patients and bid them a pleasant goodbye before sinking into the sweetness of heavenly rest.
 
I hadn’t imagined it would be this busy when I decided to volunteer to come to Nepal as a nurse so many months before. I had been a nurse for just one year when I arrived, excited about being abroad and ready to jump in and get involved. Visa complications and rebel activity had kept us tied up for nearly a month. When at last we were able to go to our remote valley where the clinic was, we took with us a team of four doctors and dentists. After just a few days, we were ready for a breather.
 
Just Barely Managing
It had been a terribly long day. I never imagined we could see so many sick and injured people in such a short amount of time. The crowd had become restless as its numbers grew. Growing tired of waiting, they began thrusting themselves through the rickety wooden doors into the narrow entryway and pushing into the examining rooms where others were being seen. It became necessary to recruit a force of boys and young men to hold the doors shut and remove those who made their way in.
 
Tired and irritated, I wondered, How can people be so rude? Especially when we are here providing them with free medical treatment? What makes them think they can come barging in demanding our immediate attention?
 
2007 1530 page14They were happy for the medical care. However, the word dhanyabadh (thank you) is rarely heard in Nepal. After all, if kind deeds are done to advance one’s own good karma, should not he be the thankful one? How could a person ever uplift his future life status if it weren’t for the poor souls doing him a favor by demanding his time and money?
 
So I found all my charitable intentions dissolving into resentment. “Oh, God,” I cried silently in the middle of the bustle, “I want to love these people, but I don’t know how. I feel like slapping them. With this attitude, how can I ever serve them as You would?”
 
I leaned against the back door, trying to save it from being smashed by the savage kicks coming from the opposite side. The crowds had thinned, the air was quieter, and the Sabbath seemed just a whisper away. Only a few more patients to see, I thought. I leaned my head wearily against the door as the kicking subsided.
 
Not This, Not Now
Suddenly, an angry scream tore through the air. I looked quickly out the nearby window. A dark-skinned woman with long unkempt hair and a limp red sari was cursing loudly and hysterically at a small group of people nearby. Beside her a little girl stood like a tiny silent teardrop. Her hair was tangled and she wore a stained little dress that barely covered her small body.
 
Everyone in the clinic was silent and tense. We knew people were upset when we had to turn them away, but there was only so much we could do. It seemed like the pressure we all felt from the long days had suddenly come pouring out through this crazed woman like a broken water pipe. “What is she on?” someone asked.
 
As I watched through the window, she took off with big strides toward the front of the clinic, dragging behind her the tiny, silent child. My heart jumped into my throat. The front door wasn’t locked! I let out a little yelp as I dashed across the room with a couple frightened bounds and slid the lock just in time. I leaned against it, my heart thudding against my chest. Her rage-blistered screams were enough to curdle anyone’s blood. We were doing our best; what right did she have to be so angry?
 
After several minutes, I slid the lock back and opened the door just enough to peak out. Poor Esther! The director’s wife had been coming up the steps to the clinic when the woman had blocked her way. She was shorter than the angry woman, who was now yelling in her face with a thick raspy voice, emphasizing each charge with a jab of her finger. She was as mean as a mother bear, and as I looked out from behind the door, I was afraid she might physically attack Esther.
 
When Esther managed to slip through to the clinic, she explained what she had been able to understand. It was for the child the woman had come, she said. While she was waiting, someone had insulted her, probably because of her dark skin. A village elder stayed outside to take the brunt of the storm as we continued our work.
 
The screaming subsided as we worked through the last of the patients. As I stepped into the examining room to take care of the last patient, I was astonished to find the woman from outside sitting quietly in the chair, the little girl lying on the examining room table beside her. “What is she doing in here?” I asked Dr. Mark. So many others had been turned away, and none had behaved as perversely as she.
 
“I told her I’d see her,” he said simply.
 
Grace Revealed
I turned back to find the woman’s pleading eyes on me. All the anger and toughness were gone. Her breath reeked of alcohol and her eyes were yellow with jaundice. They were large and wild, yet somehow lost and wounded. My heart melted. Her voice was still raspy but broken as she explained to me in a few words I understood that her little girl was her whole life, and she only wanted help for her.
 

Questions for Reflection

1. When have you been immersed in a culture radically different from your own? What lessons did you learn?

2. What basic human needs transcend culture? What behaviors vary from culture to culture? How important is it to understand the difference?

3.
What social or work settings force you to examine your own spiritual foundations? How have you learned to adapt to them?

4.
By what standards do you judge the success or failure of your interactions with others? How often are you satisfied with the results?

As we began to clean the infected wound on the child’s face, she whimpered bravely. But as we cleaned deeper, her whimpers turned to screams. We held her head firmly as great tears rolled down the sides of her face and into her little ears. Her mother tried to hold her struggling legs and soothe her clumsily at the same time. But in her intoxicated state the emotion was more than she could bear, and soon tears rolled down her face as well. Esther put a comforting arm around the woman, who promptly dropped her head onto Esther’s shoulder and mingled her sobs with the screams of her little girl.

 
I looked at the two women; the dark, unkempt head resting on the shoulder of the smaller woman at whom she had so recently been shouting. Tears rolled down the worn face; I could almost see the broken heart under the wrinkled red blouse. My irritation disappeared, and in its place I felt my heart welling with a pang of compassion and gratitude to God for giving me the privilege of being touched by this precious child of His.
 
“Thank You, Father,” I prayed. “Thank You for reminding me that everyone has pain, no matter how tough or provoking their appearance. Thank You for letting me see the tears and know that every person who has irritated me today sheds the same kind of tears, and has wounds, too. Let me never forget, and let me always treat that tender part of people, no matter how they act on the outside.”
 
Before long the little girl stood to go. Her mother turned her around to face me. A big white bandage decorated her cheek, and her big brown eyes were still wet with recent tears as she looked up at me. A timid, unexpected smile creased her lips. She pressed her hands together in a traditional Nepali sign of greeting and gratitude. Then in the tiniest voice, she said the sweetest thing I had heard all day: “Dhanyabadh.”
____________________
Adel Torres writes from Corning, California, where her husband is a pastor. They hope to someday return to mission service.

 

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