President’s Weekly Messages to Students
What I learned in Ethiopia
February 21, 2023
Dear KCC Students,
Did I ever tell you about the time I got sick in Ethiopia and the doctor used an iPhone flashlight to look at my throat as part of his examination of me?!?!?!? Well here goes.
It was the summer of 2014, and I was scheduled to travel to Ethiopia with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a family in need. When I travel abroad, I typically visit a travel nurse so I can ensure that I am appropriately inoculated for my trip. As fate would have it, my annual physical was right before my trip to Ethiopia as well. After my physical exam, my doctor told me that I needed to drink more water, avoid salt, and lose weight. I knew I wasn’t being as healthy as I should be, so I was prepared to make the change.
A week later I’m at JFK Airport waiting to board my flight, but I felt horrible. My throat hurt. It felt like it was on fire, and I couldn’t swallow. I remember going to the McDonalds counter to get packets of salt and a cup of hot water. I locked myself into one of the family bathroom stalls and gargled with salt water. Unfortunately, my old Caribbean remedy did not work. Nevertheless, I boarded the flight, and was miserable for all 13+ hours. Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, I met other members of the team and we headed by bus to Debre Berhan. It was another 2–3-hour ride.
I started the build sick. I coughed non-stop. That evening into the morning I coughed so much, I coughed up blood and I could not build that day. I had to stay in the room by myself while my other teammates went to build. I have never been so scared. I was sick in a foreign country, and I wanted to go home. But I didn’t think I would survive the long drive back to the airport, deal with the red tape involved with changing my flight, plus the long flight back to the U.S. My team leader Katie would come to check on me often. One on such visit I was crying so much that she made a deal with me. She said that if I went to a local clinic to get something to ease my pain then she will make arrangements for me to leave.
Let me tell you, I did not want to go to the clinic. The area surrounding where we were staying left a lot to be desired. But I agreed because I just wanted to go home. The clinic was everything you would imagine that it would be in a developing country. The doctor’s office was no better. In the corner in the office was a woman on a table writhing in pain. I cried even more not just from my physical pain but from the hopelessness of that moment.
Even the doctor’s coat had seen better days. He asked me what was wrong, I cried through my explanation. He took my blood pressure, and he asked his assistant (just a regular dude, in regular clothes) for a flash. Dude fished around and presented him with an iPhone. The doctor activated the flashlight and asked me to open my mouth and proceeded to look down my throat. I was horrified.
I was equally as horrified by the room that I had to go in to take chest X-rays. It was literally a room, with a large metal door. Once I got my x-ray, I returned to the doctor’s office. What seemed like an eternity passed. He came back to his desk with X-rays in hand and shared with me that I had an infection. But he also said: you need to drink more water, avoid salt, and lose weight. He prescribed some meds which I picked up around the corner. I took them that day as prescribed and by the next day I was back on-site building. I took his picture because I wanted to remember him, remember that moment and all the lessons that came with it.
- Listen to your body. I had no business taking the flight to Ethiopia in the first place.
- Never judge a book by it’s cover. Because the area, the doctor’s office, or even his methods was not the same as what I was accustomed to, I determined them to be in adequate. But his findings were the exact same as my NY doctor’s; and the meds he prescribed me for the infection did the trick.
- Trust the people who are there to help. I will always be grateful to my Habitat Team Leader Katie. I didn’t want to listen at first, but she was the expert, and because of her support, I was able to get the help I needed and get back to making a difference for a family in need.
What does this mean for you KCC students? As we get ready to enter another semester. I want you to know you have many Katies in your corner. The faculty and staff have your best interests at heart. We are here to support you. Katie supported me so I could get back to building, and we will support you so that you can build the future you want.
Have a great week!