Marieke's Farewell

Our supporters are all familiar with the name of Marieke Lagro, the wonderful Dutch doctor who recently returned to Europe after years of strong work at the Mpongwe Mission Hospital. Even after she left, she continued working for us – it was Marieke who found Hannah de Grooth, the new doctor who goes out there, with her husband, in October. And Marieke could not go without writing yet another of her super reports.

Farewell Mpongwe

December 2001
The rains have started and grass and trees are turning green. Small boys ask permission to climb 'my'; mango tree and pick the ripe fruits. Methuselah has been busy these past few weeks with preparing a new patch of earth for growing vegetables and maize at the back of the garden. It looks promising although I will not see the results of his labour this year.

It has been busy the past few months. At the beginning of September Dr. Tasila Tembo was posted at Mpongwe Hospital. She is a Zambian doctor, trained in Cuba, who worked for three years at Ndola Central Hospital. The Zambian Government recently re-introduced the obligatory rural posting for just graduated Zambian doctors. Dr. Tembo’s arrival came as a welcome but unexpected surprise, and we did not have any accommodation for her. She was accommodated at the guesthouse of the Mpongwe Development Company and had to drive 15 kilometres to and from the hospital. Not an easy situation – she could not do any calls because of the distance, and at the same time had to take care of her 9-month old daughter. Despite that, her presence relieved me from a lot of work and she was a wonderful colleague.

More and more people are getting aware that I am leaving in January and show their concern about the future of the hospital. Naturally, I feel pleased with their appreciation for my work, but also sadness about my imminent leave. I have considered staying on another year, but if I want to get a training position in the Netherlands I have to go back now otherwise I will be too old.

Saturday 15 December
Theresa Mukope, one of the midwives, gets married, and I feel very honoured that I am invited. The Mpongwe United Church of Zambia, a simple brick building, is packed. After the bridegroom is brought in and seated in front of the altar, a tape with Congolese music starts and a colourful line-up of nine bridesmaids and men come dancing into the church. Finally, the bride makes her entrance in a dazzling white dress with a veil hiding her eyes. Her elder brother escorts her and both look sad; cultural customs forbid a happy face! The church choir sings beautifully and the speech of the Reverend seems to please the attending audience according to the approving nods and sounds I notice.

We drive to the Secondary School for the party, where the highlight is the cutting of the wedding cake. The knife is brought in by one of the bridesmaids, now changed into ordinary clothes, who dances her way to the cake while money is put into her top by enthusiastic onlookers. The couple cuts the cake in harmony and small pieces are dished out among the audience.

Saturday 29 December
I have been busy shopping for the party - it will be held at my house and is going to be big! On Saturday morning, Fitness, who cleans my house two times a week, arrives early as I go down to the hospital to do my rounds in children’s and maternity ward. I reach home around noon to the delicious smell of freshly baked scones. The kitchen is full of nurses preparing fruit salads, cakes and other snacks. The outdoor ‘boys’ are setting up the tent in the garden and a tractor drives up and down to the church to collect benches. Mrs Mwenda brings my special dress for the evening. Agnes Liche, one of the midwives, has given me a beautiful piece of chitenge material and I asked a tailor to make a 'Zambian' dress. It will be a success because people love to see me in a dress on those rare occasions I put one on!

At 18.00 hours the first quests arrive. I am nervous. The guest of honour is Senior Chief Ndubeni and his wife. He is a good chief and the people like him. In the last year we have become better acquainted and I even visited his palace (which is not really a palace, but a small brick house consisting of only two rooms cramped with furniture and the walls decorated with clocks, photographs and other paraphernalia). They are nice people and I admire the way they live and the work the chief does for his people. Also seated on my veranda (which was turned into a kind of podium) are the Council Secretary Mr. Namulambe, my colleague from Ibenga Dr. Esther and her husband, Adrian Shimubanga, Sister Zaza and Dr. Tembo.

Mr Chilyabanyama, head of the laboratory, is the master of ceremony, a gifted organiser of parties and a good speaker. He introduces all the guests and the long line of speakers. I am deeply touched by all the good words. And when I finally think it is my turn to speak, people are invited in the house to get something to eat, which is always an important part of a party.

I extensively thank everyone I worked with and show my admiration for their working and team spirit under difficult circumstances - beautiful years in which I have learned a lot both on a professional and personal level. Gifts from every department are presented including beautiful chitenge’s, wooden carvings and some typically Zambian copper souvenirs. One present is more than special: a painted cloth depicting a woman with a baby on her back, a hoe in her left hand and a bunch of branches on her head. "So you always remember Mpongwe and the women and children who were at the heart of your work". It has a prominent place in my living room in Rotterdam.

After that dancing starts, until around midnight a heavy downpour of rain announces the end of the party. Tired and satisfied I climb into my bed.

9th January 2002
I arrived back in the Netherlands. It was good to see family and friends again. I found a place to live and started work on 18th February at the University Teaching Hospital in Rotterdam. I am a junior doctor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. I would like to become a gynaecologist and hope to be accepted for a training position. I like my job, but it is not comparable with the work I did in Mpongwe. I do miss Mpongwe and my friends. I am sure I will go back some day. I would like to thank all the people who have assisted me in the past three years through Health Help International. Your help has been of great importance.