We live in such civilized times that driving a car, paying with a credit card, or receiving a computerized exam in a modern hospital are normal. We do not consider how we would function if these “luxuries” were suddenly unavailable. Our busy lifestyles, that we are so use to, do not allow us to undertake such reflections. We never face dangers or struggles that are above our means. We live utilizing all available resources in life, and complain when they are in shortage. But somewhere far away, in what seems like a different dimension, like in a book about a wild tribe, are people who also need to survive. There people live an existence that differs greatly from ours. People, who like us, need food, clothing, and medicine. On occasion, someone discovers this different world that we only know from publications and television. The two worlds collide, first with shock, then with acceptance after seeing how much they are in need.Elizabeth Kloda experienced the African adventure. She is a Polish doctor who spent nine year of her life and career working as a volunteer on a ship called “Anastasis”. This vessel/hospital belongs to the Mercy Ships organization, an international Christian mission patronized by the United States. The organization owns three ships and they all sail to the most needy corners of the world.
“Thanks to this mission it was possible to reach regions of Africa that tourists do not visit, but where there are the largest concentration of people who need medical help,” stated Elizabeth. After spending nine years in Africa, Elizabeth tried to authorize her medical degree here in the US. She lived in Akron, but has now returned to Poland after numerous failed examinations. She received a job in a Polish hospital. Doctors are needed everywhere, but it is not easy or always possible for them to remain in the States. Sometime it is necessary to change life’s plans.
During her nine years on the ship, Elizabeth visited nine countries. She proved herself as a doctor and as a human being. She saw many things that were far beyond her expectations, but that she would have never witnessed if she refused the opportunity to participate in the mission. “Life is more than realizing one’s self and one’s needs,” said Elizabeth.
“Things that I saw, people I met, those nine countries in which I worked in Africa are all priceless. They cannot be destroyed or forgotten. They remain with you.” When asked how this all started, how she made the decision, and why nine years, she smiles with satisfaction. At first she went for 6 months to the Ivory Coast. Then she returned to Poland. But the memories of the ship and its atmosphere seemed to haunt her. She realized that she could truly give of herself there, exist as a doctor and as a person. She believed that this was a way for her to do something that others needed and that would bring her immeasurable satisfaction. “When you see such poor people just once, especially the suffering children, and you see how you can change the quality of their life, then a mysterious force pushes you to return.”
The work of a doctor in the African climate and on a ship is much different than in a hospital. First of all, the people who live on the vessel are all of different nationalities. They are all there for one reason, out of good will, and with the desire to serve people. Can that be why there is no rivalry or competition? Work takes on a special character. The crew of the ship is made up of people who are “joined in spirit”. They face the same problems and over the years become a “floating family” that brings help to the needy. Elizabeth remembers with a smile the unforgettable atmosphere on the ship, where nationalities disappeared, while languages, holidays, and views mixed. Here, large differences that would cause problems anywhere else, were surpassed by a common goal and work in the name of God.
In each African village, 250-300 seriously ill people awaited the three doctors and 10 nurses. Not everyone was helped. The means were not always available, and sometimes the limited resources made it impossible to bring useful medical intervention. With sadness, Elizabeth remembers a 9-month old child, who developed malaria after an operation and died. Another child died from snakebite. These difficult situations are not hard to find in Africa. Elizabeth saw children who were malnourished, suffering from malaria, with tumors, and with strange tropical diseases.
The doctor explained that the ambition of the crew was to learn at least a few basic words of the local language. It was their way of forming a bond with their patients. In general, they experienced friendly welcomes from the local people. She never saw them as a threat, nor felt any danger. On the contrary, the oneness of the people, the tribal unity surprised her and surpassed her book-acquired knowledge. In Madagascar, an island recently hit by a cyclone, the crew witnessed how the villagers, with strength and quickness, united and organized to rebuild their “hut world”. She was surprised by the unity of the people, who learn together, cook together outside, and sleep together inside. “Work is always accompanied by singing – they sing like the best choir,” said Elizabeth.
Doctor Elizabeth misses Africa. Her adventures in that world cannot be replaced by anything else. Even though she stood face to face with a wild lion, she would still want to do it again.
Longing and sentimentalities cannot guide one’s life and Elizabeth took on the reality of finding stability. I hope that she finds in Poland. I hope that all of her career goals become a reality – along with new travels on small missions to far corners of the world. Elizabeth Kloda represents a hard to find characteristic – that of living for others, at times at the expense of one’s comforts and materialistic desires. Medicine is her passion. It gives her “internal satisfaction, which has no other measure, than a desire to change someone’s life,” stated Elizabeth.
Translated by Monica Glazar