Our skin, or integumentary system is the largest system in our entire body. It plays so many roles both positive and negative, from keeping us safe and healthy, warm and dry, to creating separation and discrimination based on its color. The barrier it creates between us and the world is essential for survival. Without our skin our body would be inundated with bacteria, parasites and viruses that would overwhelm us. Our skin allows us to live, and in some ways defines our experience of living. When others look at us they see our skin, and we in turn see the world around us from within that skin.
This past week’s work was dominated by interviews. I sit down with the interviewee and ask the predetermined questions. I am not sure what exactly I expected, but my surprise at many of the answers I received evidence the fact that I did hold some sort of expectations at the outset of the interviews. As an interviewer listening is of utmost importance, and not just to the words that are spoken, but also to the meaning behind the words and the lived experiences that bring those words to utterance. As humans existing in our own skin we see the world from our own perspective, with our own unique biases. We see problems and solutions from within our skin. There is no way out of it. From the moment we are born, our skin is our companion here on earth. As I interviewed people this week I stumbled upon moments when I allowed my mind to wander outside of my skin and catch a glimpse of the world from within another’s. While we will never be able to do this fully, the moments life gifts us with when we can shed our skin and sit in another’s world are precious; I believe this is the birthplace of life’s slivers of wisdom.
Dr Shitaye, an Internal Medicine Doctor here in Gondar who has worked with SCOPE for many years shared some beautiful words during a casual conversation following her interview. She shared her passion for knowing her patients as people with stories to tell rather than as diseases. She cares for Magda the fierce mother and Misbah the gentle farmer rather than the diabetic and the hypertensive. Her face lit up as she talked about her passion for making sure medical students here in Gondar know how to listen to patients and gain wisdom from their stories. This requires stepping out of one’s own skin, shedding assumptions and preconceptions and listening, really listening to what another’s life has to tell us. If I have learned nothing else from my education at UW, I have learned that as a healthcare practitioner I am powerless without my patients’ stories. I believe Dr. Shitaye holds many slivers of wisdom from her 30 plus years of experience getting out of her own skin and stepping into the lives of her patients.
As I head into another week of interviews and clinic visits, my practice will be to step out of my own skin and to listen. Knowing that I will never fully master this practice, I will keep trying. After all, life is full of practices that we will never master, but that doesn’t excuse us from trying. With each attempt our practice grows and we gain those little nuggets of wisdom.
A couple of shots from an interview with Kesis Dawit, an Ethiopian Orthodox priest who has been involved in SCOPE for a long time. His passion for the SCOPE’s mission was inspirational.
Kate goofing around with our favorite neighborhood boy, and me with Gamila, our favorite local shop owner who has taken us under her wing.
Gamila preparing coffee for our Iftar meal. She is a Muslim and is fasting for Ramadan. She invites us almost daily to break the fast with her in the evening.
Waiting in line and then sitting in the stands at University of Gondar’s graduation ceremony. This year marks the University’s 60th anniversary so there was plenty of celebrating!
A beautiful sunrise greeting me on my morning run.