TAKING THE RISK

The very fact that you’re alive tells me that you are encountering risks. It’s been said that “the person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”

We usually describe risk as “a state of uncertainty where some of the possibilities involve a loss, catastrophe, or other undesirable outcome.” Of course, the other side of risk includes the possibility of gaining something of value.

When I was young and starting out in business, I always felt that I could well afford to run the risks of failure, because in failure I really didn’t have that much to lose. I could take the lumps, count the cost, pick up the pieces, and start over again. I didn’t mind going out on a limb because that was where the fruit was growing. My attitude was that if I pushed to the very brink, I would be shown a way to proceed on the ground, or else I would be taught how to fly. After all, how was I to know how far I could go in a venture if I hadn’t run the risk of going too far?

But the more I accumulated, the more the idea of risk became an issue.The more I had to lose, the more seriously I considered my options, choices, and consequences. I learned several times that I was very vulnerable and had a lot to lose. That prompted me to start developing some skills of risk assessment and some practices of risk aversion. I was discovering that in my business dealings, I was developing a risk attitude, and I began measuring my decisions against a rather clumsy gauge of rate of gain versus rate of ruin. Somewhere in the adventure, I was being exposed to concepts like regret and fear of loss.

When I became involved in international business and traveling with Project C.U.R.E., I was glad I had learned some things about risk taking.There were situations in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Palestine, Russia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and even Kenya where the risks involved my very life and safety. God’s protection, some carefully made decisions, and the help of many friends in more than 150 countries averted the serious consequences of some of those perilous risks.

In one of my Project C.U.R.E. offices, I had a map of the world affixed to the wall. One day I made a statement to the people visiting me: “If you were to stand on this side of the room and throw a dart at the map, provided the dart didn’t land on water or snow, within a three-inch radius of the dart, I would have a friend who would be willing to risk his or her life to help me out of danger.”

That was a rather audacious statement, I know. But it was based on the fact that I had worked in nearly every corner of the world, and the unusually positive influence of Project C.U.R.E. had enabled me to develop many deep-rooted relationships with people who would have put themselves in harm’s way to come to my rescue.

Taking a risk is an interesting concept. It includes the possibility of loss or injury, or at least the inconvenience of an imposing circumstance.And there is a notion that choice has something to do with whether or not the outcome is altered. Risk taking can get complicated. The consequences of my risks can splash over onto other people around me and affect their lives and well-being. We’re hardly ever isolated, stand-alone objects in situations that include risks.The events set into motion by our choices, as well as the eventual consequences, will usually invade the lifestyles of our families and friends.

As I’ve reflected on my statement regarding the map in my office, I realize that there would be no need for someone to come and help me were I not involved in a high-risk circumstance. The willingness of my friends to come to my rescue would imply that they would be placing themselves in a risk-taking situation because I was already in trouble. 

Our culture teaches us to seek safety and security, but as Mark Twain used to say, “Necessity is the mother of taking chances.”  And I am in theologian Paul Tillich’s corner when he observed, “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”

I personally believe that no noble thing can be accomplished without taking risks, and ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they’re encouraged to be confident, to stand tall, and to fully engage those calculated risks.  


THE MAIN THING

Steven R. Covey offered some of the best advice available when he said that “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

As a cultural economist, I deal continuously with the economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost. Everything that exists is a scarce commodity. That isn’t to say that there is an immediate shortage of something or that something is “as scarce as hen’s teeth”—because there aren’t any hen’s teeth. But something is deemed scarce because everything that exists has alternative uses. People have unlimited wants and needs and they can come up with more uses for the capital or commodities than existing resources. Scarcity is called the “basic economic problem,” meaning that the problem always exists.

Ultimately, a choice has to be made to determine how a resource will be used. We have to choose the alternative we most highly desire. Sometimes we may think that cost deals only with dollars and cents. But in a truer sense, the cost of the alternative we choose is the loss of the value of the next highest alternative we forgo in making our choice. In other words, the real cost is the value of the alternative we could have had but decided to do without.

When we say that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” we’re dealing with the subject of priorities, which is the arrangement of precedence and preference regarding certain resources, supplies, or services. We first have to decide what the main thing is?  Then we have to decide to keep that main thing at the top of our priority ranking.

Consistent priority ranking is a difficult assignment on a personal basis. It’s an even tougher assignment on an international and cultural basis. Let me illustrate this from my travel journals: 


      Shortly after the tragic genocide situation in Rwanda, I traveled in a Volkswagen van from Kampala, Uganda, to Kigali, Rwanda. There had been nearly one million people murdered in the short span of one hundred days during the Hutu-Tutsi slaughter. It was one of the most heart-breaking incidents I had experienced in over thirty years of international travel. Limbs of dead bodies still protruded out of shallow graves. The economy was in shambles, and all was chaos. For the most part, the world totally ignored the tragedy and even the UN and the US refused to use the word “genocide” and chose not to send help. Project C.U.R.E. went there to help. 

    Upon my arrival in Kigali, I met with a lady named Christine. She was in her thirties, very knowledgeable and articulate, and was in charge of administering the offices of the cabinet members. She was openly supportive and appreciative of Project C.U.R.E., and I presented to her the inventory list of the cargo container from Project C.U.R.E. that had just arrived. She took the time to brief me on the genocide situation and I asked her if she had stayed in the country or fled to another country.  She said that she had stayed in Kigali, and had witnessed the bloody attacks on the innocent citizens.  

    Christine also acted as the minister of rehabilitation and social in­tegration.  She asked about crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetic equipment for those who had been left disabled by the war. They were in desperate need, and no one else was coming to their aid. Almost a million people had been murdered, and there were hundreds of thousands of other suffering human victims.
 
     I expressed my surprise that others were not quickly coming to their aid: “While I have been in Kigali, I’ve seen scores of new, white Toyota Land Cruisers and new Land Rovers driving the streets of the city with the fanciest and newest of optional equipment added on. I’ve seen many NGO (nongovernmental organization) personnel sitting and conversing in the restaurants of Kigali. I just presumed that all those resources had arrived in Rwanda to aid in the horrible genocide crisis.” 
 
     Christine hesitated, then turned and looked out the window. “I’m sorry you saw that. No, those new resources and personnel are not here to bring help to the victims of the genocide. They’ve come as a result of a new grant of over fifty million dollars to further the ongoing study of the eating, mating, and sleeping habits of the gorillas in our forests. I wish there were some way to get our priorities straight.” 

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Keeping the main thing the main thing sometimes becomes a knotty problem. As I mentioned earlier, we’re the ones that ultimately have to make the decisions regarding the arrangement of precedence and preference of all resources, supplies, or services.

People have unlimited wants and needs and they can come up with more uses for the capital or commodities than existing resources can supply. But the old economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost can help us remember this advice: We first have to decide what the main thing is and then, we have to decide to keep that main thing at the top of our priority ranking.


 


 

THE WHY OF PROJECT C.U.R.E. (Part 2)

(Nigeria, Africa Journal: November, 2000): Featuring Mrs. Janet Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, a couple of years ago turned out to be a great hit, and I knew the emphasis on Ethiopia and Project C.U.R.E.’s work there would likewise be a winner.

But no one from Ethiopia could break away to travel to Denver to speak at the banquet. Their political situation with Eritrea is tenuous enough that the leadership has been forced to stay very close to home. So the banquet committee volunteered me to speak for the event. I protested the prospect of speaking for a couple of reasons. First, I preferred continuing the tradition of having an international speaker for the event to give the occasion a little global importance and credibility. Second, we’ve been trying to broaden the leadership base of Project C.U.R.E. so that the identity and emphasis of the organization aren’t tied too closely to Jim Jackson.

The more I’m featured or put up front, the less effective we are at portraying the truth that the Project C.U.R.E. phenomenon has very little to do with me and everything to do with the people who have come together to carry out the mission of saving lives around the world through medical donations. To feature me as speaker, in my opinion, would mean taking some steps backward in our efforts to legitimately display the new levels and personalities of Project C.U.R.E. leadership. Project C.U.R.E. is healthy and strong and has long since grown past me in leadership procedures and position.

In order for Project C.U.R.E. to expand toward excellence in the future, the image and leadership base needs to move forward with lots of new blood.

But I was outvoted, and as I thought and prayed about an approach to take for my speech, it dawned on me that nearly everyone knows by now what Project C.U.R.E. is, what we do, where we do it, and under what circumstances we get involved in humanitarian activities in countries around the world. However, I couldn’t remember a time when I had articulated precisely why Project C.U.R.E. does what it does.

So at the banquet, I disclosed that, in my opinion, there is a true and positive correlation between the success of Project C.U.R.E. and the degree of relinquishment our volunteers and staff members bring to the organization. To explain this concept of relinquishment, I shared with our guests the story of Johnny Appleseed, who trudged across the countryside in the frontier territories of early America. In his grubby leather pouch, he carried apple seeds, knowing full well that one can count the number of seeds in an apple, but one cannot count the number of apples in a seed.

As the legendary frontiersman walked the land, he would take from his pouch the apple seeds, stoop to scoop out some soil, and drop the apple seeds into the earth. He relinquished his rights to his seeds in an on-purpose effort to grow apple trees, which would produce an abundant harvest of apples. Obviously he wouldn’t be there to claim the harvested apples, but he rested in the knowledge that pioneers and pilgrims who would follow him would benefit greatly as they reaped the fruits of his efforts of relinquishment.

I believe that same attitude of relinquishment, with no determined thought of personal return, is the key element in the extraordinary success of Project C.U.R.E.

I went on to explain that the true measure of greatness will always be determined by how well we care for others, not how much we accumulate for ourselves. Our culture places great importance on how high we can heap up wealth to fill the grocery carts of our lives in the shortest amount of time. Those who have the fullest carts at the checkout counter will win the prize. But even though we are programmed to grab things for ourselves, we can never get enough. Therefore, we almost have to go counterculture when we embrace the idea that success comes through giving and not through getting. In that respect, Project C.U.R.E. is counterculture.

The motivation behind our accumulation, I believe, should be the recognized opportunities for distribution, and we need organizations like Project C.U.R.E. as vehicles to allow us to experience such expressions. I challenged our guests to spend at least as much time in their lives on distribution as they do on accumulation. That would be a good place to start.

I expressed that more than likely, our greatest fulfillment in life is achieved through giving. Because what I hoard I can lose, and what I try to keep will be left behind and fought over by others. But what I give will continue to multiply and will forever generate a return—just like the trees Johnny Appleseed planted.

My final challenge to our dinner guests was for all of us to assume a posture of standing on our tiptoes in eager expectation of opportunities to give ourselves away and learn from personal experience in the years we have left the true thrill and satisfaction and joy of relinquishment.

The banquet took place on Saturday, November 18. That day, I experienced another rare thrill and opportunity. My grandson, Jace, is nine years old. He just finished his very first season of playing in an organized football league. Serendipitously, I was invited to bring a guest with me to a Denver Broncos open house and junior training camp at their Dove Valley headquarters. Of course, my chosen guest was Jace. At the open house, the Broncos staff showed us highlight films, fed us lunch, and gave us a complete tour of the Broncos’ workout rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms, classrooms, and practice fields. We even went to the artificial-turf field enclosed in a gigantic fabric air bubble, where the Bronco players and trainers put the fifty or so of us through fundamental drills and patterns.

Jace was absolutely beside himself with excitement. To complete his football dream day, he collected autographs from some of the players and even had his number-30 Broncos jersey personally signed by his football hero Terrell Davis, who wears a number-30 jersey in real life.

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Out in the lobby, a professional photographer took a picture of Jace and his “papa” standing in front of the sterling-silver Vince Lombardi trophies presented to the Denver Broncos when they won their two world-championship Super Bowl victories. Recalling the following Vince Lombardi’s memorable quote really put me in the mood to stand in front of the Project C.U.R.E. crowd at the banquet and talk about relinquishment and changing our world:

After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your own room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.

Maybe it was okay that I had to speak that night.       


DANGEROUS INDIA (Part 4)

(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): The curfew was lifted for a couple of hours last night so the townspeople could leave their homes and purchase food for their families. Poor northeast Indians don’t own refrigerators, nor are they affluent enough to store non-refrigerated foodstuffs in their homes.

Even our hotel ran out of food and needed to buy eggs and rice at the bazaar. As quickly as the curfew was relaxed, it was reimposed as large military trucks with loudspeakers demanded that civilians return to their homes and stay inside.

This morning the streets were strangely silent again. Soldiers in military uniform were the only people moving around the city. I really wanted to get some photos of the military situation but knew that would be a real fast way for me to get into big trouble. But I did try to take some outside shots from inside my hotel room.

Under siege or not, the people of Imphal are getting their efforts organized to counter the military action. The families of the shooting victims refused to claim the bodies from the bus station area, which puts the military in an awkward position.

One of the plans to get us out of Manipur and back into some neutral place like Calcutta was to arrange for a helicopter to pick us up and fly us out. Some other businessmen who were caught at the Imphal hotel were eager to share the helicopter if one could be made available. None of those rescue efforts materialized.

Just as we were all accepting the fact that we would be stuck at the hotel for some time, we received word that Indian Airlines was flying an airplane to Imphal. The military had granted permission to the airport support people to go under escort to the airport to open it. As we found out later, the military needed the airport open so they could take advantage of the commercial flights to get their top people in and out of Imphal. At any rate, the news was wonderful.

We all packed and carried our bags to the entry of the hotel. The situation in Imphal doesn’t look like it will just mend itself but will probably end up in civil war. The local and rural insurgent movement is strong and determined. The Indian military position is equally determined.

As our group loaded into vehicles with our luggage, we were all hoping that a window had been afforded us and would remain open until we could get out. People watched our little escorted motorcade on its way through the stark, empty streets to the airport. I could see them watching us from behind windows, open doors, and porches. We passed machine-gun nests, miniarmored tanks, truckloads of patrolling soldiers, and occasional pieces of heavy artillery stationed at strategic intersections and bridges.

Presuming Drew and I were able to get out of Imphal and make it safely to Calcutta, we were faced with another interesting decision. Would we opt to cut short our India plans, grab the next international flight out of Calcutta, and scoot as quickly as possible back home, or would we follow through on our commitment and travel on up to the northern state of Nagaland to complete the Needs Assessment Studies at the hospitals there? I had a few more hours to make that decision, but the present emphasis was to get to Calcutta.

You can only imagine how tight the military security was at the airport. It wasn’t a time to haul out my camera and start snapping pictures. I just wanted to grease myself and slide right on through the situation. Drew and I received confirmed boarding passes for the flight out of Imphal, as did another three members of the group. The rest of our group was denied boarding passes. They had to return to the Imphal hotel for one more night and will hopefully fly out to Calcutta tomorrow.

Among those not getting boarding passes were John and Evelyn Pudaite, our hosts and guides for the trip to Nagaland should we opt to continue our assessments. John and Evelyn said they would try to secure a vehicle and drive north from Manipur into Nagaland. The capital city of Nagaland is Dimapur, and the New Delhi restrictions under which we are living specify that we can’t travel by road from Manipur into Nagaland. The only entrance into Dimapur is by flight from Calcutta.

But John thought that since he and his wife look “native” and have local paperwork from living in the area the past few years, they could make it by driving the steep mountain roads. And if they start out quite soon, they could drive directly north and get there about the same time we do, since we’ll have to overnight in Calcutta. John asked if we would be willing to finish the assessments, since we’re already halfway around the world. He promised that he and Evelyn will try to meet us at the airport in Dimapur, but if they don’t make it, he will have people there to meet us.

As he wrote out the names of the contacts in Nagaland, John began to explain that Nagaland is under restriction as well, because they likewise are experiencing Indian government military repression and abuses, as well as active resistance from underground insurgence groups.

I felt I had to make my decision about going on to Nagaland based on the very real possibility that John and Evelyn won’t make it by road to meet us. I felt very peaceful about the decision to fly from Calcutta to Dimapur as originally planned. I tucked all my contact information for Nagaland into my documents, and Drew and I boarded the Indian Airlines flight to Calcutta. We have no reservations in Calcutta. We will have to wing it.

But it actually feels good to be in dirty, awful, terrible Calcutta. The civil violence and volatile situation in Imphal and Manipur are now behind us. I keep hoping and praying that John and Evelyn will find a way to successfully make it over the treacherous mountain roads and meet us in Dimapur.

Sunday, November 5

Early this morning, Drew and I woke up, ate some breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and checked out of the hotel. As we got into a junky little shuttle car and headed toward the airport, I took a deep breath of polluted Calcutta air and thanked God for the opportunity to start a new chapter of Project C.U.R.E.’s efforts to help needy people around the world. We are being afforded unprecedented opportunities to make a difference in tens of thousands of lives otherwise not touched by health-care support and love. I’m a happy man for the unique privilege.

Drew Dixon is proving to be a great traveling partner. We’ve had lots of time to discuss principles involved in what we’re doing. His educational background, spiritual motivation, and familiarity with Scripture make him a great discussion partner. I had prayed that God would give us a trip that would be a life-changing experience for Drew, drawing him closer to God as well as giving him a better understanding of what Project C.U.R.E. does around the world. I’m certain the events of the past few days will prove unforgettable for him, and I imagine that he has drawn a lot closer to God as result of the siege of Imphal. Those kinds of situations have a way of helping you catch up on any delinquencies in your prayer life.

Next Week: Decision: Head for home . . . or Finish our Assignment?


DANGEROUS INDIA (Part3)

(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): What had been an insurrection power play had now escalated into a military nightmare. We now had dead soldiers. We now had dead civilians. Nightfall was coming and we were supposed to be in our hotel in Imphal. But the roads were blocked and we couldn’t get out of Sielmat. We were in trouble. There was no such thing as safety on the roads, especially for out-of-compliance- foreigners.

Our people fanned out to try to glean as much valid information as possible. We all waited at the main house of the mission compound in Sielmat. After dark, we decided to load up into different cars and cautiously proceed along the back road we had taken earlier in the day. Everything was very quiet as we motored through the villages.

Our first stop was at a military checkpoint, where we could talk directly to the soldiers and try to determine whether we could make it all the way back to Imphal. With the insurgents out in the fields and along the roads, it wouldn't be a safe trip. It would have to be a calculated risk. The civil unrest had been brewing, and now it could easily escalate into even more violence.

The spirits of everyone in our group were staying high as we tried to grasp what was happening. Then one member of the group, whom I’ll call Fred, contracted a case of verbal diarrhea. He began telling everyone else how important it was for him to get back to Imphal to rest up. He had to be physically and mentally fit to meet a project contractor on a job he had in Colorado, and how the pressure on his wife was already unfair. He unwisely began to verbalize to the other group members all the terrifying possibilities of what could happen in such a volatile situation. As he spewed out his own selfish insecurities, I could just feel the confidence and stability of the group slowly ebb away and fear seep in.

At the first military roadblock we talked the officials into letting us proceed down the road to the next military checkpoint. It was getting quite late, and there was talk that roving bands of gypsies were taking advantage of people who were caught out on the road at night by the strike. More military guards were being dispatched regularly as the night wore on. No one, not even the military, could give us advice or clearance. By that time, we were about one-third the distance back to Imphal, but the closer we got to the city, the more dangerous the situation became.

At one stop we were informed that a curfew had been imposed on Imphal, and the airport had been indefinitely closed. Flights were being diverted around the airport. At that point we made the decision to turn around and go back to Sielmat and stay the night at the compound. It wasn’t legal, but we’d tried the other options, and the choice was defensible.

On our return trip to Sielmat over very dark roads through dark villages, the military stopped us several times. At one point our group was surrounded by soldiers with guns aimed into our car. As the officer in charge yelled out his commands, a soldier jumped back into the machine-gun crow’s nest of his armored minitank, buckled up his helmet, and sighted down his machine gun right at us. It wasn’t a game for them. They were all very serious. After searching the women’s bags, the soldiers returned them, and we proceeded back to Sielmat.

Back at the mission compound, we were assigned beds, ate a little snack as quickly as possible, and went to our rooms to sleep. Our clothes and toiletries are still back at the Imphal hotel, but we’re all safe and together.

Friday, November 3

To add to our excitement, this morning we heard the news that a Singapore Airlines flight had crashed at the Taipei airport in Taiwan, killing an undetermined number of passengers. The 757 Boeing aircraft was on its way to Los Angeles. That was the same type of airplane and the reverse route we had taken to India ten days ago.

I continued to quietly watch and evaluate the interesting dynamics of our team. By morning “Fred” had several of the group pretty scared about their safety and the anxiety our situation here might be causing for their families back home. He seemed to enjoy using the situation to direct attention to himself and, through fear, make those around him dependent on him. I was real happy that it wasn’t my problem or Project C.U.R.E.’s problem. But it was a great case study to observe “action manipulation,” as I think it’s called.

Our group got up at 4:30 a.m. and was soon on the road. We figured we’d take advantage of the insurgents and the military being up all night. Early morning would be the best time to get back to Imphal. We didn’t know which of the two roads would be open, if either one. We just had to go and try. We employed the same strategy as last night: Go to one military post, talk to them, and try to get permission to go on to the next military post. We kept moving forward and finally passed the spot where our bus had broken down. It certainly seemed as though a lot more than a day had passed since we crowded into the heave-green-colored jeep.

At the military post, just past where our bus had broken down, we were stopped, and it didn’t look like we would be allowed to go on. We were told that Imphal was virtually under military siege. Everyone was forced to go to their homes and stay inside. No one was allowed to be on the streets—no buses, no cars, no taxis, no rickshaws, and no pedestrians, just military-enforcement patrols.

But a strange thing happened at the checkpoint. Instead of detaining us, they put an officer in the backseat of our car and gave us a three-car escort all the way back to Imphal. We sailed back to the city! If the soldiers at a checkpoint tried to stop us, our escort would pull up, shout an order, and wave us through.

As we entered the city of Imphal, we experienced another strange phenomenon. It was as if the plague had hit or the second coming had occurred. Nothing was moving. People peered at us through the shaded windows of their houses. I couldn’t imagine a busy, crowded city in India with no one moving.

We were escorted right up to the front door of our hotel. The city was under siege, but we were safely back inside the concrete hotel compound, with military guards out at the gates and foot platoons marching in front of the hotel periodically.

Imphal certainly is a city under lockdown. But the lockdown works both ways. We’re protected from any random violence in our guarded shelter. But likewise, we aren’t going anywhere. The streets are under military control, and no airplanes are flying out of Manipur. I don’t like to think of it that way, but we’re also under siege because we aren’t going anywhere.

The government and the military are so preoccupied with their own problems that no one even thought to hassle us about staying in a restricted area without proper paperwork. The military is worried about a grassroots uprising in reprisal against the blatant shooting of civilians at a bus stop. The military strategy is to clamp down on everybody so no adverse momentum can get started. There is enough movement for independence in the hearts of the people of the northeast border states of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, and there have been enough human-rights violations not only on the part of the Assam Rifles group but also by the Indian National Army and the different police forces that the shootings may well have pushed the emotions of the people over the threshold.

Next Week: Some taken, Some Left


DANGEROUS INDIA (Part 2)

(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): On our return bus trip from Sielmat to Imphal, we bumped into some surprises. The military had expanded and greatly intensified its presence. Tomorrow the governor of the area will be speaking at a cultural event in Churachandpur. He will be traveling the same road we’ve traveled, and the speaking platform and performance stage were built not too far from the Christian hospital where we are working.

Apparently, the military had been alerted to the possibility of the local underground insurgents making a protest somewhere during the event. Soldiers of the Indian National Army lined the roads, manned machine-gun roadblocks, and could be seen at every intersection, along the edges of the rice fields, and in armor-plated minitanks. Truckloads of the regional Assam Rifles military forces could also be seen wearing full combat gear, with old M-16 rifles over their shoulders or AK-47 automatic rifles in their laps. They certainly were expecting something.

Our bus was stopped several times, and on a couple of occasions, armed soldiers boarded our bus with guns drawn to find out who we were. It’s comforting to know they’re in the area to keep things under control.

It was about an hour after dark by the time we unloaded from the bus at the Imphal hotel. Some of the group said they had heard gunshots during the night quite close to the hotel. But since the Assam Rifles headquarters is on the other side of a water moat not far from our hotel, any importance ascribed to the alleged gunfire was quickly dismissed.

Wednesday, November 1

Drew ate some mutton curry on rice last night, and by this morning he was regretting it and swearing to never look at mutton curry again as long as he lives. We decided it would be the better part of wisdom for him to just stay close to the bathroom for the day. The rest of us piled into the bus and headed to Sielmat to work. The military presence had been heightened even more overnight, but our group took all the pressure in stride and accomplished our respective agendas.

This evening we visited the Imphal Christian school and enjoyed dinner there. As we drove back to the hotel property, we saw military vehicles and armed soldiers stationed outside the hotel gates. Even other hotel guests were talking about the increased military presence.

Thursday, November 2

This morning Drew was feeling well enough to join the rest of the group. We decided to leave the hotel half an hour earlier just to give us sufficient time on the road. Before we pulled out of the hotel driveway, we had determined that we would travel a circuitous route to Sielmat and stay off the main road to save time and the inconvenience of stopping at military checkpoints. The alternate route took us along inferior roads that at times crossed over the tops of the rice-paddy dikes.

But everyone agreed there was no sense in traveling the main road, where the military presence was so strong. We didn’t want to experience any unnecessary delays.

One of the local church leaders with us had heard that a dissident group of university students had blocked and closed the main road and the entry to the airport, which we passed every day. The insurgent group was demanding some specific concessions from the government before they would call off the strike and road closure.

Our group agenda for today included participating in the dedication ceremonies of a newly built church at Lamka, which is situated quite close to the Sielmat hospital. Our alternate route turned out to be very rough and pocked with deep washout spots from the rainy season. I was riding at the front of the bus in the seat adjacent to the driver. We had just made a sweeping curve and started down a long hill. I watched the driver put his foot on the clutch to shift the transmission. The clutch pedal went to the floor, but instead of springing back up and engaging the transmission, the pedal just stayed on the floorboard. The driver kicked at the pedal several times with no result. The road leveled out, and the bus slowly came to a halt, stopping in the middle of a bad stretch of washed-out road.

The driver became a little more animated as he reached down and pulled the pedal off the floor by hand. Nothing happened. The transmission seemed to be shifting fine, but the clutch mechanism was broken and wouldn’t engage. We were stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Mobile phones were nonexistent, and towing companies were a distant figment of past recollections.

We all disembarked from our immobile dinosaur and laid hands on its tail long enough to push it out of the center of the road. After we had brainstormed several impractical possibilities, a man who had passed us earlier in a bus returned with a small, heave-green-colored army jeep that sported a blue plastic tarp over the back, suspended by split-bamboo sticks. He suggested that he could take a few of us at a time to some town about thirty-six kilometers away, where we could catch a local death-trap bus that would likely be able to take us on the back roads to Sielmat. We bought into his plan except for the part where our group would get split up, with some of us waiting and some of us traveling for several hours. That wouldn’t have been safe.

It seemed the only viable option was for all twelve of us to try to squeeze into the jeep with all our belongings. We ended up with five adults in the front two seats and seven squeezed into the back under the flapping blue tarp. The ride certainly became a close bonding situation as we joined hips Siamese style. About an hour and fifteen minutes later, the jeep delivered us to the dusty intersection of a small village. There, the driver of one of the famous, intimidating Tata buses waited impatiently for us to board his bus, which was already loaded with suitcases and other pieces of unnecessary stuff.

By the time we pulled into the town bus barn in Churachandpur, we had stretched the usual two -hour trip into a full six-hour ordeal. The real miracle was that we even made it to Sielmat at all. Because of our untimely delays, the church dedication was rolled back to later in the afternoon.

The dedication, once started, went off without a hitch, and everyone was so proud of the new brick sanctuary building. Visiting church choirs had come to share in the ceremony, and at the close of the regular service, we all filed out into the churchyard, where we were served sweet juice and gummy bread while the youth groups put on a cultural program of ancient dancing in their colorful tribal outfits. At one point, the dancers came over and pulled us white folks into the circle and had us do some kind of a chicken-mating dance with them.

While we were engaged in the festivities, the rest of the world was in chaos. The military situation had taken a turn for the worse and had erupted into tragic violence. At about 3:30 p.m., some of the striking insurgents allegedly detonated a bomb in the ranks of the Assam Rifles military organization. The blast killed one soldier outright and wounded others. It was reported to us and later in the newspapers that when the Assam Rifles group realized that one of their men had been murdered, they retaliated with lightning speed by opening fire on civilians at a bus stop not far from the airport, killing ten on the spot and injuring some thirty others.

It didn’t take long for us to size up the situation and realize we were in a pickle. Now, all the roads back to Imphal were blocked. We couldn’t return to the capital city, but we couldn’t legally stay where we were. Either way we were in trouble. The military was moving with vengeance, and the strikers would try to take advantage of the high-profile incident and the momentum it ignited.

Next Week: Wrong Place at the Wrong Time


DANGEROUS INDIA (Part 1)

Note: In the next few blogs I will relate a sensational episode from my field journals covering the far flung and hazardous areas of northeastern India. I am dedicating these blogs to Dr. Drew Dixon, who is now a prominent medical doctor with a beautiful family and is heavily involved in a career of helping scores of other people become better off.

(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: October, 2000): Drew Dixon, a young college graduate from a fine Christian home in the Denver area, somehow got ahold of one of my travel journals and read it. His plans included going to medical school, but he was looking for some real-life medical experience while waiting to determine which school he would attend. When he read of my experiences with Project C.U.R.E. and our impact on world health, God seemed to tug at his heart and compelled him to learn more about Project C.U.R.E. As a result of a meeting Dr. Douglas Jackson and I had with Drew and his father, Dr. Jim Dixon, Drew decided to work full-time for Project C.U.R.E. He even raised his own money to come on as a stipended volunteer.

We started Drew out in the warehouse to get a feel of the scope of the domestic side of Project C.U.R.E. Very soon Doug promoted him to logistics coordinator to oversee domestic truck transportation and the shipping of containers into foreign ports.

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To help Drew get an idea of Project C.U.R.E.’s international procedures and policies, I asked him to accompany me on a trip to northeast India. A ministry organization, headed by John Pudaite, had made application for Project C.U.R.E. to help them complete a hospital in a city called Sielmat, in the far flung northeastern state of Manipur. Additionally, there were a number of other clinics and hospitals in the northeast that John wanted us to visit and assess. We agreed to schedule the needs-assessment trip for late October and early November. I was praying that the India trip would make a life-changing and unforgettable impression on Drew.

The trip required several layers of permission, since our destinations were considered restricted areas for foreign travel. Strangely, the restrictions were set in place not by the US State Department but by the Indian government. For a time, it appeared that the whole trip would be scratched. Civil and military unrest isn’t uncommon in northeast India. Old feelings about secession and gaining independence from India are still strong in the freedom-fighter hearts of the people in Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland. India’s military still occupies those areas, even though New Delhi granted them statehood status.

Our flights took us through Bombay, Calcutta and on to Aizawl, Mizoram, where John and Evelyn Pudaite and a small reception committee of government dignitaries were there to meet us. The population of Aizawl numbers about five hundred thousand. We were taken to the local government headquarters to be registered. As I mentioned earlier, the Indian government in New Delhi considers the three states we’ll be visiting restricted areas. The northeast cluster of states doesn’t really feel they should be a part of the rest of India, not only because they are separated physically from India by Bangladesh but also because the languages and customs are different, the people ancestrally look more Mongol than Asian Indian, and their religion is different. Instead of following the Hindu religion, about 80 percent of the people in northeast India are Christians, and they resist being governed by Hindus or Muslims. But any notion of independence is severely punished.

While the rest of our party was arriving in Aizawl and getting organized, Drew and I headed out on a ten-hour jaunt to an area called Lunglei to assess another hospital and several clinics. About half way there we had to stop for the night at Chittalang. Drew and I were awakened about sunrise the next morning by a sound that resembled an air-raid siren. I got up, pulled on my clothes, and went outside to investigate. On the branches of the eucalyptus trees and the broad leaves of the banana plants, as well as on the ceiling of the covered walkway outside our room, was a countless myriad of large winged insects about four inches in length that were green in color and way noisier than any jungle insect ought to be. A very loud whistle emitted from its posterior, and the sound kept going for at least ten minutes straight. I mentioned the annoying bug to our host at breakfast, and he said the insect was just singing. Local folk songs had even been written about the pesky pestilence.

After a long, long day of hard travel, Drew and I made it back to Aizawl and checked into the hotel where the rest of the team members were staying. A big percentage of the group was sick with vomiting and diarrhea. Thankfully, our side trip to Lunglei had allowed us to dodge that bullet.

Monday, October 30

Upon finishing our work in Aizawl, we flew on to the adjoining state of Manipur, India. Again, even though we obtained permission from the Indian government in New Delhi to enter the restricted area, we had to register in Manipur after our arrival on Indian Airlines flight 211.

John Pudaite’s mission compound in northeast India is located in Sielmat, a village about an-hour-and-a-half drive beyond the capital city of Imphal, Manipur. There they have a Christian hospital, a school of fifteen hundred students, a seminary, several quite large churches, and lovely brick homes for staff members. John planned for the team members to stay at the mission compound in Sielmat today through Saturday. Laundry facilities would be available, and kitchen facilities could accommodate the needs of the group very well.

But when we arrived at the Imphal International Airport, the Indian military authorities wouldn’t grant permission for the group to travel from Imphal to Sielmat or stay overnight there. We received approval to travel each day to and from the mission compound, but with the stipulation that we would return to the capital city by night and stay at the Imphal hotel on Tiddim Road. We learned that there had been some civil unrest recently. Certain insurgency groups and university students were making demands upon the Manipur and Indian governments to address the oppressive actions of the Indian military army, as well as certain claims of rape and assault by the regional military group called the Assam Rifles and additional pressures applied by the local Imphal police.

John and Evelyn Pudaite were disappointed that the group won’t be able to stay at their compound. It will definitely be an inconvenience to hire a bus each day to haul all of us one and a half hours one way from Imphal to Sielmat and the town of Churachandpur. But it was agreed that we will simply do the best we can with what we have and endeavor to have a successful week.

The Imphal hotel’s condition and management made it even tougher to adjust. The place is dirty, and deferred maintenance is about to swamp the facility. There is only one sheet per bed and no toilet paper, and the carpets are not only old but filthy. The towels are stained and not thoroughly clean because they have been laundered over the years in cold, dirty water without soap. The grounds have been left unattended except for holy cows, which have been allowed to wander at will and munch the lawn and shrubs. In order to relax in bed, it is necessary to put a piece of clothing over my pillow to block out undesirable smells and unwanted soiling.

Tuesday, October 31

At 6:30 a.m., our entourage left the Imphal hotel in the old beat-up silver bus that we had rented. We were headed to complete the needs assessment at the Christian hospital located in Sielmat. The traffic was heavy, and we had to stop many times for military checkpoints, so it took us two and a half hours to make the journey instead of the normal one and a half hours.

The Christian hospital is far better off than the government hospitals. But they too have some pretty pathetic needs. They have no monitors, EKG machines, or defibrillators, and their lab equipment is very poor. They had made some homemade IV poles out of wood, and none of the staff had ever heard of oxygen generators. Their closest supply source for bottled oxygen is nearly six hundred miles away. Sometimes the bus brings it to them; other times not. But the hospital was clean, and I easily observed that the people who work there care a lot about what they’re doing.

When we finished our needs assessment at the Christian hospital, Dr. Joute and others afforded me a wonderful experience. They had dug a fresh hole about eighteen inches deep and had placed a small-sized rubber tree next to the hole. They had a little ceremony and asked me to plant the rubber tree in front of the hospital. It was a great honor. They also made a plaque commemorating the occasion, and when I was finished planting the tree, they placed a bamboo guard around the tree and very properly affixed the plaque. They told me I must return each year to check up on my tree.

At lunch the Indian Children’s Choir came to where we were eating and entertained us. Last year the group toured the United States raising support and scholarship money. They were great kids. It’s great to have Drew along on the trip. He has a lot of insight and loves the medical emphasis. And it’s wonderful to have someone I can turn the camera over to so that I don’t have to worry about the photo documentation.

During the afternoon, Drew, John, a couple of other doctors, and I toured the government hospital. You can only imagine what a sad mess we found. Once again, I prayed as I walked the halls that I will never be in an automobile accident anywhere, but especially in India or Africa, where they would throw me on the back of a truck and deliver me to a local government hospital while I was unconscious!

Next Week: Grenades and Gun Fire


THE FORMAL PRESENTATION

(Dakar, Senegal: October 6, 1999:) Over the past two days we located our 40-foot cargo container, collected and hand carried all our paperwork for approval through over 30 bureaucrats and departments, and personally saw to it that the valuable medical goods were delivered to the government warehouse. That location would be the venue for our official presentation.

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The ceremony is to start at 4:00 this afternoon. The government leaders, and the national press with live T.V. coverage will all be here. The pressure is on us now to completely unload the huge cargo container, organize the contents, set up for the festivities, go back to the hotel to clean up, and return here in time for the presentation.

With some extra sets of hands and strong backs, we were able to unload the entire container by noon. We arranged all the contents under some spreading, leafy trees at the front of the compound.  I was sweating like a pony-express nag running out of Saint Louis, and my mind kept jumping ahead to the presentation ceremony. By then it was 2:15 p.m. Mamadou Gueye drove me back to my hotel, where I showered and dressed up for the ceremony.

When we drove back to the warehouse the whole health-ministry world had shown up for the event. I was escorted to the head of a line of dignitaries. National newspaper reporters and television crews were there to cover the story.  I greeted all the dignitaries and the ceremony began. There was a speech in French welcoming everyone to the occasion. Nothing of such medical magnitude had taken place in Senegal before. At the end of the opening speech, I was introduced. I was very glad that I had decided to bring my best black suit, white shirt, and health-ministry tie with me.

I began my speech by telling the people that it was my third trip to Dakar in the span of one year. I was like a teenage boy who fell in love with a girl and had to keep returning to see her. They all laughed and nodded. I finished my words saying, “When I look at the huge empty steel freight container sitting here today, I have sadness in my heart. As I think of the wonderful people of Senegal and see that empty container, I can only wish that we could have done more. But today I also have a great feeling of happiness and joy, because I know this is only the beginning of a beautiful relationship. We love the people of Senegal and want to join you in this special time of need. May God honor and bless us as we look forward to a brighter future. Don’t give up hope, but rather let hope conquer despair as we work together.”

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Following my speech, the Minister of Health spoke. The speech was very complimentary of Project C.U.R.E. and our follow-through on our commitments. He expressed appreciation for the medical gifts donated to the free clinic in Diorbivol in May, which were valued at seventeen million Senegalese francs. He then thanked Project C.U.R.E. for the present gifts, valued at over three hundred million francs. Within the span of one year, Project C.U.R.E. visited Senegal three times and gave two sizable gifts. Nothing like that has ever happened in Senegal. What a special day! After dinner I returned to my hotel.

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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8

This morning Mohammed and I, and some of our friends, are back at the warehouse. Today’s assignment will be a challenge.  Everything from the container is still spread out under the trees like we had arranged it for yesterday’s presentation. Usually Project C.U.R.E. sends a container to a specific hospital, and the entire load is delivered to that hospital. But we are going to divide up the donated medical goods, on the spot, between four different hospitals.

At the warehouse we met two of the village men from Diorbivol. They had helped us run the clinic there in May and wanted to help now with the load. I was pretty impressed that they came, because I knew it’s a twelve-hour drive from Diorbivol to Dakar.

In the first twenty minutes of our meeting with the men from Diorbivol, I received ample reward for my entire involvement in Senegal. The men were so excited, they wanted to give me a complete update on the village. They were eager for me to know that because of Project C.U.R.E., the clinic is now open to the public. Before May, the clinic had been closed for six years because there were no supplies to run it, and since there were no supplies, the government health department had even quit sending any nurses to the village. So for six years, the people had to travel many miles by foot or pony cart to the next nearest clinic. But now everything has changed.

The men told me, “Now people from all over come to our clinic. Even people from across the border in Mauritania come by boat to our village for help … all because of Project C.U.R.E.” They also wanted to update me on the people who received help at our May clinic. We had seen over one thousand patients, so I simply didn’t remember many of the cases the two men told me about. But several of them I recalled vividly.

One man had a big tumor on the side of his head and had traveled all the way to the hospital in Dakar for the doctors to examine it. The amount of money they were going to charge to treat him was far in excess of his accumulated worth. So the sad man traveled back to the village and resigned himself to the fact that he would surely die soon.

Dr. Merl Jacobsen and nurse Laurie Tucker had operated on the huge cyst, removed it, and stitched the man’s head back together. The two men from the village told me that the first thing he does when he gets up each morning is look at his head in a mirror. He has a difficult time believing that he isn’t just dreaming. “He is now perhaps the happiest man in the village,” the men said, “because he knows now he won’t die in a short time and leave his family fatherless.”

They related another story of an old lady who had a very large cyst and dangerous infection on the inside of her left thigh. I definitely remembered that woman and her problem. When Dr. Jacobsen cut into the thigh with the assistance of Helen Brown, it literally burst open and shot infected matter across the room. The terrible stench of death filled the small clinic the entire day. It was just awful. But now the old woman is up once more tending to her herd of goats and cooking for her extended family over an open fire.

The reports continued about children who had leg infections from parasites in the river water, but now they can walk again without open sores draining painfully down their legs. Other children who had infections have also been healed. The men concluded their update with these words: “Our new friends from Project C.U.R.E. are all heroes in our village. We talk about them and how they came one day to bring love and help to us. Many of us are alive and well today because of our new friends.”

I had to walk away from them for a few minutes and find a place behind the parked freight container to regain my composure. I thanked Jesus for the opportunity to partner with him in just a small way in his miracles. I didn’t deserve the reward I had just received, so I gave it back to God in the shade of that loaded container.

Now to the challenge at hand. I sized up the situation and what it was going to take to divide up all the inventory. If I told the Senegalese crew what to do and how to divide up the materials, it would take another three weeks to accomplish the task. So I grabbed a couple of the strong crewmen and showed them where I wanted the pallets positioned on the warehouse floor; a separate location for each hospital: Bargny, Diorbivol, Rufisque, and Diamniado. I then took off my shirt and started personally attacking the pallets piled high with boxes.

Soon we had a little game going. I would grab a box, read the label to find out its contents, and toss it to one of the fellows positioned at the different pallet groupings. They would, in turn, hand it to someone else who would stack it on one of the pallets. It was so hot in the warehouse that in no time at all, even my pants right down to the cuffs were soaking wet. The warehouse people and the health-ministry crew were chattering back and forth while we worked. Later Mamadou explained to me what they were saying, “He is a white man, but he sure must not be French. We’ve never seen a white man just take off his shirt and work that hard—never!”


USA CULTURE SHOCK

 (Dakar, Senegal: October 6, 1999:) For the past couple of days we have been fighting the African bureaucratic system trying to get our ocean-going cargo container released from the Senegalese authorities. It is interesting to observe my friend Mohammed Cissé. He has been living in the USA for the past few years. Now, upon his return, he is going crazy trying to cope with the African way of doing things. His tolerance threshold is very low, and he becomes impatient with his countrymen.

 “Here, everyone makes excuses for why things can’t be done. In America, when we see a problem, we simply figure out the quickest and most efficient way to solve it and get on with what we’re trying to accomplish,” mumbled Mohammed as we were standing in line in one of the hot hallways.

I then related to him a vivid memory from my childhood. One day when my oldest brother’s tennis shoe was untied and the shoe tongue was flopping in front of the shoe, my dad said, “Bill, fix your shoe.”

Bill answered, “I can’t. I lost my shoestring, and the tongue just comes flopping out.”

My dad then sat Bill down and explained, “We don’t say “I can’t” in this house, so instead of insisting that you can’t fix the shoe, I want you to come up with ten solutions to the problem.”

Before long, Bill and my dad had figured out ten ways to fix the shoe using baling wire, an old electrical extension cord, twine, cotton rope, and a few other objects.

Then my dad said, “Next time, it would be a whole lot easier if you simply find one good solution to your problem instead of saying “I can’t” and having to spend time figuring out ten ways to fix it.”

Mohammed and I both had a good laugh over the story, but we both understood that most of the world still follows the “I can’t” model, and more time is wasted on explaining why a situation is impossible rather than just solving the problem and getting back to business.

Mohammed carried the conversation a little further. “When you first go to America from a Third World country, you are totally overwhelmed by the beauty and cleanliness of the cities and countryside. You can’t believe that any place could look so good—and my first stops were in New York and Washington, D.C.! But I was still overwhelmed by the beauty.

“Then,” he went on, “the next thing that hits you is the infrastructure. The public transportation actually works. The trains, the buses, and the taxis run on time and get you where you’re supposed to go. The service stations are clean and convenient, and the public restrooms have toilet paper, soap, and towels to dry your hands.

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“Next, you start realizing that the electricity works all day and all night long. And there is clean water you can drink right from the pipes in your house or even at a store. The sewer runs through underground pipes, and you can’t even smell anything even if you try.

“The next thing you start to realize is that things are organized. People don’t realize it, but they too are organized. Things run properly. People get to work on time. If you say you’ll be somewhere at a certain time, people will already be there expecting you, and you had better not be late. People actually live by lists of things to do and know when they are to do each task. It’s a wonderful and beautiful thing to experience, but it’s a shock. A culture shock. And because of the organization and structure, people are confident and move quickly from one place to another with an attitude that they know what they’re doing and what can be expected. When I first arrived in America, I was just amazed.”

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Then Mohammed said, “As you probe even deeper, you realize that the basis of the American system, which is totally different from the Third World cultures, is that the country is run by the rule of law. People know clearly what they are to do and what they are not to do. If they decide to do what they should not do, they know they run the risk of getting caught and paying the consequences. But everyone knows that it’s the same for everyone, and they can learn the rules.

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“In a Third World society, there is no rule of law. There is a rule of politics and powerful people. But the rule changes all the time. You can never really be confident when you try to operate your life with an uncertain set of expectations. Someone else can get by with doing what you can’t. If you have influence and money, you can do just about anything you want and keep someone else from doing what they want even if it’s the same thing. Operating under a known rule of law also helps the American people move about with an air of confidence. They know what they can do. I don’t think Americans have ever stopped to think out why their society works differently from other societies. They just grab it and go for it, and the factors work whether they understand them or not.”

As we continued our talk, Mohammed pointed out another interesting factor. “In Third World countries, no one has hope. Everyone knows that because of factors outside their control, things could get worse—and sure enough, they get worse. There really is no idea of a bright tomorrow for their families. The families have experienced for generations the same disappointments and cruel setbacks. But in the USA, the Americans have hope. It is a spirit of knowing that if you risk everything on a venture and lose, you could pull yourself together and start over again and make it work. Everyone in America knows their children will experience new conveniences their parents never dreamed of enjoying. I think hope is there as well as confidence because of the rule of law and organization.”

I wanted to add one more unique component to Mohammed’s observations. “No another society in the world is as generous toward others as America. Who is the first on the scene when disaster strikes? Who continues to underwrite the charities of the world even when world organizations abuse American generosity"?

Next Week: The Formal Presentation


SHIPPING 3rd WORLD STYLE

      I thought you might enjoy peeking in on what it is like to try to ship and  deliver a 40-foot     ocean going cargo container of medical goods into a developing country. Let’s try Senegal     in western Africa. Keep in mind that Project C.U.R.E. will deliver approximately 180 such containers - just this year - into needy 3rd World hospitals.

(Dakar, Senegal: October, 1999:) I’m headed back to Dakar for the third time in a year. Based on my earlier needs assessment, our Denver Project C.U.R.E. people gathered the appropriate medical goods and sent them on their way to Houston by rail and then by ship across the Atlantic Ocean to the Port of Dakar. I was asked to return to Dakar in October and make a formal presentation of the unprecedented gift of medical items to health and government officials. The people of Senegal want a special ceremony because in the history of the West African nation, no organization has ever brought a medical team to serve and then given such a generous gift of love. The value of Project C.U.R.E.’s investment in dollars, including both the medical team and the container load of goods, was well in excess of half a million dollars.

Mohammed Cissé and his brother Dr. Cheikh Cissé met me as I walked down the ladder from the plane in Dakar. Dr. Cissé and Mohammed almost seem like family to me now that I’ve visited Dakar three times in one year.

Monday, October 4

Today proved to be another lesson for me in Third World bureaucracy. It’s so easy to get accustomed to America’s service-oriented business environment. But most of the world’s business still runs on seventeenth-century concepts and methods. This is especially true of Africa. Our objective today was to complete the necessary paperwork and transactions to clear the Project C.U.R.E. cargo container through customs and the Port of Dakar so it will be available for the presentation ceremony later in the week.

Mohammed and I left the hotel after breakfast and walked to the main government building, which houses the ministry of health. I had met Senegal’s minister of health and his main staff people on previous visits. The man highest in rank under the minister holds the position of administrateur civil principal. He is the chief decision maker who makes things happen, or not, in the country’s health-care system. Mr. Makhtar Camara currently fills that position.

Mr. Camara has a military background, but he warmed up quickly and genuinely expressed his appreciation for Project C.U.R.E. coming to Senegal to help. Mohammed and I were ushered into the office of the health ministry’s finance director, where we met Ousmane Ndong. We discussed the necessity of declaring the container load exempt from any tariffs or duty obligations, since it’s a humanitarian shipment. Mr. Ndong agreed with the exemption request. We also discussed the possibility of his office securing a large truck to deliver the container from the docks to the national pharmacy warehouse in Dakar and distributing the donated goods to the individual hospitals and clinics. He agreed to try to find some funds to help us.

At 11:15 a.m., we found out that the paperwork for the container had already been messed up. Customs had presumed that the cargo contained donated pharmaceuticals and had sent paperwork somewhere for review and to test the goods. I called their attention to the official shipping manifest that clearly stated the load contained only consumable medical supplies for the hospitals and clinics, such as needles, syringes, catheter tubes, latex gloves, and so on. We then had to go on a wild-goose chase to retrieve the papers.

Once the paperwork was back in our hands, we had to begin the process all over again. The processing system Senegal employs is terribly archaic. My closest guess is that we had to go through thirty individuals to clear the shipment, and each had to inspect the paperwork and hand-record the information separately in his own book.

   

   

If they found the least little problem, real or perceived, they sent us back to a previous bureaucrat or to a new set of paper pushers. If they could send us away, it would keep them from having to enter all the information by hand in their books and give them an excuse for exercising their authority. It was a most disgusting and frustrating process.

The ministry of health, or santé, gave us a full-time assistant, El Hadji Owague, to help us through the process. It even took him a full two days to run through the maze, and most of the bureaucrats along the way were his everyday acquaintances. El Hadji is one of Mohammed Cissé’s former schoolmates and close friends. He told us that it would normally take weeks to process the paperwork, and we were expecting to get it finished in two days!

From the health ministry we went to customs. It too was a circus. From customs we went to the port authority in downtown Dakar. We encountered a problem there and had to retrace our steps to the health ministry for more approvals and big red stamps. The port authority had lost their part of the paperwork and accused us of never giving them any copies. After visiting three different offices, we proved by the numbers in one of their books that they had indeed received the paperwork. But no one wanted to get involved in finding the papers. Finally, we found them on one bureaucrat’s desk, but he wasn’t in the office to sign off on them. No one else wanted to take the responsibility to process the papers, so Mohammad, El Hadji, and I found a little restaurant and had a typical lunch of rice and fish before resuming our wild-goose chase.

Before the day was over, I got weary of climbing broken concrete steps in buildings, where the grimy walls were all painted a government yellow, and walking down hallways of broken and missing tiles. Mohammed and I began to joke about how to gauge the importance of the men in the offices by whether they had fans on their desks, real air conditioners in their windows, or nothing at all.

Finally, in the late afternoon, we made it through the processing and headed to an old building crammed with unused United Nations UNICEF trucks. The man there was a forwarding agent or broker. He didn’t even have his paperwork right, so we had to retrace our steps to get him caught up. I told Mohammed and El Hadji that I would bet the United Nations didn’t even remember that their UNICEF trucks were parked in the old building. Another international UN bureaucrat had probably put them in there and then moved on to Zimbabwe or Somalia.

Before we finished for the day, we returned to the office of the port-authority chief three different times, and three different times we returned to Mr. Camara’s office, plus all the other lines and offices. During one visit back to Mr. Camara’s office, the health ministry planned out the presentation ceremony and location and wrote up a press release for the Dakar newspaper. The officials are genuinely desirous of putting together a respectable occasion to receive the over one-half-million-dollar gift from Project C.U.R.E.

Tuesday, October 5

This morning Mohammed, El Hadji, and I again walked from the Novotel hotel through the narrow streets to the health ministry, avoiding the snarled traffic in the roadways. El Hadji picked up our paperwork, and the health ministry gave us a van and a driver to take us out to the port authority offices, where the container was being stored.

I thought our maze running was over, but I was mistaken. We did bump the quality of the maze up a notch or two, because nearly all the offices there had air-conditioning and even some computers. The big difference was that we were now dealing with a shipping, storage, and forwarding company, which actually handled the containers. Their operation ran a little more efficiently because there is a bit of profit involved in the international process, and people who mess up or just don’t show up for work, which is typically the case with government workers, get fired from their jobs.

Along with the profit aspect, the men at the port office assessed a fee that had to be paid before they would release the shipment. The shipment arrived in Dakar on September 18, but no one in Senegal did anything to get the paperwork process moving until we arrived. By the time we hit the storage area, where the container was physically held, the agents informed us that we had exceeded our grace time, and we would have to pay for two days of storage. I was finally able to talk the top man, chief of port Elimane S. Gwingue, into waiving the charges when I showed him the original Declaration of Donation certificate, which I just happened to have in my attaché.

But the officials still needed funds to move the container from the port holding area to the national pharmacy warehouse. So back we went to the director of finance at the ministry of health to beg for the money.

A little after 6:00 p.m., Mohammed and I arrived at the storage lot and prodded the workers to load our container on a trailer and hook it onto a big semi-truck.

Then Mohammed and I crawled up into the cab of the big truck and actually rode with the drivers to deliver the container to the warehouse in a shanty part of the city. Dinner tonight tasted good, and the hotel bed felt wonderful.

Next Week: USA Culture Shoc