We arrived at the market in Kohima at 12:30 p.m. I think if I could just stroll through the Kohima market about noon each day of my life I would be able to save lots of money otherwise spent for lunches. Puii reminded me that the people of Nagaland were historically regarded as great hunters. That fact was underscored immediately as I spotted a variety of monkeys offered there for butchering and cooking. Just a few yards away there were squirrels hanging by their hind legs, and below them were ordinary small birds for the picking.
On the market table to my left were deer quartered but with the hair and hides still on. Then I saw what I didn’t necessarily want to see: short-haired, tan dogs split open from their nostrils to their tails, cleaned and ready for sale. But the kiosk getting the most attention was the site of two older women kneeling down behind their sales table working on the entire forearm of a very large black bear. They had just severed it from the rest of the huge body and were now on the ground skinning out the body of the bear with careful precision so as to perfectly preserve the hide, which would be sold separately.
Having spent a considerable bit of time in Asia, I realized what a prized possession the women had brought to market. Bear meat was valuable and, except for being a bit greasy, would remind you of pork. But the value of the bear was really in the bones and organs and such parts as paws, claws, and skull. The Asians respect the medicinal value of spare bear parts, much as they desire the horns of the deer family.
We were at the market by invitation of Dr. Vike Thongu and his dignified and gracious wife, Puii. They had invited me to stay in their lovely home in Kohima while I was in Nagaland, one of the three insurgent states of northeast India. Bangladesh separates Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur from the body of India. Nagaland is snuggled up against old Burma and China on the lower slopes of the rugged Himalayas. Nagaland is a place of spectacular beauty and mystique.
At dinner the previous night, an intriguing discussion had precipitated the invitation to the market in order to view the diversity of items offered there. The exotic dinner entrees had included pig and goat (I think) for meat dishes, and lovely presentations of squash, rice, potatoes, and vegetables. But there was one side dish that in the ambiance of lantern light I presumed was ivory-colored pasta mixed with young bamboo sprouts.
“Puii,” I inquired, “please tell me about this delicious pasta dish; I am not identifying the nutritious taste.” Dr. Vike Thongu answered, “You are here in Kohima, Dr. Jackson, at exactly the right time. Only once a year do we have this opportunity, and it is very expensive. We honor you as our guest, for this is the most desired dish of our culture. This is black wasp larva in varying stages of development.” With a closer look, I could see that, indeed, the whole bowl was full of nice, big, plump worms nesting in the tender bamboo sprouts.
For the remainder of that memorable evening I could hear Mark Twain’s injunction ringing in my ears: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines – sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails . . . Explore. Dream. Discover.”
I was not the only person around that table who was exploring, dreaming, and discovering. I found the doctor and his wife to be two of the most dedicated and creative people I had ever met. Mother Teresa used to say, “If you can’t do great things, do little things with great love. If you can’t do them with great love do them with little love. If you can’t do them with little love, do them anyway.” Dr. Vike Thongu and Puii were doing great things . . . with great love!
Dr. Vike Thongu’s hospital was located on a narrow, steep street in the heart of the busy city. Painted across the front of the building were the following signs: “C. T. Scan Service,” “Ultrasound Machine Diagnosis,” “Pharmacy,” and “Endoscope Surgery.” Puii and Dr. Vike Thongu were running the most technically advanced hospital in the whole northeast section of India. Their story of insight, discipline, hard work, and entrepreneurial risk-taking was unparalleled. Dr. Vike Thongu was a gifted surgeon. He performed every kind of surgery from orthopedics to skin grafting to delicate brain surgery.
The couple had begun with only a dream and a small clinic and pharmacy. They set aside 10% of all their pharmaceutical products for charity and performed at least 10% of all medical procedures for those who could not pay. They saved another 10% and purchased a piece of property for their hospital. They began to build their forty-bed hospital on a cash basis. The discipline and hard work paid off handsomely.
They knew that if they could offer the advanced technical services, they could capture the medical market. They would not take even needed medicine for their own children out of the pharmacy unless they paid the full price. They had no money to buy beds or other furniture for the hospital, so they made their own beds and sewed their own mattresses and sheets. When the hospital opened, they needed divider partitions between the beds. So Puii took the drapes out of their own house and sewed them into usable panels.
Soon they outgrew their hospital, and, with discipline and the money they had saved, they were able to purchase the adjacent property to build another forty- bed facility. In order to help pay for the new facility they began to rent out rooms in their own house.
As an economist and businessman, I was in awe at the entrepreneurial example of the wonderfully dedicated Christian team of Dr. Vike Thongu and Puii. Their eyes sparkled as they unfolded the story to me. As Steve Jobs would say, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” They had never acquired an MBA degree from Harvard or Yale, but they were outperforming classic business planners by leaps and bounds and making sure all the time that their charity work was never cut short. They told me that Project C.U.R.E. was the first organization from the outside to ever come and help them. I left with so much admiration and respect for the two of them. Their level of hard work, discipline, frugality, and absolute confidence and obedience certainly must make God smile everyday!
So, throw off the bowlines – sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails . . . Explore. Dream. Discover.