First Person

One Doctor’s Medicine: Two Years in Africa

Posted by

This is a plug for good reading–and good rearing.

It’s about a book on Africa. A book that will help plant your feet on the ground there, even if you can’t visit, and make you keen on an upbringing awash in the ways of other cultures.

The book is Peter Godwin’s Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa. It’s a memoir about his childhood in Rhodesia–now Zimbabwe–and his friendships with black Africans as the country slipped into chaos.

I had finished reading it just before having a check-up at a medical clinic near home in preparation for a field visit. The doctor I saw was a young woman–the mother of two small daughters–and when she learned I was headed to Ethiopia, her eyes lit up. She was going to Kenya, she said. She was packing her whole family up and taking off for two years to serve as a medical doctor at a missionary hospital in Kenya’s western highlands where about 600,000 Kipsigis depend on the hospital for primary care.

Why, some of her friend asked, would she want to do that?

Wouldn’t she be sorry about all the things her daughters would miss here?

She laughed at the memory of those questions.

For some people, the answers are probably hard to fathom. But if they’d read Godwin’s book, they’d get an idea of the gifts this doctor is giving her girls–the gift of understanding other people, gleaned from the everyday experience of living, and the gift of a broader world view, of perspective.

Those can be hard things to come by here. But they’re increasingly important, especially as the world shrinks and we come to realize that our neighbors are not so far away–that a cyclone in Myanmar can leave people as devastated as a hurricane on the Gulf Coast here, that the sorrow of mothers and fathers in China who lost their only children in the recent earthquake is universal, that the biofuel we pump into our cars is pushing the price of food out of reach for people in poor countries.

In Peter Godwin’s book, a white boy comes of age in a country consumed by civil war at the tail end of the colonial era. The book is about that war. But it’s also about Godwin’s clear-eyed understanding of, and love for, many of the people around him–sensibilities that will forever inform his way of looking at the world.

And that’s just what this doctor is ordering for her two young daughters: good medicine. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+