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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Promising Not to Forget

By, Alexa Valavanis

A hot summer evening in Chico set the backdrop for a conversation I had waited many years to have. The last time I was with Dr. Godwin Orkeh and Christian Nix, we were in a house built around an avocado tree on the hillsides of San Marco. This tree sat on the crust of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

That was seven years ago.

Sitting together again, my mind was flooded with memories of trekking up and down the mountainsides serving the indigenous, listening to their needs, and helping in ways we didn’t know we could - until we did.

However, on this August night, we rested comfortably in lounge chairs on my back patio, and reflected on the journeys we’d been on together and the near decade spent apart.

Godwin, the MD of our lot, had come to visit after finishing his fifth stint in Darfur, Sudan. He had gone in and out of the war-torn, refugee-saturated regions wearing badges from numerous NGO’s including Relief International, World Health Organization and the United Nations. Godwin helped those he could, and promised that the world had not forgotten their plight. His work was never completed but he slept peacefully knowing he was doing all he could.

As the sun made way for the evening stars, Godwin pulled out his baby blue United Nations passport, something I had only seen in the movies. He pointed out stamps that provided doorways to distant lands - Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. And, with each stamp he shared stories that were harder and harder to fathom. Kidnappings. Malnutrition. Malaria. Death. He spoke about the pain of losing children whose lives could be saved for less than $4.

We cried a little. We laughed a little. We hardly noticed dawn arrive.

Christian, the Chinese medicine man, was in between his barefoot clinic in Chicago and his practice in San Marcos. He works in the village hospital and continues to teach the science of medicine in concert with the art of healing. After learning that Godwin had arranged a trip to Chico, he postponed his journey south for the weekend so we could be together.

Christian shared tales in Latin America that I longed to remember. The way time sits still. The way people celebrate what they have, rather than focus on what they do not. The understanding of abundance and generosity that comes so naturally for those people our world calls “poor”.

I asked if there was anything they would like to do while on US soil. After sitting quietly for some time, Godwin said, “I would like to share what is happening in Darfur. I would like my promise to the children to be true, for the world not to forget what is happening there.”

I knew our community would be eager to listen. More than that, I knew something Godwin would later tell me he never dreamed possible; we not only listened - we cared!

After numerous public radio spots and interviews with newspapers we had a party. Godwin and Christian got to meet, literally, dozens of people that are working to help others around the globe.

They met local independent business owner, Sherry Holbrook who supports an orphanage in Zambia. They met former swim instructor, Shirley Adams, who builds water-wells in developing countries. They met Manoah Mohanraj, a local public health manager, who also runs an orphanage in Southern India. They met a room full of Enloe Hospital’s doctors and nurse practitioners that travel around the world providing medical care -folks that care so deeply about out brothers and sisters around the world. They also met handfuls of community members who support causes here, at home.

As the weekend came to an end, Godwin and Christian walked up to me and said, “We know now.”

“What’s that?” I replied.

“Of all the places in the world you’ve been, we now know why you decided to make Chico home.”

[Published in the Upstate Business Journal, Sept. 09]