Contrary to popular belief--at least from what I've gathered from questions I've fielded over the years is "popular"--not all missionaries in Africa live in a hut. Some do, I imagine, and in fact, Mark spent some of his growing up years more in the "bush" than I did. His first house was smack in the middle of a village, but it was a house nonetheless. I too lived in a house, a house situated at the north-central end of the Hôpital Batiste mission compound. By any standards, it was just a normal looking house; however, construction in Africa is a bit different from that in the US where home structures are made of wood. If a home's skeleton were made of wood in Africa, the house would be dust in a New York minute. Termites were certainly a problem, and there weren't that many combative measures taken. So our house was built concrete brick by concrete brick with a tin roof laid on top. And though a tin roof baking in the hot African sun doesn't seem like the most logical idea, the sound of a rainstorm drumming on such a tin roof completely makes up for any insulation problems that could arise.
Ours was one of the smallest houses on the mission compound, but then, it housed one of the smallest families, so it made perfect sense. We were comfortable in our 2-bedroom, 1 bath house with its small den, living room, eating area and kitchen, and large screened in porch. As for the workings of the house and of all of the homes on the compound, yes, we did have indoor plumbing. And electricity and running water. Most of the time anyway. When the city water shut off, we had a back-up plan which just meant someone had to turn a valve on the water tower that stood between our house and the Dwight Slater's house. And when the city electricity buzzed to a stop, which it often did, there was a generator.
I can't say with any certainty whether the mission would have been provided a generator if it weren't for the hospital. The hospital after all was the reason any of the missionaries were there, and it had to keep running, power or no power. You couldn't miss the hospital when you drove on to the mission station, not only because it was the biggest building within the walls, but also because of its ugly, aquamarine color; I think at one point in its history, it may even have been a horrendous Pepto-Bismol pink. The main building of the hospital initially housed it all: the OR, the pharmacy, the lab, and the offices. Years later, another building was erected for the lab and the offices. Other smaller buildings surrounding the back grounds of the hospital served as recovery rooms.
There was never a shortage of patients. Most other healthcare options were government hospitals run with as much corruption as the police force. Patient care was minimal and certainly not gracious. And to get such minimal attention at all, a patient must sometimes resort to bribery. At the Hôpital Batiste, patients were treated kindly, and if a patient did not have money for services, often a family member or the recovered patient himself would do odd jobs around the compound grounds to "pay" for his treatment. And always patients were told about Christ's love; the missionaries and some of the African pastors were on a rotating schedule to preach gospel messages daily under the over-sized paillote in the outside common area near recovery. Sometimes such a message was delivered in the outside waiting area as well.
Clearly, my parent's lives revolved around the work of the hospital. Portions of mine did as well. As the pharmacist, my dad had two rooms in the main building for which he was responsible. In one room, he worked with an African pharmacist and several assistants. This room had shallow built-in shelves which conveniently held bottles and bottles of medications. A window at the back of the room was the communication between the patient in the outdoor waiting hangar and my dad. The ailment would be discussed or a prescription handed through the window and exchanged for the necessary drug.
An adjoining room stored all of the bulk medicines my dad was able to procure through various discount drug outlets and charitable organizations throughout the world. Floor to ceiling, handmade shelves held bottles and boxes of medical aids. A couple of work tables gave him room to mix medicines that needed it and to count out correct doses of pills. I often helped him with the pill counting, and even now, when I see one of those universal plastic pill counting tablets with the transparent tube at one end, I am taken back to that room. One reason I enjoyed this room was on account of the air conditioning, which was necessary because bottles of pills melted in the heat do no one any good.
I also loved this room because I spent many hours there with my mom opening packages. Although I don't think it happens as much as it used to, back then churches across the US formed mission societies: groups usually made up of ladies with a heart for missions. These wonderful ladies would pack hundreds of packages a year with anything they thought would be helpful for the hospital...and every once in awhile something they thought would delight any young missionary children who happened to be about. Such was the benefit of being the daughter of the lady responsible for opening these packages!
It would take a good afternoon to open the huge pile of packages that filled the bin by the door at least once a month. Many of the packages would be filled with nothing but empty pill bottles. But others had quilt squares to piece or maybe some other treat like a box of Jell-O. Usually I could tell by shaking--or sometimes just by looking--what packages had only pill bottles. At some point in the afternoon, I would load my mom up with these packages--so as not to miss anything--and sneak out to the clearing beside the waiting area. In this clearing there was always one or more women cooking over an open flame, their pots holding either deep fried yams or plantains. I would get a plateful for less than 50 francs and head back in, hoping Mom had finished with the boring packages.
Often while Mom and I were opening packages, lives hung in the balance in the OR. I got to play a role in this room as well; granted, only as an observer, but the OR proved to be a wonderful lifelong science lesson for me. My first science lesson came in the form of surgery on a broken leg. As you can imagine, it wasn't very riveting. So I graduated to hernia repairs, which were almost equally as boring. My favorite times in the OR were welcoming new babies to the world. I witnessed my first vaginal birth around the age of 7 or 8. There were plenty of c-sections as well. I was always in awe as the doctor reached in almost up to his shoulders--at least seemingly in my recollection--and pulled out a perfect baby.
Two other amazing surgeries stand out in my mind. The first was an operation on a man who had a bowel obstruction. When the doctor pulled his intestine out to work on it, it resembled a balloon. I had to excuse myself, however, when they let the air out of it! The second memorable surgery was on the man who had elephantitisis of the scrotum. No government hospital would take the man's case, so it was up to Dr. Dillinger. I didn't remain for the whole surgery, which took hours, but I remember seeing Dr. Dillinger working with a reference book within easy reach. Apparently there had been another such case documented for the medical records. I can't imagine another like this, though. After the operation was successfully completed, the discarded mass weighed in at around 80 kilos! How fortunate that this young, 20-something man was given back his future through the skillful hands of Dr. Dillinger.
Because we called adults "aunt" and "uncle", I knew Dr. Dillinger as Uncle Steve. Uncle Steve and Aunt Lee had four daughters, two of whom were my age. Since I had no sisters, Dawn and Sarah filled that role in my life. There were other families on the compound as well. The two brothers, Uncle John and Uncle Dwight, were the Drs. Slaters, and their homes were on either side of ours. Uncle John and Aunt Marion's youngest daughter Lisa was also my age. Various nurses, short and long-term, ministered to many a patient at the hospital; and a bookkeeper, secretary, and maintenance man helped make things run smoothly at the hospital and for the missionaries.
Certain homes on the mission compound were and still remain in my memory attached to specific families, like the Dillinger's home and the Slater's homes. Other homes, however, changed residents at various periods. Hideaway Corner, for example, was once the Boese's home before they moved into town. It also housed Nurse Clela, whom we borrowed from the Christian Missionary Alliance. At other times, it served as a guest house. Another guest house, Baby Bungalow, is where Mark spent the first few days of his life. And it was our first, temporary home when we moved to Ferké from Switzerland.
No matter who occupied each home, no matter whether each home held revolving residents or permanent, the concrete, barbed-wire topped walls of the mission compound held within it the lives of many with a heart for God, with a desire to touch the unreached. With a common love and goal, it was a close-knit community. This closeness, coupled with the unique setting meant there was never a shortage of imaginative adventures on which to embark.