As we left Accra, like any good EMS person, my mind was filled with countless operational questions that would need to be answered in order to design an EMS system for the village of Enyan Abaasa and its surrounding area. I wondered how we would learn call volume; what would be the best type of ambulance; where a vehicle might be stored; how they would staff it — the list goes on and on.
It felt like someone had called 911 and I was ready to respond, along with three other highly skilled, motivated, and compassionate teammates.
As we drove, the scenery changed from the frantic traffic and packed road-side stalls of an African city of more than 2 million people, to less traffic, more greenery, fewer and fewer people, and smaller and smaller towns. After a multi-hour drive, we arrived at the village of Enyan Abassa where, once again, I was ready to interrogate the first person I found so that I could begin the work of designing an EMS system.
The 911 analogy was about to die a quick and painless death. We were about to learn a new meaning for “relationship” and “community,” and how these matter as much, if not more, than the EMS work that was to come.
Jean Vanier, in his book From Brokenness to Community, described a community that we seldom experience in the US: He described a community where not only all voices are heard, but where everyone goes to great lengths to hear all voices, especially those that disagree.
Our first experience was when we were greeted by a group of village elders. This greeting’s entire purpose was to welcome us to the village — and for us to let the village know that we had arrived. No work was to be conducted, and no questions were to be asked. The purpose of the greeting was simply to begin a relationship.
Afterwards, we were given time to settle before meeting with the village Kings, or Nana’s. This formal welcome took several hours; we greeted each Nana and they greeted us. Speeches were made, blessings were giving, and we were formally introduced. As the Chief Nana stated, the welcome we experienced was only “Chapter 1.”
Was this first day wasted? My EMS brain says YES! I had not asked any questions, gathered any data, or was any closer to knowing and understanding what was needed in a future EMS system. But…if I listen to my heart, the first day was probably the most important, and will be something that stays in my soul.
While EMS measures our success or failures in lives saved or lost, Enyan Abasssa measures success in building, strengthening, and deepening relationships.
I wonder if they are teaching us more than we are teaching them?