In this scenario, David refers to David Gelvin, the Field Operations Manger (FOM) for the clinic in the village, which was built by Arlington Academy of Hope (AAH), but is currently run by the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC).

That’s a lot of acronyms.

That makes the inherent inconveniences and complexities of running anything in rural Uganda our Goliath. I have to admit, I’m on shaky ground with this allusion. I believe that it’s biblical, and I believe that David represents the classic underdog. I have a vague notion of a sling shot being involved, and possibly a Cyclops? Is having long hair somehow relevant? In any case, I know there was a conflict and David surprised everyone by coming out on top—a modest and humble hero. That’s where our David comes in. His year of service with FIMRC ends in early November, and he’s shipping out, or actually bussing out, with only his tiny knapsack on his back. The man deserves a hero’s farewell, and since I don’t sing or drum well enough to participate in any goodbye assembly without embarrassing everyone, this blog entry is my contribution.

I was intimidated by David when I first met him, for two reasons. Firstly, he can do anything. If there is a practical, useful and complex task lurking around, he’s your man. A circuit blew? Call David. The water pump is broken? Get the Davemiester on the phone. Your bed boards make weird squeaking noises that sound like dying dinosaurs? Give D-money a hammer and a nail and your problem is solved. Oh what’s that? You want to design a unique, searchable database that captures the patient information of the sixty or so people that come through the clinic every day and also install a back-up power system that ensures the computer running the database never has to shut down, and train your computer-illiterate staff to operate the system? You guessed it. Davey G’s the guy for you. Unreliable electricity shrinks in his presence. Complicated wiring won’t even show itself. He laughs in the face of non-running water.

David aka MacGyver

In this sense David and I compliment each other nicely. See, I can’t do any of those things. I once asked David to fix my headlamp, because the light had gone a funny color. He took it from me, and gently flipped the optional red plastic covering off the light, using the conveniently placed finger tab. I seriously had been examining the thing for minutes, MINUTES, and had not figured that out. So if you combined us, we would probably level out to a human with about average competence in all things practical.

The second reason I found David intimidating was his quiet demeanor. He doesn’t swagger around, saying things like “See that creative toilet paper-hanging solution in the latrine? Yeah, I designed and constructed that. You’re welcome. He doesn’t ever bring up the fact that he personally spent hours crawling around the school’s bat/spider-infested attic space while installing the wireless network that I am using right now to post this entry. He just quietly does the job, and then goes for a ten kilometer run and beats me at Scrabble. This quietness perturbed me, as it is so foreign to my own nature. My motto is: when in doubt, talk. I figured he had to be hiding something. Maybe he was filled with resentment and was secretly taking notes on all the times I messed up so he could email them to John Wanda. Maybe he blew off steam at the weekend by going to Club Oasis and getting rip-roaring drunk and waking up in a pool of his own vomit. I mean, the guy had to have a dark side.

Turns out, he doesn’t. Nine months of living together in Uganda have removed the intimidation factor—shaving a guy’s head and discussing the intimate details of his case of scabies will do that—but I am still in awe of David. I understand him a little better now. While I spent the first few months wondering how in the hell I could ever repay David for all the favors he did for me and the school, I have come to realize that problem-solving is his idea of relaxation. He has been known to utter the words “Ruth, when do I get to fix your i-pod?” Or, “Can we please hang the mosquito nets now?” Sometimes I have to gently rebuke him: “David, you can’t fix my excel spreadsheet until after dinner.” Usefulness is his natural state. His constant productiveness still makes me hang my crossword-addicted head in shame sometimes. But as previously discussed, my utility around the house is basically restricted to menial tasks like putting dishes away, and filling jugs with water. I have been known to hang the odd string of fairy lights, but generally, I can’t compete.

His personal favors to me, and help around the school and guest house, pale in comparison to the transformation he enacted at the FIMRC clinic this year. On a physical level, he designed and supervised an extension and re-modeling of the building that makes the place feel about ten times as big, and much more professional. If you want to know the exact number of meters of useful space this extension created, you can ask him. I’m sure he has those calculations somewhere. As I mentioned before, he created a database to record patient information that could potentially have dramatic uses in designing appropriate health policy for the district. Oh yes, and he pioneered the use of a back-up battery system so the clinic never goes without power. On our dark, electricity-less nights, the clinic security lights can be seen shining for miles around, inspiring awe or envy depending who you talk to. To take advantage of the constant power, he installed a motion-sensitive security light. This addition completely confounded the night watchman, and he spend an evening camped out on the clinic porch, convinced that some intruder inside was messing with him. All these improvements were made on top of the day-to-day tasks of managing the clinic: keeping the budget, purchasing medicine, taking care of all human resource issues, which David accomplished with a level of organization unprecedented in these jungle hills. So take that Uganda-Goliath.

David aka FMRC all-star

It’s not surprising that David is beloved by many, myself included. David and I get on extremely well. We discovered a mutual love of sarcastic humor early in the year, and have honed our smart-ass skills together. We developed an after-dinner, front porch, cigarette and chat tradition, and I’m fairly confident that we’ve solved about 70% of the world’s problems during these conversations. It’s not that we’re arrogant; it’s just that we know we’re right. My friendship with David is not without its areas of tension. There is a somewhat unspoken battle over my continued use of hot water for bathing. I know he doesn’t like it when I convert new volunteers to my luxurious ways. I’ve analyzed this a lot though, and feel that I’m on solid moral and rational ground when it comes to hot water usage (except for that time that I used the whole thermos right as he was getting ready to make coffee. Sorry!). He also beats me at Scrabble every time we play, despite my English major and crossword compulsion. He is, however, an extremely gracious and supportive winner. He goes out of his way to point out that my score has improved from last time, and glosses over the fact that he beat the pants off me.

My insistence on comfortable bathing and shame at Scrabble inadequacy aside, without David’s steady, helpful hand, generosity, and willingness to listen to me blow off steam, I may not have stuck around Bumwalukani for the whole year. Cheesy as it is, he’s an inspirational figure for me. He marches to the beat of his own drum, but not in any hippy, unproductive way. Ok, when he last lived in the States he shunned the material comforts of a bed, and just slept on the floor. I’m on the fence about that one. I guess it falls into the hot water category of disagreements. He operates under the assumption that he can do anything he puts his mind to, and generally he’s right. But the most remarkable thing about him is that he balances this confidence with a level of kindness and consideration for others that I’ve rarely seen in a person. Avid blog readers may recall the yoga room he created for my birthday. Unfortunately, the resident rat population of the store room did not take kindly to me doing yoga there, and their indignant rustling made achieving inner peace with one leg propped over my head particularly difficult. It’s back to yoga in my bedroom for me, but it’s the thought that counts, and that kind thought was completely characteristic of David.

David aka my Uganda bff

I know David could have found considerable financial success as a Wall Street broker, or real estate mogul, or computer genius. Instead he did the Peace Corps, managed a homeless shelter, spent a summer climbing mountains, and came to Uganda to accept a small monthly stipend and all responsibility for a free clinic. It’s humanity’s good fortune that David chooses to apply his impressive levels of intelligence and competence to unconventional, poorly paying, and extremely helpful endeavors. It was my good fortune that one of those endeavors took him to Bumwalukani, Uganda. I can sometimes be a harsh judge of character, but I have absolute faith in David. I’m not sure what Goliath he’s going to take on next, but I know he’s going to slay it. I’m just sad he’s leaving, and I won’t be around to watch him do it.

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