Making Do With What You’ve Got
Kazakhstan, Kenya, Liberia, Turkey
First of all I want to thank my loyal fans of this weblog. I now have readers from many different countries, on every continent in the world except Antarctica. If you live in Antarctica, I am sorry— please let me know anyway.
The other day I needed to find out how to change the batteries in my car’s key fob. It wasn’t obvious just looking at it so I decided to try and find out how to do it on the Internet. I found a great video made by the manufacturers of my car, and I was able to easily change the batteries. I made the comment to one of my team members at my office, “How did we ever live before the Internet?” There are a lot of things that are easy for me, living in America, that I know are not so easy for many of my friends in other parts of the world. I do not take that for granted! I have never claimed to know everything, but I do claim that I am a student, and as such I have learned so much from people of other cultures, and it has made my life better. And one of the biggest lessons has been that there are sometimes a number of ways to get a job done.
I had gone to Kazakhstan to set up a dental clinic in a number of places. My equipment is very efficient, and what I call “donkey-able”— meaning that it is portable enough to tie to the back of a donkey. I bought it in the U.S.A., which meant that I needed to use a step-down transformer to run my 110 Volt equipment on the available 220 Volt in Kazakhstan. The first morning that our team began seeing patients we burned out all of our fuses we had for the step-down transformer. We would no sooner get started when another fuse would blow. Realizing that these fuses were not available in Kazakhstan we asked our Kazakh friends if they knew where we could get another transformer. They shrugged and said no, but they believed they could fix the transformer that I had. They quickly stripped a wire down to the copper filaments, and then removed the burned out fuse from the transformer. Carefully they wound three copper wire strands around one end of the fuse and then threaded it to the other end wrapping a few loops and then pressing their modification down into the fuse receiver of the transformer. We crossed our fingers, actually we said a quick prayer, and flipped the switch. To our amazement the equipment sparked into life. We patted the guys on the backs with much adoration. One of the Kazakhs casually said, “Nakedness causes Creativity.” He went on to explain that under Communism they had to make due with what they had, and that caused them to become very creative in regards to fixing things. Now I know that all they really did was by-pass the fuse, which is not exactly safe, but it bought us enough time to finish with the patients that had already come to the clinic. We later found some Kazakh equipment that didn’t need a step-down transformer.
While Karen and I were on our first dental trip after the earthquakes in Turkey in 1999, I realized that I was not going to be able to find a dental vacuum system to use during the dental procedures. As we shopped in the city of Adapazzari we found a wet/dry Shop Vac. We bought it and I modified the main hose with little holes along the length of it to reduce the amount of the suction. I then attached the dental suction tube to the end with duct tape. Now I know what you are thinking—that sounds like a really dumb idea—and it was…admittedly. For one thing the noise of the motor was terrifyingly loud. It also had an enormous amount of suction despite the holes along the length of the hose. We tried to use it with only two patients before we came to the conclusion that it was a bone-headed idea, and we abandoned our foolishness. It was everything Karen, who was my chair side assistant at the time, could do just to steady the contraption with both hands. The whole experience was startling to say the least. If it wasn’t sucking up the patients lips and tongue, it was sucking up the bib around their necks. It was actually pretty funny, but we realized that these poor people had been traumatized enough by the earthquake, and they already had a phobea about being in our dental clinic, so we were certainly not helping by using this vacuum of the devil. We finished out our time in Turkey improvising with the good ol’ two cup standby. One used for rinsing and the other used for spitting. This method was far less terrifying, but we did have to be sure that the patients didn’t mix the cups up. “Now which one did I just…”
When I was in Liberia we set up a medical and dental clinic in a building that had no electricity. I asked if we could find a generator to use, and the Liberians said, “No problem.” I was thinking of trying to find a portable 800 Watt generator, but the next thing I knew the Liberians were climbing trees and running wire from the huge 45000 Watt generator a quarter of a mile away that operated the whole school compound. Without giving it another thought they chiseled a whole in the brick of the building and ran the wire through to the room I was going to be doing dentistry in. I told them that they shouldn’t have gone through so much trouble, but their response was, “You have come all the way from America. We want to make sure everything works.” I gotta tell ya, I love that kind of attitude.
After our meetings at a restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya this past December with the chief medical and dental officers about developing a permanent, full time health clinic in the Mathare Valley slum staffed by Kenyans, we came out into the parking lot to find that someone had parked directly behind our car blocking us in. The offensive vehicle was parked perpendicularly to our car, and none of the valets seemed to know who the driver was or where the keys were. After waiting in the hot sun for a few minutes, Keith who lives in Nairobi and was part of our meetings said simply, “Let’s move it.” He then called over four Kenyan business men who were having a conversation under the shade of a tree across the parking lot. They agreed to help and nonchalantly removed their business jackets, I likewise removed mine, and the seven of us got positioned under the front of the car and heaved it 45 degrees from its original resting place with the back tires squealing as they were dragged sideways across the hot pavement. I looked at Keith and said, “Does any one else think this is a bad idea?” He responded, “This is how we get things done over here.” Wallace was then able to eek his car through the gap with a quarter of an inch to spare on either side. There was no anger. No getting upset. No loss of temper for being inconvenienced. Just a clear cut decision to do what had to be done. I would have loved to see the face of the guy who parked that car when he came out to find it moved askew like that, but we didn’t wait around.
I do believe that nakedness does cause creativity. It can inspire a “can-do” attitude when you have to learn to make do with what you have, and you take the initiative to take care of the situation yourself. I have learned a lot from my friends around the world, and I believe it really has made me a better person.
May God Bless you until next time!