Dusty…err, Dry Season

by Carlan Wendler

A dust-covered gardenia blooms outside the ER
Even at four degrees south latitude, we experience seasons here in Burundi. October-May is rainy season with a slight pause around the end of January. Roughly June through September is dry season. Grass dries up and the leaves of bushes and trees are covered in a fine layer of very fine dust. Nights can get cold (for us) and sun-soaked days get warm by afternoon.

The beginning of dry season is associated with harvest. First the corn comes in, then the beans, and finally the rice from the better-watered valleys. Families that were starving during the planting-watering season may finally have enough to eat for a few weeks. Those blessed with plots in the lowlands are putting in another crop of vegetables while others are just trying to keep their kids busy during the break in the school year.

From the point of view of the hospital, malaria cases are finally on the decline though respiratory and diarrheal illnesses pick up as temperatures, dust, and water supplies all change in the dry season.

However, we hope that people stay healthy and safe because as dry season drags on, resources get stretched thin. Last week I learned that the HIV program is changing the way it operates due to reduced funding. This last week we had to recommend a patient go to the capital to look for a medicine for his heart because there was none to be found at our hospital or the hospitals in our province. It hurts my heart and made me regret dry season a little bit…then I remembered Number 9:17-23. I quote it at length…

Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.
One of the waiting room roses showing the strain of dry season

For those familiar with the story, this manifestation of God’s presence with the people of Israel while in the Sinai Wilderness (read: desert) had been instrumental in escaping Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea and had led them through the trackless expanse of rock and sand. The desert was, in fact, the place of God’s revelation to His people. I notice in that passage how many times it says essentially the same thing: they stopped when the cloud stopped and they moved when it moved. Elsewhere in the Bible God employs an incredible economy of words to convey treatises of truth. Why this repetition?

Young boys play soccer in the "grassy" field outside the church
The people of Israel, like the people of Burundi, lived day-to-day, at least while they were in the Sinai Wilderness. They, and we, had to pass through this place and time to learn one very important lesson - to become daily aware of God’s presence and movement. I think the Burundians can teach me much about this, for they don’t seem so bothered by the leaner, drier season. And at least for some of them, this comes from decades of experiencing God’s provision even when things looked bleak. Let me give one example:

I rounded on one 80 yr old woman today who thanked me for merely sitting next to her in the morning sunshine while the student presented the case. It was enough of an example to spark a moment of gratitude in my own heart. Of course, stopping to count my blessings immediately resulted in a greater sense of peace and security - like this dry season contains blessings yet undiscovered. It seems that this octogenarian had likely read Deuteronomy 8:4, recording God’s words to Israel as they approached the close of their sojourn in the desert: “Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years."

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