A One-Speed Bicycle

“I would like one of these”, I thought to myself, gripping the white handle bars and steadying the bike frame, as my wheels spun through a bar of sand.

I was pedaling through Mango on a one-speed bike, a basket hanging off the front, carrying market goods. The roads were sandy enough to keep me vigilant, but more so were the motorcycles going the opposite direction, deftly squeezing their way through the three foot space between Sarah and I. “Longer” short-term volunteers (those staying 6 months or more), either bought a bicycle or motorcycle for transportation. A lot of them lived outside the compound, and the 30+ minute walk wasn’t favorable in the heat, sometimes reaching 48 C. Thankfully, I have arrived during “Harmattan” — the time of year where the Sahara blows its sand off the desert, and into the city.

“In the morning, everything will be clean as a whistle,” Bill has said. “And by noon, you can write your name on the table.”

Biking through Mango

Propping our bicycles outside a vendor’s stand, we meandered through the outdoor market, where Togolese women were bearing the heat of the day — their livelihood. Some stood, some sat, some even slept, selling fruits, vegetables, spices, and dried fish, and all asking the same question — “will you buy?” I wondered how much business they received, as they were all so close together, and many selling the same things. Did they always go to bed with food? Did their children?

As staff from the hospital work to build relationships with the community, there are a handful of women the girls knew by name. We would sit for a while and talk, their child bouncing on our lap and grinning. One, I bought some material from her stand. Another, I will take my material to her, to sew clothes. Her singer is her livelihood — a smile on her face when she sees Sarah wearing the tunic she has made.

Then for others, you wonder of what their livelihood consists, or will consist. I stood in the Operating room during the afternoon — hot air mixing with the rancid smell from an elderly man’s infected leg. Infected was a small word, as even breathing through my mouth was a struggle. His leg appeared as if it has been eaten, just below the knee and upward to his thigh. Pink and red tissue stood out, and there were holes going through the leg — thick, purulent puss draining from them onto the operating table. He would need an amputation.

What is it like to tell someone they are losing their leg? We are hoping he spoke French, as some Togolese only speak their tribal language. What is it like to sign to someone they are losing their leg?

The anesthesiologist pushed the man’s shoulders forward on the operating table, but he kept slouching backwards. I came forward and held the man’s thin, dark shoulders forward, so they could slide the needle into his epidural space, numbing the feeling in his legs. When was the last time he had eaten?

With the man awake, but a towel draped in front of his face, the team bowed their heads and prayed for him. They prayed for the surgery to go well. They prayed his health — spiritual and physical. Then Todd and Paige went to work. From either side, they cut through his mangled thigh, mopping up blood as it came, and working through the muscle and arteries. Reaching the bone, Todd picked up the saw, and cut his way through the man’s left femur. It detached — Paige left holding it. An assistant came from the right side, and plopped the leg in a garbage bag, the raw flesh sticking out the top. I quickly stepped aside as they passed closely by. To fold the remaining flesh over the skin and create a stump, Todd sawed off another two inches of the femur, and it quickly bounced down to the floor and rolled in front of my feet.

Cutting to the bone

While we often seek “more” in life, dabbling in the choices of livelihood that will bring maximum money and pleasures, people here are fortunate in having a livelihood that will secure their survival. It isn’t one that provides health benefits, life insurance, four weeks’ vacation, and early retirement funds, rather they work to live. Moreover, when an accident happens, they don’t have sick leave or benefits to maintain their comfort until they can return to work. Perhaps, they will never return to work.

Then I think of Todd, Jennifer and the staff, who have given their livelihood to serve others. I remembered a young man I met earlier that day, his knee and thigh stabled, following the surgery to repair his broken leg. Where would he have gone without the hospital, or people there to help? I wondered if he would have been crippled the rest of his life, or maybe not survived at all.

Today, I thought about my own livelihood. I was blessed to have a choice, in which means I would choose to secure certain necessities in life. But now that I have been graced with a means, I question that definition of necessities. It seems, there is much more to life than personal gain and comfort, rather a life poured out…is a life well lived.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10

I was sitting indoors by my window, when there was a knock on my door.


I got up and opened it.

“Catherine is leaving with her family for a while, and left this for you”

A black one-speed bicycle stood next to my window.