Alida sits across from me at our small, round, tiled table in the garden. Her smile lights up any room she enters, or in this case, our little outside cove. But the smile has come after much difficulty.
“I grew up in Gitega Province, Burundi, with my brother, my Mom, and a house full of children that she cared for. My dad died in the genocide of 1993 when I was only 4 years old. The children in our home were a mixture of cousins and local orphans.”
“Wow,” I respond to her introduction. “Were you and your Mom also in danger during the genocide?”
“Well, they mostly targeted men, so many of my cousins and friends lost their fathers, older brothers, uncles, and grandfathers. There were usually 6-8 children in our house at any given time. We lived through very difficult conditions.”
“What inspired and enabled you to become a nurse?”
“My mother. She was a nurse, and so was my father. She helped SO many people – feeding, clothing, paying school fees. Her abundant generosity led to so many peoples’ gratitude. I wanted to help people the way she did.”
Alida shares the many challenges of nursing in Burundi. Out of 100 graduates, around 30 are employed as nurses after graduation in government hospitals. She was not one of the 30.
“I graduated in October 2017 but couldn’t find a job. In December, I married Gady, a man I had known since 2009 through friends. His father also died in the genocide, and his mom is a farmer. He had worked and studied hard to make it through university and medical school. Whenever he was short on school fees, he would cheerfully say. . .”
At this point Alida erupts in laughter, unable to finish her sentence due to giggling.
“He would say what?!” I prompt, joining in her contagious laughter. “What would he say??”
“He would say ‘Hey let’s go – it’s time to tell that Man. Otherwise, they will try to chase me away for school fees again.’”
“Who was the man?” I ask, not quite understanding.
“It was Jesus!” she says between continued giggles.
“So, he was going to pray?”
“Yes! And the crazy part is that God always provided the money. One time he had a debt of 3 million boules (about 3 years’ salary). Some priests prayed over ‘someone in the congregation who is trusting God for school fees’, and within the week, his fees were paid in full by a stranger!”
“Oh wow!” I say again, sounding like an echo chamber.
“Yes, Gady is always so full of faith. Just after we married, we moved to Rwanda, where Gady had been working for 2 years as a medical officer (due to job shortages in Burundi). I worked that whole first year on paperwork for nursing, and then Gady was accepted to PAACS (Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons) to train as a surgeon. We moved to Kijabe, Kenya in December of 2018. Our first daughter, Michelle, was three months old. When I asked Gady ‘How will you learn in English, and how will I communicate?!’, his reply was ‘Why are you scared? We asked God for a school, and He has given us a school. He is not bringing us there to fail. We will learn!’”
“That’s amazing,” I reply. “How long did you study English?”
“For 3 months formally, then we just practiced a lot with books, shows, and people. One day I went to the nursing school at Kijabe to ask if I could borrow books so I could sharpen my English, and the thought occurred to ask about studying nursing here. We traveled back to Burundi for 3 weeks in 2019 to try and find all the documents that the nursing school required. It was a lot of work, time, patience, and prayer.”
“And now you are in the Registered Nurse Anesthetist program here at AIC Kijabe Hospital, correct?”
“Yes. I am so thankful. It’s only God who made a way for me. He worked out so many details that were beyond our control, and Gady encouraged me to keep moving forward in faith. He always says that God will provide the things that are from Him.”
“What does life look like for you right now?” I ask curiously. I know that her husband, Gady, is now in his fourth year of general surgery residency here at Kijabe, Kenya. In addition, they now have two precious daughters at home, just 1 and 3 years old.
“Well, next week I have exams from 6:30-9am each morning, then class until 5pm, then I study from 6pm until around midnight. On typical days, I have class or clinical work all day, and then I study until late into the night.”
“That’s amazing Alida,” I say quietly, soaking it in.
She smiles again, joy glittering in her eyes. I can barely find a hint of the tiredness that I know must be there. Between long hours, little sleep, wearing many different hats, and learning all day every day in a language not her own, I am truly amazed at this woman sitting in front of me.
“Ok, one last question. What motivates you to pursue difficult things through so many obstacles?”
She smiles again. “Well, there is this Kirundi proverb that translates, ‘When you know what you want, you don’t pick what you meet.’ It means that you don’t just take what is handed, you keep going after the things that you really want. I really like anesthesia, and I want to do something where I can really help people. I’m so glad I can work in anesthesia when I finish this program next year, and maybe even teach others someday.”
As I wrap up the interview with my dear friend, I am struck by her faith, joy, and perseverance. She carries both a fire and contentment in her that I find fascinating. To know her is to smile, laugh, and be encouraged to work hard and love well.