Americans who do humanitarian work in places like Africa are sometimes asked why they put their efforts into helping "foreigners" rather than those in their own country. "I get that question a lot, and I understand why people ask," says Jennifer. "But life inside the walls of this hospital is so simple, and the need is so desperate. They don't have surgeons trained to do this work. The face is a piece of art—it's different from a hip replacement—and there is a satisfaction to doing it well that is so pure. A person who's been shunned because of a birth defect will be able to get a job now."
The take-home package for everyone on the team is a profound sense of gratitude and suspension from complaining about the insignificant irritations of a privileged life. If I ever bitch again about being caught in traffic, or getting the middle seat on a plane, or having "nothing to wear" in my closet, somebody should slap me. When anyone asks in a perfunctory way, "How are you?" I no longer answer with a mechanical "Okay." I say, "Good" or "Fine" or even "I am fine if you are fine." While we were in Zimbabwe, there was a tornado in Little Rock that devastated areas close to where Carrie lives, and a large 100-year-old tree in her yard fell, taking down electric power lines and breaking her fence. "I just took a deep breath and allowed myself to stay peaceful," Carrie reports. "There was no sense of anxiety over things I know I can replace. The line at the bank, the coffee barista taking too long—these things don't seem to be as important. The pace of life we observed, the way people seem to accept what comes, is so different from American culture. We tend to be uptight about things that don't go our way or get in our way. There's definitely been a turnaround in my everyday life." And if you happen to come across Carrie—or any of us from Op Hope—standing in those long lines at the bank or at Starbucks, you might hear us slowly repeating a mantra that sounds something like this: Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe.