Dear Wouter, thank you for the time we spent together in Masanga and for our moments before that time. For me, it was of infinite value to experience your energy, enthusiasm and interest in the world.
I get rid of my frustration. The mountain bike tour of 50 minutes, over red paths and rivers with monkeys in the trees, brings me to the last steep hill before you reach Masanga. I push harder on my pedals and my breathing accelerates. It feels like you are cycling next to me, or actually just in front of me. Just like months ago, when you had held back in the previous 50km just so that you would beat me on the last hill. Because of course you had to be the first to reach the imaginary finish line.
In Masanga there are small memories every day that throw me back in time. Back to before when I was repatriated along with Jonathan, Sara, Marion, Lorna, Aatish, Taymoor, and Lotte, in a British army plane with 2 infectiologists and 14 nurses. Before you, Hanna and Foday got sick and we had to leave our lives and work behind to stay in the Netherlands for 6 weeks before we could return. The time before you died and when everything was still as it was.
Sometimes these memories are so clear that I can’t imagine you’re really gone. While I am typing this on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it feels like you could come and ride down the hill on your blue bike just to sit around and ask how things are going. Your hands still dirty from odd jobs on the bike or car.
Diede and I are now continuing your work together. We had talked about the fact that if you and Monica drove towards your future in Tanzania, we could take over your position. An idea that we both liked and one that now makes it a bit easier to continue your work.
Now that almost a year has passed, the memories come back more often. The sharp edges of the loss are gone and that makes it less painful to think back to the beautiful moments we shared together. I am grateful for the memories our work and Masanga evoke so that I don’t have to say goodbye just yet. So that I can let you live on in my memories a little longer.
It is surreal and surprising to think that the whole world is now dealing with a deadly infectious disease. That people all over the world are in quarantine and patients are in intensive care because a virus is ravishing their body. That people all over the world have to deal with the injustice and the meaninglessness of loss.
After a long evening in the operating room, I walk back home. The road you have trodden so often after a Caesarean section or laparotomy, after working up a sweat in an OT without air conditioning. Fighting for the life of a pregnant woman, an unborn child or a young father. The night is bright with many stars and as I pass the bridge behind the hospital I see countless blinking lights swirling around. Fireflies always remind me of you.
Last August we camped along a river in the Ivory Coast, where small fireflies flew around flickering as well. During the rainy season we planned to drive your new Landcruiser from Ghana to Masanga in a week; typically a Wouter-plan. Fireflies in a way represent life itself for me. They light up briefly in the dark night and only those who pay attention can see how beautiful the spectacle is. Precisely because that singular light only becomes truly beautiful as part of the whole, as if you were walking amongst the stars.
Dear Wouter, we miss you dearly and think of you often. We are grateful for the time that we were allowed to walk beside you. Thank you for everything.
Diede and Erik
Wouter Nolet 1987 – 2019