Wednesday, March 22, 2023

For dad and hometown

The son of a doctor who left his native Korea to work in Francistown wants to keep his father’s legacy alive and in the process give back to the town that became his home.

I got to appreciate just how much Kina Kim’s father meant to him midway through our conversation.
Why, I asked, was it important for him to keep his father’s memory alive?

He answered, not in words, but in tears. As I watched him struggle for composure, my mind wandered outside for I know another world ÔÇô the world you and I encounter on TV and newspapers every day.

It’s a world where fathers have been airbrushed from all memory, and Olympic medals are dedicated to mothers. It’s a world that finds expression in the creative works of neighbourhood kids who rap about the special bond with their ol’ ladies. So how come a 50-something man still has this kind of sentiment about a father who died over a decade back?

“My father’s memory is important,” he says in between sobs, “because of the passion he had to help his patients.”

Dr Chong Kim, a Korean surgeon, answered the call to volunteer his expertise away from home in 1967 ÔÇô and arrived in Gaborone in November of that year. The younger Kim was aged about 12, but his recollection is vivid.

“Gaborone airport was still smaller than a bus stop,” he recalls, “and it was still at UB. There was only one hotel in Gaborone. From Gaborone to Francistown was dirt road.”

The Kim family spent a month holed in a hotel in Gaborone while the family’s accommodation was being fixed over 400 kilometres away at a formerly gold mining town that they would eventually all call home ÔÇô Francistown. When the call from Francistown came, the journey was made by an overnight mixed train. In Francistown’s Jubilee Hospital, Dr. Kim was to join two other doctors, who were a couple actually ÔÇô Dr. Simon Moeti and Dr. Pearl Mashalaba.

While Dr. Kim worked the 120-bed hospital, his son planted his roots in his new home, getting to know the characters who made the town: there was the Haskins family, the future High Court judge Mpaphi Phumaphi was studying somewhere but he visited Francistown frequently; even back then, Phumaphi’s future wife Joy had a penchant for Botswana Democratic Party politics; the place was clean; the people were very friendly and nobody passed the other person without exchanging greetings. The police patrolled on bicycles. Kina would end up at the town’s Catholic secondary school, Mater Spei College, under the legendary principal-turned-diplomat, Edward Rasebotsa.
“He used to hit me a lot,” he says of his former school principal. “He made me who I am today, but at the time I used to hate him a lot. He is not my icon man, but he played a major part in shaping me.”

I am interested in how a father a raises a child in a foreign land, especially if determined, as it appears Dr. Kim was, that this was going to be home ÔÇô not home away from home. I want to know the lessons, said and unsaid, that passed from father to son.

“My father loved people,” Kim says. “He taught me to love. He said to give love to another person is the greatest gift of all. He said that’s why we were created by God; to give love to another person. He would wake up no matter what time of the night when a call came through from the hospital. He never said, ‘I am tired’. He didn’t have that.”

After a long silence that was only broken by the burning logs in the fireplace, he said the inevitable: “I loved him”.

It is this deep affection that led Kina to start the Dr. Kim’s Invitational Golf Tournament that is played in July, the month his father died. Now in its third year, tournament forms part of the Botswana Golf Union’s official calendar. It attracts some of Botswana’s best golfers for a weekend of golf and charity work in Francistown. Kim’s idea of charity work is to reach outside the city, to the villages that neighbour Francistown.

As well as the golf tournament, he wants to build a hospice to serve Francistown and the adjacent villages ÔÇô also in his father’s memory.

He observes that though the town has well-developed health infrastructure such as Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital, and local clinics, there is no facility for terminal patients. These are normally sent back home.

“I want to look after them for the last 60 days or 30 days of their lives to try to make the end of their lives comfortable; to have less pain during those last moments. I want to ease the pain of someone who’s dying and give them comfort on their last journey. We might not cure them, but we can provide good nutrition, good medicine to ease the pain, comfort and dignity. This would lessen the burden on family members as well. When they are sent back to the village, the family may not be able to look after them properly,” he says.

Like everything of profound significance to Kim, the idea of a hospice is linked to his father’s experience. The only time he left his beloved Francistown was to seek medical attention in South Africa for his last stage cancer. He spent his last 15 days in a care home.

“He was not in much pain because of the care he got from the hospice, which eased the burden on us as well. He had a comfortable death. That is where this idea comes from. I want trained doctors and nurses to give patients comfortable care. The relatives may not always be able to do this,” he says.

Taking the cue from the golf tournament, I surmise aloud that the facility will also be named after Dr. Kim, and he nods in confirmation. Then he makes a recollection.

“But you know what?” he asks. “Nobody called him Doctor. Everybody just called him Madala; Madala Kim. Maybe we will change the name to Madala Kim Hospice ÔÇô and Tournament.”

Unlike the parents who worked, lived and died in Francistown, for the younger generation the world offers more exciting challenges and prospects. So at one point, the sons and daughters of this town leave ÔÇô but not before each make a vow to themselves to come back. Like the Biblical psalmist, they affirm, “If I forget you, O Francistown, let my right hand forget its skill”. For Kina the time to fly to the horizon came in 1994. He not only left Francistown, but Botswana as well. Democracy had just come to South Africa, and he saw an opportunity to set himself in business. By his own account, business is good and he has made a small fortune. Like a typical local boy done well, he now feels the obligation to think of home and those left behind ÔÇô and for him, home will always be Francistown “because Francistown made me”.

“I started a good business and made some money. Now I can give back to the community,” he says.
As in everything, his father looms large in the background.

“He could have made a lot of money in Korea, but he chose to leave all that. He always said that he became a doctor in order to cure people, not to make money. He said Korea had enough doctors but there was such a shortage of doctors in Africa, so he chose to make a home for himself in Africa. I try to do what he did. But I don’t have his skill. Fortunately, I can use the money I have to help people with his skill to carry on his work,” he states.

Five years back, Kina was diagnosed with cancer as well. He had an operation, underwent treatment and made full recovery. Of course, he has to live by the obligatory precautions. The right diet. Regular medical checkups.

He sees the hand of fate in this.

“There is a reason I survived,” he says in contemplation, “to do some work.”

I ask Kim to put the significance of giving into context. Are we necessarily our brothers’ keepers?
“For me, the significance of giving and sharing was inculcated by my father from an early age. I have made some money and I am comfortable. So for me to give is not a problem. It doesn’t really hurt me. Out of my income, one percent can’t kill me ÔÇô or even 10 percent. It is important to raise children to be aware of their responsibility to the next person. If one is not used to sharing, it would be difficult for them to give,” he says.

So why do some stinking wealthy individuals hoard their treasure? He answers in one word: greed.

“If you take greed off, giving to those less privileged becomes so comfortable and a joy. You become very peaceful. That’s what my father taught me. He never walked around with money in his pocket. He didn’t attach much importance to possession of money and material things. He said, ‘what do you need all the money for?’ I try to imitate him. I don’t carry money. I have a lot of faith in God, and I am glad that he gives to me so that I can provide for the next person within my means,” he says.
So what does he make of today’s Francistown?

“I just want to cry,” he answers as he ticks everything wrong that has come with globalization and growth. “It doesn’t feel like the old place; a lot of people have left and a lot have passed away, but my heart is there all the time.”


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