Friday, March 21, 2014

More Traveling?!


So last night didn’t allow much sleep.  About three I made a solid effort, and slept fitfully until 6:30.  There were roosters nearby that got very excited once the sky started to lighten.  There were Muslims getting up way too early to chant.  There was my foot deciding to cramp.  And there was the fact that it was somewhere around 6 pm according to my internal clock.  I was hungry!  So I had plenty of time to shower again, repack my bags, play with my camera, and have some me time.

A little after 8:30 I heard Matthew emerge from his room, so I went out to say hi.  A sweet lady from the hotel saw us and invited us to breakfast.  She taught us that a word that sounds like “caribou” means welcome, and that the proper response is to say “asante assana.”  We also met a teacher named Tom from Iowa who is also working with the Diocese.  He was extremely helpful in getting around.

We ate a breakfast provided by the hotel of fried eggs, white bread, and tea that is similar to a weak chai, and instant coffee.  The more we ate, the more food our hostess brought out.  We chatted for a while with Tom until our driver arrived.  We brought our bags out to the Jeep and paid our bill after signing in the ledger.  Each room cost 25,000 shillings, which is less than $20.

Next, we bumped along the red dirt roads of Same to the office of the Diocese.  I’m really not sure how all the terminology and titles work, so bear with me, please.  Martin led us up to meet Mr. Chambua, liaison to DMU’s global health department and the Diocese himself.  They were polite a friendly and wanted to make small talk.  I think the idea was to get to know who they were hosting in their country.  Unfortunately, Matthew and I are both shit at small talk, and didn’t really know what was expected of us in this situation (speak only when spoken to, or start telling charming stories?)  Tom had come along with us, and he spoke pretty freely, though he seemed to be a naturally friendly kind of guy and probably doesn’t have to think about things like etiquette because everyone likes him anyway.

Next we were taken to the accountant’s office to pay for our ride to the hospital.  We chatted for a while with the guy in charge there, then got down to the business of paying up.  $350 per person seemed pretty steep, but I knew the cost beforehand and just went with it.  We were probably helping to subsidize the church’s income, and there are worse ways to spend your money.  The man who took our money was like every accountant everywhere: all about the numbers.  It turned out the exchange had shorted us on a couple of our huge wads of money, and he wasn’t shy about telling us to give him more.

I haven’t told you about the money, yet!  So when we exchanged at the airport, I had $900 to change.  The going rate was 1560 shillings to the dollar.  She only gave us 5000 shilling notes, so we had stacks of paper money probably six inches tall.  Not exactly discreet for traveling.

Anyway, our account settled, we got on our way.  The Diocese had told us that the rainy season has come early this year, and they had had heavy rains described as catastrophic.  Homes were lost, roads washed out, crops destroyed.  Our driver, Martin, didn’t seem worried, even though we saw no paved roads for the rest of the trip.  They were dirt, mud, and rock roads.  Every now and then you saw men repairing the roads with minimal tools, and even less frequently you’d see a CAT tractor (every piece of wheeled machinery is a tractor, right?) that had probably just fixed that washout that we made it across.

So we bounced our way safely up the mountain, enjoying the beautiful scenery and wondering at the people that lived all along the way.  There were houses all the way up the winding mountain road, with villages every twenty minutes or so that consisted of three or four small buildings with signs and no other real indications that they were shops or churches.  One of the things that struck me was the variety in everything.  Houses: we saw brick, stone, wood, stick, and dirt and rock, they ranged from ruins to shanties to mansions to villas.  Strangely, the small brick ones seem to be the most often abandoned.  Dress: we saw suits, khakis, children in uniforms, jeans, dresses, ratty t-shirts, and rags.  Flora: sword ferns like back home to exotic berries whose flowers were yellow in the center and pink on the edges.  Crops: bananas, corn, mangos, avocados, often all growing in the same field – if you can call the side of a mountain a field.  And there was no clear cutting.  If there was a tree where crops were planted, it was left alone.  Domestic animals: dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, cows, sheep, and goats.

There were electrical lines running all the way up the mountain and old, crappy satellite dishes on some of the bigger houses.

Around noon, three hours after we left, we arrived at the school where Tom was to work for the next week.  We got out, met all the people there, signed in the guest book, used the facilities, and were on our way, one person lighter.  After about another hour, we arrived in Gonja.  I could not believe we were going to spend four weeks in a place so beautiful.

Sister Dora, the Matron greeted us and took us to our apartment.  It’s a one story duplex with cement floors, three bedrooms, one “bathroom” and a sitting room.  A chicken coop sits right behind the back of it.  After getting our bags in our rooms and keys to the doors, we set off to get some food and take a tour of the hospital.  It was after one at this point and we were hungry.  Mama Joyce, who runs the Cantina told us lunch wasn’t ready yet, and would we be okay with just tea?  Tea turned out to be that chai again, flat bread, and small, sweet bananas, which tided us over wonderfully.

We were introduced to everyone we came across during our tour of the hospital, and of course, remembered none of the names.  We discovered almost immediately that we were idiots for not learning Swahili before we came.  Sure, lots of the hospital staff speak English, but they reverted to their native tongue for greetings and such.  Dr. Lusingu assured us that we’d be fluent by Friday.  Ha!

The hospital has four wards: Reproductive Health, HIV/AIDS, Medical, and Surgical which they call the theatre.  All the wards are large room with beds packed in and not even curtains for privacy.  I still haven’t figured out where the patients pee…


The hospital doesn’t feed the patients, so there is a kitchen where family can cook meals for the ill.  They are only allowed to visit at meals and in the evening.  I don’t know where they sleep or if they go home every night.  I can’t imagine they do that, because it’s over 30 kilometers for some of them, and most don’t have vehicles.

Lunch was served around three and consisted of white rice, baked beans which were very good, and pork in a light sauce, with more bananas, flat bread, and tea.  Water doesn’t seem to be served with any of the meals.  Luckily, we bought a couple of cases of water while in Same.  The food is all very palatable, and maybe on the bland side, and there doesn’t seem to be much variety.

After lunch we were set to our own devices, and came back to our “chateau” as Matthew is calling it to rest and prepare for the following day.  He has been a wonderful traveling companion and I’m so glad to have him here with me.

I was feeling pretty freaked out after the tour.  The language barrier feels like a huge handicap and things are done so differently here.  I was also pretty drained from meeting so many people.  I felt like we were talking all day long, even though we had only been at the hospital for a few hours.  And the two hours sleep in two days was catching up with me.  About 8 pm, dinner was served, but I was too tired, so I took a Xanax and went to bed with ear plugs in.

Traveling Days


I apologize in advance if this post comes out whiny.  Its purpose is to inform those coming after me.

Let me start by saying that so far, everything has gone very well!  I got to the airport on time (with some tears saying goodbye to my hubby and kitty,) none of my flights were delayed, I sat next to skinny people on the planes, our baggage arrived at our final destination, and we got our visas and cleared customs in less than an hour.

On the other hand, I’ve been traveling for 27 hours and I’m still not to my final destination.  I flew out of SeaTac at 9 am, met Matthew in Minneapolis with an hour layover, took an eight hour flight across the Atlantic, had a three hour layover in Amsterdam (more on that later,) then  another eight hour flight to Kilimanjaro airport, cleared customs, and was driven for a couple hours to a hotel that is still a couple of hours from our apartment and the hotel where we’ll be working.  To top it off, we’ve been chasing the sunset, so with the time zone change, it’s about 38 hours after I left on Saturday morning.  The good news is, I’ll get that back on the way home in a month.

I didn’t sleep much on the flights.   Matthew offered me a Xanax, but I was leary.  I really liked the pain pill I got when I had my wisdom teeth out, and I’m a little worried I’ll love Xanax and get hooked on it.  In hindsight I wish I’d just nutted up and taken it.

One thing I’m very good about on flights is bringing water along.  Usually I go through security with an empty water bottle, then fill her up at the water fountain before my flight boards.  This didn’t work out so well in Amsterdam.  With connecting flights, they have you go through security again.  You assemble at your assigned gate, then go through a little security checkpoint at that gate to find yourself in a holding room with no water fountain and no ladies’ room.  Unfortunatley, Matthew had just bought a five dollar bottle of water (Amsterdam airport was expensive) and I had to dump my water, leaving me begging it from the stewardesses every time they went past.  By the way, nicest flight attendants I’ve ever come across: the KLM crew out of Amsterdam.

The sales people were pretty good too.  My little camera was discovered to be non-functional right before I left, so I figured I’d buy something cheap during my long layover in Amsterdam.  Well, they weren’t super cheap, but the (cute) sales guy helped me understand the benefits of the models in question, and didn’t make me feel bad when I went for the cheaper option.  Unforseen snag: the charging cord is for European outlets (sad noise.)   Super lucky for me: the adapter I bought for use in Tanzania goes from US or Euro plugs to Tanzanian.  So I get to use my brand new camera on this trip!  Whew!

So when we finally landed in JRO, we disembarked onto the tarmac.  It was dark, warm, and humid, and you could see all sorts of bugs swarming around the lights.  We didn’t get swarmed, really, and I love the heat and humidity!  It’s a nice change in February.  It was very clear where to go to get our visas, and most of the customs agents were pretty friendly, and all spoke English. (Oh yeah, that was another cool thing about AMS – English was everywhere!)  We did have to go through three separate lines, pay $100, and get fingerprinted, but nobody hassled us, so I counted it a success.

An even greater success was that there was a very nice gentleman from the Diocese (don’t ask, maybe it’s because we’re going to a Lutheran church) with our names on a card to transport us the rest of the way.  The global health department handout said this would happen, but I never got firm confirmation that someone would actually be there, so I was a little nervous.  Also, I didn’t know the exact location of our apartment, so there were just too many unknowns.  Thankfully, it all worked out as planned and as usual, I worried for nothing.

I was kinda bummed that we landed in the dark because we didn’t get a good view of the country as we drove.  There were shacks all along the side of the freeway, but most had electricity, and some looked quite pleasant, if primitive.  There were lots of gas stations, some bars, pharmacies, little tables where I assume people sell shit during the day, and people just hanging out by the road, alone or in pairs.

We were riding in an old diesel Jeep that seemed to run pretty well and was nice and spacious.  It looked like it was ready to go on Safari.  The roads were paved and in good repair, even though they had no shoulders.  There were speed bumps every couple of miles, especially as we neared towns, and they slowed us down considerably.  Our driver got up to about 100 kph pretty regularly when no one was around, but it never lasted very long.  The highway was relatively busy with pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, cars, vans, taxis, jeeps, semis, and oil tankers.  They clearly had their own rules, as passing seemed to be encouraged, cars approaching each other flashed their brights to acknowledge they knew the other was there, and did something with their blinkers from time to time that seemed to be a greeting that I still don’t understand.

Unfortunately, our driver didn’t speak much English, so he couldn’t answer our many burning questions.  We were pretty quiet during most of the drive, and I think I even got a couple more winks in.

We got to our hotel at 11:30 pm local time, with instructions to meet our driver again tomorrow morning at nine.  I had found a blogger that I thought had gone through pretty much the same stuff we were, so I expected the hotel to be very barebones: a bed with a bucket in the corner to poop in.  I was so pleasantly surprised to find a pretty room that feels very safe and has a full “Western” bathroom.  After Matthew and I said our goodnights, I got to priorities.  I brushed my teeth (next time I’ll pack my toothbrush in my carry-on), took some pics of the room before I got it too messy, texted my hubby, and got my new camera charging.  The first time, I didn’t put the battery in, then I put it in backwards, and about fifteen minutes later I triumphed over the user-friendly tech.

Then I took a hot shower!  Bliss.  Yes, it’s plenty warm here, but I love me some showers!!

I didn’t see my first mosquito until about half-way through writing this blog, and I ran to throw on some bug spray.  I’m a little nervous that he’ll be back, and this entry has gone on about as long as my flights.  It’s now 1:30 am local time, 2:30 pm back home, and I’ve got seven hours before I’ve got to get up and have a full day.  I’m still pretty wired, and I really want to talk to my hubby and snuggle my purring cat, but I’ll just have to find some other way to wind down.  Maybe some yoga beneath the mosquito netting on my bed.

I feel like the hardest part of the trip is over, and now the fun can begin.  Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

T minus 36 hours until I fly out for Tanzania, and the emotion of the moment is apprehension.  I know I should be excited, but I just can’t seem to get there.  This will be my first trip to a third world country, and I’ll be spending a month there, in the bush, with no idea what to expect.

I’m not what you’d call a high maintenance girl, but I do love a nice shower now and then, and I’d like not to catch Malaria or HIV.  These diseases are prevalent in the area where I’ll be staying, along with Tuberculosis and god knows what else.  But it turns out this is good news for me, because it means I’ll get to treat these exotic conditions as a fourth year medical student.  I’ll also get to help out with deliveries and learn what it means when the cool kids refer to “global medicine.”  After an experience like this, people tend to come back grateful for our technology and access to specialists, and raving about how loving the people are.  I’m not sure being around super open and giving people is really for me.  As an introvert, I could see that being a lot of work, but I liked the Midwest okay.  That’ll be about the same, right?

So, I’m not feeling terribly verbose tonight, but I wanted to get this started before my two-day flight.  There is supposed to be internet at my apartment, so I’ll try to post while I’m there, but if not, as soon as I get home.  Wish me luck!