Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All good blogs must come to an end

Yesterday I sat in terminal C of ATL, with the plane on my right departing for Mobile and the one on my left departing for Birmingham. I wanted to get on both but figured I should take the one on the left since that was what my boarding pass said. A few minutes later I awoke from a power nap as the pilot said "We are now making our final approach to Birmingham." It was in English and it sounded very familiar, and yet very foreign to me. I immediately looked out the window of our CRJ 200 (this thing seemed like a go cart compared to the A330 and 767 I had traveled on earlier in this incredibly long day...and those two planes seemed like minivans compared to the triple 7 I took to Joburg in June, but like a go cart, the CRJ was more fun and gave a better view of the landscape below) and I saw a giant racetrack. I was puzzled and thought to myself "I don't remember Birmingham planning to build a giant racetrack this summer." A split second later I thought to myself "You IDIOT, that is Talladega!" And then I got excited and found Hwy 77 and spotted the little gas stations outside of Lincoln that I used to hit up on my many drives between Crossville and Auburn. I stared out the window from that point until we landed. I saw I-20 and Trinity Hospital (that would be Montclair to you old timers) and looked at Red Mountain which after being in Moshi seemed like an incredibly small hill. I was very impressed with Alabama's beauty from up high. I read Hemingway's The Green Hills of Africa this summer, it was in the backpack in front of my feet at this point along with the only other book out of the 7 I carried that I brought back - for those who are curious the other book was Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster - READ IT. Anyway, the green hills of Africa is great travel literature and describes Tanzania well, but I suddenly thought that it should be titled "The Green Hills of Africa have nothing on the Green Hills of Alabama" because they really don't. Alabama is much greener than any other place I have seen in the past two months (so that would make it greener than South Africa, East Africa, and Belgium - I was asleep for the approach to Atlanta) and it may have more trees than any place I have ever seen period. I am constantly amazed at how many trees we have. It will take me a long time to name them all. The tires touched down on the tarmac and I resisted the temptation to look for warthogs and gazelle in the grass surrounding the runway. I went to baggage claim and picked up my trusty grey hiking pack. Hugged baba, mama, kaka, and dada (that would be Nelson, Shirley, Blake, and Audra - dada means sister in Swahili and it doesn't necessarily imply blood relation). I cranked my car (this felt great) while constantly telling myself to stay right or I would die and went to Cracker Barrel with the family. I had fried catfish, hashbrown casserole, and fried okra.

Open Sore of the World

Dr. David Livingstone is probably the most famous missionary and explorer in African history. His last recorded written words were the following; "All I can add in my loneliness is, may Heaven's richest blessing come down on every one, American, English, or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world." He used the term open sore of the world to describe the East African slave trade which was centered in Zanzibar and the Tanzanian coast and lasted many years after slavery was abolished in Europe and the United States. The slaves from this area were taken to other parts of Africa, the Middle-East, Asia, and the South Pacific. Livingstone's writings, when taken back to Europe by Henry Stanley were very influential in bringing about the end of this. Although it happened after his death.

I was not familiar with this quote before traveling to Tanzania this summer and the words open sore of the world have gripped me. One needs to do nothing more than turn on the world news for a few minutes to realize that this world still has many "open sores". These sores are in many places, I can find them a few hundred meters from my house in 5 points Birmingham. And when I think of this term I can't help but be concerned for Juarez, Mexico and the people, many who are friends of mine, suffering there due to the drug wars and crumbling infrastructure. But perhaps there is no place where this open sore is more obvious than in Africa; the place where Livingstone first made the observation almost 150 years ago.

Today the people are not being captured and sold into slavery. But many millions are still in bondage. Oppressed by extreme poverty, hunger, corrupt governments, global corporate exploitation, and perhaps the worst health epidemic in history, Africa is a glaring open sore. And many of its people are born with the weight of the world on their shoulders. As I write this another quote comes to mind that a friend shared with me a couple of years back. This one is by Henry Nouwen and it states that "God has chosen to reveal himself in a crucified humanity". This too may be more obvious in Africa than anywhere else. And so we must respond...but how?

I don't have the answer. The situation is too complex for my understanding. I am convinced that "volunteer tourism" and short term missions from the west are not the answer, although they may be a very small piece of it. I am also convinced that the answer is not going to come from an American, English,...or Turk for that matter (nothing against Turks, I have met some really cool ones). I believe that, just like the sores on my body, the open sores of the world must heal themselves. And like the sores on our bodies, things can be done to aid and expedite that process. But the healing comes from within. Africa must heal itself. And after visiting alone and seeing East Africa in a new and revealing way. I know that it can. Many Africans are in the process of bringing about that healing even as I write. And many more soon will be. I had long conversations with my friend Prudence in Dar es Salaam. He is beginning his fourth year of medical school and has a passion to help Tanzania's many street orphans. He also has very detailed plans to do so that impressed me very much. And I expect he will see them through, and I hope to help. I have also had conversations with my Kenyan friends Jack Ogutu (currently studying in Auburn) and John Kiarre who lives in Nairobi. They are committed to serving their brothers and sisters and their faith inspires me. I am optimistic about Africa's future. Not unlike Livingstone's slave trade, the current wounds can and will heal.

And by healing I do not mean that Africans live like Americans. That would be foolish and unsustainable. I mean that they have a quality of life and health, and availability of opportunity comparable to Americans. That can and should coexist in simplicity and sustainable living. So how do we treat the wounds to bring this about? The most simple answer, and the only one that my mind can grasp is this; six years ago, upon returning from an Auburn Wesley trip to Tanzania, a family of missionaries who had served in East Africa encouraged us to become advocates for Africa. In my case they were preaching to the choir but I am here to repeat their message. We must become advocates for Africa. And this can take on many forms. I do not know if I will ever return to Africa. I now have many friends there and hope to visit them again. And if there is a needed service that I can perform in person then I will gladly go do it. But without rushing off to a distant land we can still give prayers and support. And this means a lot more than sending a check to help some kids. We need to be intelligent and aware so that everything we do, every service we perform, is maximally effective. The challenges are too great and the road too long for us to act irresponsibly.

And I will leave it at that. And ask you to pray that God will show you how best to be an advocate for Africa, how best to love Christ as he is revealed in his crucified humanity. I am still figuring out my own way. But I know one thing. I will be a friend of Africa, its people, and I can easily do that for the rest of my life.

And, all I can add in my loneliness is this, may Heaven's richest blessing come down on everyone, and I do mean everyone, who will help to heal these open sores of the world.

"Mzungu (white person), give me my money"

Walking down the street my first morning in Moshi a group of small children approached me, held out their hands, and said "Mzungu, give me my money". I just laughed and told them habari and kept going. I thought it was kind of cute. I didn't realize that I would be hearing this phrase, multiple times a day, everyday, from children and adults, for the next 6 weeks. Sometimes people said it with a smile as if they were joking. Some said it with expectant looks. Some said it with scornful looks. Most said it as a reflex to my caucasian skin, as if they were not thinking about what they were saying at all. Some who said it clearly lived in poverty, others clearly did not. But virtually everyone said it.

After a few weeks this started to annoy me. Sometimes I would rudely reply "you give me my money" (this was after I my wallet had been borrowed along with all of my shillings - check out the Victoria blog for more info) or "I don't have YOUR money". I would say it with agitation. Afterward, I would wonder if I were telling the truth. I wondered if somewhere in the convoluted and corrupt history of the socioeconomic web that covers and connects our planet, maybe I had received their money. I don't know. I didn't ponder these questions too long I just filed them away and went about my business. And most of the time I tried to be polite. And I think I was. But this phrase still bothers me.

It was clear that these people were taught from a very young age to associate light skin with money. I would see volunteers and tourists from Europe and the Americas going down the street and giving money and random things to random children and then not having things to give to other random children watching further down the street. I was not sure about the benefit of this and decided not to participate in the "acts of random santa clause" as I labeled it in my head. Instead, I would try to talk to the kids, finding out their names and where they go to school. I would try to treat them as equals. I don't know if they realized that was what I was doing but by the time I moved out of the international house every kid on the street, and most of the adults, knew my name. As I passed in the morning or evening they would run up to me screaming Nicho-laus or Neek-O. Sometimes they would say give me my money and then smile and leave before I had a chance to reply. By the way, "mzungu, give me my money" was about the only english phrase many of them could speak.

I am not going to lie. I hate this phrase. The word for white person in Swahili is one letter different from the word for God (mzungu, and Mungu) and I doubt that is a coincidence. I hate that a generation of people are taught that they are inferior. I saw the frustration on some of their faces as they spoke to me. I imagined that they were thinking in Swahili and asking themselves and wondering "now why am I asking this loser for money again?" If that is what they were thinking I don't blame them at all. And I don't like the random acts of santa clause either. Not only do they exclude some children but they feed into the collective social consciousness of inferiority that seems to be the general rule in this part of Africa.

I didn't really know what to do but I wanted my actions to empower, not belittle. I don't want these children thinking that they have to ask wazungu for handouts the rest of their life. I want them studying and working to change the face of Tanzanian society because they know that they are equal to any person, no matter the color of their skin, though they have many obstacles. And thank God many of them are doing just that. I am excited about what some of my new friends will do. Well, these are my opinions and theories on the phrase "mzungu, give me my money". I can't prove them. And I hope that they are wrong.

I am writing this blog by hand in my Barometer Soup travel journal in the Brussels airport. I will post it when I get back to Birmingham. As I write I am surrounded by wealthy wazungu and I am thinking about sitting on the floor and putting my hat out and saying "mzungu, give me my money". With my old clothes and shaggy appearance I might be able to get enough to buy some food. My $10 US will barely get a coke here. But I am not going to do it. I am way too proud for that. Plus, I don't need to, I get on the plane in a couple of hours and they will give me lunch. If not, I have several granola bars and cookies in my backpack.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tales from the Spice Islands

So I went to Zanzibar. One of East Africa's spice islands (not to be confused with the Island of the Spices). I didn't really know much about Zanzibar but I thought it had a cool name and I have had a serious deficiency of beach this summer and I have heard it mentioned in some Jimmy Buffett songs so there was no way I was going to be this close and not go. It is a 2 hour ferry ride from Dar if you take the fast ferry (which I did) and between 4 and 10 hours if you take the slow boat.

Pulling into Zanzibar harbor i couldn't help but be impressed by the crystal turquoise water and dhows parked lazily on the beach with children splashing beside them. But dominating the field of vision above the waterfront are the colonial and precolonial buildings of Stone Town. And they immediately filled me with a sense of wonder.

Upon leaving the boat I was greeted by a taxi drive wearing a University of Alabama polo. He eloquently informed me that "the man standing in front of you is a taxi driver" and I politely inquired, "Does the man standing in front of me know what kind of shirt he is wearing?" He said he did but couldn't tell me much about Alabama and I joked with him a little and said if he were wearing an Auburn shirt I would take a ride but then assured him that I didn't need one because a friend had arranged someone to meet me at the port and give me a tour of stonetown. But the friend of Dr. Karim from St. Joseph's didn't show up (it turns out he thought I was coming a few days later) and after waiting for a little while I decided to dive into Stone Town alone....and I am glad I did.

Stone Town is shrouded in antiquity and seems to be straight from an Arabian fairytale. I could wander around for days following its narrow cobblestone streets (they were about 4 feet wide) dodging scooters and watching children playing, walking past shops and inns and mosques, and the occasional fortress-like Cathedral (there are only 2 on this island that is 99% muslim, but they are huge, impressive buildings). I kept looking for a magic carpet or Aladdin's lamp and think if I had stayed much longer I would have found them. Anyway, after a few hours I met up with some of the volunteers that had stayed in Moshi earlier in the summer and so I spent the rest of my two days with them and the misunderstanding with my guide wasn't a problem. So the first day I spent wondering around Stone Town.

The second day I had to find a beach and of course the more the difficult the beach is to get to the better it is right? We decided to go to one on the eastern shore of the island (Stone Town is on the western shore) named Pongwe. It took us 2 hours on the bus and when we got there we were the only people on the beach. But this place was awesome. The beach was made of snow white sands and bordered by a tropical palm forest with a sleepy little fishing and seaweed farming village nestled within the trees and lining parts of the beach. And the water was beautiful, but it was about a half a mile away because the tide was out. I spent a while admiring the beach and trying to imagine how much better it would be if the tide were in. And when I could take it no longer I hiked for about 45 minutes over exposed rocky ocean floor and tidal pools to get to the water so I could swim a little. It was nice.

Afterward I talked extensively with the local shaman and complemented him on the great beauty and tranquility of his beach. He informed me that he had dreamed of a much better beach located in Southern Mexico and advised me to head west immediately. This frustrated me to no end but I did as he said and began journeying west as far as Stone Town where i stopped to rest for the night and enjoyed a feast of grilled octopus, red snapper, and shrimp at the local seafood market - this part is true. (I cannot confirm or deny the statements regarding the shaman in the previous paragraph. He may or may not have existed. And the statements regarding Mexican beaches may or may not be my own humble, yet somewhat knowledgeable, opinion - seriously, can you beat the Caribbean? I think not.)
The next morning I spent a few hours hypnotically exploring the maze of buildings that is Stone Town (i honestly enjoyed this as much as the beach) and then caught the 2:00 Ferry back to Dar. I knew there were problems when as we were leaving the harbor the crew began passing out plastic bags that were labeled "sick bag". I am by no means a salty sea captain but I have been on a few boats and never really had problems with sea sickness. But then again, I had never been on a sea like this. As our 200 passenger catamaran cut through the waves headed to Dar we encountered huge swells and the boat was constantly rocking and bouncing and crashing into the water. I saw many European tourists as their faces slowly went from a tanned bronze to a sickly green and felt the green invading my own face as well (I think I would have been fine if it had not been for the bad breath and B.O. of the man sitting to my left who was a very nervous Tanzanian and would not stop talking to me). The boat was also very warm in the lower deck which did not help any. So I spent the better part of the next two hours taking deep breaths and listening to people vomit behind me and smelling the vomit when the wind died down. This was not pleasant. And I timidly lined the inside of my hat with the barf bag and prayed i wouldn't have to use it. And I did not get sick. Once the boat was docked I had to step over a pool of someone elses vomit to get off of the boat. And all during the trip they were herding sick white people out to the bow, I had a good view of this from my seat and would have enjoyed it much more if it hadn't been for my own nausea.

Back in Dar (I really felt at home in this city, it is huge, coastal, laid back, and runs on typical African "organized chaos), I could feel the bronze replacing the green on my face and with it came confidence that I could find my way around the city on my own. So I negotiated a cab to take me back to the medical school where I was staying (some friends I had met here in 2003 were hosting me). Once in the cab, after about half of the trip someone ran a stoplight and crashed into the cab on my side. It seemed like a minor fender bender but as we continued on the tire blew out. I insisted on paying the guy extra for his trouble and then had to get a new taxi back to the hospital. So I survived barfboat 09 and a taxi wreck within an hour of each other and it was fun.

Dar has also inspired me to write a song about Tanzania's public transportation system of daladalas. The song is titled "Butt in the face" and is sung to the tune of Band on the Run. I have only written one line so far....

So, in summation, Go to Zanzibar! and spend some time in Dar on the way!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Adios Africa

I am in Nairobi now. My flight leaves in about 11 hours. The travel books describe Nairobi with words like Nai-robbery and sinister. I have been here 3 days and have not felt sinister or like robbing anyone. As a matter of fact I would say this; if you can spend only one day in East it in Nairobi. This city gave me my first taste of Africa 12 years ago and it was love at first sight. It is the hub of diversity in this region of the world...towering new skyscrapers that look over a pristine national park on one side and one of the largest slums in the world on the other. Economic disparity is more evident here than anywhere. You can see just about any African animal in the wilderness just beyond the city limits. Everyone speaks swahili, and everyone speaks english. Masaai warriors walk down the road dressed in their bright blue and red shukas. 6 lane highways are sometimes brought to a dead halt by herds of cattle crossing the road. The sky is dotted with jumbo jets and jumbo Maribu storks. It is a city worth experiencing. It kind of reminds me of a mega sized Birmingham and it feels a little like home.

In the past week I have been to Dar es Salaam (an amazing city very different from Nairobi, I felt at home there as well and loved the coastal culture, I will write a lot about it soon), Zanzibar, and taken a 15 hour bus ride across kenya and Tanzania in which I successfully avoided Tanzanian immigration one final time (please remind me to tell about this when I get home). I have seen Kilimanjar one last time, I don't think it was a coincidence that the clouds parted as the bus drove by. I think the mountain was telling me Kwaheri.

So this is my situation, I have 10 US dollars, 500 Kenya shillings, 3 cancelled credit cards that I keep for sentimental value, and an envelope full of travelers cheques that I have no intention of using. If I can get through the rest of the day with the 500 shillings that will give me 10 US dollars to get me through Europe and back to Alabama. I don't know how many miles I have to travel but I am going to budget myself 1 dollar per 1000 miles, that should be plenty.

I am missing Africa already and I havent left yet. But I am missing home more. I have much that I have to do when I get home, and much more that I want to do. I know life is going to slap me in the face hard. Hopefully I can smile and roll with the punches. And I am glad that I can honestly say, at least for some of you, I will see you tomorrow, if God wishes of course :) . So see you tomorrow. Thanks for reading, I will probably write a few more when I get back.



Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Comedy of errors

Warning: This is not a real blog, I just had a few minutes of FREE internet and thought I would make the most of it. Enjoy.

It came to my attention the other day that for the entire summer I have been mispelling the name of my favorite tree. Baobob is actually spelled baobab (it is still pronounced Baobob as in scott BAO and what about BOB). This error has weighed heavily on my conscience and I just had to make the correction.

In a related matter I have cancelled all of my flights and built an ark-sized dhow out of banana leaves, monkey spit, and zebra hair. I will travel in this vessel, manned by an able bodied crew of baboon and hippopotamus, from Dar Es Salaam to Mobile bay. The cargo of my precious ark will be Stanley, Livingstone, Bono, and Goolsby (this is for the little boy pants comment), which are the names of my favorite Baobab trees. I have uprooted them and will replant these trees with their house sized trunks in the following locations: Mobile, AL - Sandge Brinings back yard, Auburn, AL - Samford Lawn, Birmingam, AL - 2620 Niazuma Ave. Parking Lot, and finally my parents backyard in Crossville, AL (and hopefully CJ will not eat the tree). Afterward my ark dhow will be employed alongside my favorite sailboat Sundancer (which will be manned by a crew of Jarvii clones - this fake blog is full of inside jokes) in making the vision of Caribbean caravan a reality. The fleet will be commodored by the one and only Captain Jones (although there are two) and our journey will consist of an island hopping route between the Island of Freedom and Tobago.

Other news: Do you know the ninja (this is a terrible adjective) muslim women, the ones who cover every square inch of there body in black except for the eyes...well, I think that they have beautiful eyes and it is a shame that they look away everytime I make eye contact...that is all I have to say about that.

On Saturday I attended the university of Dar Es Salaam and had to fight a monkey for my backpack (this is kind of true). The university has 35000 students and to my knowledge no Wesley Foundation (Juuulius - if you are reading this, I think they could use you,....I could translate, maybe).

I am going to have to blog on Zanzibar but not yet, lets just say that its waters are every bit as spectacular as the electric blue lonely liar book picture showed. And here are the highlights of my voyage their - vomit (not mine), car wreck (maybe mine), a University of Alabama shirt, semi-true stories and a lot of things that I could never make up....coming soon, the Tale of the Spice Islands.

From Dar es Salaam, me being 100% healthy and happy, Good night and good luck.

War Eagle!



ps - Sorry for all of the monkey business, the baboon didn't like it either and I have pictures to prove it. this part is true.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The live version

I am wrapping things up in Moshi. Friday I head to Dar. Then to Zanzibar. Then to Nairobi. Then to Brussels. Then to Atlanta. Then to Bham. If God wishes (that is what all the Africans say) I will be back home on Tuesday August 4th. I will try to blog a little from the road if I can. I also have at least 2 thoughtful posts I am going to make once I get home. But there is much I have not written about or just forgot to write about.....

so here are some flash words to jog my memory next time I see you wonderful people. And like my cousin says, the live version is always better.

-warrring Greeks, Penelope Cruz confusion, European girls taking multiple candid photos of me (I hate this and don't know why it happens), being on the daladala when it exploded (I aint kidding), snakes (but not King Cobras), geckos, deep swahili conversation with the staff of international house, countryside misadventures with Bwana Paul, MBEGE, Swahili flirting with the cooks at the hospital, being proposed to at least 4 times (Siliewi kwa nini wanawake Afrikani wakili sana na wanawake Marekani wajinga sana....Natania tu! pole mimi!), Dr. Babu, yoga, and lots of other stuff that I can't think of right now.

So here is a poem i stumbled across somewhere along the way(its not Bits and Pieces by Dick, I mean Lois, Cheney- but thats a great poem)...something for you to read and pass the time while I am on the road.

Traveler by W.L. Kent

God bless the traveler
Blown with the wind
finding a home wherever
He can find a friend

Guide her on life's pathway
Leaving footprints of joy.
A smile for each new day
May all her talents you employ.

Blessed to be a blessing.
The traveller wanders on.
Unencumbered and addressing
Any need that is shown.

Through solitude and commune,
compelled by your small voice
Refreshed by Spirit Triune
Seeking wisdom with every choice.

Thankful for the freedom
Yet knowing its not free.
Conscious of the Kingdom
Wherever they may be.

The traveler is but a servant
In motion for highest cause.
Chasing the magnificent,
In spite of all the flaws.

Constant and ever ready,
New horizons to explore.
Love, simple and steady,
Gives the strength to endure.

God bless the traveler.
Along the journey that we share.
May we faithfully deliver,
Your Peace, sweet and fair.

And here is one that I wrote at 3:00 am after taking lariam (that stuff is like kryptonite for sleep - that was for you Sarah ;)

Lariam side effect blues by N.T. Wilkes

I cant sleep.
My learning curve is steep.
If I get out of bed,
I will have a mosquito on my head.
Woe is me.
I am so sleepy...
But I can't sleep.

I am 27 years old and as far as I can remember this is the first poem I have ever written....what a waste of talent. I am a poet and I didn't know it.

And I wrote this one the next night (sometimes the side effects linger a little) this one has no title.

Here's the book.
Here's the pen.
It's 3 am.
Let's begin.

- Well thats all I've got. Time to go say my sad goodbyes to the hospital and set sail for ZanZibar!

tutaonana baadaye!

Never Go to Church Alone

Sunday morning I decided I would try to go to the Moravian Church. It is about.5 miles from the hospital. I went by a couple of times earlier in the week to ask about the service time and no one was there but I just knew for some reason that it started at 10. So about 9:40 I started walking that way. When Igot to the church there was a crowd out front and I greeted them in Swahili. They welcomed me. I asked what time the service was (Ni saa ngape misa...i think). And they said 10. I asked if anyone spoke english. They all denied it but one man told me to come with him and went into the church and sat down.

The service consisted of about 45 minutes of singing (the choir onlyhad 8 people but they sounded amazing) and an hour and a half sermon by a lady. I guess the pastor had the day off as he just sat at the front watching the congregation. They spoke really fast and I realized how terrible my Swahili is. They read ps. 23, Jer 23, Ephesians 2, and Mark 6. Then she talked a long time about food and children and I am not sure what else. At the end of the service they marched the house and I gave the few shillings I had in my pocket. Then we went outside and stood in a circle and I dont know what was going on but it seemed like they were auctioning off bible covers and avacados, although no moneywas exchanged. He was definitely holding up things and c alling numbers. They gave away the Bible covers and some avacados and then I heard the infamous word "mzungu" spoken. I wasn't sure what to do because I had given all of my money to the offering and had not bid on the avacados. Then he brought them to me and said in English "this is your prize" and everyone laughed and applauded. I still don't know what happened but I have some nice avacados that I will eat soon.

Everything so far was somewhat expected. But next my friend whom I sat beside brought a teenage boynambed Abraham over (I think he was his son). Abraham spoke english and is in the equivalent of the tenth grade. But the father Yusufu did thetalking and Abraham translated about half of what he said. Yusufu asked if I would like to come to his home to eat and pointed beside the church. THinking he lived next door I said yes. We went beside thechurch and jumped in his pickup with about 10 other children and drove several kilometers to a part of Moshi I have never seen before called Pasuo or something. Abraham and I sat up front with Yusufu. He asked me ifI ate pork andI said yes. This is an honor because pork is hard to find here with the heavy Muslim influence.

Yusufus house was clean and nice and about 2x the size of my apartment and I think it is shared by 2 families. He could speak about as much English as I can speak Swahili and we had good Swenglish conversation. Yusuf is a small business owner in Moshi that distributes sugarcane, peanuts, and corn. We talked for a while the Yusuf and I were served food at the table. I don't know where everyone else ate or what they had. We had ugali, BBQ, and fanta. About halfway through the meal Yusuf insisted thet I drink milk with him. I tried to say no thanks but he was persistent. So I said okay and for the first time in recent memoryI hoped I was drinking a Nestle product (I can't stand Nestle and I will tell you about it if you want to know). Nestle powdered milk is very common here. Instead I got a cup full of thick, sour, chunky, cold, white, gooey stuff that I downed in 3 gulps and chased with fanta and started thinking aboutt he brucella cases at the hospital and started having flashbacks to Tuxpan, MX and Quito Ecuador....

Other than the milk, the food was amazing and I stuffed myself. Afterward I watched a not so pay-per-view WWE Bash with Yusuf and Abraham. Ray Mysterio beat Chris Jericho for the intercontinental title. Chris Jericho and Edge won the unified tag team belts and I thought Triple H and Randy Orton were about to wrestle for the Heavyweight title and figured I should get back to the Hospital and told them I needed to leave. They proceeded to give me a big sugarcane and a bag of peanuts. As we were leaving I noticed the WWE Diva match was starting and suddenly wanted to stay but it was a little late then (typical Trent timing).

On the way back they asked me the names of my family. Since I am Nicholas here I figured my Dad would be James and my brother Patrick (all the men in my family go by their middle name). My mom got to stay Shirley. THey made me promise to greet James, Patrick, and Shirley for them and I will. They also asked me to visit again should I return to Tanzania. And we offered each other God's blessing (Mungu akubariki). I walked back to my room with a 4 foot piece of sugarcane slung over my shoulder with bags of avacados and peanuts. Dr. Sister Lymo saw me and started laughing and made me explain where I got this stuff. She said she would roast the peanuts for me and have some one cut up the sugarcane. I told her I could handle the avacados myself.

Sitting in my room later I thought about the scripture that says to entertain strangers. They might be angels. Knowing I am no angel I thought that maybe it works both ways and I was entertained by a family of angels today. People with so little offered a complete stranger so much...and my heart was strangely warmed (I had to throw that in there)...and I digested that gooey, sour, slimy, milky, nasty, goodness just fine.

Appendecto-Me na Chapati

Last Friday I scrubbed in and assisted with an appendectomy. I stood on the patients left side. To my right was Dr. Rita - a clinician at the hospital who is training to do surgery and this was her fourth time to operate. Directly across from me was Fatima - the lovely scrub nurse who could probably do this operation in her sleep. To Fatima's left was Dr. Karim - the chief surgeon in charge of the procedure. I held retractors and blotted up blood and had to ask the circulating nurse to adjust my mask because it was falling off of my face. It was a great experience and the best view of a surgery I have ever had. That was great but I think last Saturday may have been better.

I told "mama Lucy", one of the nurses, that I wanted to learn to cook chapatis. So she said to come to her house at mid day on saturday and arranged from some guy named Mrombo that works at the hospital to take me because the route was kind of confusing (she lived much further away than I thought). So 12:00 rolls around and Mrombo is a no show. Not concerned, I pull out my patented Swahili phrase "namtafuta Mrombo" ( I am looking for Mrombo). And pretty soon I have someone helping me find him...except we don't. They tell me he has gone to the shamba (farm) and will not be back today and I start thinking that I might not learn to cook chapatis.

Phase 2 of my spontaneous plan is to ask for Mama lucy's phone number and try to contact her. 30 minutes later, I finally find an older nun who doesn't speak English that knows the number. I dial, and it doesn't go through. I try several times and finally get her and convince her that I can find it myself if she gives me directions. The next 2 hours are transit in which I went to Moshi town on a daladala and then got on a bus (I wasn't expecting this) to a place called Umbwe. Th bus started toward Arusha on the main road and then after a while turned right and started heading up the mountain on a dirt road through woods and farmland. I knew just enough swahili to get them to drop me off at Sambarai church (which I thought was samurai and was expecting to fight ninjas).

Once there I called mama L and she said she was on her way. After about 20 minutes she shows up and then leads me on a 20 minute hike through the biggest cornfield I have ever walked through. Actually it was half sunflower, half corn, planted together. And then we get to her house which is in the middle of the cornfield. It is nice with power and indoor plumbing but we cooked over coals outside to save electricity.

Chapati ingredients : flour, water, salt, sugar, oil ....mixed to a play-dough consistency then rolled out like pizza crust and cooked in a frying pan - they look like tortillas. I have had hundreds in the past 5 weeks and love them. As i rolled them out she told me to keep adding dry flour to prevent sticking like they add hydrocortizone cream to a wound dressing at the hospital to prevent sticking (i wasn't sure of this metaphor but afterward she kept calling the flour hydrocortizone and cracked me up. I will never be able to call flour anything else...this may cause my future wife confusion....). We cooked chapatis for a couple of hours and then I was invited in for supper and had rice and beef and chapati, it was very good.

As I was sitting at the dinner table I looked out the window and realized that Mama Lucy's backyard was as close to the mountain as I have yet been. Mama Lucy's backyard view is breathtaking. AS i was finishing my meal her husband came home (I think his name is Wilfred). He is a doctor at a hospital near the Kenya border and is gone during the week. I talked with them for a while and had a great time. Finally, at dusk, the dr. said "We had better escort youback to the bus before it gets too dark and someone sees you and thinks that you have a lot of money." and I said, "yeah, they would be disappointed". So they walked me back to the Sambarai church and put me on a bus (they offered to pay the fare but I refused to let them).

I like venturing out on my own and this was a good warmup for the next well as my solosafari across Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Kenya that I set out on this Friday...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Life and Death

I thought the most amazing things I could see on this trip were Kili, Lake Victoria, and the African sky. And these have truly amazed me. But nothing prepared me for how awestruck tuesday morning would leave me.

We brought the 35 year old expectant mother into the operating theater and gave her an epidural. Then the ceasarian section began. I saw a real live human being surgically removed from a real live human being. That is the most simplistic description I can give. But honestly, I can't describe it. The procedure itself was one of the messiest and bloodiest I have seen. But the end result is amazing. I can't claim to know how it feels to be a brand new father, but I can empathize a little bit more now.

So after an intense 5 minutes of blood and water and placenta the nurse was holding a perfect 3.5 kg baby boy upside down as he cried. It was beautiful. I looked at the baby and said "welcome to Africa kiddo. May your generation see this continent transformed and renewed." (Okay, I didn't really say that...I made goofy faces through the surgical mask and kept repeating in a squeaky, baby voice "Mambo Poa!, Mambo Vipi". But if I could go back I would say....No, I would do the exact same thing again - I know this because we did another C section the next day and my reaction didn't change).

This was awesome, but my exctasy didn't last long. As I was leaving the OR, Christina informed me that our burn patient (a lady in her mid 20's who had 2nd degree burns over 50% of her body from a cooking accident) had recently passed away. I helped treat her on Saturday and though that she was improving. This frustrated me a lot because it would never have happened with the right facilities. And later on that day another patient died. I have been at this small hospital for almost a month with no deaths and we have 2 in one day. So this left me in a bittersweet mood feeling selfishly grateful for my own life and health. (I would wake up at 3 am for the next two nights thinking about the burn lady and lots of other stuff - but I slept like a rock last night).

The fact is death is never far away in Africa. This is evidenced by all of the coffin factories. I described Moshi as the "Garden Spot" of Tanzania and it is relatively prosperous. But I could show you at least 2 roads in town that are lined with one coffin company after another. It is a sobering sight...

...Welcome to Africa beautiful babies. I pray that your generation sees this continent transformed and renewed.

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Altitudes

I moved to the hospital and like my new room as well as the old one. I am debating on whether to call it St. Somewhere or St. Elsewhere (feel free to vote, i probably wont decide until I get back to Bham). This is a 180 degree change from the International House as I am now living with a bunch of African nuns and an Austrian nurse named Christina who is about my age. She is a good nurse.

Anyway, these nuns know how to party, and I think they are all really cute. Too bad they are nuns. I was pretty arrogant about my ownership of the Fortress of Solitude so maybe it is poetic justice that I am now in a convent. WHatevuh! I like it here. There is also a Moravian church down the street and I suspect that this Sunday my heart will be "strangely warmed" (to my friends schooled in methodism forgive me if this is out of context...I get this and aldersgate confused...or are they the same thing? Sijui-swahili for I don't know).

I walked outside my first night at St. Something. My room is behind the hospital. I looked at all of the homemade bricks for the addition to the building that were drying in rows outside and it reminded me of a place not too far from here not too long ago. I then looked up into the cloudless African night and forgot everything I was thinking about. The hazy glow of the milky way and an infinite number of stars stretched out before me...I quickly focused on the Southern Cross, as I do every chance I get, and thought "O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth." And I knew that I had made a good move.

-Also, earlier that day a bird pooped on my hat while I was wearing it. That is the 2nd time this year that has happened and I think Pepe Loco is behind it. And I am very thankful for my hat because it obviously loves and protects me.

The Next Sunday

This past Sunday I was supposed to move to the hospital. My 3 hours of transit each day were causing me to miss morning rounds and afternoon operations. After talking with our director here he said I had to get permission (and more money) from the organization. I sent a patented mean email and the next day they were wiring money for me to move....speaking of mean emails Delta has changed my itinerary yet again so they better watch out. But I didn't move because my ride went to Nairobi and was delayed in getting back.

So I decided to take a walk and see if I could find a patient named Moses. A 12 year old Tanzanian who I had become friends with at the hospital as he was recovering from surgery. I was giving him english lessons and he gave me even better Swahili lessons. He said that he lived near where I said the international house was. So finding him consisted of me wandering aimlessly saying "namtafuta Macha " (I am looking for Macha-that is his family's name). After about 30 minutes and a couple of false leads, someone led me straight to the house and everyone was excited to see me. They gave me chicken (kuku) and rice (wali) and bananas (ndizi) and fanta (fanta).

We watched a live broadcast of a tent revival from Dodoma. The tent was easily larger than a football field and I was very impressed because I like tents a lot. There was a giant banner over the speakers podium that read "LISHA KONDOO ZANGU" (FEED MY SHEEP). I sat there with the family and watched this guy preach in swahili for over 2 hours. At one point one of the girls jumped up and everyone laughed and got excited. Apperently the preacher said "you watching this on the red couch with the hurt arm get up and pray"....well, we were all on red couches but the girl that jumped up possibly had a hurt arm that got better. I am not ready to call it a miracle yet because I wasn't really listening to the sermon. I was zoned out trying to think of jokes about chickens (kuku) and wondering where my Fanta was that they had promised to bring me. But this is my own fault and I have no doubt the Holy Spirit is equally powerful with or without my attention.

After this Moses showed me his music collection on the computer (this may have been the most well off family I have ever seen in Africa, still the tv was a 12 inch). He chose to open Red Red Wine and No Woman No Cry simultaneously. The preacher was also still going strong. I thought that the 2 songs with the swahili sermon in the background complimented each other well.

I stayed at the house for 3 hours then walked back to the hostel after dark with a couple of the family members escorting me. It was probably my favorite afternoon of the trip so far. Then I slept on the front porch of the Fortress of Solitude - I had already given it up to some dude from Eugene, Oregon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oasis and Shots in the Butt

2 Sundays ago we went to a place called MagiMoto (hot water). It is a hot springs that is between Moshi and Arusha. This trip involved us leaving the main road and driving for 1.5 hours over round Masaii village and baobob studded landscape. This experience was nothing short of breathtaking. After driving for an hour through very dry bush country I saw my first real live oasis. It was like something out of a book. A sea of bright green palms and acacias sitting in the middle of the brown bush country. Inside the green was a spot where on underground spring surfaced and literally the clearest water I have ever seen in my life. There were also turtles and monitor lizards. We went swimming. And if you are still not impressed I should add that from the edge of the oasis was the best view of Kili I have ever seen including all the post cards, national geographics and discovery channel shows. From this perspective you could fully appreciate its great height and width. It was simply awesome.

I spent the next week at the hospital helping the nurses. I have learned a lot and gotten to give a few shots in the butt as well as hold some old ladies hands who are scared of the nurses starting their IV's. I tell them "pole bibi" (i am sorry grandmother - all the elderly ladies are called grandmother in east africa), and they look at me with loving grandmother eyes and say "asante, asante".

All of the Lake Victoria ridiculousness got me way behind on blogging. I am trying to catch up. I have made some big changes and have a lot to report...I cannot do it with the 5 minutes of internet time that I have left and I need to start trekking back to my new home. Yeah, that is right. I moved. And I will write about it soon. To my family on vacation in Panama City Beach - I miss you and wish I could join you, play Goofy Golf for me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Snatching Victoria Part 3 (I swear this is the last one, thanks for humoring me)

Chapter 3:
I awake at 7:00 am Sunday mornint to Roman Cavalry choirs singing, check is Roman Catholic choirs. Anyway, I like it and we have breakfast before making our way to the ferry dock. From there I inquire about where to find the fishermen and am told to walk down the bank. So we do and come to a beach with 6 or 7 long, wooden, fishing boats anchored on the beach and people cooking fish and other people running around and selling fresh fish, almost all tilapia. But one man shows me a nile perch and while I am admiring it on of the Florida girls convinces a fisherman to take us on a boat ride for a small fee. We go down the bank, beside hotel Tilapia, around the Saa Nane island (as far as I can tell it is inhabited by fish eagles, gazelle, and monitor lizards...I was told it has crocodiles but I didn't see any) and then back to the fish beach.

After this we head into town for lunch and run into a guy from Michigan who asks if we have been to the giant fish market. I insist that we have not and he tells us the way. It is a huge building on the water that I have seen several times before and thought was a marina. It smelled like fish and there were miles and miles of fish and I saw some pretty big Nile Perch (4feet +). This place was also guarded by hundreds of Maribu Stork with their long jagged beaks, skinny legs, bald heads, and 5 foot wingspans. Cool and nasty at the same time.

After this we ventured several kilometers out of town and followed a herd of cattle down a dirt road for a couple of miles before coming to this tranquil ranch type place on the lakeshore with a beach and several cabanas and a restaurant and a volleyball net. I had some grilled nile perch with coconut sauce and it was some of the best fish I have ever had. There were also random Masaii guys guarding the door.

We played volleyball then took a cab to a marked that was selling hundreds of kangas, my favorite ones had Barack Obamas picture on them (I thought this was hilarious...I also think he is the king of Africa, these people are Obamamaniacs and they love Americans just because of him). Later on we decided to go to a store and get supplies for the 16 hour bus ride back. This consisted of me leading the group on a wild goose chase because, although the store was real, it was no where near where the lonely liar map said it was. And when we finally fount U-turn grocery (that is the real name), it was closed. So we had ice cream and went back to the hotel and went to bed early because the cab was coming to get us at 4:30 Monday morning to take us to the bus station to catch our 6:00 AM COACH (AM COACH is the name of the bus company) to moshi.

Chapter 4:
4:30 am - I hear a cab pull up outside. Pack my sleeping bag into my backpack, and walk outside to negotiate cab fair. All 6 of us cram into a taxi and then catch our bus. I see a fast, and beautiful sunrise illuminating baobobs in the distance and all I can think about is the song O Sifuni Mungu (if you don't know it look it up sometime...great song). And my billfold is in a very secure place and my money belt actually has money in it.

3:30 pm - the bus breaks down outside of a town called Endasak (prounounced by us as In-da-Suck). We are there for 3 hours and I meet a guy named Moses and another named William who said his dad had 20 wives and 50 children. I am impressed. Hemingway also writes about staying in a nice bed and breakfast near here in Babati but I don't think it exists anymore.

We are hot and the group is disgruntled and wants to hitchhike. Being the mzee (elder), I guess I have the final say...I resist my primal instincts to tear out across the countryside on Chacos making a straight line to Moshi with only a map and my smile to guide me...I tell them there is no way we are leaving the bus.

6:30 pm - They fix teh bus and we get to rolling. At some point during the drive a chicken is behind me and everytime we hit a bump it bellows out a tormented CaCaw! This is the vocalization of my own feelings and amuses me for a long time. i start looking forward to the bumps and laugh out loud often.

12:00 am Tuesday - We get to Arusha and change buses. It has been 18 hours since we left Mwanza.

1:15 am -We arrive home in Moshi and have to take a cab to the hostel. As we are pulling out a land Rover cuts us off and blocks the road. Our cab driver gets out and starts talking to them. I am getting ready to be relieved of my money again when the driver gets back in and starts following the land rover. Then suddenly he turns a different way and takes back roads to our house. I still don't know what this was about but I was glad to be home. I enter the Fortress of Solitude, take my sleeping bag out of my backpack, get in it, and close my eyes. Lala Salama!

The end, thanks for reading.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I found a USB port!

And I added pics of Wicker Mandela to the Safari Njema blog. A pic of the waterfall, and a pic of lake Victoria. But they took a very long time to upload. Salama!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Snatching Victoria from the Jaws of Defeat (Part deaux)

Chapter 2:

I wake up at 7am on Saturday morning to a choir of nuns singing (we are staying at a Catholic run hostel) and then go to the cafeteria for the complimentary breakfast. Afterward we wait 2 hours on Cleopatra who said she was going to give us a tour this morning but she never shows so we set out on foot. After walking about 1/4 of a mile I see it for the first time and I am not disappointed.

Lake Victoria is the source of "da Nile" and the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world. Gazing across the bank bordered by boulders and sand and lilypads and reeds and looking out across the lake there is water as far as the eye can see, and beyond that, Uganda. Victoria is equally as impressive as Kilimanjaro in its own way, and surprisingly much easier to spot. After spending several minutes soaking up Lake Victoria (figuratively that is)...I head to the town center to casch in my travellers checks. This takes almost two hours and I get a terrible exchange rate (I could wig out on Lonely Liar again but I'm not going to).

Next we go to the Mwanza market which is huge and I am excited, expecting to see miles and miles of fish but they are not there. I find this troubling and confusing. I ask for Nile Perch and I get tilapia, such is life. But the market is nice, crowded, and full of colors and smells.

From the market we head to lunch then trek to Capri point where the lonely L says we can take a 2000 shilling boat ride to an island game reserve called Saa Nane. But the actual price is 32000 and we cant negotiate anything cheaper so we leave and go to this wazungu (white man) paradise down the street called Hotel Tilapia. It has a pool and several restaurants and a peer and everything is very nice and a lot of Safaris begin or end here. I am impressed at first and we rest a little from our walk.

While hanging out poolside I notice some awesome boulders (Mwanza has to be the boulder capital of Africa, the giant smooth stones are everywhere in this city) and say we should go climb them. So most of the group follow me over there. After starting the climb I realize that there are little shacks nestled between the boulders and this is a very poverty stricken area with half naked (and naked) children running around and chickens and goats and it is right beside 5 star Hotel Tilapia. All of a sudden I am not as impressed with Hotel Tilapia and I am sick with myself for trespassing and climbing all over these peoples houses. The others go to the top but I head back to the hotel navigating my way through a barrage of children and adults saying "mzungu, give me my money" (this is a phrase that I have come to know well over the past few weeks and I intend to write a serious blog about it, but I can't yet because I am still processing) and me replying, "samahani, pole sana" (excuse me, I am very sorry).

After these events we walk back downtown to Mwanza's main waterfront and arrive just as the sun begins its descent. There is a nice waterside park and we check it out. I walk down the bank away from the others and find a boulder that uncannily resembles a lounge chair and I help myself to it. My rock recliner is very comfortable and is a great spot to take photos and take in the lake. As my travelling companions are napping on the grass or doing cartwheels or whatever, I stare out at the lake. I look across the Mwanza gulf bordered by rocky neighborhoods for miles until it opens up into the full length and depth of Lake Victoria. There are fish boats and dhaus and, for my parrothead friends, even tiny little handmade boats shaped just like a smile (I do not know if they were sailed my a magician) gliding over the surface of the water. The horizon brings the setting sun and a billion rays of light making a shimmering golden path straight to my eye. I can even feel the warmth on my face as I am seeing my second Tanzanian sunset of this trip.

Being in this setting makes me very contemplative and I start thinking about history. About some guy named John Speke who "discovered" Lake Victoria (I think the Africans beat him by a few thousand years) and how Dr. Livingstone died while trying to determine the source of the Nile and how it only took me 16 hours on a bumpy bus to get here. I think about how special this moment is...but how much more special it would be if any of my family or friends were here to share it with me. Then I think about all of those special people, most in the states, some scattered across Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Africa, probably lots of other places, and I say a prayer for them and then I feel really thankful and have a little private worship time (there is a church across the street from the park named St. Nicholas, and all of the africans call me Nicholas, pronounced NEEEKOL, this is probably just a coincidince) and I see my fellow volunteers and I am thankful that they are here to share the moment....And then I get up and tell them I am hungry and we finish the sunset at a Chinese place on the lakeshore. After that we may or may not have gone dancing to some live Swahili music (I can't believe I let those girls talk me into it, crazy Canadians).

to be continued...2/3 through, I hope I haven't exhausted anyone yet

Snatching Victoria from the Jaws of Defeat (Part 1)

Grab a coke and some popcorn and hang on because this is going to be a while.
This story actually begins 4 years ago when I was preparing to travel to South America and wanted some quick dry cargo pants. I realized that the youth XL were almost the same size as my regular 30x30s and $20 cheaper. So, in an attempt to be thrifty and wise I bought the kids pants. Did I mention that the main difference in the youth XL and the mens was that, other than the snugness, the pockets were significantly smaller...

Chapter 1:
4:30 am Friday morning. I awake to my alarm clock and a rooster crowing outside, stuff my sleeping bag into my backpack and leave the fortress to meet 5 others volunteers who are about to embark on an incredible journey. 2 weeks ago all of the volunteers but myself were planning on taking a safari this weekend. Having already been on safari and not wanting to spend $500.00 I decided I would do something else. And after seeing the biggest mountain in Africa I figured "why not go see the biggest lake". Once I told my new friends about my plan 5 of them defected from safari and joined me in this pursuit (they really weren't missing safari, they are smart people and realized that the safari is wherever I go). So myself, the french guy (Paul), the german guy (Justos), the canadian girl (Julie), and the florida girls (Jenny and Furdos) got a friend of ours in moshi to arrange transport to Mwanza, the 2nd largest city in Tanzania which happens to be on the shores of Lake Victoria. Our "11 hour" bus ride would leave Moshi at 6 am. The Lonely Liar book (from now on I will be referring to Lonely Planet as Lonely Liar) said that we could take a bus through the Serengeti, but this was not an option. Instead we went around the Serengetti, which made the drive about 2x as long.

7:30 am - After stopping to pick up passengers in Arusha I have a suspicious looking Tanzanian sitting beside me. My wallet is in my front pocket and, thinking that we have 10 more hours to go and I will fall asleep I should sit on my billfold to prevent being pickpocketed, I move it to the back pocket of my quick dry cargo pants....completely ignorant of the road ahead.

Our bus seats about 70 people and has no shock absorbing capabilities whatsoever. After leaving Arusha and passing the gate to the Serengeti, the road has not pavement whatsoever. And our driver does not like to go slow. The remainder of the bus ride was more like a rodeo, except instead of hanging on for 8 seconds you have to do it for 14 hours (remember, we have already been on the road for 2). This bus trip redefined the term "ride it don't fight it". I spent most of the time suspended in the air about inches above the seat. The rest of the time was spent crashing my shoulder into the window or bruising my butt while making repeatedly harder landings on the seat below.

11:00 am - I start reading the Green Hills of Africa by Papa Hemingway and realize that he is describing a safari he took in the 1930s at the exact same location my bus is currently bouncing through...I look out the window and try to picture the landscape the way he describes it. It is mostly agricultural now with small huts and farms. I try to see it the way it was, with savannah and bush and rhinos running around and stomping out fires. I am also impressed with my ability to read while being knocked around like a pinball - no doubt, this is a talent.

1:00 pm - The road is even rougher and dust is flying through the window and covering the passengers. As I look out the window to admire Mt. Hanang, it dawns on me that my pockets are small and my billfold my fall out so I should put it back in the front. I reach back to find an empty pocket and get a sick, stupid feeling all over. Once I realize that it is not in the floor around my seat I start to get an even sicker, stupider feeling. None of the other volunteers have seen it and my friend beside me pleads innocent and starts asking other passengers in Swahili if they have found it (I honestly think he was innocent).

3:00 pm - After making a couple of stops and I looking over the entire bus and talking to the crew on the bus, who all of a sudden cant speak any English, and realizing that my Swahili, although getting better, is still not good enough to say "everyone empty your pockets" or "who stole my money" (I did manage to get out Ninapotea pesa (I lost my money) but no one seemed to care about this mzungu) I take out my trusty Zantel phone and call my wonderful father whom I can always count on to impersonate me and cancel all of my credit cards (Kathryn, if you are reading this and need to make room in the safe you can trash my papers. They are no good to anyone now). The contents of the wallet are 91000 TZ shillings (roughly $60 or about 2 months wages for the average Tanzanian according to Lonely Liar), my credit and debit cards and insurance card and drivers license. It bothers me that whoever found my money didn't return it but I wonder how great the temptation would be for me if I were in their shoes and found a small fortune. With my cards cancelled I now begin to relax and enjoy the countryside again. I still have emergency travellers checks in my money belt but was dumb didn't put any money there. And I kind of like the thought of being a poor mzungu in Africa.

5:00 pm - We have passed hundreds of Baobab trees (my favorite tree on earth, i like them even more than live oaks) and I still get excited every time I see one. We also pass some baby-bob trees (that is what I call the young baobobs). Oh, and someone with a chicken just sat down beside me.

7:00pm - I am seeing my first Tanzanian sunset of this trip (we don't get this in the cloudy mountains of Moshi) and it is priceless. Watching the profile of a magnificent baobob surrounded by a burning orange sun that seems to melt into the savannah, I couldn't care less that I lost all of my money. Oh, and some dude sits down beside me and starts singing in Swahili and I suspec that he is drunk or possibly has some type of mental illness.

8:15 - I have been asleep for about 15 minutes (the only time I slept the entire bus ride) when I awake to see that the singing swahili guy (still singing) has his left pinky and ring finger in my right pocket. I want to say "you are too late buddy" but instead I just give him the "you got to be kidding me" look...He gently removes his fingers from my pocket and folds his hands in his lap...and never stops singing.

9:15 - The conductor shines his light in my eyes and then hands me my wallet. The contents of the wallet are now 0 TZ shillings, 3 cancelled cards, drivers license, insurance card. I just laugh and am kind of relieved because I like the billfold.

10:30 pm - The bus tops in Mwanza, bruised and exhausted we get off and are greeted by a friend of our friend in Moshi. Her name is Cleopatra. I finally reach the source of the nile and I am received by Cleopatra. I think this is freaking awesome. And I also thank God to be off of the bus and realize that 16.5 hours on the road is a new record for me beating out the Sons of Robert F. Townsend drive in Mexico earlier this year (that is still my record for driving in one day - for more on the adventures of the Sons of Robert F. Townsend check out Cleo takes us to a hostel and the end of a very long day is capped by the news of Michael Jackson's death and I am a little sad but really excited about being so close to Lake Victoria and the notorious Nile Perch. be continued (I realize that only the people who love me the most are going to read this saga and hopefully it is not a waste of your time, we are now 1/3 of the way through this tale).

Cold on the 4th of July

So this is to catch you up on the past week. I have been working in the lab this weeking. Pricking a lot of fingers, checking for malaria (I am getting better at this), and HIV - I alwasy pray these turn out negative, sadly some do not, and other stuff...parasites etc. It has been educational and i have gotten some good experience. I also watched a couple of procedure one was removing an impacted placenta and the other was a hemorrhoidectomy...I will spare you all the details but I do want to say the following. One of the procedures was done by the most respected surgeon at the hospital. I haven't met him before this week. His name is Dr. Professor (if you think that is awesome keep reading). So Dr. P shows up and scrubs in and I talk to him for a few minutes and am very impressed but as we go into the operating theatre and he gets scrubbed using disposable gowns and gloves and masks just like we do it back home I notice that he is wearing flip flops. He never takes them off and wears them for the entire duration of the surgery. This guy is my newest hero.

Also...It is winter here all of a sudden. I think the high was in the sixties today and it has been relatively cold all week. Lots of wazungu are getting head colds and some are coming to our hospital. I saw 4 Canadian girls the other day. They were sick and scared and clueless and very happy that i spoke English and started singing Sweet Home Alabama after i introduced myself. Unfortunately for them I am just a as clueless as they were, actually I helped them out (as I am typing this a wedding procession is going by outside and there is a brass band and drums in the back of a truck, it is awesome and will probably lead to typos). I saw them today and they looked healthier and said they were feeling good. By the way there malaria tests turned up negative.

That is about it I think except that the Colorado people left today and the Greeks and Spaniard are leaving Monday. Canadian Julie and French Paul left yesterday. The house is getting small again. A new canadian girl came yesterday. The Fortress of Solitude is as strong as ever but I am going to miss my new friends. Happy 4th of July folks...I miss my old friends too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

St. Joe's

I finally started volunteering at the hospital this week. I really like it there. It is a Catholic hospital named St. Joseph Hospital after the patron saint of stepfathers (I don't know if that is true, i made that up and I apologize if I offended anyone) several kilometers out of town and has about 50 beds but in July they are opening up a new building and adding 100 beds. About 70% of the patients admitted are admitted for malaria. The first day i made rounds with one of the doctors and took a lot of blood pressures before heading to the operating room to observe an appendectomy. The operating room is semi modern and the surgery went well. It felt good being back in the OR. Reminded me of my days at Southern Surgical in Slidell, LA (thanks Dr. Gosey and family for that great experieince). I did have one moment of concern when the power flickered and the overhead light went out. Hakuna matata, the circulating nurse just grabbed a flashlight and they kept going. Probably my least favorite part of the day was when all the recently circumsiced, preteen, boys showed up to have their bandages replaced. I could have lived without that but whatever. I am shadowing an OBGYN doc, who does everything else too, this week and then working in the lab next week, hanging out with the nurses the following week, and working with the doctors again the last two weeks. It should be a good experience.

Today i made the 30 minute walk from the house to the first dala dala station. Caught a ride into downtown Moshi. Walked 3 blocks to catch the Soweto (where the hospital is) dala dala and waited for a long time for it to fill up with passengers. Rode it to the last stop then walked the last 10 minutes to the hospital. It took me an hour and a half to get there and I made it just in time for the surgery of the day. THey removed several myomas from a womans uterus. The myomas ranged from marble size to tennis ball size. It was pretty amazing. And I got to assist in the surgery...when the power went out today I held the flashlight. The nun/doctor (she is both) who runs the hospital laughed and said "this is what happens in Africa". But the surgery went well.

I have managed to make 3 blog posts and check my email in 1 hour. perhaps i am getting better at this internet cafe thing.


Fortress of Solitude

I know i have made a lot of superman references which is odd because i am a spiderman guy, but I haven't been bitten by a radioactive spider yet. When that happens I will blog about it.

The international house got a lot more American last weekend when an anthropology professor from a small college in Colorado showed up with 12 of his students. We were already crowded but then we got even more cozy and the fact that I have my own room out back became even more important. Some of the original roster were a little disgruntled at the tight conditions and i made sure to exacerbate that by bragging about my private room. I have started calling it the fortress of solitude. The director tried to put 3 of the Colorado people in the room with me (it is actually a small room with one bed) and I had to use some jedi mind tricks to keep it all to myself. The fact that those guys didn't want to be crammed on the floor also helped. But I did lose some ground, I now have 6 people sleeping on my porch and I have to share the bathroom and shower with them. That is ok. They are nice. I don't let them into the fortress though. They are going to be here for another 8 or 9 days i think. It has been fun.

I should also mention that the hippie points for the house shot out the roof when the class arrived. I knew that I was slightly out of my element when the breakfast table conversation was how opium is better than marijuana. I kept my professional opinions to myself.

Peace and Love,


Chasing Waterfalls

As usual, I am writing really fast. So I apologize in advance. Last Saturday all of the volunteers went for a hike to look at 3 waterfalls. This was one of the best hikes i have been on in a while and hte waterfalls were beautiful (sorry no pics, i will upload some as soon as i can, it will probably be August). So the day began with us catching a dala dala (a Tanzanian minibus) in Moshi...we then went for about a 30 minute ride up the foothills of Kilimanjaro. I asked how far the dala dala would take us and the guide said "as far as he is able". I soon found out what that meant. We kept going up muddy dirt roads and passing through small villages and mountain forest. the road kept getting muddier and narrower. At its most dangerous point the dala dala began to fishtale. Undaunted, the drive continued up the mountain. A little further on he fishtaled again and the side of the bus bumped into a lady on the side of the road and knocked her in the ditch. She got up angry but unhurt. I had a great view of the 100 foot drop we would take if the bus had gone all the way off of the road. It was cool. Anyway he finally could go no further and stopped. From this point we began walking up the road with some of the most beautiful views i have ever seen. We could look out for miles over mountain jungle and watch as it slowly turned into savannah. We could see little village fires and dust devils on the plains below. I may or may not have seen a lion kill an elephant from 200 miles away... did i mention that the road was muddy. We slipped up (literally) the mountain road for about another mile before leaving the road cuttting through someones yard and then getting on this mountain trail through the forest. If we were slipping on the road we were slip'n sliding on the trail. I never actually busted myself but one girl fell i think 23 times. Anyway, we hiked through these woods and villages that are totally inaccessible by car for about 1.5 hours and then got to this awesome waterfall that was about 100 feet tall coming down this rock face on the mountain. We stayed there for about 30 minutes then started hiking again. Our guide said he knew where two other fall were. We walked for another 1.5 hours and i am pretty sure he snuck us into kilimanjaro national park without paying the fees because he showed us the last point where people were allowed to live or build anything. After this point we were really into the wild. and we came to a place where two giant waterfalls came down side by side. It was very beautiful. But no one can see it because i can't post pictures. We then hiked 3 hours back to the road and got back on the dala dala of death. It was fun. I slept well that night. And I think it cost a grand total of 12 bucks.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Genocide and the pace of justice

I was able to do something I thought was very significant yesterday. Thursday morning I hopped a bus to Arusha with a couple of the other volunteers. It was about an hour and a half ride and cost roughly 1.25 each way. The bus dropped us off near the United Nations War Crimes tribunal building where they are trying those implicated in the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. This building looked like some kind of fortress and we had to have our passports to get in. We then got visitors passes and headed down a long corridor following one of the armed guards (a Tanzanian who looked like he was about 20) to the courtroom. As the guard walked ahead of us the strap holding his AK 47 came loose and the gun swung toward the floor and us ( I am not making this up). I was a little alarmed but as far as I know I am bulletproof. Thankfully, this theory was not put to the test. There were 3 trials going on and we attended one for about 15 minutes before moving to the next one. As I was getting on the elevator the doors slammed shut and caught me right in the middle. I was a little alarmed but as far as I know my bulletproof skin protected me because I was not hurt. Although the doors opened back up much slower than I was expecting them too. All of this was comical but what happened next was not.

We entered another viewing room beside another court and a witness was on the stand. They asked him to describe what he saw back in April 1994. He talked about how soldiers entered his house at gunpoint and stole all of his money. He also talked about the scene on the streets as he evacuated his family. He described the bodies that were piled up on the side of the road and it reminded me of a scene from Hotel Rwanda, except this wasn't Hollywood. This was his life. I was a little surprised that the trials are still going on 15 years after the event. Justice is still waiting for many. The UN seems to be doing a pretty thorough job. The way the building looks it seems like they were planning on being there a long time. I am afraid that this building may be in use for many more years since a genocide is occuring in the Sudan as I am writing this. Arusha may be the site where that is sorted out as well. It is frustrating to me that we do so much after the fact and very little to prevent these atrocities. But i don't have enough internet time to write on that topic.

My favorite part of the trial was when the judges (mostly Americans and Europeans) asked the witness what his profession was. He said evangelist and pulled out bibles for all the judges and started preaching. They quickly told him that they only wanted him to describe it not do it but it took a while to get him to stop. I thought it was funny but I really admire the guy's faith. He said it was every Christian's duty to share the gospel of love so that things like the genocide never happen again.

On the way home I got the best view of Kilimanjaro yet. There were almost no clouds and you could see virtually the entire mountain. It was cool.

Mungu akubariki.

International house

Upon arriving in Moshi i realized fast that this summer was not at all what i was expecting it to be. I was a little disappointed at first but now I think it is going to be a lot of fun. I thought that I would be in some rural village living at a hostel or with a family and maybe one or two other volunteers would be there. well, the day i arrived a lot of other people did too. Before i talk about the volunteers i am going to talk about our living arrangements. We are staying in a house that is about 5 kilometers outside of Moshi. The house is nice by American standards, we even have satelite television - if the power is on. And actually there are several houses in this neighborhood that appear to be just as nice. I think Moshi is the garden spot of Tanzania. The final 2 kilometers of road leading to the house are not paved and get pretty muddy, it is also 2 km up a hill as it is nestled in the foothills of Kili. We have a garden and a second guest house out back where I have a room (its just me and the program director back there so I have a place to escape for some Trent time whenever I need it). There are lots of big trees in our neighborhood and every house seems to be growing its own corn and bananas. It also rains here almost every morning even though this is allegedly the dry season (it is the dry season, i drove through some desert to get here but the mountain brings a lot of tourism and precipitation to this area, i guess it is good to be near Kili).

So here are the line up of volunteers. There are two more americans, both girls that go to the university of Florida (at least AU has a 2 game winning streak over them). 2 canadian girls. 1 german guy. 1 french guy. 1 greek guy. 2 greek girls. 1 dutch girl. 1 spanish girl. I think that is everybody. And I am at least 6 years older than everyone else (maybe not the Canadian girls, i'm not sure). That is okay though, I am used to hanging out with youngsters. I am the only person who will be volunteering at the hospital. Everyone else is working at an orphanage or at a conservation project. There is a lot of culture, as well as many languages and accents in the house. It was a little intimidating at first but I am doing my best to contribute.

A note on nicknames: It seems that whenever i travel i get a nickname...i could list them all but i don't have time. It took me about 3 hours in Moshi to get my nickname for the summer and it is kind of random and i am not sure what to think about it. One of the florida girls couldn't remember my name and kept calling me Steve. I didn't respond at first but then I realized she was talking to me and so I played along before correcting her. Everyone agreed that Steve was easier to remember than Trent and the americans and german have consistently called me that since then. The Greeks are still calling me Trent. I have nothing against the name Steve but I think this is pretty funny.

This week: this week has been some basic swahili classes and learning our way around town. It has been helpful but I kind of wish that I had just gone straight into working at the hospital. I start Monday. Everyone else started or continued their projects today so I have had a chance to catch up on blogging. Like I said it is an hour walk into town and the internet is pretty slow here so have patience with me. It is difficult to upload photos with the slow connection but I am going to try sooner or later.



Wapi kilimanjaro

sunday morning i boarded a bus from nairobi to moshi and settled in for the six hour drive, half of which was over dirt roads. i had barely slept saturday night. i was too excited for the drive because i knew that this would be the day that i saw kilimanjaro. i expected the great mountain to dominate the landscape for most of my trip south. i couldn't wait. as the bus rolled over hills and dodged dead donkeys (i had nothing to do with this) and crazy baboons (i am not qualified to say if they were crazy or not but they were stealing fruit from some people who were walking down the road) i kept my eyes glued to the horizon. i even purchased the front seat ticket so that i wouldnt miss it. and the further south we went, the more confused i became... i stared off into the distance where i knew in my heart, and in my impeccable sense of direction, kilimanjaro should be. all that i saw was gray sky. this continued for basically the entire trip until i realized as we neared moshi that the mountain was teasing me and had veiled itself in cloud...i was looking at the mountain, but i could not see it. And i would not see it that day....
So after meeting the other volunteers and settling into our house some of the guys told me that the mountain is alwasy surrounded by cloud. I was not happy (you may have noticed that i just figured out how to use the shift key on this weird keyboard). I hoped that with 6 weeks to go i would get to see it at least once. I did not have to wait long.

the next day we made the 1 hour walk to town and as we were sitting on the sidewalk i looked up into the wall of cloud hoping (and maybe praying a little)... about that time the clouds parted (actually a hole just appeared in the center of the cloud so it looked like a donut...) and there it was as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, the square top of Kilimanjaro...and i knew that i had arrived. okay, so that wasn't hemingway-esque, that was straight up plagiarism but i could not have described it better and even with the glaciers disappearing at record pace that description is still pretty darn acurate.

i have since seen the mountain several times this week. It seems that if I look at the clouds and concentrate hard enough it shows itself. We must have some kind of connection.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Safari njema, 15 hours of ocean, Delta sucks, Kenya rules

So basically I 30 minutes and the internet connection is slow. I am going to write fast and try to tell the story of how I got here (Moshi, Tanzania) the best I can. I apologize if nothing makes sense.

Lets start with Bham where I triple checked with the Delta desk that the slip of paper they gave me was all I needed to get my bag onto Kenya Airways in Jburg and all the way to Nairobi. They assured me it was. I also saw some friends of mine from old Auburn. Josh Parker was leaving on flight to India and his Bethany was there to see him off. So it was cool seeing them. I then proceeded to Atlanta on tiny plane in which I had to sit on my carry on. Whatever. I had about a 6 hour layover in ATL. They had a cool Martin Luther King exhibit. I ate a big Mac then got on my 15 hour flight to South Africa. Fortunately, the only empty seat on the plane was beside mine.

Highlights from the longest flight of my life....I was on a plane full of Africans almost none of whom were black. I sat across from a guy named Loui who had worked on a catamaran crew sailing from Durbin SA to Virginia (needless to say I was jealous and enjoyed his stories). I watched 2 movies then fell asleep and woke up when the plane was immediately off the coast of Liberia where my brother Blake and several friends just returned from and I hope to visit one day. Delta politely denied my request to pull over. I then watched a special the plane had available on Quito Ecuador, it was pretty accurate. I watched another movie. And then slept some more. This flight was really long. The sun was setting when we took off in Atlanta and the sun was setting when we arrived in Jburg. They also kept advertising the direct flight from ATL to Nairobi which I got bumped off of. As if Delta had not inconvenienced me enough they had to rub it in some more. I know this is hard to believe but I also somehow managed to get my music station stuck on Jimmy Buffetts live in Anguilla CD (kudos to Delta for having this on their flight), and the word from grapefruit juicy fruit "don't you know it gets so blank blank lonely when your on a plane alone have never been truer. Anyway, I got off the plane in SA expecting a very nice airport, instead I was hurded into this solid marble room (airport purgatory) that contained nothing but chairs and vacant airline desks where I waited 4 hours for the Kenya airways desk to open so that I could get my bording pass and proceed through security. At this point the Kenya lady said that Delta had not given me the correct paperwork and my bag would not make it to Nairobi. We all had a big laugh about this and then she told me there was nothing I could do about it. But maybe it would get there. I then proceeded to the terminal where any anxiety I may have had was quickly removed by an 8 foot tall straw statue of Nelson Mandela. Being in the presence of wicker Mandela was worth the wait in airport purgatory. I was happy again and the Jburg airport actually is very nice.

My KQ flight to NBO was good and had excellent service. Upon arriving (the sun was rising when I landed in Nairobi) there I quickly cleared immigration and proceeded to baggage claim....where I waited in vain for over an hour. There were two other guys that left Atlanta with and connected through SA...they waited in vain also. Delta lost all of our bags (if my ghostwriter is reading this, you know who you are, quickly draft a second complaint letter to Delta and pull no punches, then report to Nairobi ASAP). I filed a complaint with KQ who said they would trace all of my flights starting in Bham and hopefully have my bag by the end of the day. At this point I had no faith that I would ever see that bag again but that was before I met John Kiare (i have to give a special thanks to Jack Ogutu - Auburn grad student from Nairobi for that).

So Jack put me in touch with John and he was waiting for me at the airport. And he waited a long time because I was stubborn and refused to admit that my bag was not there. Anyway, I emailed him a pic of myself and he printed out a jumbo version of it and was holding it up at the exit in Nairobi. I intentionally (and because they may or may not be the only clothes I own) wore the exact same shirt and hat as in the photo. But John didn't recognize me because I was wearing my glasses after the long flight. I don't blame him...he was expecting superman and he got Clark Kent. Anyway, we found each other and he was supposed to just take me to my bus but since I had to stay in NBO he became my gracious host. John, if you are reading this, I thank God for you. So I spent Saturday with John and we explored Nairobi and got me a cell phone (I called home and found out that it costs almost $1.50/min so I just want you all to know that if your phone doesn't ring...its me). He also prayed with me that my bags would arrive. After this prayer i had a little more faith (my timewatcher just informed me that I am down to 10 minutes so you can all see how fast I type). And when we called KQ later they told me my bags were there. Praise God and thank you John. All of my medical equipment and most of my clothes were in that bag....although I was starting to be excited about working at the hospital in a scrub top and swimming trunks. One more thing about Nairobi, within 30 seconds of leaving the airport I had seen four Giraffe and suspected that I was in Africa.

Sunday morning I hopped on my shuttle....Crap! I am out of time. I will be back with more. And in spite of my griping I was in a pleasant and adventurous mood for the entire trip and my airport experiences were not that bad (But Don't Tell Delta!). Peace for now.