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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This is my first rodeo

I am about to go to Tanzania for seven weeks to work in a rural medical clinic near Mt. Kilimanjaro. This will be my third trip to Africa but my first attempt at blogging anything...ever. I am going to try to update it at least once a week but am making no promises as I am not sure how much internet access I will have. Expect heavy doses of adventure, sarcasm, semi-true stories, and corny humor with a dash of theology, philosophy, social justice, wisdom, and observation delivered in a Hemingway-esque narrative. So that last sentence is probably crap, I am just going to write some stuff every now and then and stick some pictures up and hopefully it wont be too boring.

Feel free to comment on anything and give advice, verbal abuse, or encouragement. You might feel like you are safe making me mad since I am thousands of miles away but remember, I will be back in August...and I never forget anything.

If all goes well I will fly from Atlanta to Johannesburg South Africa on Thursday June 11 then from J-burg to Nairobi, Kenya where I will board a bus to Northern Tanzania. Oddly enough, that was the most economical way to get there. Then I will take a week of Swahili classes before starting work in the clinic for the next 5 weeks. Week 7 is my personal vacation/adventure time when I will be hitting the road and cramming as much of East Africa in as humanly will be the stuff that legends and bestsellers are made of. And you are all invited, just shoot me an email and I will try to pick you up at the airport.

So my blogging stamina is a little low and I have tired already. Thanks for reading this far and God bless.