Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

For Halloween Bubu is going as a butterball.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Say what?

It's always the little things that can cause a culture clash here and I find myself thinking, "Hmmm, how do I explain that?" 

Friday I made these breadsticks for our community meal. 

They're witches' fingers. I mean, why not?

As I walked across the street to our fellow missioner's house a neighbor stopped me and asked what I was carrying. "Bread," was all I said. But I kept moving the tray away from her so she couldn't get a good look at the shape of them. If she asked, I would've felt obligated to explain not only why I made bread in the shape of fingers, but witches' fingers nonetheless. Witches are a big part of the culture here and it's definitely not something to mess around with. I can't fully explain to you how unbelievably odd it would've been to her that we were eating food in the shape of witches' fingers. Maybe it'd be like if some foreigner in the states made food in the shape of doctors' toes. But not only that, I also would've had to try to explain all about halloween--you know, why we dress up in costumes and beg for candy at our neighbors' houses once a year and how we watch scary movies and carve pumpkins. It's all very culturally odd here and I would've had to do it in Swahili, which was a little too much for me at the moment. 

Luckily, "bread" was a good enough response because all she said was if there was any left over afterwards she's like a taste. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013


We've been back from Nairobi a week as of today but I guess I want to stay in that moment because it always feels nicer to be on vacation and away from the realities of home.

When we were at the MK Father's House those last few days last week we were so fortunate to meet up again with Fr. Mike Basanno. You might remember Mike from last year's camping trip. He was working at a home for abandoned and disabled people but recently he moved to South Sudan to continue his ministry there. Mike was in Nairobi last week to secure some of his visa paperwork and we couldn't believe our luck at being able to catch up again!

Fr. Mike was in Nairobi just by chance and he suggested the trip to the elephant park. Great idea!
This guy's only a few months old.

Mike talked us into taking some time out of our retreat to see the beauty of the area and what a great idea it was! We went to see BABY ELEPHANTS! How much cooler can you get than that? He had visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust once before and said it was not to be missed. As always, Mike was right. Check out these little cuties!


Here come the elephants!

The little ones had to have sunscreen on their ears to prevent burning!
Yep, that's sunscreen on his baby elephant ears. The African sun is too harsh for even these guys!

This place was great. Located on the outskirts of the wildlife park bordering Nairobi, they rescue abandoned or hurt baby elephants, up to 4 years of age, who are found in the park. Some of their mothers have been killed by poachers, some have fallen into wells, others are dying from lack of water. They bring them into their orphanage, nurse them back to health, and then reintroduce them into the wild. They allow visitors only for 1 hour a day because they don't want the elephants to get used to human interaction.

They were aggressive eaters!
They were pretty aggressive, even for babies. They eat every 3 hours and are fed plant based human baby food formula.

After eating many of them played in the mood. See the pile-on in the back?
After eating they liked to roll around in the mud. It was very messy and quite rough.

Chris & Mike touching a baby elephant
A few of them approached us so we could pet them. Of course, they were covered in mud, so we got all sticky. But it was still cool!

It was a great way to spend the morning and if we had the money, I'd have totally fostered one of these guys. If you've got an extra 50 bucks, you might think about doing it. Or, when you come visit us in TZ we could all take a trip to Nairobi and go together to see them. Totally worth it!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Something Silly About Me

Something I've learned about myself since I've been living out of the US. I love decorations. I never really thought much about this when I was living in the states. And, I've always been a "less is more" kind of person, so I've kept things pretty minimal. But I guess because decorations are everywhere in the US and I tend to protest when they put things up too early, it's just something I didn't really notice about myself. But when I got to Tanzania, where so many of "our" holidays aren't celebrated, I realized how important it is to me to mark the time of year by putting up a few decorations.

So that's how I found myself skipping around the house this afternoon when we go these little guys in a package from my grandmom.*

Halloween Decorations 2

Last year my friend Melissa sent me these happy fellows:

Halloween Decorations

But I think they arrived after the holiday. I put them up anyway but I've been looking forward to putting them up this year BEFORE Halloween. It's silly, but when I was in Nairobi and not sure when I would return, I kept thinking in the back of my head, "OH NO! What if I'm gone all month and I can't put up my jack-o-lanterns?" What a dork!

*Decorations aren't the only cool things we got today. We got 2 packages today! What a great day! Thanks Erica and Fuzzy and thanks Grandmom and Grandad.  Have I told you how lucky we are?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Time Out

The lay missioner who was in the hospital in Nairobi has been released and flew to the states earlier this week, so Chris and I are taking a few days' retreat at the MK Father's house on the outskirts of Nairobi city before we head back to the craziness of our life in TZ.

The entrance to the Nairobi house

The grounds are beautiful and are a peaceful place to rest, think and pray.

This is a really appropriate week for us to be on a retreat, since this Sunday is World Mission Sunday, a day set aside by the Catholic Church to pray for worldwide missions. It's great for me and Chris to experience the peace and quiet at this center and to celebrate and spend time with some of the MK Fathers who have been missioners for many decades. Their wisdom and experience is really helpful to us "newbies."

Please take this week to think about and pray especially for all of those people across the globe who are living witnesses to the peace and justice of Christ, whether they are in some foreign country abroad, or they are living in your community or in your own home.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Unexected Journey

Chris and I have been staying in a Catholic hostel while we're in Nairobi. It's the same place we stayed in a few months ago when we were last here. There's a guy staying here, who was also here back in July, who looks just like a Hobbit. He's got a very Bilbo Baggins-esque look about him. Short stature, longish curly white hair, big belly. He even wears clothes that I could see Bilbo or older Frodo wearing. Chris and I recognized him from last time we were here and we called him the Hobbit even then. We'd make jokes if he came in late for dinner and there wasn't a lot of food, saying something about how he'll be hungry even before Elevensies.

NO LIE! Today I noticed that he is missing the ring finger on his left hand. You know what I'm Tolkien about?

Friday, October 11, 2013

International Day of the Girl Child

Today, October 11, is the International Day of the Girl Child. Instead of highlighting any of the uncountable stories of girls facing insurmountable odds or being subject to unfathomable cruelty, I decided I wanted to celebrate three amazing young women who I am so proud of and who encapsulate the beauty, intellect and potential of the next generation of women.

Ponderings of a Small Child
My niece Lilly.

Surprises and Happiness
 My niece Maddie.

My niece Liz.

I am so proud to have these three young women as my nieces. They inspire me on a daily basis and I am honored to be their aunt. Even more importantly, we will have a better world because of them.

*First two photos by my amazingly talented niece, Liz. The last picture by my amazingly talented brother, Ben.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can't We Do Better Than This, TZ?

This headline from the Citizen Newspaper seems appropriately ridiculous to me right now since I just was navigating the awful healthcare in TZ for our fellow missioner.

"The Tanzania health sector has made a sky-leap achievement in a ten-year period in terms of technological advancement, medical facilities and professionalism, Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal said in Mwanza at the weekend.

"Dr Bilal, who was speaking during the opening of the fourth Tanzania Medical Students Association (Tamsa) conference on Monday, said he was relieved that 80 per cent of medical practitioners and health workers, who were trained in the country decided to report to their work places."  (Emphasis mine.)

Friday, October 04, 2013

My Weird Privileged Life

I’ve been out of the blog loop for about a week now because my life has sort of taken on a life of its own. Does that make sense? Probably not.

Anyways, I won’t go into details out of respect for my colleague, but on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning I boarded a medical evacuation plane run by Flying Doctors and flew to Kenya accompanying a sick missioner to better medical care in our neighboring country. So here I am, sitting in a hospital room in Nairobi, which feels like another world from Tanzania. It’s a little surreal, to say the least.

AMREF-Flying Doctors sitting in airport in Mwanza 

But let’s back up just a little first. A colleague of mine got sick on Tuesday. I’m the Human Resources representative for our region of MKLM, plus our Regional Coordinator is out of the country right now so I was called to come check on the patient. We took her to the hospital and they diagnosed her with malaria. But there were some complications so they admitted her.

Now, Tanzanian medical care isn’t the best, let’s be honest. There IS medical care but the standard isn’t up to what we Westerners expect and their facilities and equipment aren’t always state-of-the art. They can handle non-emergent cases, but whenever things get a little tricky, we want to treat on the side of caution and get more expertise in the closest location possible, hence Nairobi. So when things weren’t improving with my colleague and we could see she needed more monitoring, I started advocating for medical evacuation*.

When we got to the airport, it was the middle of the night/wee hours of the morning so the airport wasn’t technically open yet. But by the time the plane arrived, I got through immigration and my colleague got settled into the plane, a small crew had arrived and they were getting ready for the day. I had to stand on the runway for about 20 minutes while everything was settled inside the tiny plane and, as anything involving Westerners, we were kind of a spectacle. So as I stood on the runway, there were about 5 Tanzanian male airport employees standing around watching what was happening.
“It’s malaria,” one guy said.
 “Why is this necessary if it is only malaria?” another guy asked. 
“You know the Westerners are afraid of malaria,” a third chimed in.
“The weather and environment is different so they get really sick.”
“Still, why does she need to go to Nairobi for malaria? We can treat that here.”

The conversation went on and on like this. The insinuation that it was a waste and that we were overreacting really made me miffed. "What do you know!?" I thought. "You're not a doctor! Who are you to judge us." Of course, I didn't say any of this. I just stood there stewing in my juices, feeling embarrassed and frustrated at, yet again, not being understood by Tanzanians, the story of our lives here.

And then I got to thinking more about it. About how odd it must look. Perhaps at this point I need to add a little bit of perspective because when people outside of Africa hear "malaria" they think "death." Yes, malaria kills millions of people a year in Africa. It's not something to take lightly, but at the same time, if treated quickly and with proper medicine, most cases can be cured relatively quickly and easily. Plus, EVERYONE in Tanzania has malaria. It’s as common as the everyday cold in the US. You get fever, a headache, any ache or pain? Go down to the corner clinic, get blood drawn for a few cents, and then get the medicine for a few more cents. That’s it. Or at least that’s the simple story. (I’ll get to the more complex story in a minute.)

Also, most Tanzanians have never left their village, let alone left the country. Most Tanzanians haven’t been to a hospital. (If they go anywhere, they go to a clinic.) Most Tanzanians barely have enough money to put food on the table. So the idea of spending that kind of cash to medically evacuate is seen as so extravagant. And to do it for MALARIA!? A common COLD!? It must look insane. Literal insanity because then you can't pay for other things like food, education and shelter for the rest of the family. 

Turns out, though, that when we got to Nairobi and further tests were done, my colleague isn't even sick with malaria. This shouldn't be much of a surprise since it's well known that malaria is misdiagnosed most of the time in TZ. It's a major problem here and another stumbling block toward getting proper medical treatment. So that made me think about the average Tanzanian, the one who can't get to a hospital when he or she is sick. Or, maybe let's say they have more money than the average person and they are able to get themselves to the regional hospital. They most likely would still end up with the fate of misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and perhaps even dying. No one would know otherwise than to say that their loved one died of malaria. If they didn't know any better, no one would think that he or she was mistreated or that things could've been handled differently. No one would be outraged or frustrated at the system that let them down. Again. 

So that leads me back to the guys standing on the tarmac talking about how silly it is to fly someone out of Tanzania for something as "simple" as malaria. This "privilege" that we have to know why we are sick and to get the proper care to fix it should not be a privilege. It is a right that all people should have. I wish there was a way for me to change the perspective of those runway guys and all the other people who wouldn't understand why we evacuated my colleague. They should be furious that a sick person can't get adequate care in their city. No. In their COUNTRY. Second, I wish they even understood that the medical care is inadequate. It's just not good enough and they shouldn't take it lying down. I wish they'd question the doctors and the government and the institutions who all say take two pills and call me in the morning. I wish that they wouldn't just look at us and think what a waste and how silly those Westerns are, but instead wonder why we do it and question what should be done within their own system to allow them to have the same care.

*One of the many benefits of being here with an established organization is that they take care of us in this way. We have global medical benefits paid by MKLM that pays for medical evacuation in case of emergency. Of course, there's always bureaucracy involved and we had to fight with the insurance company to approve the evacuation but in the end they did it and to that I am very grateful.

P.S. My colleague is doing okay. Her case is much more complicated and three days in, we're still not sure what is wrong. But she's feeling a lot better and will definitely be okay.