Tuesday, June 21, 2011


My kitchen floor had monkey prints yesterday! I haven't seen a monkey here for awhile, and I must have been in the house when he/she made their visit. What are they doing? Darting in and out, not really causing any mischief besides leaving footprints? Weird.

Warren came home from the hospital yesterday with a great story. He took care of an older French lady who has lived in Africa for a long time... about half her life and she is in her 80's. He was busy with her, as she was quite sick...but in between he was able to ask her how she came to live in Africa. Her answer..."i had a lion..."!! No kidding, this is why she came to Africa. She was living in France when a person came around who had a small lion cub and was using it for money making purposes...allowing people to pose for photos etc. The French woman found this offensive and worked it out to buy the lion. Eventually the lioness got quite large and this was becoming a problem. Someone she knew suggested that she come to Africa...and she did. They had a large penned in area where the lioness could be during the day. She couldn't let her run free as she would have killed the neighbors pets etc. But she kept her fed and content...her words, "lions are really very lazy". And the lioness slept in this woman's bedroom at night! She died of old age in her 20's. Her description of this lioness was much like a person talking about their cat...the sleeping, the laziness, and the comfort. Wow.

Our friend Carol suggested that maybe we should ask every person we meet if they have ever had a lion! Perhaps this is more common than we know!!?

Of course I had a million more questions about this woman, she also had a leopard for awhile! Too bad Warren had to focus on trying to help her with her health problems. She must have so many stories!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

and now back down to 3....

Erika left last night. We took her to Nairobi and she flew toward London just after midnight. Apparently there is an ash cloud over Eritrea that makes the flight longer right now?? What is this? Our news sources here are quite limited, but isn’t the volcano problem in S. America?? I don’t get it. In any case, it is morning now and I am able to see that her plane landed. She has a plan to take the speed train to Paddington Station and walk to Trafalgar. I hope it works out. That would be a nice way to pass the layover.

Erika was here with us for more than 5 months! It seems strange to see her room empty and it is odd to wake up to just the 3 of us again. Thankfully we only have a few more weeks or we would all be feeling pretty low. Before Erika left she said goodbye to her soccer team...there were many calls back and forth looking for “coachie” so they could arrange a last scrimmage on the “lower field”. She played her last pick up BB with the men on Sunday, always the only female on the court. We had our last walk to the fig tree on Sunday morning, a place she has loved to go for sun and quiet.

During her time here she has followed doctors on rounds through the hospital, spent time in the OR, worked in the dental clinic, babysat, made relationships with locals, hiked, traveled, read, slept, ridden motorbikes, made friends...People were coming by to say goodbye for the past few days. This time out from all that is her life at home will probably show up in lots of different ways, many she won’t see until she gets home and goes back to familiar things. It feels like a lot has come together for her here. We feel so grateful that she could take this amount of time and that we could have her with us for this large piece of the year. John cannot imagine it any other way!

As far as returning home she likes the prospect of being on roads that don’t make her car sick every time she gets in the car, having “town” close to home...rather than an hour or more away, exercising on flat ground and at sea level, just paying the set price and not having to barter, driving a car...seeing friends and Alison...and our house and dog.

We walked in the door after dropping her off to find monkey prints coming in through our bedroom window, down the wall and onto the floor! No other detectable mischief noted, and the cookies were still on the kitchen counter?? Not sure what that was about, but we were left with no doubt that we are still in Africa! Only a few more weeks and we will be on our way home as well.

the fig tree.

last shot in kijabe.

nairobi traffic!

the airport.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Edge of the Earth

There is a place where herds of camels circle by the side of the road, where large land turtles drink from roadside puddles, and the distant hills are Ethiopia. This land has known years of war and even now in peace the outside world offers very little help. Basically, this is a place unrecognized by the Western world. There are medical students training under less than optimal circumstances here, where only a few years ago they might only get one lecture per week. My colleagues here at Kijabe Hospital have made a commitment to help these students and I recently spent a week lecturing and doing patient care with fifth year students. At the same time my surgeon friends were doing scores of surgeries; one of my friends did 36 surgeries, 15 of them gallbladders. There is no one in this country who can take out a gallbladder if our team is not in town. Open fractures stay open for months, until we can fix them. Every day in clinic there are at least 2 or 3 large goiters that haven’t been assessed or treated for years. There is slow progress being made and most of it comes from indigenous efforts and money from the diaspora. The entire medical infrastructure is in slow creation, out of rubble and chaos. To be a small part of this building process was amazing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

counting down...

The time in Africa is winding down for us. Erika leaves in a few days. As cliché as it sounds, I cannot believe it has been a year? It seems like the time has flown by. Is it partly that we haven’t had seasons of distinction, or that everything has been new and interesting, or that we didn’t have the long gray days of winter, or that it gets dark at 7 every day so the days seem short...??

Who knows…

Now we start to think of what we will miss and what we look forward to as we go home...kind of hard to guess what we will miss...We are sure of some things we look forward to! And we are also quite sure of some things we won’t miss...related to driving alone:

potholes everywhere, unmarked speed bumps...lots of them, high beams only, no street lights or white lines, pedestrians, donkeys and bikers in the road...even when pitch dark...no helmets, and possibly cars or bikes coming at you against traffic! What will it be like to actually be able to see where we are going and to feel like we can go out at night just for fun if we want to?

Remember the bandit story? I got a call the other day from the local police telling me they had caught some guys and they wanted me to come and “identify” them?? Imagine? Would you know what the 3 guys who threatened to shoot you or beat you looked like if you had pressed the pedal down and bolted?! And I still don’t feel comfortable going back on that road.

We got stopped the other day randomly. We were between two matatus (local mini bus transport) and the police claimed we were speeding. He didn’t have any way of measuring speed, just the desire to collect some money. The process can easily lead to having to drive to a court hearing, sitting in jail for an hour or two, and then still paying a bunch of money...this would be how you might avoid just giving them the money in the first place...no ticket, just money direct...perhaps for the police to have lunch later. Warren started suggesting amounts that might make it possible for us to just keep going and get on with our day. It didn’t take long to agree on a stupid amount of money, but a pass to keep going...and this was worth it for us on that day.

John (and now Erika) rides motorbikes here. It is part of the deal...and a big part of life here. He loves it! It scares me. Many of you would think we are insane for allowing him to do this. Maybe we are, but it would be pretty crazy to bring a 17 year old here and tell him he couldn’t as well.

What it takes for me to get to the grocery store...distance, hazards...It will be amazing to have the option of walking down the hill to Safeway or QFC! Or even better...just to walk to a restaurant for dinner. John has lots of restaurant fantasies!

But, despite these complaints, driving is actually a luxury here...most people ride in matatus, driven at insane speeds and packed to double capacity. Many people die in these.

(We are grateful to already have a buyer for our car and one of our motorbikes.)

Back to what will we miss?

Today Erika said that she might miss Abraham more than anything when she leaves. Abraham is a local schizophrenic who arrives on our porch every morning. His toothless grin and HEARTY laugh make us happy. He sticks his head in the window over my sink and says, “Hi mama, how are you? Do you have chai?” We tell him that we will make tea and he sits down on the porch and waits. Abraham is very, very dirty...always in the same wiped out clothes and he brings a few “friends” along to keep him company...as he sits alone on our porch. If he isn’t talking to us he is talking to them. He likes to enjoy a muffin and a banana with his tea...and he knows if there are 3 scoops of sugar in the tea...any less and he will say so. He can drink the tea immediately, near boiling point! He must have all the sensation burned out of his mouth! As he drinks it he tells us...”you are good...you are good...” Who wouldn’t miss this? A happy person who shows up every day and tells you...”you are good”, for doing something as simple as making him tea...

more animal sightings...

africa is amazing...

Wow! Not a great way to go; only in Africa.

A 31 yo Kenyan man works in people’s shambas (gardens). He does a lot of digging and moves around the local area. Two weeks ago he is digging in a shamba on the edge of Lake Naivasha in the middle of the day. Lake Naivasha is one of the Great Rift Valley Soda Lakes that string along from Tanzania up to Ethiopia. It is a 45 minute drive from Kijabe and we like to go there every month or so. Now about hippos. They are plentiful in Lake Naivasha and one rarely sees them out of the water. They spend the day mostly submerged in the Lake, and come out at night to forage for food. They might even go 3-5 kilometers away from the lake at night looking for grass. Since they are in the lake during the day you don’t have to be afraid of them until the night when they can be up around the lake and if encountered on land can be very deadly. That is why everyone stays away from the lake edge at night, or has powerful electric fences to keep the hippos out. Back to our digging man. He is working away in the middle of the day and should have nothing to worry about. He has probably done this typical day a thousand times. The problem is babies. When hippos have babies the mom will sometimes hide the baby along the lakeshore in the bushes and go off foraging for food. Unbeknownst to our digger he is near to a hidden baby hippo. Momma is quite a long way off but looks and sees that a strange man is close to her hidden baby. This will not do and she comes running at a full gallop to “save” her baby. The poor digging man doesn’t stand a chance and is crushed in the hippo’s mouth all along his right side. His right humerus suffers an open fracture, multiple ribs are broken, there are large abrasions/bruises along the right side of the body. He goes home and doesn’t show up to our hospital for 2 days. Enough time for the wounds to fester and him to become septic. We try to save him for about a week, but in spite of OR debridement/ex fix, chest tube placement, antibiotics, intubation and local wound care, he succumbs to his injuries.