Saturday, March 31, 2012

Zanzibar - Part I

Stone Town-

Is this real life? That’s the thought that went through my head repeatedly throughout my week in Zanzibar…

My trip started with a farewell as George and I shared a taxi to the airport; oh, how I will miss her. It also started with the rather thick headed mistake of putting an aerosol sunscreen can in my backpack (I had no checked luggage) and having my bag rummaged through, resulting in its removal, making me feel like a rookie traveller; which I certainly am not.

I flew from Entebbe to Kilimanjaro to Dar Es Salaam, where I met up with Laura, then on to Zanzibar and my flights were fabulous; nice small plane, hot tea that actually tasted good, a packet of cashews, a rainbow in the clouds and plenty of turbulence, especially during the descent; it was like a roller coaster ride that I wanted to do over and over again. To top it off, I met an older Australian couple named Trevor and Wendy who had been in Uganda for a couple months and were ending their stay with a stop in Zanzibar. As they had yet to book any accommodation, I invited them to join Laura and I at the Pyramid Hotel in Stone Town as I had already arranged a pick up from the airport and, given that it’s low season, I was sure they’d have an available room.   

Not only did it work out wonderfully that Trevor and Wendy came with us to the hotel, but the place was amazing; 4 stories including the rooftop terrace, all accessed by a tightly turning staircase including a section that would have been more accurately described as a ladder. It was a bit after 7pm and we hadn’t eaten, so after we’d settled and gotten a good solid lesson on how to avoid getting your purse snatched by two local gentlemen at reception, we weaved our way through the alleys back to town paying close attention so as not to get lost on our way back. We ended up at this neat pace called “Mercury’s”, right on the beach, and ate pizza while listening to the waves and live musicians playing middle-eastern style music. Side note, I had no idea that Queen’s Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar; given name, Farrokh Bulsara. Fortunately, Trevor and Wendy ended up at the same place so we were able to walk back with them; walking through the somewhat creepy, dimly lit alleys, just the two of us, was something we were open to avoiding.

The next morning, we met up with our new friends on the terrace for our complimentary breakfast and made plans for the day. They had already inquired with reception about enlisting a guide for a short walking tour of the city, so we decided to tag along. He met us outside the hotel and for the next 2 hours, we explored the main market (including a fish auction), the old fort, a park built along the boardwalk by the water, the place where the slave trade was conducted and where there is now an old church that was built as a sort of memorial just after the slave trade was abolished. There were many aspects to the church that pointed towards the things that occurred there including an inlaid piece of red granite-type stone at the front of the church which symbolized blood and a small round circle of white inlaid within that to symbolize the whipping post that once stood in that very spot. We also spent a good amount of time wandering through the network of alleyways peeking into what seemed like an endless amount of curio shops along the way. The alleys were all rather narrow, flanked by 3 or 4 story buildings, all aging stone and the air was constantly filled with the smell in incense and spices. It was definitely strange to be there and be such a tourist as I haven’t felt that way in Jinja for a long time.

Once the tour was complete, we got chicken and chips for lunch at a kiosk in the park by the water before parting ways for the afternoon. Apart from needing to use the bathroom, Laura and I wanted to cool off a bit in our air-conditioned room (as we were literally dripping with sweat) before heading back out to explore. As we were making our way back through the maze of alleys to our hotel, we were stopped short as we turned a corner to find a group of about 7 Tanzanian police officers and a small handful of young men in the midst of a tense situation. To get to our hotel, the only way was through and since the situation seemed contained for the moment and there were other people that were walking through them, we pushed aside our hesitation and carried on. Just as I had made it to the other side of the small courtyard, I heard a commotion behind me and before I even had time to turn around, someone body-checked me into the wall. Whether an officer or an accused, I don’t know, but it became clear very quickly that someone had tried to escape and the last thing I saw was 3 policemen with batons taking him down in the alley before Laura and I got the heck out of there. Our hotel was just down from where this all happened and, Sahiba, the sweet lady at reception who may have seen what happened apologized for the disturbance and explained it had something to do with a crackdown on drug addicts who had been caught stealing purses to finance their next fix. The fact that that man was so outnumbered yet still attempted to run makes me wonder what detainment leads to in that country. We were both a little rattled, but we carried on and spent a couple more hours wandering the city before enjoying an ice cream by the water and going back to our room to shower and spend some time reading, drinking spiced tea, on the terrace just as the sun began to set.

Thing I love about this city? The architecture, the aged look of the buildings, the history and the Arabian flare; this place had a such a strange and wonderful mixture of African, Indian and Arabic culture with women in Burkas sharing the streets with Maasai warriors dressed in traditional garb and the combination was really quite beautiful.

Things I dislike? Aggressive vendors, overly friendly men who follow you around making rude comments and asking all sorts of questions and the fact that unless we were in our hotel, neither Laura or I felt 100% safe.

After a day such as that, with the heat and the altercation, we were certainly looking forward to our 9:30am taxi to Kwenda, on the northwestern tip of the island, and the beach that awaited us. But not before going out on last time to locate some dinner.

The sun was just going down as we walked along the water, silhouetting the mass amounts of boats anchored near the shore, from small wooden canoes and Tanzanian dhows to luxury yachts; an interesting contrast. The shore and the boardwalk became livelier as the light faded; tourists and locals taking in the sight, boys playing soccer in a small patch of sand and a large group of young men crowding a large retaining wall where they all took turns jumping into the water. Each boy tried to out-do the next by diving and twisting and belly flopping with increased extravagance.

Each night at about 7, the park near the boardwalk becomes a night market filled with tables of all sorts of foods, from bread and fruit to all sorts of meat, plus samosas and falafels and many other creative creations; some made fresh in front of your eyes. At the beckoning of those that oversaw them, we perused a number of tables before sitting down on a stone bench with a plate full of fresh fruit and some coconut naan bread.

The only thing more staggering then the variety of meat you could get on a stick was the number of stray cats that came out to enjoy the bits that people left behind. As good as it looked and smelled, we had been told to avoid the meat during low season given that the turn over isn’t what it usually is. I wasn’t going to test that theory as armed with that tidbit of information, my neurotic little brain would have had me nauseous regardless of its quality.
But all-in-all, it was a great atmosphere; tourists and locals eating together, steam rising and the constant sizzle of the cookers and everyone happy with their full bellies.

We went home satisfied and settled in for an early night; sadly early actually. When we were showered and changed and in bed to journal and read, I looked at my watch and discovered that it was only 8:30. And to make matters worse, we bumped into our elderly friends on the way back to the hotel where we were informed that they were just coming from happy hour at Mercury’s, were headed for dinner at a swanky place called Monsoon and would then be heading to Livingston’s for some live music; talk about feeling old. To be fair, our apprehension to stay out late was partly due to our uneasiness about wandering the streets alone at night, but I’m pretty sure we were lights out before they’d even finished dinner.

Part II (& pictures) to follow...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Friend, Butler

An excerpt from an email that Cheryl sent me back in the beginning of 2011 before I had any clue where I was going… "Maybe one day we can boot around Kampala on boda bodas together....that'd be sweet! ;)"

One of the most exciting things to happen in Jinja: the arrival of my dear friend Cheryl Butler. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon when I drove up to Flavors CafĂ© to meet her; I hadn’t been that excited in a long time. It was a beautiful reunion; tears and laughter…. Cheryl spent a couple nights in Jinja initially and we took that time to catch up, spend some time at the pool and even took a couple shifts at Al-Shafa hospital together with a new, very sick, malnourished child who has since come to live at the house…but that’s a whole other story.

She went back to Kampala but the following Saturday afternoon, I hopped on a matatu and we met her at Garden City Mall in the centre of town. After a quick dinner, as the sky was just getting dark, we hopped on a boda and made a quick stop at my favorite bakery for a chocolate croissant. The bakery is beside the entrance to the US embassy and since we knew our guesthouse was just behind the embassy, we thought we’d get a bit of exercise and walk. There were a few things we didn’t realize when we made that decision: it was a long walk, it was a fairly narrow road with hardly any lights and a fair amount of traffic. We were being cautious and sticking to the edge but at one point while I was looking down watching my steps as light was fleeting and the road was uneven, I sensed headlights coming my way and looked up just in time to see a car coming directly for me. I instinctively turned my body away from the car and it hit my back pack instead. That got the blood pumping to be sure.

We eventually arrived safely to Adonai House, a really cute place that afforded us a bedroom with two little single beds with mosquito nets with frills that opened up like curtains on the side; and the shared bathroom had a tub. I hadn’t been in a bathtub since being here and after the walk I was so sweaty so sitting in a few inches of lukewarm water was at that moment, the most wonderful thing in the world. We had a really great night just hanging out and couldn’t stop remarking on how it just felt so natural for us to be in Africa together.

The next morning, we headed to a church in town that Cheryl had been to before. It was on the third floor of a building in town and had a great view and even though I couldn’t understand the Ugandan pastor very well, they had a full band with drums and bass and as I hadn’t realized how much I had missed that; it was so nice to hear worship like I’m used to at home. From church, we walked directly to the taxi park to catch a matatu to a place called Mpigi. I had been warned about watching your bags in the taxi park as theft is rampant, but that was surely confirmed that afternoon as someone opened a zipper on both our bags. I whipped around when I felt a tug, so there wasn’t any chance to do any digging but the person who went after Cheryl got her headlamp…she was not impressed.

Mpigi is home to 10 acres that was donated years ago to my church, Peace Portal Alliance, and is now home to a church building, a few children’s homes and a clinic. Cheryl has spent a significant amount of time there, as well as a number of close friends who have gone for short term visits on teams with the church, so it was really important to me to spend some time there as well. We dropped our bags at the Wilson Inn up on a hill in Mpigi, went straight to the 10 acres and spent the whole afternoon on the compound. Not only was it beautiful but it was so great to meet the pastors and mamas and the kids that I had been hearing about for years. As cheesy as it sounds, it even struck me how cool it was to be walking the same paths that so many people I know have walked; I felt very connected with home being up on that hill. After meeting everyone, we spent a good amount of time playing with the kids and then ended off just sitting in the empty church building just talking and enjoying the peacefulness of the place. The acoustics in there were pretty amazing so despite the fact that I was recovering from a cold, I took the opportunity to stand in the middle of that simple structure with its cement foundation and sheet metal roofing and sing Amazing Grace at the top of my lungs. I suppose even that, just worshipping in that place, made that connection I felt even more apparent.

We got a ride back into town from one of the men that run the place on his boda and settled into one of the two restaurants in town for a fresh plate of chips (fries), We talked about the afternoon as the sun slipped behind the shops and the streets took on that dusty twilight haze and just enjoyed spending time in a cute little town that felt so much more like Africa then Jinja sometimes does; Jinja is also known as little America given the large amount of NGO’s and the number of white people that have taken up residence; in Mpigi, we were the only white people that we could see.

Before heading to the inn, we stopped into the small market to pick up chapatti and bananas to subsidize our dinner and met a couple interesting people along the way. One man, while we walked by, touched Cheryl’s arm and jumped back in mock terror and with a chuckle told us we looked like ghosts…like I said, the only white people.

The next morning, we stopped into a house down the road from where we were staying that houses a guitar building project called Duncan Africa. It was started by a guy that both Cheryl and I know called Jay Duncan who currently runs it from Canada. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into getting that place up and running but all the work is done by Ugandan men and women in town who were taught, by Jay, how to build these beautiful instruments. They are built exclusively in Uganda, but are shipped to and sold in Canada. That was another place I’d been hearing about for years so it was really neat to see.

From there, we went straight up to the 10 acres so I could say goodbye (Cheryl stayed an extra night) before heading back down and dropping me off at a matatu in town to head back to Kampala. It wasn’t the smoothest of travels as 20 minutes outside the city the driver stopped and kicked everyone out. The guy wanted the full price, which I refused to pay and the lady beside me vented, “Those men are thieves…”, as we walked down the road to see about catching a ride. Luckily, a partially full coach just happened to be going by and we flagged it down.

As we were heading into the taxi park where I would be switching from the bus to a matatu to continue on to Jinja, I finished off my water bottle and was left with an empty bottle that I didn’t want to carry around with me. As I will never adopt the Ugandan way of just throwing your trash out whenever and wherever you are, I thought I would test a theory. I put it in the mesh pocket on the outside of my backpack and made my way through the taxi park. Sure enough, when I climbed in to take my seat, my “garbage” was gone. Way to work the system…
The rest of the trip went smoothly and Cheryl came back to Jinja a couple days later. The first time she came, we spent a lot of time doing our own thing, but the second time, she was much more like a volunteer then a guest. Not only did she come along when we all took a bunch of kids into town one afternoon (she took Jojo on the boda with Paul and I; a first for her), she used her nursing skills to help me, Emily and Annelise (another nurse) take blood from all the kids in our house for some testing. I have successfully taken blood from 4 kids now. There 
were a couple missed veins along the way, but I’m getting better.

All in all, it was so incredible to have her here. As special it was for her to have me come see Mpigi, a place that means so much to her, it was the same for me to have her share this place with me. On top of that, I know that having her to talk to (someone who has been here and understands life here) will help the transition of coming home.  

There are too many pictures, so here’s a quick slideshow…click here

A few other notables:

I drove the car into town the other day with a total of 12 people, including Tasha in a carrier on my lap in the driver’s seat. That sure wouldn’t fly in Canada…

We had the most AMAZING storm a couple weeks ago. I had to drive to the clinic in town to drop off some blood to be tested and I was drenched just from running from the porch to the car. I couldn’t see anything and kept getting wet every time I would break as the the water would pour through the sun roof. It had the same intensity as driving in the snow back home, I loved it.

Also, Emily came back from America on Sunday; Jessica and I went to the Airport to meet her. When she came through the gate, Jess ran up and they had a less-then-subtle reunion. While that was going on, I snuck behind them, ducking behind people until I was standing just beside Emily. I stood there silent for a moment, until she noticed me…a double take that ended in more screaming and hugging. I got her good…

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Miracle of Life

Early on the 16th of February, Emily came into our room and woke me up. Christine, one of our mamas, was finally in labour. She was staying at her aunt’s place in Bukaya and as I was the only one who knew how to get there given I had gone to tend to the burn on her leg, she needed me to go along to get her and bring her to Jinja Main Hospital. Her labour had started just after midnight, so though she was in pain when we loaded her and her cousin into the car, it was clear it would probably be a while until she delivered.

Jinja Main is the “free” government hospital in town so the standard of care is even less so than in the hospitals that you pay for (and even then it’s hardly decent), so when we arrived to find 10-15 labouring women kicked out on the lawn while they mopped the ward, we weren`t all that surprised. Christine was admitted and was assigned a bed so Em and I left to grab some supplies for her. I had plans to meet up with our pastor’s wife, Debbie, that morning for tea and given that I was assured that she would not deliver until later that evening and she had her cousin with her, I decided to keep my appointment. It was nearly 2 when I returned to find her alone (her cousin had gone to make and bring her some food), on a mat on the floor between the beds and in the grips of some rather intense contractions, so then started what would end up being a very long night.

The labour ward is a long rectangle room with about 24 beds lined up along the walls with one single isle down the middle. It was basic to say the least; cement floor, single windows all along the sides, metal beds that filled the air with an odour that could have just as easily been the acrid tang of blood. Everyone that comes is required to bring their own sheets, their own sutures and gloves, basin and soap and among other things, a black sheet of plastic that is used during all examinations and during the actual delivery to keep the mattresses “clean”. Not exactly what we`re used to in North America.

The next number of hours was spent alternately reading, rubbing her back during contractions and chatting with her cousin and another friend that came to support her. I was saying to them how impressed I was by how quiet the women were and how back home, women scream and yell and hit their husbands but after they’d stopped laughing they told me that I had just to wait for the nighttime…that’s when the screaming started.

As time went on I admit to feeling a certain degree of concern. She had been examined upon arriving but not a single nurse or doctor had been by to see her so by 5pm, I decided it was time to do something. I found a nurse who agreed to see her and she was led to an examination room. This eased my mind a bid as I was told she still had 4cm to go but the baby’s head was in a good position.

Em came by to see how things were going a bit later and we took the opportunity to insist that Christine be honest with us about whether or not she wanted us there for her delivery. Up until that afternoon, though I had hoped, I had no expectation of being with her at that point but when she told us that she would be more comfortable if we stayed, my excitement was evident. I went home with Emily as I hadn’t really eaten and we needed to collect some things but when we got home, my anxiety started to grow and I felt really uncomfortable about leaving her at all. So when Emily decided that she couldn’t go back to the hospital as she was too worried about the condition of one of our kids at the house, I grabbed the keys and made my way back as quickly as possible. It was nearly 8 by the time I arrived and my night took a negative turn as the stomach bug that had been going around the house seemed to suddenly hit me and in an instant the heat of the ward and the smells were causing a significant degree of discomfort. I strongly considered going home and I admit to finding great comfort in having the car with me in case it came to that, but fortunately for me, despite my best efforts, I didn’t end up throwing up; the nausea did stay with me through the whole night and throughout the next day, though.

In addition to one friend and cousin that were already there with me, Christine and Rosemary, both mamas at Ekisa, came by late after their shifts and were a great help and encouragement. Rosemary wasn’t there long passed 1am, but when Christine was moved to a secondary location as hard labour began to press in, she was quite the sergeant. I felt so sorry for Christine; she was so tired and in so much pain and Rosemary was insisting she walk around during contractions and God forbid she cry out. We all took turns being with her as the room she was moved to was small and filled with three beds, separated by tattered curtains hung from pieces of wood screwed into the wall. The other two beds were also occupied by actively labouring women and each of them had people in and out as well. I had to take frequent trips outside to ease my nausea, and took a few 5 minutes naps on a wooden bench outside the room, but spent plenty of time encouraging her, holding her hand, insisting she rest between contractions and insisting she not sit on the floor. She was relatively naked and the floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a frightening long time and seemed to be covered in the residue left behind after many other births. One other thing I did was pray…constantly; as time when on, I got more and more worried and anxious and she was in so much pain. If I wasn’t praying for safety and a speedy delivery, I was just standing at the head of her bed repeating “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” over and over as I had no other words during the more intense moments of the night.

Mariam, Christine`s cousin and Betty, her friend (who at one point during the night told me about how she delivered her two kids in the village BY HERSELF…these women amaze me) were right about the screaming. As the night went on, it seemed like half the women in Jinja were having their babies; hence the fact that Christine didn`t even deliver in the labour room. The sounds I heard coming from that place were at the same time frightening and amusing; from grunting to screaming, to a good ol` ”ooooooo-eeeeeeeeeee”. And all this despite the fact that any sound is quite forcefully discouraged as it is commonly believed that such a thing will delay the delivery because the baby will think they are not wanted.

Not long after 3am, it was clear things were getting close and that last 45 minutes were probably the most stressful of the whole night. I was so scared for her thinking about all the things that can go wrong, but then at 3:40am, little Janet was born; a perfect, healthy, beautiful little girl. It was an incredible sight and something that I will surely never forget. I didn`t end up heading home until I was sure that mom and baby were ok and got home around 5am, just staggered by what I had seen. Definitely a check off the bucket list…

I slept for a few hours and then went with Emily to pick up Christine and bring her home to Bukaya. It was pretty funny going back in there so soon; like a home coming. Many of the women that were there during the night were still there and greeted me like an old friend as I walked down the aisle. There was also a woman in the room where Christine delivered that was there all night with us and who had been in labour for a couple days before that. In the midst of a contraction, she still greeted me when I walked in to see her and asked that I would pray for her. Poor lady…three days…I wish I knew how that had turned out.

The one final thing I would like to say in the wake of this experience is that all you western women who complain about not having your bloody private room…Suck. It. Up!

The Labour Ward

Below and above are images of the room where she delivered... 

Christine (another Mama from Ekisa) just moments after her birth

...a few moments after that...

Taken the next morning when we went to pick them up...beautiful just like her mama.

Emily's first time holding her.

Back in Bukaya. Not a great picture, but just a quick shot of mom and baby.