Monday, September 23, 2013

you can do this, too

When I started this blog last year, after my first trip to Tanzania, I titled it  "Cherished Illusions" for a couple of reasons. I was already well aware of the negative commentary regarding efforts by disconnected though well-intentioned churches like CLA to extend aid to the people of Africa. In her book, Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo states, "Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world." 

Some analysts believe that foreign aid instills a culture of dependency and fuels corruption. It defeats its own purpose. For the most part it hasn't succeeded.

Still, much of the western world believes we have a moral imperative to reach out to those who are less the hungry, the sick, and the poor. Christian churches feel this mandate intensely, none more so than the members of our team from CLA.

It is this passion that fuels the work of medical missions like the one I agreed to oversee.

In Loborsoit we witnessed the disabling effects of poverty, hunger, chronic pain, and untreated illness among strangers who welcomed us with trusting and hopeful hearts.

We treated over 700 patients while we were there. But even if all we had accomplished was to rehydrate one sick baby, or to relieve one person's pain, or to convince one mother to fetch clean water for her family, a lofty goal would nevertheless have been served. Despite the broader problem of political and economic fallout, friendships were forged and cultural differences were celebrated. A commitment was fulfilled. What we accomplished may have been little more than a dew drop in a desert, but if just one seed took root because of it...imagine what might eventually blossom there!

I owe many thanks to the team for their support, and to the people who invited me to be a part of this effort. This is how it all began:

One day, back in October 2011, I received a call, out of nowhere, from a total stranger from a church I didn't belong to, asking me if there was the slightest possibility that I might consider joining a team of nurses, aides, and therapists traveling to a remote village in Tanzania to run a medical clinic. Liz Fite's call that day was the answer to a prayer of mine. I'd been to Africa before and I ached to go back. She'd gotten my name from a patient of mine who was kind enough to think of me when their team found itself without a doctor. Meet Liz Fite and friend:

And this is my patient, Dianne Wilt (on the right). If she hadn't given my name to Liz, none of this would have happened for me.

This is multitasker and genuinely all-around nice guy, Curt Harris, who organizes everything for every mission the church sends off--passports, visas, flights, meals, and transportation. I swear, seeing 700 patients in a tent without running water or electricity takes less energy than what this man does every day!

Curt Harris
Meet John Bongiorno, president of WorldServe International. He has a talent for seeking out the neediest people and for working tirelessly on their behalf. His passion is providing clean water to villages like Lobosoit, and for supporting efforts to establish schools and clinics where there are none. He's also a pretty darn good big game hunter, and an honorary Maasai elder.

John Bongiorno
This our liason in Loborsoit, Alais Ndooki, the one-armed wonder. He not only coordinates all the projects in the village, but personally arranged for the transfer and treatment of the most seriously injured and ill patients to the hospital in Arusha while we were there.

Alais Ndooki
Thanks go out to the village elders who shared their stories with us, to the women of the village who welcomed us, to Dr. Boniface and the national nurses who supported us in the clinic, and to Roy Safari for maintaining the camp, preparing our meals, and leading us along the back roads to paradise. Also, thanks to family and friends who prayed for us and patiently awaited our safe return.

I would be remiss to forget Talek who kept us safe despite the hyenas that prowled the camp in the dark!

And finally, a prayer of gratitude goes out to the Lord (if you believe in Him) or to the power of the universe (if you're not convinced yet) or to fate, chance, or luck (if you must) for the opportunity to do this work, for the invitation to witness Mother Nature in all her glory, and for our safe return.

If you are interested in learning more about our trip or more about the work of Christian Life Assembly, go to . If you are called to do this kind of work, don't hesitate to get involved.

"You haven't really lived 
until you've done something for someone
who can never repay you."
(God bless you!)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

fast forward

Fast forward...I have been home for two weeks now. I consider myself fortunate because, instead of jumping right back into work mode, I have had time to reflect back on my African adventure. Writing about it has enabled me to re-experience each savor every encounter:

To slip back into the crater. To wrap my imagination around the Milky Way.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't welcome the comfort of hot showers, flushing toilets, and my own soft bed after living in a tent for over a week.

But the truth is that I'd trade them all in again for the pleasure of sharing stories around a campfire and sleeping under the stars at the end of the day. I'd trade in the shopping malls and traffic jams and flashing fluorescent lights for the endless grasslands and soaring mountains, for the soothing balm of silence that graces the wilderness.

Go ahead. Guess where I'd rather practice medicine. Under the cold scrutiny of an intrusive legal system or in a tent under the expectant gaze of a patient who has all but given up hope? Go head. Guess.

Life is a kaleidoscope. It changes before our eyes. We enjoy the fruits of abundance...until we witness the curse of poverty. We take our health for granted...until we are called to heal. We ravage Mother Earth...until we behold her glory:

This is the iconic, and elusive, Mount Kilimanjaro. I never thought I would get to see it, as it is always shrouded in haze or lost in the clouds. This was my last glimpse of Africa...

...and this is my final farewell:

In my final post, I will introduce you to some of the people who made this all possible. I can't thank them enough!

Friday, September 20, 2013

why me...why this?

Today is safari day. That means breakfast is served at 6 AM for departure at 7:00. Why so early? Because you have to get into the crater early if you want to avoid the traffic--the line-up of safari vehicles loaded with explorers who are trying to get the same shot you want.

We boarded our vehicles on schedule and made the 5K climb to the gate of the park.


The keeper of the gate...

From there, it was a bouncy 22K drive along the rim of the crater before we descended some 2,000 feet into the caldera, onto the floor of the collapsed volcano. 

The crater is 9 miles across and is surrounded by
9,000-12,000 foot mountain peaks.
Our descent began in the flat-topped acacia forest...

...and took us to the endless, rolling grasslands that form the floor of the crater, home to countless, diverse species of birds and animals

I'll just let Mother Nature take it from here:

range buffalo





wart hog

tufted herons


thousands of flamingos on
Lake Manyara, a salt lake

No, I cannot describe the view from the rim of the crater. Nor did my camera do justice to the place. This is something you must experience for yourself--the breath-taking beauty of it, the soothing silence, the profound sense of peace that is painted in pastels.

You should go. Beg, bargain, or borrow whatever you need to make this trip. If you are discouraged or anxious or angry or sad, go. Free your heart of it. Feed your soul. Feel the peace. This place is bucket-list worthy!

After seven hours in a  squeaking, rattling, groaning safari vehicle we made it back to The Farmhouse in time to relax before dinner. I found myself alone, on a huge balcony overlooking the gardens with no one else in sight. Some were resting in their rooms, some were on a tour of the plantation. The sun felt a little better than warm, but not too hot. The sky was crystalline blue with a gentle breeze. And it was quiet...not an airplane overhead, not a dog barking in the distance, not a car horn or a siren any where. Just the rhythmic swish of a garden sprinkler feeding color into the lawn.

Did I mention paradise? 

Did I mention that tomorrow we pack up and head for home, back to our families and friends--to everyone we've held in our hearts this entire time? That means a four hour drive to Arusha, a visit to the African Tulip for lunch, and to the cultural center for gifts in the afternoon before we board an airplane for 19 hours straight.

I sat on the balcony with a heavy mug of fresh homegrown, ground and brewed coffee. I thought about my friends--the one beginning her battle against pancreatic cancer and another one waging war on a sarcoma. I wondered how my son's shattered shoulder is healing, and I thought about my dog.

I wondered about the baby with the burns, the fellow with the kidney stone, and the child with the tumor behind her eye. 

So...this is my question:
Why me...why this?
Why them...why that?

I get a taste of paradise...they get a taste of hell. 

How is it, I wonder, some of us are caged while others go free? How is it decreed who will be the patient, who the healer and why? Are we at the mercy of mysterious, random forces as indifferent as fate or luck or chance? Is it serendipity that leads some of us to despair, others to joy? Or are we invited to seek out Someone who understands the purpose of pain, the reason for suffering, the price of indifference? Are we sent to be the answer?

What are you praying for?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

it's the thought that counts

Our time in Loborsoit has come to an end. We talked late into the night, sharing our thoughts about the work we had done and the journey that still lay ahead...because what would an African adventure be without a safari?
It was time to say goodbye to the infamous choo, to cold showers, to the hyenas yipping during the night...and time to say hello to a comfy bed, fabulous food, and more than a few fine beasts.

After a hearty breakfast of eggs, sweet potatoes, toast, and fruit, we loaded the trucks and gathered for a final farewell to the staff that tended and protected the camp, prepared our meals, packed and unpacked our gear, and drove endless miles to get us where we needed to be. To the elders of the village, and to Alais, without whose help none of this would have been possible. A special thanks went  out to Peter Martin and the entire crew from Roy Safaris.

The plan (Plan? Really?) for the day was to drive through the Tarangire National Park on our way to to the eighth wonder of the world (in my opinion)--the Ngorongoro Crater. 

After some debate, the drivers decided to take a chance on the "short-cut" to the game park...the one that took us six hours last year, when the main road would have taken three! But that was during rainy season, and this is off we went in a cloud of dust. 

After four hours of jack-hammering roads, we pulled up in front of SOPA, one of the stunning luxury safari lodges that dot the wilderness around the park. Look at this:

In this gorgeous setting, we enjoyed a buffet lunch by the pool. And then we were off to the park. Actually, words don't really do this justice, so I'll just be quiet for now:

'Nuff said??

After making our way through the park, and after a LONG uphill climb, we pulled into our lodge for the night, The Farmhouse at Ngorongoro Crater. Check it out at:

 This is actually a working coffee plantation where they grow, grind and brew their own beans. Look out, Starbucks...

They also grow all the fruits and vegetables they serve.

 The beds were soft, the showers were hot, and the food raised the bar for The Iron Chef. does a person make the transition from dust and dung, from suffering and despair, to a place of comfort and wealth and beauty? I looked back and asked myself these three questions:

  • Did I help even one person in a meaningful and lasting way? I hope so.
  • Will I do it again if the opportunity presents itself? Yes.
  • Does my heart still ache? Definitely.
If so, then compassion and conviction have silenced the voices of fear and doubt. Faith and hope have vanquished the powers of indifference and greed.

Sometimes, it's the thought that counts.
"Give yourself entirely to those around you.
Be generous with your blessings.
A kind gesture can reach a wound
that only compassion can heal."
--Steve Maraboli--
Tomorrow we'll descend two thousand feet onto the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater. Paradise revisited...