Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Many Thanks!

I know...I know. We've been back for almost TWO months now and I have yet to say a proper thank you to the people who made the trip to Tanzania not only possible, but fantabulous for me!
First, I need to thank Dianne Wilt who thought of me when the team was still looking for a physician, way back last autumn.

Dianne Wilt
She gave my name to Liz Fite who had the nerve to call me, a total stranger, to see if I would be at all interested in joining the medical team for this mission.

Liz Fite with one of our 600+ patients
Liz introduced me to the mastermind behind the operation, Curt Harris--the multi-tasker behind all the arrangements (passports, visas, transportation, lodging, supplies, etc., etc.).

The Mastermind: Curt Harris
This is Pastor Shane, warrior-preacher-prayer guide and all around generally nice guy:

Pastor Shane
This is Vince, the brawn and brains behind the construction team:

...and the team at work:

Thanks to Talek, the Masai warrior who guarded over the camp at night:

And Dr. Boniface for opening his clinic to us and for greeting every day with a big smile.

Dr. Boniface, me, and my adventuresome
and fun-loving tent-mate, Diane

Thanks go out to everyone on the medical team, including our receptionists, pharmacists, physical therapists, optometrist, translators, our nurses, and the national nurses...all of whom met this challenge with optimism, determination, and supernatural patience and kindness.

A special note of deep appreciation is in order for the people of Lobosoit who welcomed us, especially Elias and the elders of the village, the village health committee, and Pastor Peter.

And don't forget the cooks and the staff who fed us and maintained the camp for us.

Let's hear a round of applause for Jon Bongiorno, President of World Serve International:
Jon Bongiorno
His dedication to this project and others has served to maintain an on-going presence in this region. He has pledged his continued support to the people we came to know and love in and around Lobosoit. He's a pretty decent big-game hunter, too!

And finally, a prayer of thanksgiving 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 serendipity (if you must).
"Without suffering there is no compassion,
and without compassion, there is no hope.
If you are interested in learning more about our trip or more about the work of Christian Life Assembly, go to http://www.christian-life.com . If you are called to this work, don't hesitate to get involved.

If you do get involved, though...remember this:

You've been warned!

Mungu akabariki!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I've been home for over a month now. It has taken me that long to collect my thoughts, upload pictures, and more or less, get back into the swing of things here at home.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't welcome the comfort of a hot shower, a toilet that flushes, and my own soft, warm bed after having lived in a tent for two weeks.

But now that I'm home, I'd also be lying if I told you I didn't miss my sleeping bag, my roomie, and the night sounds in the African bush...living in community with like minded souls dedicated to a common purpose...rising to the challenge.

I'd be lying if I told you I prefer heavy traffic, crowded shopping malls, and flashing fluorescent lights to sharing stories around a campfire under the glittering African sky after supper every night.


Go ahead...ask me where I'd prefer to practice medicine--under the cold scrutiny of an intrusive legal system...or in the grateful embrace of a person who has all but given up hope.

This man had suffered an untreated open fracture
of his right tib-fib four months earlier.

I titled this blog "Cherished Illusions" for a reason. By illusions I mean the misconceptions we cling to because of what we have read or been told or experienced in the past that informs what we hold to be true...whether we are right or wrong. They are cherished because we cling to them with such tenacity...such obstinance...such a sense of entitlement...until

...everything changes!

Back in October, when I received a call from a total stranger asking if I would be interested in joining a medical mission to Tanzania, I jumped at the opportunity. When she said that a patient of mine had given her my name...I cautioned her that I had no special expertise in this area, no prior experience, nor any exceptional skills that qualified me for this kind of undertaking. But because they needed a doctor...I agreed to give it a try. In truth, I'd have given anything to get back to Africa.

As it turned out, I had agreed to travel with a group from Christian Life Assembly http://www.christianlife.com/ --a large, evangelical church known for its charismatic brand of praise and worship.

My spirit, however, is grounded in solitude, in quiet contemplation, in endless questioning, and solemn reverence. So among people whose worship is spontaneous, open, and expectant, I felt like something of a misfit...

...a misfit and a skeptic. Because as eager as I was to make this trip, I was well aware of the body of evidence that points to the abject failure of international aid to Africa. So I was torn between my own self-serving motivations for making this trip (I'd been to Zambia a few years back and I longed for a reason to return to Africa.) and what I felt to be the naive but honorable intentions embraced by the rest of the team. Frankly, I doubted we could accomplish anything enduring in just two weeks. Our supplies were limited. We had to work through interpreters. We had no opportunity for follow-up with the patients we treated. And then we would be gone.We couldn't promise anyone a permanent cure or lasting relief...a virtual mandate in America.

I questioned the wisdom behind the entire endeavor.

But no one else appeared to see it that way. It was enough for them to offer just one patient a bit of relief for just one day. That alone was justification enough to undertake this mission. To them, the fact that we extended friendship, compassion, and hope to the people of Lobosoit was its own reward.

And, you know, I came to believe that they were right. BAM! My expectations changed. My skepticism melted away. In Lobosoit, I came to believe that healing, like peace, is achieved one person at a time. If you do the best you can with what you have, someone will thank you for it.

One hand held...one heart touched...one friendship forged.

I shed a few illusions in Lobosoit. I gained a new appreciation and respect for charismatic worship. I cast off skepticism and apprehension. And I came to see our contribution as one piece in a vast puzzle that everyone is working on--how to preserve ancestral traditions as third world cultures are swept up into the global mainstream, how to protect the environment, and how to achieve equality among the people. 

Africa is a place that nourishes my spirit. The endless scenic wilderness, the glittering night sky, and the fact that life goes on in the wild without any interference from mankind stands in stark contrast to the daily grind.

The residents of Lobosoit came to us out of desperation, seeking hope as much as healing. We were rewarded with their trust. Their shy smiles. And finally, their warmth and friendship.

And, we left with a promise: that they will not be forgotten. That they can count on our enduring support and assistance.

That they can count on us to continue this work. And I can hardly wait until we do! 
"If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.
If you wish to know that you are safe, cause another to know that they are safe.
If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things,
 help another to better understand.
If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger,
seek to heal the sadness or anger of another."
--Dalai Lama--
In my final post, I'll offer a few words of thanks.
Be still--

Monday, April 9, 2012

The answer is, "Yes." Definitely.

Sunday, March 11, 2012
Day Fourteen

After sweltering in the Kilimanjaro Airport for two hours last evening, we finally boarded the first of three flights that would eventually bring us home. The first flight took a quick detour south to Dar Es Salam to board additional passengers, and then we settled down for the nine hour flight to our next stopover--Amsterdam. Exhausted at the end of a long day, I was able to grab a couple of hours of restless sleep...enough to refresh me so that I was able to read abit and to reflect back upon what exactly had just happened in my life and how I felt about it...about these people and this place.

Young Maasai child

Maasai warrior

Maasai elder

Village children

Young Maasai men
The book I chose to read on the way home, "Once Upon a Time, There Was You", was written by my favorite author--Elizabeth Berg--meaning that it would be a short, fast, heart-aching read. Heart-aching not because the storyline was a crusher, but because my heart aches to write as beautifully as she does!

Given another eight hour flight to Detroit with a five hour stop-over there, I had no trouble finishing the book before we arrived back in Pennsylvania.

Every so often, I would put the book down, rest my eyes for a while, and allow my mind to wander. I have developed a life-long habit of memorizing what I experience by meditating on details--the place, the people, sounds and smells, snippets of conversation--going back over them in my mind again and again so that they etched there forever. I keep a journal. I carry a camera. I don't want to forget a thing.

I want to remember Tanzania--the land, the people I traveled with, the people we met, and all they did for us. I want to remember the patients we saw, the food we ate (well, maybe not all of it...), the sky, the stars, the stories we heard and the stories we told. Everything. Some I have shared with you in this journal. Some I have chosen to omit.

Nevertheless, as I allowed my mind to roam, stopping here and there to take it all in, it occurred to me that along the way, the only things weighing me down were my own "Cherished Illusions", my own preconceived notions and treasured expectations about who these people were, what my role would be, and what we could accomplish. Why me? Why this? Why now? Hence, the title of this blog.

It was unusually mild for mid-March in central Pennsylvania when our last flight touched down and we were greeted by family and friends at the gate, all of them wanting to know, "Was it fun? Was it hard? Was it scary?" Yes. Yes. Yes.

"Did you like it there?" Yes.

"Does it feel good to be home?" Yes.

"Do you think you'll go back?" Yes. Definitely.

"A memory is what is left when something happens
and does not completely unhappen."
--Edward de Bono--
In my next post, I'll share a few of my "Cherished Illusions" with you.
Be still,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012
Day Thirteen

Today was safari day...our chance to tour the Tarangire National Park for a couple of hours, at least. We were up at 5:45 am, awakening to the chatter of the birds and the muffled sounds of breakfast being prepared. After a hearty meal, we boarded the safari vehicles and took off into the park. We no sooner pulled out of the driveway when we were greeted by a family of giraffes munching on their breakfast in the trees.

As we bumped along for four hours we were treated to a host of magnificent wildlife, some of which are represented here, although, to be honest...you had to be there!

Elephants were everywhere

More giraffes
Impala locked in combat

...Ostriches and too many small, bright birds to name:

 ...as well as immense, unusual trees:

All of this and so much more in just a few short hours...after which we retuned to the River Camp, had lunch, and loaded everything into vans for our return to Arusha and a visit to the Tanzania Cultural Center:

We were given exactly one hour to look around and to shop for mementos of our visit and gifts for friends and family back home. No small task.

Thankfully, our hosts had taken a couple of rooms for us back at The African Tulip where we quickly washed and changed before we were on our way to the Kilamanjaro Airport for the LONG trip home.

"Where is your home?
Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Think about these once in a while and watch your answers change."
--Richard Bach--
In my next post I'll tell you how I passed the time in flight.
 Be still,
ps: Many thanks to team members who allowed me to share their photos with you,
 especially Glenn Johnson, Diane Whitcomb, and Diane and Jim Wilt. 

pps: Don't ask me what happened to the formatting in this post :(

Friday, March 30, 2012

Rules of the Road

Friday, March 9, 2012
Day Twelve

At first, it sounded like we would enjoy a leisurely day today. In the morning we had the choice of visiting one of the bomas (houses) in the village or staying in camp to finish packing. I declined the boma tour having "been there, done that" when my daughter was in the Peace Corps in Zambia a few years back. Instead I opted for a quiet morning and an opportunity to breathe, stretch, and reflect on my experience these past two weeks...to commit it to memory. After lunch, we would be heading out to Tarangire National Park on safari.
packing up and moving out
It was a perfect morning... comfortably warm and dry, under a cloudless sky with a light breeze. A good day to see the sights.

Where ever I travel, I am amazed at how quickly we are able to connect with people of all ages from cultures of every description. Even in Lobosoit where tribal customs and traditions are still observed, where the mannerisms, dress, and language were so foreign to us, a fundamental and mutual bond existed even before we arrived. This is the connection I spoke about at the beginning of this blog...the willingness to help and to be helped. To teach and to be taught. To love and to be loved.

While we may have harbored some misgivings when we first arrived, they evaporated as we went about our work. And if the villagers were fearful of us at first, before long we were laughing together and embracing one another. By the time we left, we were talking about plans for the future...for building upon what we started here...for strengthening our partnership with one another. For giving and receiving...materially, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

Admittedly, what we accomplished in our short time here may have been little more than a drop in the proverbial leaky bucket...but at least it's our drop to claim.

After lunch, we boarded the safari vehicles that would transport us to the game park. This is a three hour trek if you stick to the main roads...but our guides decided it would be okay (meaning the roads should be passable) for us to take the "back way"... through the bush. Don't ask me to describe the joys of following rough, rocky, rutted roads through the wilderness for SEVEN HOURS...except to say that I now know what popcorn must feel like!

  1. If the bridge is out, use the river bed.
  2. If the rocks are too big to get around, drive over them.
  3. Don't worry about how deep the mud is. When in doubt, gun it.
  4. Before you gun it...make sure the windows are closed.
  5. Always carry food and water.
'Nuff said.

One advantage of taking the back roads was that we gained an appreciation for the vast African wilderness...vista upon vista as far as our imaginations could take us. Then, just when we started to think we'd never see civilization again, we would come across a boma...

...in the middle of absolutely nowhere...complete with children who ran out to the road waving and laughing...with livestock in the yard and dogs running loose. Nowhere!

We also saw a fair number of elephants, giraffes, and impala long before we entered the game park.

One of the most impressive sights, to me, were the ancient boabab trees.

You almost expect to see an elf peeking out of a door at the base of these huge trees.

In this part of Tanzania, the long, low hills resemble the drumlins of Central Pennsylvania except that they go on forever. The horizon is punctuated by mountains that rise as sharp and symmetrical as pyramids. From the ridge we drove along, the valley that led to the game park looked exactly like a never-ending championship golf course, studded with flowering bushes, acacia trees and baobabs that grew in perfusion.

We were so excited about seeing the animals in the wild that we had to hurry to make it to the game park gate before it closed for the night. It was still another hour or more until we pulled into the River Camp in Tarangire National Park http://mbalimbali.com/camps/tarangire_river_camp.php .

When we learned this is a "tent camp" our spirits fell...until we saw what kind of tents we were staying in:

Now we're talking! We enjoyed a wonderful meal, a hot shower, and an oh-so-comfy bed for a good night's sleep. We'll need it because we have a full day in store for us before we head to the airport tomorrow night.
"The danger of an adventure is worth a thousand days of ease and comfort."
--Paulo Coelho--
One more day of fun and adventure before...culture shock!
Be still,