Tuesday, November 16, 2010

thoughts on travel

I just finished reading a book by Rosemary Mahoney called "Down the Nile" in which she describes her travels down the Nile, alone, in a fisherman's skiff. I love the last line of the book. It rings so true for me.

"Travel never makes one cheerful. But it makes one thoughtful. It washes one's eyes and clears away the dust."

Monday, September 06, 2010

New videos on CAR-must watch

Charity: Water along with ICDI (a group we worked with in CAR) is focusing it's September campaign on raising funds to drill wells in Bayanga among the Bayaka, a group we did extensive tree planting work with. These videos make me cry as I am transported back into the life of CAR. Watch and be amazed.

charity: water 2010 September Campaign: Clean Water for the Bayaka from charity: water on Vimeo.

The Bayaka. from charity: water on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Fastest to Die - By Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham | Foreign Policy

For those interested in the impact of the these past years of war and decline in CAR. It is a tragedy that continues to place itself out and one that won't go away easily.

On a side note, school season is fast approaching. For those interested in helping out again this year, please let us know soon so we can plan. Last year we sent more than 31 children to private school thanks to YOU.

The Fastest to Die - By Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham | Foreign Policy: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Monday, June 14, 2010

My time in Quebec

I will write more soon but if you want to see some of my pics from my time in Chicoutimi, follow the link to my photos on facebook....no facebook account necessary.


Friday, April 16, 2010

How do I show you love?

I like to show love through service. Darren and I sometimes run into trouble because we both like to show love through service. We often play out scenes where we are both trying to nudge the other away from the sink in an effort to be the one to do the dishes. Unlike many couples who fight over trying to get the other spouse to do the dishes, we fight over the right to GET to do the dishes. Two servants married to each other can be fun and comedic. The same can be said for two servant sisters.

Clarisse and I found ourselves in a very interesting predicament while in Gaza performing a nutritional survey. It is important to remember that Clarisse is six years older than me, thus in Central African culture it is my duty to show her respect, more respect than I would show to a younger sibling. Besides the respect she is owed, I also love her as a sister and friend so want to show her love and respect.

In Gaza we stayed at the EEB health clinic, where we performed the survey and treated the most severe cases of malnutrition. The nurse who runs the clinic is one of Clarisse and I’s cousin, and he was our host for the four days we were in Gaza. There is an empty, four room house where we were housed and ate our meals, courtesy of the fine cooking of our cousin’s wife. Clarisse helped our cousin arrange the rooms and she made sure we had a room together so we could have maximum sister time. We each had a single bed to sleep on, basically four legs with a thin sheet of plywood on top to put a foam mattress on. In our case, there was only one mattress between six of us. Our cousin decided to give the mattress to me, as, in their culture, I am this cousin’s older sister and he wanted to show me love and respect.

When Clarisse and I went in to get ready for bed I took one look at the sleeping arrangements and an instant stubbornness rose up inside of me. I was determined that Clarisse should have the honour and privilege of sleeping on the mattress. Clarisse is, like me, equally stubborn and she was also bound and determined that I was to sleep on the mattress, plus it was the wish of our cousin, so for her the matter was settled. I placed my sleeping sheet on the plywood bed and Clarisse instantly removed it and put it on the mattress bed, at which point I snatched it back onto the wooden bed. We went back and forth like this with the rest of the team laughing at us from outside the window. I decided a compromise was in order. I proposed that we take turns sleeping on the mattress, that way we could both show each other how much we loved the other. I knew we would be there three nights so to maximize Clarisse’s sleeping time on the mattress I insisted that she take the first night. She relented and I am sure that she had the better night’s sleep; mind you, she did have the worst place in the car while I had a much less cramped seat so she certainly deserved and needed a good night’s sleep.

The third night was the trickiest night of the bargain. I went to bed early, taking my turn on the plywood bed. I had just fallen asleep when Clarisse walked in, saw the mattress on her bed and abruptly woke me up to tell me to change beds. I told her that it was my turn on the plywood bed but she did not agree. She said that tonight I was to listen to her, my big sister! I said, “but it is only fair, I slept on the mattress the night before, it was her turn”. Not good enough apparently. I refused to move so she refused to lie on the mattress. She laid out a wrap (like a wrap around skirt) on the cement floor in the corner and insisted that if I didn’t sleep on the mattress she would sleep on the floor all night. I continued to refuse and said that if she didn’t take the mattress I would sleep on the floor next to her. At this point we were starting to laugh at the utter ridiculousness of it all, and it only got worse as I got out of bed and laid down on the floor next to her. We were each trying to convince the other to take the mattress and in the meantime we were rolling on our sides laughing.

It reminded me of when my sister and I fought over a toy and since we couldn’t agree to both play with it in peace, our parents would take it away saying, “if you can’t agree to play together with it, no one will play with it”. Thinking of this gave me the solution to Clarisse and I’s problem. Isac, the Swedish doctor had come up with us and he did not have a mattress to sleep on. He had yet to go to bed, so I proposed that since we couldn’t agree we should give the mattress to Isac. We snuck into Isac’s room, stripped his plywood bed, put the mattress on top and covered it up with his things. Clarisse and I crawled onto our plywood beds giggling and waiting for Isac to come in. When he got onto his bed he started laughing and we told him that he had become the solution to our problem.

In the end we showed each other love by both having a rather uncomfortable sleep on top of a sheet of plywood and I think we both went to bed happy for not giving in. We will be laughing over the incident for years to come.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Time for good-byes

I think the hardest part about saying good-bye is not knowing when you will return next. Everyone is anxious to know when we are coming back to stay for good. My answer, “I don’t know”. A totally unsatisfactory answer, even if true.

I spent yesterday in a meeting discussing strategy for moving forward with the agriculture work and CEFA, the new NGO/project in Gamboula. It was a good meeting with input from everyone present and I think we are in a good position to move ahead with the work.

Today I went to Clarisse’s garden for the morning. Her mom and oldest daughter were in the process of preparing cassava that had been soaking in a nearby fish pond for several days. We arrived in time to help remove the peel of the cassava which was then ‘washed’ off in the fish pond water and thrown into a giant bowl called a cuvette. I was ready to wade into the pond to do my part in washing the cassava but Mama told me that there were little bugs in the water that would ‘eat’ me so I should stay on the edge and help peel. The little bugs turned out to be leeches, which I have no desire to let eat me, so I gladly sat on the edge peeling. After three days in stagnant water cassava develops a distinct smell, sweet and fermented-like, which, after showering and putting on cream, is still on my hands. With some friends arriving to help, I was displaced from my peeling job to the job of lugging huge basins of wet cassava on my head, up to the small shelter built within the garden. I was not given a full basin, not having a neck able to support a large load and having just had my hair braided. I put a little cloth ‘donut’ on my head, was helped to heave it on top and stalked off down the trail, one hand helping balance the basin on my head. I managed to carry the empty basin back to the pond hands-free which I was pretty proud of. On the way home I carried a stack of cassava leaves on my head which met with many comments from other farmers along the road.

I have one more full day left in Gamboula, and while I am very excited about going home, it is not easy to leave here. Despite all the depressing things about this country, the nutrition garden and the Women and Children Gardening for Health program continues to be a bright light in the community. Nadege’s energy and love for her job amaze me; the garden is humming along despite the lack of rain and staff. It is easy to see the negative things around, the things that are easy to depress the spirit, but one look at Nadege and the garden and the women working away, meeting people like Mariam and seeing women receive seeds and machetes, there is hope. We can’t just roll over and die, we can’t just leave people in their misery, despite how normal it seems.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Having children isn’t hard; raising them is the difficult part

Hamada-Gaza is at the same time hopeless and resilient. It never ceases to amaze me that people in difficult circumstances don’t, at some point, just decide to roll over and die. After seven hours on difficult roads, across bridges that required everyone to get out of the truck, inspect the bridge and then re-load on the other side, we started work on Thursday. The purpose of our trip was to do a survey of the health of children from 0-5 years. Rather than go door to door, the hospital health team sets-up under a mango tree and people start lining up to have their children weighed, measured, poked and prodded. Our team consisted of me, the food security specialist, two nurses, a midwife and a doctor. For each child that we saw, we asked a series of questions that were recorded and will, eventually, be entered in a report.

On the first day, my job was to ask the questions, while Clarisse weighed each child and measured their height and arm circumference. I used all the language skills I have, pulling out my Sango, French and the few words I know in Gbaya and Fulfulde. Even then, hearing people’s names and recording them is a talent I am still working on. Clarisse gave several lessons on health and nutrition, specifically focusing on the foods that are appropriate for infants and children. It is common here to find mothers starting children on solid food and water as early as two months, while the recommendation is not to start until 6 months. Breast milk is best! Giving water too early also results in the early introduction of worms and parasites which quickly leads to malnutrition.

I was shocked not so much at the state of health of the children we were seeing the first morning, but at the answers to the survey questions. In particular, I was asking each woman how many children she had. It was common to hear 8, 9, 10, 11, up to 14. But when I asked them how many of the children were still living, the answers were shocking. A woman who gave birth to 14 children had 9 living. Five of her children had died, all at various ages from one sickness or another. No one could give you details, it was just a fact of life. As I asked the name of the child we were weighing, many women didn’t know their child’s proper name, as though they had too many names to remember or the name itself had no significance. Even worse was knowing how old their children were. Very few women could give an accurate age of their child. One woman had no idea how old her children were, except to know that her first child was around five. She had four children under the age of five and the oldest two were both very malnourished. I asked her if the four kids were really four kids that she had given birth to (as it is common to raise other people’s children) and she replied, “Yes. A woman’s work is to give birth”. I wanted to cry for her. Her husband had left her and she believed that the only thing she was good for was having babies.

On Friday a grandmother came with a 10 day old baby, born premature and weighing 1.9kg. We had to resuscitate the baby 5 times before the Doctor finally gave up and she died in the early hours of the morning. I think the baby girl was the first child I have seen die right in front of me and it was a tragic and emotional experience. What was worse is that they had this baby at home for several days before bringing her to the health clinic, where the government ‘nurse’ on duty proceeded to give this tiny baby girl everything from quinine (for malaria), several antibiotics and diazepam, all within a 24 hour period. Before coming to the government health clinic the family had tried various forms of traditional medicine, and, as a last resort, brought the child to the Baptist health clinic. By then it was too late and it made me so angry to know that this baby suffered so much at the hands of ignorant people. With only ten percent of children attending a school that barely works, there is little hope for the future.

There are many different food taboos that have been passed down generations in the region that make it a very difficult place nutritionally as well. Children are not supposed to eat papayas or bananas, as it is said to give them worms. They shouldn’t eat eggs, fresh meat (only meat that has been dried over a fire) or fish (the smell of fish is what makes kids limbs swell, supposedly). The end result of these taboos is children ending up with kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition resulting from a lack of protein where the belly and limbs are severely swollen. Pregnant women are also subject to many of the same taboos resulting in low birth weights and generally unhealthy children. I am convinced that a bunch of men got together, decided on what was the best tasting food in the village and then made up a bunch of rules that made sure they were always the ones to get to eat them. With this sort of ignorance, what will it take to save the next generation? Certainly it will take more than a few visits from a village health team.