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September 26, 2006

Philosophy For Traveling

This is Jess's last day, and as such, we are sitting around, a little sad, maybe even moping a bit. Her three weeks has flown by, and even though I'm not leaving today, her departure forces me to consider the inevitable day that will almost certainly be here before I know it, the day I return to the States. It's this type of day that makes people consider the trip that they've had, the events of that trip, and event the philosophy that caused the trip in the first place.

I have a deep personal conviction for traveling, something that I have had for years now. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to live a life extraordinary, that I wanted to have a life that I dictated, that I controlled, that I lived and just didn't observe. Early in my college years, I made a goal of mine that I wanted to leave the shores of America at least once a year for the rest of my life, that I would visit a different country, a different culture, a different people on an annual basis. That was my goal; I have succeeded for more than six years now.

My favorite author is John Steinbeck. In his book, Travels With Charlie, he writes this:

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as matrue, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet tapping....In other words, I don't improve; in further words, once a bum, always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.....When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons for going to choose from.....We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.

I find this passage to be fitting to my philosophy in many ways, that once you have tasted the world, really tasted it, you can't turn away from it. It requires all of the senses, as we found out walking through the busy center of Mombasa yesterday. It takes seeing all the people and places of a country, hearing the unique sounds there, tasting of all the foods, feeling the textures and temperatures, and even smelling the many various scents of a place, no matter how close that brings you vomiting. Smelling Mombasa yesterday really brought Africa a level closer to Jess's senses and memory.

As a final word, I'd like to quote Robert Frost's famous and familiar poem, A Road Not Taken, which at the danger of sounding generic, I'd have to say has inspired me since high school more than any other written words. I honestly can say that my life has been lived as closely to it as possible.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That is my philosophy on travels. It's a bit wordy, but then again, travel is important to me, even essential to me. It's the idea of living a life extraordinary, and the realization that the only real limitation we have is the limitation we place on our own imaginations.

September 25, 2006

Back In Mombasa

This has been a very busy week.

We went back to the clinic early in the week, it was Jess's last chance to see the people there and to say her goodbyes.  We took out a lot of cleaning materials - liquid soap, bleach, towels - which we used to clean up the place a little. It made us feel good, because they have the staff to run the place, we are mostly helping out in small ways and learning a lot of tropical medicine. But this way we felt like we were contributing. We said our farewells the following day, which was very sad for Jess, as well as me, since I started thinking that my trip is nearly half over.

We also went on our safari, which was four days, three nights, and took us through three parks - Ambaseli, Tsavo West and East. It was very beautiful, there were so many changes in landscape and people and places. That was the best part, driving through so much territory we wouldn't have seen otherwise. Of course there were the animals - lions, giraffes, elephants, hyenas, warthogs, zebra, cape buffalo, wildebeasts, gazelles, impalas, lots of antelope of different species, and loads and loads of birds. It's amazing to see all of these animals in their natural habitats, we really had a great time.

We're back in Mombasa for a few days - Jess flies back to the States tomorrow, so we are just having an easy day. She's quite sad about leaving, and it makes me sad to think about leaving in 3.5 weeks. Time does fly, especially here. Mombasa is such a lively city, there are people everywhere, markets along many streets, and the whole place just moves. It is the kind of place that people come to visit and end up staying.

I'm back to the clinic for awhile after Jess leaves. Friends from the US (my host's family) arrive shortly, on my birthday, so I'll be back to Mombasa for that, and periodically from then on. I'm looking forward to being back at the clinic. After the first nervous night, it became like home, and I'm wanting to work on my Swahili, and take lots of walking tours of all the nearby villages. I'm excited about that.

So, until next time, keep safe. Be welcoming to Jess in the States, she'll be sad and missing Africa.

Recipe Of The Week


  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Onion
  • Rice
  • Chicken
  • Garlic
  • Packet of Seasoning
  • Vegetable Oil

Cut the chicken into small pieces. Set aside. In pan, begin cooking tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, and onions satte style in oil. Seperately. cook rice in pot - 1 cup rice for 2 cups of water; if possible, cook over charcoal cooker to get the African effect. Begin mixing in chicken into vegetables as potatoes begin to soften, mix in seasoning as well.  Cook until nicely done.

Update On The War Against Roaches

Kokotoni Clinic, The Kitchen - A decisive battle against the roach hordes has been fought. Aided by the miraculous discovery of both spray and powder roach killer, large numbers of the fiends were overtaken and destroyed.

Casulties on the human side remained limited to a fairly severe headache and the loss of about three hours hiding in the shadows of the kitchen. Officials tallies of roach casualties totaled a large confirmed pile of them, which was swept in the cantine (simply a hole in the floor).

Powder was also spread all all along the walls in hopes that it will be carried back into the source, which is suspected to be the house next door, of which inhabitants are nonchalant about the issue.

Further updates will be made as possible.

September 19, 2006

A Safari To Remember

Jess is leaving in a week, so we did the tourist thing and took a safari. We went to a park nearby Mombasa called Shimba Hills.

 The park itself is really fantastic. It isn't the usual savanah plains with animals everywhere. It has hills and lots of trees and underbrush, so you really have to look for the animals. We stayed in a lodge called the Shimba Lodge, which was right off of a watering hole and was very rustic. Very nice.

Driving about, we came across a huge bull elephant in the road, which was exciting. We had giraffes crossing in front of us. There were baboons and cape buffalos, and we were lucky to see the sable antelope, which are very rare and only found in that park. We even came across some interesting birds-we watched an African fishing eagle doing its work, and a crested kingfisher sat on a limb maybe five feet away from us to pose. The animals were really fantastic. This weekend, we are going to Tsavo Park, where there are many more animals. This is the park that the movie The Ghost and The Darkness was based on, about the true story of the two lions who ate their way through 140 workers building a railway. Needless to say, we won't be hiking this trip.

Back at the lodge, we had very nice service, it's quite pleasant to be pampered, if a little unusual. It's not our typical thing. Then came the best part.

There is a walkway into the trees, which is lit up at night. I decided that it was probably about as romantic as a person can find, and decided to ask Jess to marry me there. I bought a beautiful Kenyan tanzanite ring here, and it was quite nice.

Oh, and she said yes.

And some people think I'm not romantic...

September 16, 2006

In Kenya Now!

Jambo! Habari ghani! How are you? We're in Kenya!

So, it's been a very busy week, there has been so much to see and experience, so I won't get too detailed. In my last entry, I wrote a little about being here and how to contact me, so I'll just add a tiny bit to that.

The trip was even longer than I could have imagined it. Getting off the plane in Amsterdam, a person thinks, "Wow, that was a long trip," then realizes it is barely half over. The flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi was excrutiatingly long, even though it was only 9 hours. We were quite happy to get off, only to get back on to get to Mombasa.

 Our friend Rita met us at the airport; there was a moment when she wasn't there, it was past midnight and a little panic ensued. Still, it turned out well. We spent the night at her place, she took us around the next day to buy groceries and items we would need. She lives just a little distance from the beach, which is terrific. It is the Indian Ocean, and Mombasa is famous for its wide, white beaches, with only a few people around. And we drove around a little in Mombasa, as I mentioned, which is so interesting. This city is very alive and vibrant, packed with people and things happening.

The next day, we headed out to the clinic early, in a little village called Kokotoni. The clinic is called the Kokotoni Self-Help Clinic. It is owned by the community and run by a committee of leaders from the surrounding six villages. The committee is a bit shady, they seem like the mob, they have that kind of feeling. The doctor, who really is about the equivalent of a PA in the States, is very nice, though. He is relaxed and very informative.

Our first day, we arrived and briefly set up in a little house where we are to stay. The house is quite decent, a little living room, a little bathroom, a couple of bedrooms,and a little kitchen. Our neighbor is the doctor. We put our bags there, set up the water dispenser (we can't drink the tap water), and put our food in the kitchen. Then Abraham, the doctor, immediately put us to work. It was a little overwhelming, we were doing a wound change, administering IM shots (which we hadn't previously done), and so on within minutes of being in the clinic. Afterwards, we went back to the clinic, and headed out for a little walk. Abe found us and made it clear that we should have him along for any excursions we made. So we walked around a little, took a lot of pictures and went back.

That night was a little interesting. First, there was a large amount of culture shock to deal with. Our arrival here was very abrupt: we were leaning over, looking in, and then it felt like someone put a foot on our backs and gave a good push--total immersion!  Then, there was a large number of roaches in the kitchen which I had to crush (in the end, I decided it was better to leave the kitchen to them at night). We couldn't lock our door that night, and of course we were a little nervous. We were truly out in the bush--20 km from Mombasa, but that is a long distance on these roads, and a world away from Durham. Rest came slowly, and as we are near a mosque (there is a decent population of Muslims here on the coast), I was jolted awake when they rang out for the prayer call at 0500. That's just someone with no singing skills shouting into a megaphone, which apparently has a speaker in our house, it seems like. So, there wasn't much sleep that night.

But it was straight uphill from there. By the next afternoon, we were much more comfortable. Abraham is a very willing teacher, we've had lessons on all of the illnesses found here--typhoid, measles, bilhazia, pneumonia, RTI, UTI, and especially malaria, of which we see many cases every day. The clinic is not busy, but that is good as it allows both time to learn about the illnesses as well as take Swahili lessons from the staff (lab tech, pharmacists, CNA, cleaning lady). We have gotten very comfortable giving IM shots. We have learned the Kenyan method of cleaning and dressing wounds (just like the US way, only with about 1/10 of the supplies--that's the same for most procedures). We have seen a Kenyan circumcision (painful and worse), fungal infections that were unbelievable, and almost got to deliver a baby at 0330.

In addition, we've gone out into the community, and have seen how people live here.  It is fascinating. This is one of the poorest regions in Kenya. Poverty is accompanied by ignorance, and Abe has told us incredible stories, sad stories that often are preventable with basic knowledge. We have met many people, and have thoroughly enjoyed our excursions. It's unfortunate that I can't put up pictures at this point. And, we have gotten to ride in a matatu for the first time. These are van-taxis, packed with people. We were in one with 19 people! That was a little uncomfortable. I'll write more about the matatus later.

At any rate, I will be posting many more entries on what I see here. Our schedule for the next weeks is busy, because Jess returns in 10 days. We have planned a very nice safari, which will happen next weekend. We are in Mombasa this weekend and have some fun planned. We will go out on Monday to Kokotoni to visit the clinic so that Jess can say goodbye, and will cook them dinner. We will be there until Wednesday, then off for the safair! Of course, I have nearly five weeks remaining.

A last thought: there is much need here. There is so litle, you really should see the clinic, it is spartan. The meds here are so few, it is all they can afford. They know better meds are out there, and even in Kenya, but they haven't the money. So as Abe says, they do what they can with what they have. There is this sense of wanting to help, this temptation to give everything we have (which we will by the time we leave), and yet this knowledge that the need is so great, the deficit so vast, that it couldn't be enough. So, one must focus on the small things that they can do: bring a good thing to a few peoples' lives, do a few good things for some people, that is all two nurses from America can do here.

Kenyan Recipe of the Week

Eating is my favorite thing to do abroad. Here, I've eaten a lot of good Kenyan food: corn mash, rice and potato dishes, and so on. Since I'm the one cooking here, I'm also learning new recipes. I'll try to post one a week.


  • 2 cups Water
  • 2 cups Milk
  • 3 Kenyan Tea bags
  • Spices to Taste (either from premix, or own mixture including cinnamon and others-I use premix)
  • Sugar

Boil tea in water, make it nice and strong. Add milk when adequately strong. Add spices to taste, be careful not to make too strong. Add sugar to taste.

This is terrific in the mornings, we've had it every single morning here.

Life With Cockroaches

I think that it is important to write a short instruction on how to live with roaches, as I don't want to alarm our families.

They are around, that will remain a fact. We will look for traps, although I doubt we'll have any luck. There are plenty of little ones, but it the big ones that are interesting. These are often over an inch in length. From what I can tell, there are a couple of species. Some have a long head, very thin. Others have a rounded head.  They are all dark brown and shiny. It's best not to describe them to women, however interesting they might appear.

They come out en masse at night, especially when it's been dark for awhile. Here they fly, so who knows where they come from. A person can wait silently and motionlessly, and they might come out, but this is a very inefficient method of finding and crushing them. Besides, they are too numerous for this to work. Again, methods of destroying them are best kept to oneself, women do not find this interesting, nor want to watch.

Due to the lack of traps, a little improvision can be tried. Water traps are useless. I've considered making glue traps, but I don't have glue either. Food that can be trampled (bread, crackers, cereal) is best kept in a closed cupboard, although this is no guarantee against the small ones. Veggies can be washed, don't worry about that. In general, this part of the issue should never, ever be mentioned to women. Fortunately, I'm the cook, so I deal with that end of it all.

Despite patient crushing hunts and all my work, I found little success. I was forced to retreat, a little shaken, and have decided it's best just not to go in the kitchen at night. Or think about it much. Or talk about it at all, really.

September 09, 2006

Arrival In Kenya

So, we have arrived.  After a very, very long trip, we are in Mombasa! 

 Seriously, that flight was really long. Going through Detroit and Boston to Amsterdam felt like a full day. Then, you're thinking it's over, but no, it's only starting. The flight to Nairobi was about 9 hours, and that was closely followed by a flight to Mombasa. Needless to say, we were happy to have arrived, and were met by our contact Rita. We'll spend a few days at her place, and head off to the bush soon to start in the clinic Sunday.

We have been getting a tour around Mombasa, which is a little harrowing, and have purchased a lot of food. I, apparenlty will be the cook. We bought lots of fruit and veggies, and will buy more food soon in Kenya's version of Walmart (I know, it's terrible). It's quite a culture shock here, of course, and it will sink in more in the coming days.

 I will write much more later, there is so much to tell in one day, it's a little overwhelming, but we are in a bit of a hurry, so I'm just going to put my contact here.  I can be reached by dialing this number: 254-727-322-014.  We will be keeping safe and having a lot of fun.

September 07, 2006

Heading Off To Africa...

So, this is my last entry from the US. Assuming that I have access to the Internet (which I will), my next entries will come from Africa.

I was starting to think that this day wouldn't come. The last four days at work seemed three times that, and I was so happy to get out, I almost skipped down the hallway. It's funny, I will not return to work for seven weeks from tomorrow. That is a strange feeling indeed.

Everything on this end seems to be in order. I've hyper-managed my bank account to transfer $500 a week into my checking account, and have calculated the balance with my bills and paychecks, so that some weeks I even transfer money back into my savings account. It's really remarkably anal, but hey, I was bored. I paid my bills, I set up payments for the next two months, I called the credit companies to tell them I'm leaving, I've been vaccinated, had a hair cut, trimmed my beard, packed my stuff, all the stuff that one can possibly do short of just getting on the plane and getting the heck out of here.

And that is next. That is now.

September 03, 2006

Tobacco Companies Vs. Basic Respect For Human Life

I was just reading an article in the Raleigh News and Observer about tobacco companies. Recently, they lost in court against the federal government, and a ruling that prohibited the sales of cigarettes that are advertised as "low-tar" or "light" was placed against them. Now, these cigarette companies are trying to have that ruling put on hold pending their appeal. Here the story.

It's a fascinating article, really. There is an industry in the US that sells products that kill people. It's not like the gun argument (i.e. people, not guns, kill people). Here, a product is packed full of ingredients that are known carcinogens, ingredients that hook people and then end their lives, the last days spent gasping desperately for air. There is a distinct lack of morality here, a lack of concern about humanity, for this industry sells cancer. It sells lung disease, in little tube-shaped pieces. This lack of morality is demonstrated so well in this situation.

 The companies against which the ruling was placed don't want to have to abide by it--yet. They actually point out their reasons as being that they would lose millions of money by repackaging their cancer sticks honestly. They'd have to remove the advertising lies about safe cigarettes, and since there are millions of packs of cigarettes out there with this false advertising, it would cost them large sums of money. The audacity!  The ruling stated that these companies violated racketeering laws, that they misled the public about the dangers of smoking for decades, and yet they want this ruling to be put on the back burner for awhile, at least until maybe they can sell as much of their lies as possible.

By this strategy, the Mob could ask judges who convict their members of racketeering to just put those rulings on hold until maybe they embezzle or laundry a little more money. Or maybe Enron could have asked the judge to hold on, don't make that judgment yet, we need to cook the books a little more. Basically, this industry is asking that despite breaking the law for several generations, they want to continue to do just that, regardless of a ruling against them, until they can do some damage control and sell off all the cartons of light cigarettes they have stockpiled.

Some people might be tempted to argue that people should know better, that they should know that light or low-tar cigs aren't any safer. I'm here to tell you that there are a lot of people, generally speaking, who aren't terribly bright, aren't terribly informed, or are a lethal combination of both. Sometimes, after an encounter with someone, I step back and wonder just how we made it to the moon. Then you throw in some clever if deceptive marketing, and the next thing you know, people honestly believe stuff the cigarette companies say about their products.

I really like this quote: "Once forced to make these public statements, defendants will be effectively unable to take them back, even if their anticipated appeal is successful," was what the tobacco industry had to say about the judge's order that they publicly admit that their product kills folks. Even more astonishing is that they really expect that their appeal (i.e. ruling whether or not tobacco is dangerous, and hence whether or not they've been deceiving the public) to be successful. In other words, they don't want to just say what nearly everyone knows to some extent, that tobacco products are deadly.

I think a quote from the judge herself sums up my point nicely: "Kessler wrote that the tobacco companies "have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted."' Tobacco companies don't care that hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, die each year from their products, that our health system is filled with people diseased from their products, and society itself is greatly impacted by their product. Even when all the knowledge we have about tobacco is laid out in front of them, even when a judge orders them to take responsibility for the damage they have done, they still try to weasel out of it. They still try to find a way to avoid admitting the carnage they cause. And I find that fascinating.

September 02, 2006

Tying Loose Ends...

It's been a madhouse, tryng to finish up the last few things to do before we leave. The problem is, we both work the four days before we leave. So, really, today is the very last day that I really have to get things done, even though I don't leave until next Thursday.

Jess has compared this time to the time before Christmas, when you're running around, trying to get all the presents you need, all the little gifts from different places, which is very time consuming and just a little annoying.

Other than that, I think I'm really about ready. I got a haircut, which will likely be the last one for two months. I've testing the different time frames for events in my life. For example, I have paid serious attention to how long it takes me to work through a bottle of contact solution or a tube of toothpaste. I mean, really, it's important to know this, in order to properly plan. Now, this haircut time frame, it is a little different. I could say that I've just tested how long I could go without a haircut, but really, I've just been lazy. I just didn't get a haircut for about two months. So, I guess I can say that I should be ok in Kenya, without having to worry about it.

I took my first malaria pill. I'm taking Mefloquine. I was a little worried about it. Apparently one of the side effects is that it causes a little psychosis. So, I was waiting for the bugs to come crawling down the walls, that sort of thing. I didn't really experience any sorts of strange effects, which is disappointing in its own way. I had a friend taking the medicine in Ghana, she literally saw Jesus sitting in a tree outside her window. He was as real as the tree itself. She described the experience to me with a sort of humbled humor, the kind that you have when you know something isn't real, but it sure looks like it.

I went through my luggage, because it really was ridiculously overweight. I took out several articles of clothing, the sleeping bag, some other stuff. It is still heavy, but I can now get it off the ground. I had the clever idea to buy a couple of little duffel bags, which I filled with some excess medical stuff like syringes and so on that I got from my friend Amna. The plan is that I will drop all the stuff off at the clinic, and will be left with two empty duffel bags, which happen to be perfect size for overhead compartments on planes, which is essential when you have a lot of fragile souvenirs you're bringing back. Which of course is the purpose of having the two empty duffel bags.

Now, I just have to survive four days shifts. They will pass quickly, I'm sure of that. Then, it will be time to leave. It seems like just yesterday I had two whole months of waiting. If two months passed that quickly, four days won't even be noticed. Four days....