Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Uganda - Safari Second Day

Wow!  What a day!  Today was the highlight of our post-mission time together as a team.  We woke very early today in order to be out and in the game reserve by the time the animals were up and feeding.  This means that we got to witness the most amazing sunrise over the African plains. 

 It was hard not to hear the theme song to "The Lion King" in my head the whole time.  Our group fit into three SUVs with the hatch tops open so that we could stand in the truck, heads through the roof, and see and photograph the beauty of the park.  In my SUV was Steve Hudson in the front seat, Mark and me in the middle seat, and Tom and Patricia in the back seat.  The list of animals that we saw was amazing.  It included antelopes (called Jackson here), oribi, giraffes, elephants, cape (the national animal of Uganda), waterbocks, baboons, monkeys, jackals, fish eagles, hornbills, so many varieties of birds, termite mounds (upon termite mounds), crocodiles, and hippos.

The morning light was gorgeous!

 Here's Steve, Patricia, me (yes, I know that my hat looks like a lampshade. Enough already.) and Bubba Mark standing in front of the river where the hippos were hanging out. 

The cute little cape - the national animal of Uganda.

We came across this group of elephants.  

We were there for a while before one of the females broke away from the pack with the baby and two juveniles in tow.  We never saw them before they broke away.  The big bull elephant was flapping his ears and blowing dust onto himself trying to distract us from the others making their getaway.  Very cool. 

About the time it was getting really warm we were heading back to the lodge.  We had time to eat lunch and rest for a few minutes until it was time to head to back to the River Nile for a river cruise to Murchison Falls.

The Paraa Lodge as seen from the river boat. 

Hippos tiptoeing through the water hyacinths.

This big fellow was rooting through the marshy area. 

When you looked close to the cliffs you could see all of these holes drilled into them.  There were birds nesting in the holes. 

Papyrus growing along the River Nile.  
BTW, the fellow who greeted us before the boat ride had on a name tag that said "Moses".  
I bet that all of the employees wear that name tag.  

The big crocs 

These falls are significant because all of the water that flows from Lake Victoria is forced through this gorge that forms the falls. 

The falls are 21 meters high and only 7 meters wide.  Since the River Nile isn't some lazy flowing river, this is a significant flow of water through the gorge.  Even though our pontoon boat motor was pretty powerful it was straining against the swirling currents of the falls.  We hung out there long enough to drop off the folks on our cruise that were hiking to the top of Murchison Falls and to give the remainders a chance to snap a few pictures.  Then we began the slow cruise back to the dock.  The equator sun shined upon us and we were so hot.  The moving boat created somewhat of a breeze, but it was a very hot breeze.  Something like being in a convection oven, I imagine.  

This was a lazy, slow-paced cruise.

The only thing that was fast was the exchange of wise-cracks.

What a handsome guy!

After returning to the lodge we cooled off in the pool again.  I love this group.  We had such a good time talking and laughing until we cried!  After a while it was time to get cleaned up for dinner.  Oh darn, another shower!  Later that evening Mary, Mark, Mike, Tom and I sat in the lounge and watched soccer.  One more night in a real bed before starting the long journey home.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Uganda - Safari First Day

This morning started out with a bang as we rose early and got our personal gear packed up and ready to leave. 

We had a rabid squirrel in our camp this morning!

 We pulled away from the school a little after 8am as the village children in their royal blue and white uniforms were showing up for school.  School didn't start until 9am but they were showing up in not so insignificant numbers well before 8am.  Showing up early for school is a problem that my kids have ever had!  

Whether they were just curious about us or always showed up early, these kids were hanging around way before school started.

Jerry sat in the front seat so Mary and I told him that he had to be the First Presbyterian Goodwill Ambassador and had to wave at folks as we drove past.  Here we are giving him pointers in the fine art of beauty queen waving:

The perfect beauty queen wave comes from the elbow, not the wrist. 
I think he has it!

We had a 4-hour drive to reach Paraa Safari Lodge.  Once we turned off of the main road (the Kampala/Gulu Road?) into the game reserve we started seeing animals.

Beautiful and graceful giraffes

Waterbocks: smell like skunks, taste like chicken :)

  During the 25km drive through the reserve we managed to see a dozen or more elephants, giraffes, antelope herds, waterbocks, cape, warthogs, many varieties of birds, and baboons.  As we arrived at the lodge we realized that we were someplace really special.  By the way this is the area, Murchison Falls, where the Amazon Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn was filmed.  

tired, hot, sweaty  
We make an attractive bunch, no?

 We were greeted with a glass of fresh juice and a cool washcloth with which to freshen up.  Patricia and I arrived to find that our room was not only charming but it has a covered balcony that overlooks the River Nile.  From the rustic furniture to the mosquito netting, this is what a safari lodge should look like!  What a special place!  

Wow.  Upgrade from the tent/cot situation. 

That shower was my friend. 
My cool, refreshing friend.

Our beautiful balcony...

overlooking the pool and the River Nile.

The first order of business was to shower!  After having not had a shower since Tuesday morning at the Tick Hotel in Kampala I gotta tell you that this shower was the bomb!  It felt good to wash away all of the road dirt, sweat, and baby wipe and hand sanitizer residue from the previous days.  A real, honest to goodness shower followed by a nice, long nap.  Heaven!  After the nap Patricia and I went down and dangled our legs in the pool with Roy and Mary as the members of our group trickled in to dangle also. 

This group is looking a little more chipper now.

 Our group enjoyed a couple of hours of laughing and fellowship while enjoying our cold beverages of choice.  BTW, Nile Special Lager is not only brewed at Jinja, Uganda at the headwaters of the Nile, it is very tasty - and cold.  We haven't had anything cooler than room-temp since we boarded the plane to Entebbe on Tuesday.  

There were warthogs in the front yard the evening we first arrived.  The first floor residents were told to not leave their balcony doors open because the baboons will enter your room and steal your stuff.  Oh yeah, and there is the leopard that keeps being spotted around the pool at night.

The original wild animal - fraternius dudecia.

Dinner was wonderful too.  Not only because of the buffet - which had very tasty selections, but because of a gift our group was able to bestow to Dr. Mike.  A few days ago we found out from Steve that Dr. Mike hasn't been paid by the hospital where he works for about 6 months.  He has just finished his residency and will be starting a surgical residency soon and evidently the hospital doesn't pay their residents.  He has had some financial hardships because of this.  Our group took up a collection and was able to gift him with enough money to pay his rent for several months.  Mary and I noticed on Wednesday when we started clinic that Dr. Mike used one of our otoscopes because he didn't have one of his own.  The church had purchased one and I had purchased one for my personal use before this trip.  We felt that he really could use an otoscope of his own so as a thank you for all of his patience with us and for being such a wonderful Christian example to us we gave him my otoscope, a book on Tropical Medicine and a drug reference book.  Dr. Jeff gave him his book called "Handbook of Medicine in Developing Countries" from the Christian Medical and Dental Association.   This just seemed like the right thing to do.  He was very humble but grateful for the gifts.  I know he was glad to get the items, but we were the ones who received the blessing knowing that these gifts will be a significant, much needed help to him.  

BTW, as I sit here at 11:30pm it is very quiet here on the balcony.  The heat of the day has finally disipated and the only sound I hear are the tree frogs, hippos grunting in the Nile, and occassionally the flap of bat wings as they keep flying by the balconies snatching up mosquitos that are attracted to the lights around the lodge. The staff came in hours ago and turned down the beds and closed the mosquito netting.  This place is so cool!

What a romantic place!

  I think it is time for me to take my second shower of the day and turn in.  We have a big day in store for tomorrow.  I am so excited I hope I can sleep! 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Uganda - Last Clinic Day

Praise the Lord we finished clinic this morning around 11:30am.  The process for stopping clinic is a different than anything I have experienced before.  At about 10am we made an announcement through one of the Africans that we weren't going to be accepting any new patients.  Those that were in line at that point were going to be seen.  The folks who weren't going to be seen we directed to one of the trees about 50 yards away from the building.  At that time Mary and me, along with several of the men from our team (Mark, Tom, Mike, and Steve) to act as bodyguards, went out to the trees to distribute vitamins and worm meds.  Ivan, our wonderful African friend who works with Here's Life for Africa, explained to the people that we were closing the clinic, how to take the meds, and to leave after receiving meds.  After this we started handing out meds.  We had two teams of three distributing meds - I handed out worm meds to the adults and children, Mark gave out vitamins, Tom gave infant worm meds.  Mary, Tom, and Steve acted as the other team. There was a sense of urgency but everyone was fairly calm.  After this we went back to the clinic to finish up with the folks that were still standing in line and had been triaged.  Shortly after the last person left we closed the clinic door to encourage those that were hanging around to leave the area.  Our concern was that we would have Africans who had been there all morning upset with us because we would not be seeing them.  God took care of this problem and it just wasn't an issue.  Everyone seemed satisfied and left without being angry.  

After lunch we had our Sunday worship with the Africans.  There was wonderful, rhythmic music with tons of clapping, chilile (the high-pitched, trill scream that is meant to be a shout of joy), and wonderful African harmonies.  Tom delivered the message for us.  Mark led the group in communion.

Tom delivering the message

Mark leading communion.

What a wonderful experience... 

receiving communion all together.

 After the service we moved right into the closing ceremonies where representatives from Here's Life, Medshare, the school where we held camp, the local mayor, and a local dignitary all had a chance to speak words of appreciation to everyone.

Steve spoke to the group

The school administrator thanked the group for coming.

 Considering that the camp location was changed at the last minute from northern Uganda near the South Sudan border to central-western Uganda near the Nile river in the Kiryandongo district this camp really came together nicely.  The local government was glad to have to us provide a clinic and the local primary school was accommodating to let us use the school buildings for the clinic.  As it turns out there has never been a mission group in this area.  After all of the thank you's had been said Mark got up and asked Harrison to join him.

Harrison giving the gifts to the school administrator.

 Harrison then got to give the soccer balls and school supplies that his school had collected to the school administrator for the school where we camped.  Mark then handed out gifts to the Here's Life and Medshare guys and to our translators and volunteers.  Thanks to the hard work of some of the ladies of the church and donations of shoes from one of the athletic stores in Huntsville we were able to gift the guys and ladies with really nice gifts.

This local official was very pleased with the gifts!  
BTW, temps were in the 90's - how this guy and others weren't passing out from the heat I don't know!

 Everyone got 5 knitted caps, a pair of athletic shoes, and assorted sunglasses and ball caps. It has taken lots of volunteers to make this camp happen as smoothly as it has.  We have had a security guy who has made sure that our tents have been secure and that our chos have been reserved for us. There are two volunteer guys who were responsible for keeping our water filled.  There are the African ladies who travel with the Here's Life group who keep the African team well fed.  I am sure that there are several other folks who worked behind the scene to make sure that everything went as smoothly as possible. We also required so many translators to deal with all of the tribes we served.  According to my translator Stephen Okun there are around 56 different languages and dialects in this region.  Stephen has been amazing talking to the folks we have served.

The knitted caps were a huge hit - especially the colorful ones!

Santo and Jennifer - two of the very nicest people.

Taking pictures after closing ceremonies.

Some very happy employees and volunteers.  

After the closing ceremony was over and we took pictures of the guys wearing their gifts we set about getting the rest of pharmacy inventoried and the waste disposed of properly.  Knowing that villagers will go through our trash to repurpose anything they can,  we had to make sure that we disposed of our pharmacy/clinic trash properly.  The easiest and most effective way to do this was to "choke the cho" - drop the stuff down the latrine holes.  Mark found out just how deep those things are when he told us that there is a significant delay between dropping the items and hearing them hit the bottom.  The refuse is gone for good!  

That evening we had plenty of time to sit around and decompress now that everything was done and we were ready to move onto the safari.  The problem was that I could not stand my hair one day longer.  Steve had taken a bottle of the well water that we had been using for washing hands and non-sanitary purposes and washed his hair the night before.  I had been thinking about cleaning my dirty, dusty, itchy hair ever since.  I took a chair out into the schoolyard, sat down, put my head back and Mary poured water onto my hair then I lathered up.  Heaven.  She then rinsed with that wonderful, cool well water and I conditioned my hair.  Heaven again.  By the time I got to the final rinse the chiding that the team was giving me had ceased.  The thought of clean hair overtook the exhaustion.  We started having a good old-fashioned foot washing - only it was hair.

 Mary helped Harrison wash his hair and he jumped up and started  proclaiming how great he felt. 

 Mike helped Nancy wash her hair.
Notice the Africans watching us.  They must have thought we were crazy!
 Then I got the chance to start washing hair for my friends. 

Patricia was first

Then Roy

Then Jerry

Then Steve

Then Mark

Then finally Mary.

Mission accomplished!

It was really a nice way to serve.  There were snarky comments made and lots of laughs but it made me happy to be able to make my team members comfortable.  

One other significant happening of the evening happened when we found out that one of the young women that travels with the Here's Life/MedReach African team is getting married on February 4th.  We all chipped in a few shillings each and were able to collect a nice monetary gift to help start her new married life. She was so appreciative of the gift that she knelt down to Patricia when she gifted her with the money.  Patricia pulled her up and congratulated her from the group.  

I slept pretty well that last night.  It could have been the fact that we discovered wool blankets in one of the MedShare chests, it could have been the earplugs to keep the noise to a minimum,  it could have been the clean hair. Most likely it was the sense of accomplishment that I had after a week of doing exactly what God wanted me to be doing at that moment.  This might just be the most fulfilling nursing experience I have ever had.  Ever.