Friday, February 15, 2008


It has been an incredibly long time since I last wrote. Not mere notations, preoperative histories, postoperative orders, consultations, but really written. Words that get translated into emotions, the breath of life into a string of words that make a sentence. My very own personal black and white emoticon. I feel stiffled. Being in my last year, all I ever seem to do is study. It wraps its black, heavy hands around me and envelopes me in frustration and discourage. I live the textbooks and motivated by the fear of failure, I drum it into my being. Tattoos of drug doses, anesthetic considerations and minute rubishy minutiae into my skin.

Even with this, I realize my lessons in Africa, and still believe that freedom is another word for nothing left to lose. I also realize that I am bound by my fear, it eats me slowly like a growing cancer and there is little I can do to prevent it from metastasizing. You see, now I have everything to lose. I have decided that I am committed to going back to the 3rd world. To help, to teach and of course for myself to learn. I have gained far more in terms of perspective, knowledge of myself and my husband and our relationship than I have ever given. Please let me tell you a story.

I had been back over 2 weeks. Africa had changed me, people said they saw it, a confidence, an aura, a deeper knowledge of sort. I was on call, and I looked at the list.

"Oh, no an organ harvest. What are we taking?"

Why did I hate organ retrievals so much? The anesthetic is easy, no? The patient is already brain dead, what else could possibly be worse? (now with all my studying, I can rhyme off a list of goals and considerations, but that was then...).

I will enlighten you. Yes, it is true, the patient is brain dead and yes, from my perspective, there is minimal intervention, all the lines are started and the patient is intubated. But, it isn't really the anesthetic that is so difficult. Its the emotional experience, the investment of your personal self into the patient.

When a patient is brought into the room, there is an emotional tie between you and he or she. It is so intensely personal, for the duration of the surgery, you are the primary caregiver, you dictate each breath, each heart beat, every movement or inaction. It is a huge responsibility and inevitably there is the investment of self, of thought, of empathy. In my first year of residency I was working with a staff man who angered me immensely by a single sentence. We were slated to do an organ retrieval and the patient was in ICU. With a single nonchalence sentence he made me lose all respect for him and fired me with a certainty that I would never, ever lose this ability to feel and care for my patient as a person. What he said to me was "come on, lets go get our bag of goodies".

But that is a different story. To continue, I went to the ICU to pick up my current patient. She was young, a victim of homicide. The car she was in crashed into a wall after her pimp had gotten high and driven off with her. She was of native descent, her hair, partly shaven off was dark and past her shoulders. It was matted with blood and dirt and wrapped with dressings. The other doctors had done all they could to save her. I watched her blood pressure, her central venous pressure and monitored her end tidal carbon dioxide. Each breath I took, she took. I tried not to look at her. I tried not to see her. I didn't even know her first name, just her surname and the ICU bed. By distancing my self, placing blinders, I protected my emotional self. This is what doctors learn to do, to not cry when their patient dies or is dying, to leave the emotional baggage at work and to walk home to be covered by the purifying showers of oblivion, their family, their friends. Thus, this too is what I did.

Organ harvesting is all about timing and temperature. There are usually two teams involved. One team will initially start to harvest the liver, pancreas, kidneys because that takes time to dissect and in the last few moments of supported artificial life, the cardiac surgeon waltzes in and in a fluorish of self importance and disdain yell out "lungs down" and "lungs up" when attacking the sternum with a saw. Then you see the thoracic cavity, the large arteries and veins and the beautiful interconnected system of the heart and lungs. Nothing is as beautiful, not even the lazy leopard, as the working heart and lungs.

The cardiac surgeon usually is dark, with intense eyes and quick, decisive movements. Ergonomics and efficiency at its best. The heart is usually taken first, it is the organ that is most at risk of ischemic injury. Then they infuse the lungs with cold Winnipeg's Solution. A solution of different salts, sugars at a particular pH to optimize preservation of the organs. It is at the point when the heart's arteries is perfused with a solution in readiness for removal, that the moment that I despise the most occurs. I watch my monitor, and see the wavelength lengthen, widening, to attempts of heart beats that we call agonal beats. The heart slowly stops and most people turn off the monitors. I usually say a prayer for the patient at this point..."eternal rest grant unto her O' Lord, let perpetual light shine upon her, may she rest in peace..." Sometimes I stroke the hair and attempt to straighten the lines. This is my private time for goodbye, silent heart, lungs no longer needing breath, this is when I let them go, even though they were not there to begin with.

Watching the slowing heart mesmerizes me. Even with the monitors off, the patient no longer needing my care, I usually stay and watch the retrieval of the lungs. This time the Winnipeg's solution was very cold and I watched with fascination, the lungs lose the blood and the alveoli fill with cold solution. It made the lungs turn white, with streaks of light grey. The East Indian surgeon gently dissects the lungs from the thorax and for a shining truthful moment he lift the white lungs into the air. I watched it and time stood still. The lungs floated, white and shiny and with both dome like shapes in the air, they looked like Angel wings. Surprised I took a breath in and in awe said to my current staff.."don't they look like Angel's wings?".

"Shhhhh", he whacks my arm, "don't say that"

It was then, a realization, a clarity, another moment that compounds my belief that there are no such things as coincidences in life. While the patients heart was silent, mine pounded and I thought of the hope that the organs would bring to the recipient. A new life, a growing ability to foresee a future, for now there was a future, optimism, a chance at a second life. It was hope embodied as a pair of lungs which looked to me like Angel's wings.

Later, much later, when the fading image of the white lungs dissipated, I spoke to the nurses, told them about the whiteness of the lungs, how I had never seen it before, that it made me think of wings. The nurse shuddered. She looked at me strangely, a sidelong glance. "What is it?"

"Don't you know? Don't you truly know? that patient we just did the harvest on, her first name is Angel"

There truly are no coincidences in life.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Habari Safari?

I realized that I've been really laxed about keeping a regular blog. In fact there were many a time where I would have prefered to write a journal because there is something so personal about my journey. I've completely missed out on writing about my visit to the Gorillas at Virunga National Park but I will put it in as a late entry later. For now, I'm freshly off our Safari and keen to share it.

Safari in swahili means journey. It truly is a word that encompasses itself as our safari has been a journey not only into nature and the heart of Africa but also into my self and soul. Troy and I have always felt blessed. We have had our share of trials and living through Roger's suicide has not been easy but it has also caused us to be more sensitive to the needs of our soul. It has taken this Safari for me to realize just how blessed we truly are.

Our guide's name was Baraka, this by coincidence means "Blessed" in Swahili. He had short hair, large eyes with long eyelashes and looked capable of climbing mountians, which he does. He has climbed Kilimanjaro over 20 times, he stopped counting after a while. He belongs to the Hehe tribe and is the head of his family. Because this is a safari blog, he reminded me of an elephant. He had the memory of one, the patience to wait while we viewed animals or went shopping, the knowledge of an old tusker and the solid dependence of an examplary guide. He could also charge about with much speed when he wanted to, which was usually around dusk to get us back to camp on time because we would usually push the time at sunsets (the magical hour as Troy calls it for photography) for game viewing.

As we elected to go for semi luxury camping, we also had a cook. Damian reminded me of the Banded Mongoose, a creature I had not erstwhile seen until Africa. He wore an ebony bangle on his left wrist, had sharp, pointed features and fast eyes. He moved quickly and efficiently and was keen at all tasks. He had a fantastic sense of knowing what ever hour we would arrive back to camp eventhough we always kept erratic hours. A phenomenal cook, he made a fantastic quiche for lunch one day and a vegetable pizza with dough that rivaled the best places for pizza I've eaten at. All this on a charcoal stove and working surface of about 1-2 feet. He also had a soft heart and made me custard two nights in a row because I loved it so much.

We spent one day at Lake Manyara, three nights on the Serengeti and one night at Ngorongoro Crater. Lake Manyara surprised me. In the distance, I spotted an elephant and like a mirage he came towards us. How can I describe the sensation of seeing a wild creature which one recognizes but ones brain which lives in the city says, "impossible, you can't just see an elephant today". I did not expect to see so many creatures. The large herds of elephants were impressive and two males came close to the road and challenged each other with their trunks and tusks. The giraffes were curious and melanistic in colour compared to their relatives at Akagera in Rwanda. We even saw two lions, not in trees, where the lions at Lake Manyara are famous for, but in the plains. We even saw them mate, a rare event at this park. At night we returned to Mto Wa Mbu a town populated by many Maasai who left thier pastureland for the city. We saw red bananas and tried them for the first time. I bargained hard and bought a few Maasai Blankets.

The next day we set off for the Serengeti. At the Ngorongoro Entry gate, Baraka turned towards us.
"Excuse me, sorry but this is where the tarmac road ends"

How exciting, I couldn't understand why he would apologize for this. We bypassed the Ngorongoro Crater except for a quick picture at a view point where I was suddenly swarmed by Maasai boys selling their jewellery. The Conservation area allows the Maasai to inhabit the Crater rim and for their cattle to graze at this point. They may also enter the Crater but only to water their Cattle. As expected, I purchased some jewellery with beads that only the Maasai appear to be able to wear with such dignity but are still beautiful visually. We made our way through mist or cloud as we were driving at an altitude of 3500 m above sea level. When we descended it became hot. Baraka had given us a choice of either seeing a Maasai Boma or to go to Oldepai Gorge. Of course we wanted to do both so we settled on going to the Gorge on the way to the Serengeti and on the journey back to the Boma.

Oldepai Gorge, not Oldevai as that is the corruption of the Maasai word for Sisal which is what the area is known as, is the location where the famous Archeological Leakey Family first made their discovery of Astrolopithicus the first Hominids known to walk upright. The footprints of a "family" were found at the Laetoli site after the volcano had errupted 3.5 million years ago and ash was laid down then the area buried under soil that kept the footprints buried and preserved for the Leakeys to find. The museum though small was excellent. There are skulls of extinct species of a quality that rivals those at the Royal Tyrell Museum. They also have a marvellous exhibit on stone tools and mortars made using the hip socket of the Rhino or elephant and their femurs fashioned into the pestles. In all I was highly impressed. They also hire Maasai to guard the area and for is upkeep. I saw a beautiful man graceful in his Maasai blanket and beaded jewellery. He carried a club made of ebony but not the spear that one can commonly see them carrying when they are watching their cattle graze. I watched in see a caucasian tourist stumble and wondered what he though of us. Clumsy, selfish, silly in our hats with our cameras and sunglasses. I had too much to eat so gave away my apple and cupcake to another Maasai who was slender and long limbed. He too was beautiful, almost androgynous apart from the knife he carried on his hip. He had long hair past his shoulder blades, braided and tinged red from the soil in that region. He appeared too thin and was gentle in his gratitude. I later learnt at the Maasai Boma that only "Hero's" could wear their hair long and what made them heros was the fact that they had killed a lion with only their spear. I hope he enjoyed the cupcake.

We drove along washboard red earthed roads to the Serengeti. It was hot and dry in comparison to Arusha or to Mto Wa Mbu. Baraka spoke to many guides while we were on our way and in guide code he was passed along information about a leopard in a tree. He rushed over, not telling us what we would see and there he was, magnificent cat, in a tree, his tail lazily swinging off a brach. He grazed around, it was evening, likely hunting time and slowly meandered off the tree. Graceful, agile creature, when were lucky enough to spot him the next morning, he had licked his lips several times and jumped near a pond before settling in for a nice leopard nap (this means a very long while, even for Africans). We were extremely blessed. The four days we were on the Serengeti, we saw a leopard every day. The other leopard we spotted on an early game drive had a kill of a baby wilderbeest in the tree and slept the day away. When we came back later that evening, he had nibbled slightly on the leg but made no other moves despite our patient vigilence for two hours into the sunset. The next morning, he had dragged the kill higher in the tree but had again only taken small nibbles off the belly. He slept under the tree that morning.

Our first night in the Serengeti we rushed to the campsite (we were always late). The first site - Dik Dik, was full so we made our way to Pimbi campsite adjacent to it. Damian jumped out and ran to the water tank banging against it, when he was satisfied we had enough water, he gave a nod and we set up camp. Damian and Baraka relunctantly let us help set up camp. The first to go up was our tent then the shower stall, yes you are reading this correctly, we had a shower stall, this is what semi luxury camping means in Africa. Damian got us hot water in time shorter than I expected when heating with coals, magnificent man. I didn't expect to enjoy the shower so much but a hot shower in the middle of the Serengeti after a dusty day is marvellous. It is the ultimate in luxury, the cool air against your skin, the goosebumps before the hot water, looking up and seeing a thousand million stars against the navy black sky, it was magical. There were hundreds of wilderbeest near our campsite and zebras too. Baraka set up a kerosene lamp on a rock to keep the animals at bay. I didn't take him as seriously then but decided to later in the stay when the hyenas ran through our camp not to mention the presence of lions.

Speaking of lions, we had chosen to opt for the semi luxury camping instead of a lodge primarily because Troy read on Thorn Tree someones comment about camping on safari: "the lions roaring". We thought, hell why not. I must say, reading about it and experiencing it are two very different things. Our first night, we didn't hear lions but early the next morning at 5:30 we were woken up by a roar. Initially one thinks, its my dream, or maybe I have watched too many MGM movies, but no, this was true, what we consider impossible is possible in Canada. Not all dreams are impossibilities, and dreams are literally reality. At the second roar Troy and I moved closer together. We didn't emerge until we heard Damian and other guides around. When we told Baraka, he said, he had heard it too but shrugged it off as a common occurrence. When we were brushing our teeth, watching the sun rise over the Serengeti, Troy suddenly claimed he saw a lion.

"Impossible, it was a wildebeest in the sun"

Like I've said, impossibilities are possible in Africa. In the next few seconds, through the brush magical to my eyes came a lion, golden, with a mane, padding towards us. Shining in the sun, his mane truly was a halo. I called out to Baraka, we stood there watching that lion moving towards us, about 100m away he spotted us and took off in the other direction. Later that night and on all our nights on the Serengeti, we heard the lions. We also found the wildebeest they had killed just feet away from our camp. The vultures came, the hyenas descended and the bones too were eaten away. Showering under that magical sky in the heat of the water with a lion in the background, how can I forget this?

We saw lions many times, on one special occasion there were seventeen lions in total in one pride. Approaching them in the fading light, makes reality surreal, like a cheesy documentary except we were living it. These animals are massive, beautiful, graceful and addictive. We always looked for lions. Even then, reality becomes our dreams and for me to say, "Baraka, I see a lion in the ditch" is in all reality my magical dream.

Steven Lewis, the humanitarian, the social commentator, the powerful speaker once gave a talk on Africa. He said the country, the people, the atmosphere, it was addictive. He called it "Mal d'Afrique". When I met him and spoke to him, he knew I was going to Africa, and he warned me again. How should I explain that I have this disease, this infection, that I am eating it, drinking it, living it. How should I illustrate this, but to say that all I seem to do is dream of Africa.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Automatic Ugali Cooker

At 0008 Amajyambere Street, Kimihurura Hill I meet my African Friends. I think that it was really through them that I began to understand about Africa. There were three of them in the beginning: Ali who was from Nigeria and approached all tasks as though meditating; Bernard, the loquacious one who always had something to say with a smile and Patrick who was solid and reserved at first but opened up willingly once one gets to know him. The other two were from Kenya.

They came to Rwanda as volunteers, to teach Microbiology for Ali and Radiology for my two Kenyans. My education into African culture and life came at the stovetop. Like any good Malaysian I was interested only in food. Braving the inyenzi (roaches) I would enter the kitchen at supper time, when they cook. I never really saw Ali cook because he tended to all his tasks with solemnity and a look of prayer. However, I saw Bernard and Patrick cook many times. They inevitably would cook a meat stew, beans and of course the staple Ugali.

They Kenyans cooked Ugali using corn flour. They could not purchase the corn four they were used to in Kenya so they got a special import from a friend who grew up in the same village as Patrick. He worked within the transport industry and would bring goods from Nairobi to the Congo via Kigali. When he came to Rwanda, the boys would meet him. He would bring their Jugo brand corn flour. It came in a white paper bag emblazoned with a green and yellow cock on it. They used huge quantities to cook Ugali.

First you boil the water (or as Bernard would say "WAh-tar") then you added the flour until one gets the right consistency and one stirs furiously with a very large wooden spoon with a long handle. Vigorously.

Watching the boys, their intensity, their concentration, Patrick usually with a frown and muscles digging in, Bernard losing his usual wide smile to place even humourous effort into this important task of mixing the Ugali. This is serious work. They don't add anything else. Sometimes Ali adds salt to his Ugali.

"What? No spices?" I ask in disbelief, where was the fiery heat, where was my intricate balance of flavours, was this not just plain starch?

"No, you see, African's do not like spices."

Then I begin to understand, Africans like consistency. Their meat stew or with Matumbo (intestines - yes, you see this is not restricted to only the chinese), beans or some other vegetable that looks like kale, ugali. It is the constant sameness that comforts. Sometimes, the boys tell me, when they are at hotels, or in different restaurants, they seek the comfort of what they know: bananas, beans, ugali (if not present, then rice) and meat.

"You know, we do not like going to these places" - they refer to different restaurants.
"Eh, you never know" says Patrick, he clicks his tongue onto the roof of his mouth and tells me with disbelief about his father who was once served frog's legs. I tell him that I love frogs legs. They are horrified, even Africans don't eat frogs.

We talk about many things my African Friends and I. They tell me that the first child is never counted as the first born unless it is male, that women don't usually bring capital into a marriage so that these bachelors have to save up for years before getting married. They teach me to be patient at the heat, the slow pace of Philbert the houseboy and the transport. They always state with seriousness when I protest: "This is Africa". I only thought that line existed in movies. We talk about the higher pain threshold of Africans. "It is because Africans are used to famine, drought, heat and discomfort" states Ali matter of factly. We laugh over the lack of variety in their diet and at my search for chameleons in the garden. They laugh at how I bathe, with a basin and another bucket to throw the water over my head. It is Malaysian style not African style.

"What is African style?"
"We beat the water like a duck" laughs Bernard and in a concerted effort with Patrick, tries to get John a maxillofacial surgeon from Uganda to describe in a fantastic effort of verbal and physical action exactly how one "beats the water like a duck".

They teach me a few words of swahili, and we joke that Bernard should invent an automatic Ugali cooker when I tell them that I cook rice in an automatic maker. Bernard thinks this is a great idea until Patrick pricks his bubble of enthusiasm with the fact that most people in Africa are unable to afford an automatic Ugali maker but could hire a cook and general caretaker which would be cheaper. I take this all in, I try to taste it in my mouth, the consistency of this regular diet. The constantness must be comforting, to know that despite the irregularity of electricity, water, the temperamental weather, feast, famine, drought, pain and laughter, at the very end of the day, there would at least be Ugali, beans, vegetables, stew and no spice.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

To Listen

I thought it was unspoken. So I decided to search a little to try to comprehend the Genocide. I've read several books, dissertations on the subject, ruminations, opinions, thoughts, seen the pictures and the Genocide remains controversially an enigma to me.

I should have been truly listening.

I went to visit two genocide memorials last week with David. We were told to take a minibus but we don't know the system, so we weren't even sure that we would be going. In our guidebook it is a mere paragraph.

We ended up taking a taxi, very expensive but cost appprox $25 US per person and I'm glad we did. My rationale was that if we came then we should give the respect that such a site is due. It was very troubling. We went to Nymata first. Its a small town and the church there was the site of a massacre so large in scale that it is mind boggling. Thousands of people (estimated 10-20 thousand) went to the church for sanctuary, they were slaughtered there. The thing that touched me most was that by chance we had chosen to go on the anniversary of the massacre and there was a memorial service being held. Our presence after the interesting ride along red roads and marshes that lead to the Nile was not by chance. I do not believe in coincidences.

Thousands of people came to commemorate the memory of their loved ones. It was really poignant, the looks on some peoples faces, ranging from resignation to extreme silent grief. There was a room piled to the ceiling with clothing of the dead. Dark and musty, it was all that they wore. There were so many people milling around. You brushed those that survived and those that wish they didn't. My hands, elbows, shoulders, thighs, they were enveloped by people. There was a room with a glass cabinet full of skulls and femurs. Beneath this a coffin draped in white with a purple cross on it. A lady who was impaled. There was a guide who took us around, she only spoke Kinyarwanda and spoke to our driver, Patrick, who by chance happened to speak good French so he spoke to David who translated for me. The guide had short hair, a face that looked solemn and she walked with a fortitude that I found beautiful. In the church she pointed out the pulpit, the blood stained alter, the light that filtered through lacy holes in the aluminum roof made from raining bullets. She guided us to the alcove that would likely have been used for baptism. Against the wall, a dark stain, smooth rounded bricks and she illustrated with action how the interahamwe had taken babies and children and bashed their skulls and bodies against the very site. With grace, she took us down to a room, down steep stairs that were all uneven, peoples faces close by, more bumping and an underlying smell of dampness and something sweet which permeated the air. When my eyes adjusted to the dark it was like a living horror film. I had not expected it, I thought the glass case in its white trim and fluorescent lights were all there was to the memorial. That itself was horrific enough.

Rows and rows of grinning skulls, small, large, half missing. I had enough knowledge to be able to distinguish a bullet entry point, depressed skull fracture from a club, machete chop: coronal, axial, partially both directions. You name it. It was so hard, the sheer numbers of it overwhealms. The smell, the filtering light, the swallowed bitterness of the people, it made for an atmosphere that I can only describe as tragic. I choked on it and tried not to cry. How could I cry when the brave that surrounded me were praying for their loved ones and looked with eyes wide open? My heart physically hurts.

My comfort, my solace, the children. Beautiful, beautiful boys and lovely girls. Dark shiny skin, smiles that penetrated the occasion and uplifted me. They circled around us, called us muzungu fondly, and fondled my hair. It is useless explaining that I am half Chinese and all Asian. They only know black and muzungu. That is our only difference.

Patrick took us to another site, Ntarama. It was close by, there another 5-10,000 killed and their artifacts left in the church. Bibles, a childs book, clothing, the picture of a loved one, Bic pens, rosaries and the statue of a crucified Christ. My heart, my mind, my soul, it was crying in incomprehension. I took pictures, it was very difficult to do it at first because I had to get close. Patrick wondered why we were not taking pictures. There I took one of a skull with a metal arrow head still in it. I found it difficult, I could not focus through my tears, but after a while, it filtered the tragedy and my fingers stopped shaking and I could see through the lens a type of clarity. If the children and the sister, and brother and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers could forgive then what was there to understand? Perhaps it is not as simple as that. Perhaps one cannot call it forgiveness. All I see is that these people live together, beside each other, drink the same water and grow the same food. All there is to understand is only that love exists and persists and through sadness and anger and bitterness, it continues on. With these people, I see hope embodied.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Sitting on a beach at Koh Samui 5 years ago I saw a man running across the white sand from one end of the beach to the other. He carried two baskets connected by a bamboo pole on his shoulders. He wore a conical hat, no sandals, shorts and a white shirt. He had food. I chased after him and managed to stop him in time. He comes over to where Troy and I sat and opened up his portable stove. He had grilled chicken, catfish with chili and my very favourite, Som tam. As usual, I asked for the papaya salad, spicy hot. He made it in front of my eyes: shredded papaya, some sauces, chili, lime and tiny dried shrimp. I sat intently and watched. While he was mixing the concoction in a mortar, I reached over and tried some, it was absolutely delicious. It only cost me 30 baht. Emboldened I asked, how much for the catfish?


"What, do you mean 30 baht?"


Then curious, I asked how much for the grilled chicken.


I wondered how it is that a salad costs the same as catfish and more unbelievably, the same as grilled chicken, and yet, there it was.

Rwanda is not so different from Canada. There are people who smile, some who take advantage and even those who cheat. The house is the same, the needs are the same, the demands...well perhaps more in the west. I am encouraged as I visit the country, there is no difference. The patients are the same, the surgeon's demands the same, the same postoperative concerns and the same look of sadness that persists near those who lay sick and possibly dying. The only difference, imperceptibly so, is the thin air of an unspoken but publically known knowledge - the Genocide. It infiltrates their thoughts, their dreams, their fears and their hopes. We went to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial today and I am struck by something presented there. At the start it is written:

"This is about our past and our futures;
our nightmares and dreams;
our fears and our hope;"

There is so much sadness, so much underlying conflict and a dense humility regarding the past and even with this, great hope for the future.

Be it Asia or Canada and yes, even Africa, it is all "Same-same".

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Journey's Eve

It was one final check before I left. One never knows, there may be an important message or request. So I opened up Mozilla, the page that automatically comes up was programmed in by Troy. He loves the news, checks it everyday while eating a bowl of Kellogg's with cold milk. Its CBC, front page:

"115 feared dead in crash of Kenya Airway's plane"

The plane was leaving from Abidjan on the Ivory Coast to Nairobi. It crashed in Cameroon.

I know that there is no connection, a twist of fate, mere lives blowing in the winds of chance or destiny, whatever way you look at it, its tragic. The second Kenya Airways flight to crash. The first in 2000 was also leaving from Ivory Coast. Apparently the planes are 6 months old.

I can't help but wonder, if this is an omen. A message, a foreshadowing for me. My Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to Kigali leaves tomorrow. I can't help but take comfort in the knowledge that while I'm floating in a steel, tubular structure thousands of feet in the air, my mother will be at church saying a "Hail Mary" or two for me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

An Answer

I've kept the trip to Rwanda mostly to myself. It was initially a possibility that was remote, a lot of planning and the likelihood of me going, quagmired with indecision. Recently, I have begun to tell more people about the trip. I'm excited, I feel as though I am on a precipice, a moment of truth, a hiatus in time where I'm at a crossroads and my decision will change forever the course of my life.

"Why Rwanda?"

Its a question that I frequently get asked. Sometimes its with a quizzical smile, others with a perplexed frown of incredulity. Usually, I speak of opportunities and what a great learning experience it will mean to me. Many of my co-workers feel compelled to warn me of the dangers.

"Its Africa....its dangerous", as though Africa truly was the "God-forsaken wilderness” that Joseph Conrad's character Marlow claims it to be. Then if that does not sway me, they add knowingly that "there was a genocide in Rwanda you know". Why this should dissuade me I'm unclear. For their gentle concern I am grateful. However, the simple question of "Why Rwanda?" has also made me truly think about it.

Since my father in law killed himself, I have realized that life is a series of opportunities. One may choose to grasp the good into intangible happiness or one may deny that happiness exists and choose to live in insecure moments of time. I choose to feel that happiness are manifestations of the opportunities that one claims for oneself. I choose my opportunities and I strongly feel that by going to Rwanda I am claiming yet another moment. Of course there is the ability to learn, to share and explore a different culture, to live on the massive continent and feel the rain on my face and the dirt beneath my feet. Yet, there is also a stronger calling, one that goes beyond the materialistic affects of the society I live in.

"It's extraordinary how we go through life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts."
Joseph Conrad - Lord Jim

There is also a deeper realization that exists. The feeling that one is never alone in this world. Like the theory of chaos, everything is interconnected and the butterfly fluttering at one end of the world can truly cause a hurricane. I feel strongly that my colleagues in Rwanda are not so different from myself. We share a sun, breath the same oxygen and laugh at the same stars in the sky. Should we not also share the same desires and secrets? The wish to learn, to progress and to grow?

"Why Rwanda?"

Here is an answer, I refuse to travel my journey with eyes half shut, with dull ears and with dormant thoughts. If this does not convince you, ponder another saying:
"Freedom is another word for nothing left to lose"
Janis Joplin - Me and Mr. McGee