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

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Haircut

Hair on a woman is a sign of beauty. Crowns of shining glory or long beautiful hair, however one describes it, it never fails to amaze me how much I actually care about dead keratin. It is my vanity, my weakness and my pride. I've had long hair for a very long time. Before we imigrated to Canada I actually cut it. It was symbolic, a physical manifestation of what imigration would mean to me. It was cut short, like a boys, and after the deed was done, I cried. My father said I looked like a devil, my sister tried to cajole me into thinking it wasn't so bad. It grew again and I vowed to keep it long for as long as I could. Remember, it is my vanity, and I've always felt that older women with long hair only aged with it. It is never good to have the long frame of your face be so grey.

I keep my hair long. Troy, my husband says that it would not matter to him if I cut it. I know differently. I know he loves it. Its like some whitey male fantasy to have an asian woman with long, beautiful hair. Cascading, heavenly, a silly prepubescent desire. I know this, and so I keep my hair long. For a very long time I would only get the ends trimmed, even the most ammatuer of hair dressers could handle a simple trim. The process of even a trim was arduous. The usual routine was getting me to stand up and having the hairdresser hover around me with scissors in hand.

In my third year of residency I felt a sense of entitlement. At least, with the little money I make from all my hard work, at the very least, I would spend $60 on a haircut. So I got it done, first at Angles and to my dismay, because I was so rigid with my precise specifications, my $60 haircut turned into a dramatically expensive trim. Not really different than the $30 trim at any other salon. So I concentrated on finding the correct hairdresser. Someone asian, who understood asian hair. I looked into it as though I was attempting to search for a personal mystic. At long last I found her. She called herself Julie and owned a salon in an old house that was converted into her place of business. Dressed entirely in black, she wore her hair short and spiked with red tips or most recently in swarths of pink. Around her slim hips she had on a leather toolbelt. It sweeps down her right leg and held numerous scissors and razors. She pulled tools out of ther with a flurish and would firmly tell me what I needed to do with my hair. Awed and hypnotized by her ability to lead me astray from my plan, I let her highlight my hair and with a straight razor, cut it into long layers. For her mastery, she charged me $200. I have gone to Julie several times, and each time I am pleased.

One morning, in my weak state of post call oblivion, I came across a coupon from Great Clips. It advertised a haircut at their salon for $6.99. I thought deeply about it, and in my sleepy recklessness decided to try it out. I rationalized that I had done the high end of the spectrum, why not try the low end? A completely different experience. Service was slow, the atmosphere lacking and the hairdresser, though asian, had long hair dyed a maroon brown with bangs that curled forward in acknowledgement of the early 80's. A little sceptical now, I had become afraid. But too proud to back away, I proceeded.

She washed my hair, not with the fevour of the $200 salon but a lacklustre scrub of the scalp. She sat me down and with dogged concentration began. It took her a half hour, she talked about being a refugee from Vietnam in Malaysia. At the end, she informed me that a blow dry would cost an additional $11. Taken a back, I decided against a blow dry, she dried most of it anyways. At the end of my haircut, I peered at myself in the mirror and scrutinized her efforts. It was good, really very good. Her name too was Julie. In the end, with my coupon and tip minus the blowdry, the haircut cost $14.99. The kicker?, she stamped a frequent haircut card, after the seventh haircut, I get one free!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cold Hands

The year is divided into blocks. Each block is about 28 days, give or take a couple of days. Most times this means seven call nights. Each night a hellish segway into sleep deprivation and cathecholamine overdrive. For some unknown reason, this month I've only been assigned five call nights. I'm on NICU (Nick-U) or the Neonatal ICU. I'm in charge of 7 neonates, not just babies... little ones even smaller than usual babies.

They sleep in incubators. Plastic covered shells with entry holes on the sides and fancy doodads all around so that the humidity can be controlled. They mostly lay in colourful fleeces or patterned flannel. Like tubular cigars in a humidor. Most incubators are covered by more fleece or sometimes a quilt. Made specially by little old ladies. They are beautiful - the quilts that is. Most neonates are not very cute. They lack the fat of infants and mew instead of cry. Sometimes when they are critically ill, the covers are off and the neonates lay under the plastic box in the cold fluorescent light. All the better for the nurses to view them. When they are this ill, I look on and watch them in the artificial light. Sometimes, I feel like I'm looking at puppies for sale behind a glass window, and watch their tiny fingers and toes. Most are on High Frequency Oscillation. Its a mode of ventilation that shakes oxygen and air into their tiny lungs. The hope is that high numbers of teeny tiny movements of gas provides less damage to the lungs than small numbers of high pressured breaths by a conventional ventilator. When on the oscillator, their chest wiggle and they seem to do a strange supine, wiggly jig.

I go around all day, worrying about these little critters. I'm scared I'm doing something wrong, they are so tiny. Little pieces of muscle, arteries and veins connected by neural tissue to make a living, breathing, much loved thing. I worry if I look at them in the wrong manner they will turn against me, and all day (or night if I'm on call), I'll be fighting against nature. I worry so much that most times I examine them several times throughout the day. Each time, I either wash my hands or use the hand sanitizer. Its called Micro-San and smells like alcohol but taste like bitter almonds. One pump..then two. Rub your hands together and then with fingers splayed, wave them around until they dry. Usually this means that the alcohol evaporates and my hands get cold. Shake them around and wave it in the air, then vigourously rub them together in the hopes that they warm up. Most incubators are warm and moist. The neonates need to be unfurled from their cocoon of spotty-plaid blankets. They all wear hats. I pick up the stethoscope and listen. On the oscillator, this is futile, all one hears is "chugga-chugga-chugga". Go through the movements anyways, then take a feel of the belly. Poor things, if they are not as ill they squiggle and squirm with my cold hands. I feel it must be torture to be unfurled from warmth and poked by cold hands. They squiggle and I persists. They are usually warm, this feels pleasant to my cold hands. I worry and am sad because each time I do this, each time I care to touch, I know my hands steal their heat.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Journey

I've never done this before. Shared what I was thinking on so open a page. It screamed of vanity and perhaps an ego yearning for others to lend an ear. But I've also never taken a journey like this before. A necessary evil...I think what everyone is doing.... a way to keep in touch. All good reasons. Alas, and such, I lose my anonymity and begin a sojourn into the world of Bloggers.

It all started over a year ago. It was really with a passing comment..."Do you speak French?".
With such a name as Desiree, one can't help but feel that I should. I've always been a little shy about my name. Such a grand name with a tinge of pretentiousness for a Malaysian such as myself, yet its also shaded by the glorious boobies of lap dancers and porn stars. Rather reminiscent of Napoleon's mistress, Desiree. But, I digress..

Lets begin again. The conversation could have ended there but with my curiosity I answered immediately, "no, why do you ask?", and that is where it all begins.

I'm currently in the fourth year of my Anesthesia Residency Program at the University of Calgary. Its been a hard go. Four years of my Bachelor's, then two years of my Master's (not that I would have it any other way), another four years of medical school and then a five year residency. I've been exhausted and living like a student for years. Through it all, I have retained a naive optimism. Always wanted to "help save the world" blah, blah, blah. In reality it sounds so sickeningly utopian, but in truth, its a silliness that I aspire to. Well, perhaps not to save the world but to at least "to return something". In my idealistic world, I've always wanted to go to Africa. I couldn't forsee that in my future, this could become a reality. Enter on stage left: A Trip to Rwanda.