Saturday, February 23, 2013

homeward bound, at last.

So back to the story of how we got home. Where we last left things, I was at the KLM office in Nairobi, trying to get us rebooked, and Kevin had just been dropped off at the hotel.

What I didn't mention earlier is that while we were still at the hospital, I called the special number that the airline doctor had told me about - the folks who would rebook us on the next available flight. I spoke with "David" briefly, and understood almost all of what he said. But my difficulty understanding the Kenyan accent kicked in - and this was after I had done quite a bit of talking and listening - with airline staff, doctors, nurses, cashiers, pharmacists, fruit vendors and hospital waiting room denizens. My brain had relibrated significantly. In fact, I had automatically picked up a habit that Kevin has, and that our friend Mary in Lamu has as well - adjusting my own accent to sound crisper, with no diphthongs and more precise consonants, to match the Kenyans. But for the life of me, I couldn't understand the last 50 syllables coming out of David's mouth, and it sounded like those were the important syllables.

There had been a shift change at the hospital, and Kevin's nurse, Sister Mercy (no kidding, her name) had left, to be replace by Japheth, a guy. I asked Japheth to talk to David. He learned that basically, rebooking was going to take a bit, and that David would call me back. We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I called David back, had a brief conversation, and then the same 50 syllables rolled off his tongue. Crap! What is he saying? I put Kevin on the phone. Oh, rebooking will take a while. He will call us back.

We figured, best to assume we aren't getting out of town tonight, so I called Amit, and he told us to head to the same hotel we'd been at the previous two nights - a swanky place, and interestingly, the very same hotel my mother and I had stayed at on a trip we took to Kenya in 1998/99 - by the time we got there, they'd be ready for us.

Japheth ordered us a taxi. Even though David was working on rebooking, we knew the KLM office was only a block away from the hotel, so I got dropped off there while Kevin and the luggage proceeded to the hotel.

It was quarter to five. They close at five. At five of five, it was my turn in line.

The ticket agent peered into the abyss of the online system. "The flight tonight is full. The flight tomorrow morning is full. Next available time is maybe two days from now."

No no no!

We pondered this. And then she said something that kinda scared me. The next available flight matching our itinerary was on March 5th - the day after Kenya's election.

There are a variety of opinions about what might happen with Kenya's upcoming election, but one set of opinions, which has plenty of evidence to back it up, and we had spent an hour in a coffee shop with a friend who outlined this all in chilling detail, is that there could be trouble. The 2008 elections were problematic, to put it diplomatically. Violence. Bloodshed. Etc.

Besides which, Kevin is starting a new job on March 4th. We are clearly not waiting until March 5th to leave the country.

The ticket agent says, "let me talk to my manager" and goes over to the corner where his desk is. Ten minutes pass. She comes back and tells me that the best option is a morning flight to Kilimanjaro, which is 504 km south of Nairobi. To be followed by a sixteen hour layover, 1:25 am flight to Amsterdam. Right around then, I really wished I could get hold of Kevin, but I don't have the number for the hotel. I ask if they can find out the number of the hotel and it takes three people to conclude that oh, they don't, and they don't have a way of finding out - no phone book, and the internet just tells you the international booking number for the chain.

I call Amit. Trusty Amit, Amit knows EVERYTHING. He says he'll text me the number. In the meantime, the manager explains to me that if I have a letter from the hospital, he can waive the rebooking charge for Kevin. I produce the letter, and he makes a copy of it. But, he notes, he cannot waive the rebooking fee for me. And that fee is? $250, thank you very much.

Right then, the text comes in from Amit with the hotel's number. And a second later, in staggers my boy. KEVIN! Kevin, my love! Kevin and the manager confer about alternate airports we could go through - Kili is the closest. For some reason, nobody thinks to ask about other European cities - Frankfort, Luxembourg, Paris. We're just fixated on Amsterdam because that's where we'd come from on our way in.

The three of us discuss the various scenarios. We decide to go with Kilimanjaro. It's an hour away from Pete and Charlotte - maybe we can spend time with them. I whip out the trusty iPad and message Pete. I also see I've gotten an email from a guy - a filmmaker who works for the UN - who's been living at Pete and Charlotte's - and I let him know our situation and he messages me right back that there is a business lounge at the Kili airport where we could hang out.

Kili it is then.

The manager, bless his heart, our streak of angels is not at an end, waives the $250 fee to rebook me. This time, we get a printed receipt from the cashier that will allow us to get into the airport. And we go back to the hotel to contemplate the state of our dirty laundry. On our way into the hotel, we talk to a taxi driver stationed just outside, and arrange for him to pick us up at 5:30 am the next day.

We go in search of dinner for me - pizza at a restaurant in the hotel's ground floor - not half bad. As we walk in to our room - the very same room we'd been in - our phone rings. It's David, from KLM. He sees we've rebooked through Kilimanjaro. Too bad, he says - he would have put us on a flight through Luxembourg. AARRRGHHHH. Let it go, Sarah, let it go. Africa clearly isn't ready to release us yet. It will be fine. Trust fall, trust fall.

We go to bed at 8:00 pm. Kevin passes out cold while I go through a wave of adrenaline let down. I have the tones of the machines that go bing going through my head - the steady beat at an unchanging pitch that represents the heart beat, and the oxygen saturation levels beep that changes pitch according to the values being measured. I begin to give myself Reiki and feel all the tension drain from the top of my body down into my legs, which start twitching and convulsing. I work through it. I relax.

I set alarms for 9:30, for midnight, and for 4:45 am -- the first one for Kevin's next dose of paracetimol and potassium, the midnight one for the Cipro, and the last one for the taxi.

The next day, all goes smoothly at the airport. Well, "smoothly" is a relative term in Kenya, I think. The ticket agent for the first flight, which is with a regional carrier, can find no record of our Amsterdam to New York flight, so she checks our luggage through to Amsterdam only.

I go over to the KLM line to try and resolve this and eventually, I do, but I'm pretty sure it's only because I have already chatted up the regional carrier's manager (her name is Margaret, which leads to me saying"Oh, my grandmother's middle name is Margaret, I have a friend named Margaret..." and lots of smiling back and forth). When it comes time to send someone running behind the lines to find our luggage and apply new tags to it, Margaret sees that it gets done.

We formally exit the country and go to the gate area, where we learn that our flight's been delayed by an hour. When we finally board, they apologize for the delay: the pilot got food poisoning! Kevin and I laugh, in a commiserating sort of way. Happens to the best of us, apparently. They had to get a crew up from Dar es Salaam.

So off we go to Kili. Since we've already been to Tanzania to see Pete, we don't have to fork over the $100 per person for the visa, we can go in on our existing visas. Our plan was to call Pete and see if he could send Joe, his driver (he's got a dedicated driver, as the UAACC is a busy place) to get us. We're walking past the luggage carousel, and I happen to glance over, and I see my bag coming down the conveyor belt. That's not supposed to happen, our luggage has been checked clear through to JFK, what the hell? Maybe it's not my bag. I go to look. Yep, that's my bag, and here's Kevin's. They're labeled for AMS and JFK. Shit. OK. We grab the bags and head out and there is a swarm of people angling to provide us with taxi service and who is the most persistent of them all? Why, it's Joe!

So before we know it, we're on our way to Pete and Charlotte's!

Where we passed a MOST refreshing day, with two full meals for yours truly. I cooked oatmeal for Kevin twice in Pete's kitchen - that's all he could stomach. We napped in the afternoon. Met yet more cool people - a woman who'd just summitted Kilimanjaro in a nine-day expedition. Journalists. Jason-the-guy-from-the-UN was there as well.

At ten pm Joe got us loaded back in the van and we headed back to the airport. All of the sudden, we were surrounded by white people again - it was oddly surreal.

At 1:00 am we walked outside to board the plane, a big beast of a thing - up 26 steps - they don't use jetbridges at Kili. They boarded some from the front of the plane - we boarded the rear of the plane, so we got to walk the full length of it. The sight of that huge aircraft, all lit up at night, seemingly floating some 20 feet in the air, was incomparably beautiful. I was exultant.

We are going home! Finally!

By now, we are on the AMS to JFK leg, two and a half hours from landing. I am relieved, but also ... not quite ready to be going home, to be honest. I AM ready for a complete full dose of clean clothes, to be sure. But this trip, my 4th to Africa, has been the one where I have finally kicked into accepting what the parts of Africa that I've seen, ARE. It is beginning to feel comfortable and right and normal to me, the countless little details of what's different. Ranging from power outlets that have little switches next to them to turn the outlets on and off, to the presence of countless people walking, walking, walking, everywhere, at every hour of the day and night, on hard-packed bare ground next to the highway. The open-fronted sheds that constitute the strip malls along rural roads. The ubiquitous advertising for Coca-Cola, in the remotest regions. The sight of lean Masai striding along with their walking sticks laying across their shoulders, resting their arms on them. Billboards advertising things you never see advertised on billboards in the States, like disinfecting soaps, and office furniture. The use of headlights and turn signals to convey far more information between drivers than is ever communicated by those devices in the States. I could go on and on.

I'm afraid the States is going to come as something as a shock.

Oh, and there's also the fact that in the next few weeks, we are packing up our house, and moving to Connecticut.

Yeah, there's that.

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Doing the baby elephant walk

[This post was written before "baptism by fire//trust fall". It is about the one-day safari we did during our visit to Pete and Charlotte O'Neal's on Saturday, Feb. 16. Because it has so many photos, it will be easier to upload when I've got the fat bandwith of our home wi-fi.]

Tarangire National Park is a three hour drive from Pete and Charlotte's place. We aimed to leave at 6 am but what with dawdling and all, got off to a slightly late start. I took - 536 pictures - well, more, if you count the ones I took with my phone. So I've been procrastinating about posting!

Here are some highlights, then!

Mr. Ostrich admiring Mrs. Ostrich's caboose:

Masai giraffe, the first of several - this one was a youngster, judging by his size.

The only cape buffalo we saw:

I'd like to spend more time around cape buffalo. I'm a little leery of them, though - they strike me as potentially ornery.

Lioness just starting to go into stalk mode:

She was one of three, lying in the shade near a watering hole that had also attracted a family of warthogs. They were on to her, and moved away. She seemed philosophic about the lost opportunity and flopped down under a tree.

We then came to a river along which several bands of elephants had gathered. Up on the hillside facing us were impala and baboons. While we were all admiring them, our driver was checking things out on the other side of the car. He spotted what he thought was a cheetah - a spotted cat, walking calmly through the grass. We all swiveled around. We couldn't see it very well - often, just the curl of a tail was visible - but we were all super excited (particularly since cheetah are a a rare sighting in this park and we hadn't dared hope to see any) and I shot away like mad, hoping the pictures would turn out.

It was only after we got back and I downloaded the pictures to the iPad that I saw that our buddy was actually a leopard - a VERY rare thing to see, particularly in the middle of the day. A more typical sighting would be of one draped over a tree branch at dusk.

Good lord, is that not heavenly? Also, those beige circles to the left are bird nests, hanging from branches. I don't remember what kind of bird.

As for the elephants, there were so many elephants, it is hard to pick what pictures to show. I had recently been reading horrific accounts of elephant poaching in Chad, and my whole motivation for going on this visit to Tarangire was to see elephants and somehow communicate through my presence that I'm rooting for them.

There were solo elephants:

And elephants in pairs:

But most often, it was whole families together:

And the babies! My god, the babies! There was one group that was coming down to the water from a spot just off camera to the left of the shot above. Kevin saw him (we'll just go with "him") holding his mother's tail, and I tried to capture it, but baby kept finding other interesting things to focus on - sniffing things, slowing down, racing to catch up, looking around...

They got to the river's edge. Baby tried drinking like his aunts, but couldn't quite reach.

This family wound up cruising to a spot where there was no embankment, so baby got in and splashed around. As did another baby, closer to hand:

Are you not just wanting a baby elephant to call your own at this point? I know I am!

We saw and heard a juvenile elephant trumpeting and waving his trunk around and generally causing a scene, but for no immediately apparent reason. Our driver thought it might have gotten a stinging insect up its trunk and was trying to discharge it. Ouch!

We saw other beasties: impala - this one, a young male:

Is it just me, or does he look like Julia Roberts? This is not meant as an insult to either impala, or Ms Roberts - she's always struck me as half deer.

An older male, with the horns spiraled a bit:

All the females were across the road from the males. And the male above was the boss of the whole scene. That's how they arrange things.

A hyrax, related to the elephant I am told. I'd never seen one before. Apparently they eat termites, which reminds me, I have no pictures of termite mounds to show you. They dot the landscape with some frequency and get to maybe at least six feet tall. I asked our driver if mounds were always sited on former stumps and he said yes.

Yet more pachyderms:

Some waterbucks:

Some zebras, with girlie impalas in the background (no horns). This was right as we were leaving the park.

Pete's incredible kitchen staff had packed us a lunch, so we took a break at a picnic area partway through and had grilled chicken, mini vegetable pizzas, freshly sliced mango, corn muffins, and a bottle of red wine.

We had company:

I don't know who these are, but they had plenty of personality. And they were gorgeously iridescent, check this out:

The birds in general were awesome - with the exception of the ones above, who made things easy by being right next to our picnic table, I didn't attempt to photograph the songbirds. They were all over, though - some a brilliant green, some black and white, some the color of rainbows. The birdsong was amazing - liquid sunshine transformed into burbling cascades.

If you are a regular reader, you'll know that typically I photograph the naughty bits of flowers. So I have a macro lens for a Nikon I didn't bring with me on this trip. I don't currently own a telephoto lens. These pictures are all from my trusty Lumix point-and-shoot, which can zoom up to 30x. Just about all these shots are zoomed in to the max. That takes a toll on the battery and I started to run out of juice with another hour or hour and a half to go. So I started taking shots with my camera, instead.

Since by this point, we had seen (or so we thought) four out of the "big five" (lion, elephant, giraffe, cape buffalo, and leopard - remember, we thought we'd seen a cheetah), I was adamant that we find a leopard. So we started paying attention to the trees, hoping to find one with leopards dripping from every branch. Fortunately, general tree shots are something my camera phone can easily accommodate.


Here's an aptly named sausage tree, formerly called kigelia. See the big pale hanging things? They're the fruit.

Leopards apparently love these trees, which reminded me of live oaks in the southeastern U.S.

No leopards manifested, so we bombed around randomly, just drinking up the scenery. Here's another section of river, dry in this case.

The clouds were marvelous, as you can see.

There were at a minimum, four kinds of trees: acacias (what the giraffe like to eat - they've got lacy little leaves and nasty thorns), the sausage trees shown above, palm trees (you can see some above in that dry riverbed shot), and perhaps the most impressive, the baobabs:

See how the trunk looks damaged? That's elephants' doing.

This madness ensued for hours. It was a great, great day. We were wiped at the end of it.

Next up: Riding in an ambulance going the wrong way down a highway.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

baptism by fire//trust fall

After our one-day safari to Tarangire, we mellowed out the following day at Pete and Charlotte's, and the day after that, boarded the bus to Nairobi.

Leaving Arusha, we were treated to a rare view of the summit of Mt. Meru (14,977 ft).

We traveled through Masai country toward the border, meaning in practical terms that we saw plenty of goats being tended by small boys, in some cases fatally close the highway. Fatal to at least one goat, at any rate, that darted out in front of our bus. There was no way to avoid it - thump-thump, thump-thump. So sad.

Ahead of us loomed a low mountain range with an unaccountable protrusion that only made sense once we'd skirted the flank of it and saw it from the other side - fantastic cliffs:

This was just shy of the Namanga border stop. When we got there, Kevin and I hopped out and formally exited Tanzania, then walked through 100 yards of no-man's-land to the Kenya immigration facility. By now I could recite my passport number, date and place of issue.

I snapped this photo of one of the many trucks going across the border, little realizing at the time the signifance of the message painted on its bumper:

"Don't Panic".

When we arrived in Nairobi some five hours later, we were coated with dust from the journey - it took two consecutive showers and a scrub with a washcloth to be presentable, which was a desired state of affairs because we were going out for a Real Dinner in a Nice Restaurant with a friend of Kevin's who's a professor at the University of Nairobi. We went for Indian food.

Kevin had the prawns.

Jama didn't have prawns - he's allergic - and I didn't have prawns, because they live in the sea, and are therefore inedible, as we all know. Therefore, when the next morning, Kevin felt queasy, we thought perhaps the prawns hadn't agreed with him. No real worries - it is not infrequent for food to disagree with Kevin. We spent the day running errands - trying to get our boarding passes for our return flight home printed out (and failing), doing a bit of shopping for gifts, and visiting another friend across town. Kevin grew progressively more tired, and when we got back to our hotel room in mid-afternoon, he faceplanted in the bed and napped.

Around 4 pm he started to feel a bit warm. This is where I made my first mistake. What I should have done is realized, he has a fever. He had mentioned burping up the taste of prawns, which meant they hadn't quite worked their way through his system - the fever confirmed food poisoning. What I should have done is, to quote one of the guys we'd hung out with on Lamu (we'd talked about exactly this circumstance) "lock that thing down": I should broken out my bottle of Cipro (a broad-spectrum antibiotic - do not go to a developing country without it) and given him one. But I didn't.

I did, to my credit, root through his luggage, find his passport, his wallet, his stash of Tanzanian cash, his Kenyan cash, and - what's this? oooh, a big stash of US cash - and the parking stub for our car at the JFK parking lot. I confiscated all of the above into my stuff, and got us both packed - we'd be leaving well before dawn the next morning, and clearly I was going to need to be the designated grown up.

I should just back up here and explain: I have traveled internationally since I was four years old. But with Kevin in Africa, I let him do all the talking: he's been here a gazillion times, it's a wayyyy different situation than the European travel I'm familiar with, and I don't always understand the Kenyan English accent. I did not have any Kenyan cash myself, and only about $28 in US. I didn't even know how to place a call on the cheap mobile phone we'd (Kevin) gotten when we first arrived in Nairobi. Which would have been fine, except now that Kevin was out of commission, it wasn't.

As I mentioned, we hadn't had any luck getting our boarding passes printed out, despite having gone to the KLM office a block from our hotel - their system was down. We'd thought at the time "oh, that will be OK - we can do it at the airport". But then I remembered that often, they don't let you into the terminal in Nairobi without showing a receipt of some kind proving that you're on a flight - and we didn't have that. We just had a scrap of paper with the ticket number written on it that the KLM agent had given us. We would not even be able to get inside the building.

I also didn't know whether I'd be able to find a cab at five in the morning.

Shit shit shit. Time to cowboy up. I went to the business center at the hotel and thank god and 400 shillings later, got the boarding passes printed out. I asked the guy at the front desk about getting to the airport, and he tried to sell me on the special limo option - $50 in US dollars, "safe and secure and comfortable, madam". Fifty bucks my ass. I marched outside to the curb where we'd found taxis during the day and flirted with the drivers (by which I mean, I spoke with them) - yes, they would be there at five in the morning, 2,000 shillings, $25. You're on.

That night, Kevin was hot to the touch, all over. His head was hot. His back was hot. His legs were hot. I fretted, but did nothing new, aside from mentally walking through the next day and giving myself a boatload of Reiki to calm down. We would be getting up at 4:15 am.

Oh, and my period arrived (early) - I had no supplies with me, and no way to get any.

The next morning, Kevin felt like crap. I told him don't worry, I've got this - I'll get you a wheelchair at the airport if you don't have the energy to get to the gate. I didn't think he'd need one. I was wrong. He needed one. It took a good half hour before a wheelchair could be found. I got our luggage checked and got us through departure, which is when you present your passport and formally exit the country, getting fingerprinted just as you do when you enter the country. They looked skeptically at Kevin and didn't bother to fingerprint him.

We went to the gate area. In Nairobi, you go through security when you first enter the airport, and you go through again at the gate. They don't confiscate your liquids til the gate security check. We elected to delay the latter, so that we could avail ourselves of both water and the bathrooms, since once you go through the second security, there are no facilities - no food, no water, no bathrooms.

Kevin lay down on the floor with his head on travel neck pillows. I left him there and went to change all our Kenyan shillings for US dollars. Eventually I got him into the wheelchair and got us through security #2. He could barely get out of the wheelchair. Someone came over to me and asked if he'd need the wheelchair to get down the bridge. I said I wasn't sure. Kevin was barely responsive. She said, "He should not fly if he is unwell. I shall call the doctor. Wait over there."

This is when the trust fall began. A trust fall, if you don't know, is one of those exercises you do in team-building workshops. Everyone stands in a tight circle, with one person in the center. The person in the center allows themselves to simply fall, to lean in one direction, and keep going - and the circle comes together and gently catches them. Kevin, of course, had already fallen, and I was catching him, but this is when I started to fall, and the beautiful angels that are around us all the time in the form of other people caught us both.

A guy with a medical kit came over and asked us a couple of questions. How do you feel? How long has this been? Any vomiting (a tiny - dry heaving). Any diarrhea? (A tiny bit.) He did not take Kevin's temperature. He said, I think this is food poisoning. I said, I think so too. He said, don't get on the plane. It's a long flight (8 hours), there may not be a doctor on board, this can progress quickly and get very bad, you need to get tested and observed at a hospital.

I allowed myself to perceive this as an airline employee covering his ass. I allowed myself to perceive this as wise counsel. Which feels better? The safe option, as far as my personal comfort goes, is to get on the plane and not deal with Oh No! Ambulance! Oh No! Hospital! Scary Strangers Whose English I Don't Always Understand! He'll be fine! The safe option, as far as Kevin goes, is to go to the hospital. This isn't about me, this is about Kevin. Let the trust fall begin.

"OK, let's go to the hospital. How does that work?"

How it works is, this beautiful man and accompanying angels - the wheelchair attendant, the guys at immigration, the luggage guys, the ambulance driver, all pulled together. We re-entered the country. The doctor went over to talk to the luggage guys about getting our bags pulled from the plane while I went to buy more Kenyan shillings. An ambulance materialized and Kevin was transferred to it while I waited for our luggage. While I waited, I figured out how to text. Don't laugh at me - there is a default predictive type-ahead "feature" on the phone which is great...if you're typing Swahili, but it devolves into inanity pretty quickly in English. A luggage guy showed me how to disable that feature, and I texted Jama (our dinner companion) to let him know. I figured if we needed to stay a night in town, maybe he could put us up.

The luggage arrived and angels loaded it onto the ambulance. Kevin was lying on his side on a stretcher, very quiet, very hot.

Eventually the doctor rematerialized. He took Kevin's temperature. 39.5. What's that in Farhenheit? Oh right, I have this iPad with an international data plan. I googled it. 103.1. Holy shit. Kevin's normal base temperature is 96.8F (not 98.6) so 103.1 on him is like 104 something for anyone else. I think that was the moment when I knew yeah, medically, this was the right call. The doctor gave him a shot of something to bring the fever down. He tried to start an IV, but Kevin's veins typically laugh at such attempts and collapse, so that failed. No matter, said the doctor. Let's go.

Off we went.

For the first few minutes, we had no trouble, and then we hit Nairobi's traffic, which is just tremendously terrible. I felt us slow down and could see we were turning right. There is no right turn in this part of the journey to Nairobi. Why are we turning right? In Kenya, you drive on the left side of the road. We are turning right, meaning we are about to cross oncoming traffic. No, we're not going to cross oncoming traffic.

We are going to drive INTO oncoming traffic. On a highway. Oh. OK. Hakuna matata, motherfucker, I thought, as we barreled down the our-left, their-right, lane with the siren wailing. In the meantime time the doctor and I chat like this is no big deal. He trained at University of Nairobi. Oh really? Our friend Jama's daughter is going to med school there. Ever been to the U.S.? Yes, to San Diego. Oh cool, my brother lives near there. Yadda yadda yadda. I am falling, I am being caught, I am falling, I am being caught.

In the meantime, Kevin's temperature is already improving.

We get to the hospital.

The doctor tells me, "I didn't want to mention this before because it seems rude to do it in the moment, but there is a fee for the ambulance." I should hope so, I think! I give him $125 in cash and he explains how to handle the discharge - there is a special number to call once he's been discharged, they'll rebook us on the next available flight with no penalty, but they'll need the information from the discharge paperwork first. Exit airport doctor stage left.

In the meantime, Kevin was connected to the machines that go bing - we are familiar with these from the two shoulder, and one knee, surgeries he's been through. His oxygen is a little low - low 90's - no worries, that's how he rolls (his lungs are not his strong suit - comes of growing up with a chain smoker and having a touch of asthma), so they put him on oxygen. They scolded his naughty veins, started an IV, and dumped saline and more fever-reducing drugs into him.

The hospital doctor explained he needed to be tested for bacterial infection, malaria, and typhoid. She handed me the paperwork for this and told me to go outside, to the right, up the ramp, to the lab, pay for it, bring back the receipt. "Wha'....?" I'm thinking. That's weird. Just do the frickin' tests, look, I have a boatload of U.S. dollars, I'm not going to NOT pay you guys. I don't say any of this, I just think it. Whatever. This is how it works. Let's do this.

I go pay for the lab work. They take credit cards, thank god.

Nothing to do but wait at this point. I am hungry. I am thirsty. I'd missed dinner the previous evening (and if you know me, you know I do NOT skip meals), I hadn't had any breakfast, and of course since security #2 at the airport, I'd abandoned all my remaining water. There are vending machines in the waiting area but they spit out my paper money, even though my 100 shilling note is brand new. I have no coins. The cashier in the waiting room has coins, but they're "the new coins" and the vending machine only takes "the old coins". I proceed to hit up people in the waiting room for change. No one has any change until one guy takes pity on me and gives me the money for a bottle of water. Just one of many angels.

I rejoin Kevin. He's sleeping, his fever's going down, down, down. Hours pass. The results come back - it's not typhoid, it's not malaria, he seems to have a bacterial infection. You don't say. The doctor and I discuss meds. I have Cipro, I say - can we just use that? Sure, she says, but I want to start him on antibiotics through his IV to get him started. Here's a prescription for that, and for a special formulation of acetominophen for his fever, and potassium citrate (his potassium's low), take this to the pharmacy (which is in the waiting room), pay for it, bring us a receipt.

Grumble grumble. What kind of crazy system has the family member picking up the meds that the nursing staff is about to use? That is just effed up. Whatever. I do what I need to do. This requires cooling my heels in the waiting area, which is packed with people. The pediatric clinic is right there, and while we're all waiting for our respective issues to be resolved, an infant at the clinic is evidently being tortured, and letting us all know in no uncertain terms that s/he doesn't approve.

Finally, my name is called, I get the meds, I take them back to his room. They add the antibiotic to his IV drip. The guy in the next bed has some sort of crisis and when it's over, someone comes in with a mop to clean up a bunch of blood on the floor. Good lord. I'm thinking, this is, from a logistical perspective, my worst nightmare, but ultimately, not too serious - this is treatable, he'll be OK, my boy is going to be OK, Jesus, this is a baptism by fire, isn't it. This is not how I would have picked to learn to be comfortable navigating by myself instead of relying on Kevin.

By now I'm through with my bottle of water and terribly thirsty for more. My confidence is high from this whole experience. I waltz out into the waiting room and flirt shameless with a group of people, offering to give them a 100 shilling note in exchange for 50 shillings in vending machine-compatible "old coins". "Better than a bank!" I smile, and they all smile, and someone finds 100 shillings in coin for me. I get more water.

I see Jama's texted me back. "So sorry! That happened to me recently too!" Jama is out of town. Damn. That's going to mean another $200 and change for a hotel room. So be it. I text our travel agent buddy Amit to get that started, although I don't yet know when our flight out will be.

The doctor and I start talking discharge. His oxygen is low - we want to do a chest x-ray, they say. By now, Kevin is alert enough for both us to say no no no, no x-ray, no need, low to mid 90's is normal for him. I show them the scars on his shoulders from surgery. I know all about the machines that go bing. OK, they say. Whew, close call.

But it takes them a while to agree to release him. They want to hold him overnight, because they want to be sure he is strong enough. But he hasn't eaten anything for even longer than I hadn't eaten anything, so for him to get "stronger" is going to require some calories. I had some McVitie's Digestives (a sort of bland, slightly sweet graham flour biscuit) with me, which I'd been noshing on, but Kevin can't eat those (he's gluten-free).

So I brave the big scary world and go out on the street and get a bunch of bananas and even more water from one of several loud and enthusiastic banana and water angels (read: vendors). They initially wanted to sell me a bunch of bananas the size of my torso - I'd never seen so many on a single stem - like 15 bananas.

Back indoors, Kevin was improving. He was tired and a little groggy, but the fever had broken. They kept coming in and asking us, now where are you staying tonight? I don't know, I explained. If there is a flight out tonight, we'll go tonight. Otherwise, tomorrow. He needs to be discharged first, I explain, before I can tell you where he'll BE. Finally, the doctors decide it's OK to release him, and start to initiate the discharge procedures.

Oh but wait! You need actual paperwork, explaining what happened, for the airline? That's a medical report, that costs extra. You got it - back in line in the front office. Pay for it, bring us the receipt, we'll give you the letter. I get to the front of the line. Where is his patient ID card? He doesn't have one. Another line. Another form. He's issued a patient ID number. Back to the first line. She's never heard of a medical status report and can't find out how to code it, but she does know it's going to cost me 1,290 shillings. Hello, MasterCard, old friend!

I get the letter. We get Kevin into his clothes. The new nurse on duty calls us a taxi and we head into town. The taxi driver drops me off at the KLM office and continues the rest of the block to our hotel, where he drops Kevin and the luggage.

Next up: you can't there from here, or, why getting to Amsterdam is going to require going 500 km SOUTH into Tanzania first.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

being lazy while all around us others do good deeds

So for our next installment...we're on our way to visit our friends Pete and Charlotte.

Pete and Charlotte O'Neal have been living in Tanzania since 1972. They started out with pretty much nothing, and have built up a whole compound - the United African Alliance Community Center - in a small village outside Arusha, where they run all kinds of programs for the community and visitors - ranging from classes in English, computer science, the arts (including music recording) for local students, to programs for study abroad groups from all over the United States. (Which is how we know them - Kevin helped plant the seed in their minds that hosting study abroad groups would be a good idea for all parties.) More recently, they have opened an orphanage with 22 kids on-site.

The orphanage is new since 2008. At right, a separate kitchen facility is being constructed.

About every available surface at the UAACC is painted with something inspirational.

View of a guest house, with Charlotte's art studio on the second floor, from inside the Red Onion. Bullet, the resident horse, wondering if perhaps Pete has any carrots for him.

"The Red Onion, named for Pete's dad (that was his nickname), is the central gathering space for hanging out, meals, programs, dancing, and general fun.

Sadly for us, Charlotte was not around - she was on her annual "Heal the Community" tour in the States. But we got a chance to hang out with Pete - or, to give him his due, Mzee Pete (mzee is an honorific for a male elder - the female equivalent might be "Mama", as in, Mama Charlotte).

But "Babu Pete" is probably his most cherished nickname. Here he is with a handful of his charges.

This is Joshua. Mark my words, this kid's going to be famous some day.

We went on a day trip to Tarangire National Park and saw a lioness stalking a warthog. I was showing some of the kids the resulting pictures. Then I flipped the camera upside down and snuck in a shot of them.

In return, I got a new hairstyle:
These girls have their heads nearly shaved every two weeks, so it was a treat for them to play with my hair, and of course, it was a treat for me as well!

Agape, yours truly, and Maria. I asked Agape if she knew her name meant "love" and she smiled and nodded. A fitting name for her.

Maria was a complete doofball.
A girl after my own heart.

In the meantime, a sleepy bat napped above our heads:

Next up: a lioness chases a warthog...a male ostrich admires the derriere of his mate... and more elephants than we could count. Oh - and a special guest - a leopard!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Watamu, Kenya, with awesome special effects

Oh, man, time flies. Where were we. Leaving Lamu. Yeah, so when it was time to leave Lamu, it was low tide.

As can be seen above. This is the sea front, from the end of the dock.

Our goal was to get to Malindi, a popular destination with Italian tourists, just south of Lamu - between Lamu and Mombasa. We planned to meet our friend Athman there, and he'd recommended a particular resort to stay in for the day and a half we planned for this part of our trip.

View from prop plane of the very southern tip of Lamu Island - totally undeveloped dunes, with big sand bar formation. Just lovely. In many such places in the States, there would be 2.5 casinos, three boardwalks, eight hotels, and god knows what else.

And now, I'm going to insert some pictures that I actually took on our prop plane trip from Nairobi to Lamu, days earlier, but I haven't been able to access them on this iPad to include them in a blog post until just now. My GOAL was to photograph Kilimanjaro, and indeed, you can see Africa's highest peak just under the engine.

BUT CHECK THIS FREAKY THING OUT! I do not know what accounts for this. "Science", or something:

That's the propellor blade. Or something.

God. That is so cool. If anyone can explain this, I will be most grateful.

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The first - and actually, the last - time I was ever in Malindi, I had a really rough go of it. We'd flown to Malinda from Lamu, and then immediately hopped in a taxi with an Italian couple for the five hour drive to Mombasa, where we boarded flight to Nairobi, after which we got a taxi ride to our hotel, whereupon I proceeded to get violently ill. Out both ends, simultaneously, if you must know. I slept for thirty hours straight. I had never been so sick in my life, and I attribute it to the grueling day of travel (bear in mind, I get motion sick super easily).

So with that in mind, we were happy, this time around, to break up our eventual goal of Nairobi into more manageable chunks. We were booked into a place outside of Malinda, as it happens. The Watamu Villa Resort.

View from the open-air dining area.

And, view from the porch of our individual villa. Pretty swank, no? Yeah. It was, it was truly lovely. I crashed in our room and Kevin went into Malindi proper via tuk-tuk (3-wheel cab, so named for the sound of its engine - tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk) to hang with Athman. The nap fairies abducted me, so I think I made the right call.

The next morning, we went on a dolphin watch/snorkel expedition with a group of random British tourists. They spent most of the time complaining about Italian tourists. Ah, the pageant of human diversity... As to the motion sickness, I was OK - I sat on the roof of the boat, and kept my eye on the horizon, and did just fine. We saw a group of five, and another group of seven or so, dolphins, and as for the snorkeling, oh my! The black-and-white striped guys, the rainbow colored ones, the blue ones with a yellow bit along the spine, the brilliant green was pretty cool. No pictures from that, alas.

Eventually it was time to brave my demons and get in that cab to Mombasa. This time around, it only took 2.5 hours, because the road has been significantly improved (read: "paved") since our last visit. And that includes the time it took for the driver to change a flat. And then we flew to Nairobi. And lo, I did NOT get sick and need to sleep for thirty hours.

The next day, we took the Riverside Shuttle bus to Arusha, Tanzania. Our ultimate destination was Imbaseni, a very rural village just east of Arusha, and home to our friends Pete and Charlotte O'Neal. That'll be the next post.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lamu: the last day.

When we last left our heroine, she was up on the roof of Amu House, in Lamu, Kenya, watching the stars.

My soundtrack for the evening included the light twitter of mysterious night birds, calls to prayer from at least two mosques, and in the distance, the thump of music from a beach party with a bonfire. Farther away still, a helicopter patrolled the coast (there's a navy base nearby). I'd turned down the opportunity to attend that party - I was just too wiped and in need of solitude - but it was sweet to hear it from a distance.

I think I made it to bed around 3:30 am.

For some reason, I spent Saturday napping. I can't imagine why.

Sunday was our last full day on Lamu. We spent the day thusly:

That's fellow Amu House guest David, at left, and Kevin passed out on one of three day beds up on the roof. There's also a hammock. There were also two other people - David's coworker, Jason - they work for an outfit working to bring clean water and a medical clinic to areas hard-hit by Sudan's civil war - and Bonzi, a friend of theirs and of Mary's who likewise, spends his life doing good deeds - largely centered around sustainable building practices suitable for developing countries. It was a very chill time - shop talk, mostly, and shop talk with people devoted to making a difference in very challenging situations is pretty cool.

More rooftop views:

That's an infestation of bougainvillea. Rough life, eh?

That spot, above, is where I'd been perched the previous night gaping at the stars.

In the late afternoon, Jason and David invited us to join them and Bonzi on a boat ride across the channel to Manda Island. I wasn't sure I was up for it - I am extremely prone to motion sickness - but I put on my big girl pants and off we went.

First order of business: refueling. This is out in the middle of the channel. Diesel being decanted from one jerry can to another via an empty water bottle. Oh - these are Bonzi's pictures.

So we cross the channel and cruise along the side of Manda for a while. There was a whole lot of this:

Lush green. The island has no source of fresh water, so it's largely unsettled...or at least, settlement has traditionally been limited to a handful of homesteads. Although there are a couple of exceptions.

One exception showed up pretty quickly, as we made our way up a side channel that cuts into the island just shy of the ocean:

Here's a dhow - a traditional fishing boat - loaded with coral blocks. There's also a guy sitting on the floor toward the stern, bailing it out. Coral is the main building material on Lamu and on the coast in general. It's gotta come from somewhere, right?

Turns out there is a mining town on Manda.

Here's the town dock. The yellow containers are for fresh water, as again, there is none to be had on the island. The boys - see the group of boys, to the right? - they're entertaining themselves by pushing one another off the dock.

This kid put up a fight, but in he went.

We were puttering by pretty slowly, and soon the boys invented a new game: chase the boat. They all leapt into the water and started swimming after us.

Ali, our boat captain, cautioned them not to get too close to the propellor - well, I think that's what he said (this was in Swahili) since it produced the desired effect. I was relieved. I kept thinking of that scene from "Galaxy Quest" when they make a quick stop on this planet to pick up beryllium for their warp drive and come across these seemingly cute little kids... who turn out to have sharp fangs and an insatiable appetite. Packs of boys are awesome...from a distance. We motored on out of there and continued our tour up the channel and then back out again into the main channel that separates Lamu from Manda.

And now we come to the second form of development on Manda, which sadly, is a reminder that wherever you go in the world, you can count on people to ruin perfectly good natural areas with ugly and inappropriate crapola.

For over the past 15 or so years, the channel coastline of Manda has been gobbled up by people with more money than taste.

I believe Ali told us the one one on the left belongs to Chirac.

This whole hodgepodge, above and below, is a single hotel complex.

Blegh, blegh, and more blegh. There is a big back story here about how this happened, which I won't go into because I'm not familiar enough with the details to speak with authority, but it doesn't speak well for all the parties involved.

Then we saw this:

A handmade, floating bar. We agreed it bore further investigation.

Pretty cool, huh? That's me, talking with the guy who built it.

Me, Jason, Kevin, David. Most of the guys had beer, but I hate beer, and Kevin can't drink it, so we went with white wine. It had, not surprisingly, made its transition to its final state of paint stripper, so when the barkeep wasn't looking I accidentally poured mine into the water.

But I wasn't complaining. We watched the sunset, and headed back to Old Town.

And the next morning, we headed back to Manda, this time, to the airstrip. Bye bye, Lamu!

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