Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mombasa days

I am sitting in the guesthouse room, looking over our budget and trying to figure out if we can possibly hire an assistant, since there is just way too much to do. Outside, right below my window, there is a wedding taking place. Two houses down, there is another wedding taking place. Both have music happening and people talking and children running around and it all adds up to LOTS OF NOISE. Suddenly, from across the street, I hear the call to prayer from the mosque. And, I start laughing with Mary (who is also trying to do some work…involving numbers, as well) as we try to reconcile two wedding bashes and their music with the call to prayer of the mullah. Strange…

The cold water shower feels good after a day of traipsing around in the mugginess that engulfs Mombasa and the coast, so there are no complaints there. Our little Mombasa guesthouse is quite comfortable, really, but it does have the added bonus of having iguanas and lizards running around. I have found lizard and/or iguana poop on the beds and my things and it sort of makes me not sleep too well because all I can think of is that one of those creatures is going to run up my body sometime through the night. Even though they are cute and all, I don’t relish the thought of them waking me up by crawling on me. So, I am not sleeping too well here.

Today we were told that we should take beans, rice, milk or sugar to our friends in Zimbabwe, as they really don’t have much of anything. So, we trundled off to the supermarket and purchased some stuff to take with us and now my suitcases are heavy again. I was all excited that my suitcases weren’t so full or heavy anymore since I’ve unloaded 2/3 of the gifts we brought, including 17 pounds of candy and 20 pounds of stickers. I was wrong! They are heavy again. Just received an SMS telling me that we should still plan on coming to Zimbabwe, even though there still has not been an announcement of who won the presidency. Hope everything stays as calm as can be while we are there!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Africa: Day 2 (Kampala, Uganda)

Who am I? Who am I to be given this task of providing ARVs and medicine to children in East and Southern Africa? Who am I to be allowed to be a part of something like this, where I get to meet brave people who every day fight for the rights of children to have adequate care and a hope of life? Who am I to fit into this large puzzle as a little piece, adding a bit of color, a bit of character in what could really quite a bleak picture if not for the people here on the ground in Africa and in other parts of the world who toil day in and day out to provide the kids with what they need? They are the ones who are the main characters in the puzzle… the picture would be impossible without them.

I am always humbled when I see what ordinary people can do with a little elbow grease, hard work, some donations, and lots of prayer. I am amazed that I, little Tanya, am a part of the work done by Mulago Hospital, which provides care for 25% of the children who receive ART in Uganda. There are so many others who need help…so many who could use some medicine…we have a lot more to do! Food, counseling, medicine, testing, PMTCT, community development, and so many other steps are needed in order to do a complete job. When I see it all coming together, as I did in Mulago today, I get overjoyed that we are a little sliver in the big pie which constitutes ART (anti-retroviral therapy).

The Pediatric Infectious Disease Center of Mulago Hospital is overflowing…children, babies, and parents wait patiently for hours, waiting to be seen…on an average day, 175 children are seen at this Center. Waiting rooms are full to capacity, hallways have become a place of gathering, with nurses and doctors having to squeeze their way through. Two doctors share each of the consulting rooms because they have run out of space. Yet, patients keep coming and they literally overflow to the outer walls of the Center, finding shade as they know the wait could be long. Yet, they wait because they know that their children will be treated with dignity and that if they need help and medicine, they will not be turned away. In fact, AFCA provides medicine for 350 of the kids who need the life saving (anti-retroviral) medicine these kids need to survive and it is awesome to see how

In the main waiting room, Nurse Jane is reading books to waiting children and a play mat is set up in the corner for the kids to do some exercise and games every day. not only does this help kill some of the boredom of waiting, but the kids get a rare chance of reading and borrowing books from the “waiting room library”, a little cubby with inventoried book which the kids can check out to read while they wait. As we walk through the waiting room, little hands reach out to touch our white legs, smiling when they’ve touched the foreigner. Curly, braided, matted, out of control, combed, clean and/or dirty little heads look up at us, not knowing who we are. Not knowing that my heart is breaking for the other children, the ones who don’t have the opportunity for care and medicine. As I look into their eyes, whether they are sick or doing better, I feel a sense of urgency to do more, to help in a larger way. And I come back around to the question “who am I to have been chosen to do this work, to be given the chance to help in some way?”

And, I am humbled to be counted as one of those who is battling in the fight against pediatric AIDS.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Africa: Day 1

24 hours after leaving Harrisburg, PA, I landed in Kampala, Uganda. A long journey, but a good one. I had good seat mates and laughed at dumb movies shown on the long flight from Amsterdam to Kampala. I tell you what! It is so not worth flying on US airlines! The food wasn’t good, the seating was SOOOO cramped and the movie didn’t work. That makes for a very long transatlantic flight. But, once we got on KLM in Amsterdam, everything changed and it was comfortable and the food was downright good. I laughed so much at the movie “enchanted”…hilarious…well, the first 2/3 of it was hilarious. The last part was a waste of time, but the first part made it well worth the watch.

We hired Charles, a taxi driver, to take us to the guesthouse where Mary and I are staying and as we made our way from the airport there, I felt familiar with the smell of Uganda and the banana leaves. It brings me back to my childhood in Colombia and all that is comforting and equatorial to my senses. The noise of the traffic, the congestion, the beeping and moving of cars is not something I missed, though! But the warmth of the reception at the guesthouse, where Phoebe has greeted me each year I come to visit was most welcome and I felt like I was visiting a friend. Full on a plate of fresh French fries fried as soon as we arrived, with some sliced tomatoes, I made my way to my room to shower in what seemed like an eternity and to brush my teeth. I felt new in no time, but decided that I should sleep as I hadn’t slept in any of the flights over.

Now, it is morning, I hear the birds chirping and the traffic roaring. It is time for breakfast and to start our visits with our partners. Today we officially start our visit to Africa by meeting with Dr. Addy K at the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Center at the Mulago Hospital, where we provide ARV’s and other medicine to HIV+ kids and their HIV+ guardians. I am so excited to see what and how they are doing and to deliver the thousands of stickers and all the books we brought for the kids who get tested at the center to determine what they have. Stickers are such a part of our own children’s lives that we take them for granted. But here, they are not all that common and the kids really like having something to take home after being brave at the lab. Thanks to MediBadge for the 7500 stickers they gave us to bring to the kids!

I hear the sound of foot traffic outside my window…the day is definitely flowing by me and I need to make my way to breakfast.