Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife

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I'm in Africa!

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

We got into Banjul at 3 in the morning and fought our way through customs. I translated the French custom forms for the group. I expected them to be in English (it's an Anglophone country, after all) but I guess French comes in handy in all kinds of places. After that we proceeded to baggage claim, where my bag was the first of the belt. I did a little dance. We were luckier than I expected, only one bag got lost and it's expected to arrive tomorrow.

Then on to another security checkpoint. Our site coordinator had sent us with several bags to drop off with his family, and the customs officials started asking a lot of questions about them, I think because one of the bags contained a cell phone. They were checked in one of the students' names, and the poor guy had to tell them that he had no idea what was in the bags, he was carrying them for a friend from another country who could not be reached. You can imagine how that sounded, but they eventually released us to the parking lot where we were briefly introduced to four men from the hospital who threw our bags on the top of a waiting truck and told us to pile in. So it happened that, a full 24 hours after we left New York, we arrived in Brikama.

JFK to Casa Blanca to Conakry to Banjul

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Slept through most of the first leg, seven hours to Morocco. Casa Blanca was very humid and I got to practice my French skills to get us to the right terminal. Our group leader asked us to not drink our water so that we would have some to use in Brikama until we can find a safe source.

A significant portion of our journey was spent just getting through all of the security checkpoints between flights. We got on a much smaller flight bound for Conakry in Guinea, which actually involved overshooting our destination. Banjul is not an official stop for the airline, but they made a side trip to drop us off on their way back. The attendant came by and asked where I was from. "United States?" he said when I answered, "So you no like Russians, yeah?" I laughed and denied it, and about two minutes later he came back to apologize.

Quote

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Crossroads alumnus on rain in Gambia: Don't even bother bringing an umbrella. It won't help you.

People

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I am continually impressed by the openness and congeniality of the people going on this trip. Everyone is so eager to learn from each other and share their stories. We have bonded so much just in the last two days that people from group Ghana and group Kenya offered to get up at five in the morning to see us off.

It has also been nice to be in a place where my interest in Africa is not unusual. At Cleveland it had started to define me so it has been refreshing to be in a group where that's taken as a given and my interest in tae kwon do is considered much more interesting. Incidentally, one of the people from my group is a purple belt and has offered to be my workout buddy. One woman worked as a doula, one is in med school, two people are nutrition majors and one is studying public health. We all have such diverse backgrounds that I can tell the everyday conversations in our group are going to be one of the major highlights of the trip.

Times Square

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

A spontaneous plan developed to bus to Manhattan, and after a short dinner in a soul restaurant we walked to Times Square. I was expecting a vaguely square like structure, but it turns out it is more of a triangle-ish intersection. It's much bigger than it looks in pictures.

The first thing that I noticed was that everyone seemed in a hurry and there were taxis everywhere, which also seemed in a hurry as they were disinclined to stop for pedestrians. We were in the crosswalk with a taxi approaching when the light turned green. "He'll stop," said the man next to me. "No he won't!" said the only New Yorker in our group as he gabbed my arm and pulled us toward the other side. Around twenty people waiting to cross (yes, it's that crowded) saw that we were ignoring the light and apparently thought they should too and flocked into the street, forcing the driver to stop feet from us. He honked, setting off a chain honk reaction from all the other cars.

We walked up and down the street, peeking in the most interesting stores. The Toys R Us featured a life-size animated T-Rex and a Ferris wheel. We went to the Rockefeller center and took a picture next to the Gambian flag. The competition resulted in awesome ads (such as a Vitamin Water ad featuring a fake rock climber), vendors, and street performers, like this man who decided to teach me a new instrument. I didn't buy anything because it was so expensive and I could tell that the consumerism would be grating after a while but it was a very exciting night and a worthwhile experience. I liked the laissez faire approach to managing the masses. Toward midnight we were sitting on some steps outside the train station beside and elderly homeless man and a sign that said, "Sitting on steps prohibited," which we chose to ignore because we'd been on our feet for a while and there was nowhere else to sit. A policeman came and asked us to move, but before we could, the homeless man spoke up, "Quit being so serious all the time. They're not blocking the way. Go take a walk." The policeman did.

We took the train back to the dorm (with the lights flickering and the train rocking back and forth, which prompted someone to ask if we were in Africa already) and got back at around two in the morning. We leave for the airport at six. So I think I'll go catch some sleep while I can.


Orientation

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I met my group today and was very impressed by how friendly and open everyone was. We did a few mingling activities to start things off and everyone was so excited that the facilitator had trouble shutting us up so we could move on to the next thing.

I liked that the group leaders and alumni openly acknowledged that parts of this trip will be extremely challenging. We passed around a chart of a typical culture shock experience, which shows a very low point a few days to a week into the host country. At least this way when I experience that low I'll be able to know that it's part of the normal process and that I'll adjust.

We had a group meeting to share our expectations, anxieties, and general enthusiasm. I took a malaria pill successfully (it turns out the trick is to eat 20 mins before). Maybe I was getting into the spirit of adventure by that point because for lunch I ordered a sandwich with lettuce and spinach, probably doubling my lifetime intake of both. It must have been a positive experience because for dinner I decided to try meat and ordered a pepperoni pizza. This trip is leading to all kinds of adventures. Although, a member of my group (who is also a nutrition major) informed me that pepperoni does not count as meat. Oh well, I tried.

There was a health and safety briefing that afternoon by a local doctor who gave us a list of rules to keep ourselves safe: Don't get bit, don't get hit, don't get lit, don't do it, and don't eat s*it. And because eating said substance can be harder to avoid in Africa, he elaborated: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it. We discussed ways to look out for each other and allocated important but not very flattering titles like Water Boiler and Malaria Pill Reminder.

The campus where we're staying for orientation is in New York and beautiful in a relaxed and wandering kind of way. There are sculptures that look like a series of incoherent pieces spaced apart until you look at them from a certain angle, when they align to form a face, or a diamond or chair. There is also plenty of wildlife, including dozens of rabbits that will come right up to you, which slightly startled some of the travelers on the first day.

Perhaps it's a consequence of staying at a college campus but I've found myself confusing my two impending adventures. Yesterday when I went to buy food in the cafeteria I almost handed the lady my Cal Card before I caught myself. "No, silly, that's the next one."

Right now I'm trying to live in the moment, which has not been too challenging as each moment has been filled with new experiences. So far I have not had the time or energy to spare for feeling home sick. Recording everything in my journal has been a huge help with that, and just with processing all the information we've had thrown at us over the last few days.

The official portion of orientation ended with a ritual. We all stood in a circle and our facilitator passed around a bag of smooth stones. "These stones are smooth because of friction. They have been worn down, and this friction has polished them. I give you this stone so that when you are worn down and experiencing friction you can remember that these experiences polish us. Smooth stones are a sign of clean water." I reached for a clear stone because it seemed pure and pulled out a cloudy stone instead. It reminded me of a line in Fahrenheit 451: We want faces to be poreless, for flowers to grow from flowers, but the truth is that flowers have always, will always, and can only grow from dirt. I think the cloudiness gives my rock character.

PDX to JFK

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Last goodbyes at the airport. The resemblance between my mom and me is a little eerie.

The plane landed with two flat tires, resulting in a two-hour delay. I missed the shuttle to the University but was able to join another one for $50. The shuttle driver didn't talk and I thought the ride was overpriced, but then he got out at the university with me to make sure I found the right building and I ended up giving him a tip. Kindness of strangers is going to mean a lot in the next seven weeks.

Cause I'm Leaving, On A Jet Plane

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

People keep telling me I'm going to Africa tomorrow. I'm not sure I believe them.

Trial and Error

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

I took my first malaria pill today, and threw up about ten minutes later. I had no idea one pill could make you feel that awful. But then I went and hung out with my fabulous friends and felt much better.

Goodbyes

Posted by Lucille on June 1, 2011 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

I've spent the last few days trying to balance running last minute errands and enjoying the time with my lovely family and friends. It's a very strange feeling, being with people while anticipating them being gone. I wasn't sure what I was going to feel so I tried to spread out the goodbyes by limiting the airport party to my family. A midnight anxiety attack in which I let out a lot of my fears helped me to keep it together for the trip to the airport. Thank you everyone for accommodating that. For reference, when I get back, everyone and their dog's uncle is invited. August ninth, 11:50 PM, Jetblue from JFK. Let me know if you plan to come. It will be so good to see all of you!


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HIPAA Disclaimer

Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.