Friday, February 24, 2012


so it is Saturday - I have been back since Wednesday night.  3 days, or 2, however you want to look at it.  Or it could be an eternity. 

I started off tired - being unable to sleep at staying up late working on my Project 21 lectures (HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB) and writing the Community Health Worker training program. 

Project 21 is a community health project started by Marci Anderson, MPH with a grant she wrote to AHI (Adventist Health International).  I have been involved in the conception and development since the start and we started this week in the first of the 21 villages in the district of Bere.  What we are doing includes lectures on natural remedies, nutrition, potable water/waterborne illnesses, women's health, care of the newborn, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and TB.  We are giving prizes and incentives along the way, are providing free dental services for each village at the hospital on Wednesday mornings, and are training 2 CHW and 2 traditional birth attendants from each village. 

This is a good learning opportunity for me as I have no previous community health experience.  So, I came back and jumped right in and I am revising my lectures as I go.  Things are always different on the ground then on paper so I already have to revise my lectures and my training program as I expected. 

so - sleepless nights prior to leaving because of procrastination on Project 21  - I finally finish and take the 2 hours shuttle to ATL airport.  My flight leaves 5 Am monday morning.  I fly to DC, pick up last minute items for the hospital from Olen's dad and wait in an impossibly long long line at the Ethiopian Airlines ticket counter. 

then - my 14 hour flight to Addis Ababa.   I love flying Ethiopian Airlines - the food is amazing, fresh white crusty rolls with real butter, crackers, crisp little salads - then they go up and down the isles offering tea, coffee, more tea? more coffee?? I had the good fortune of a window seat with a free seat next to me and an interesting seat mate who is the director of YoungLife Ethiopia ( a Christian Youth program) and has a band he tours with called Ethio Zion.  He told me his brother is one of the premier guitarists in Ethiopia and so I got his information in case my brother wants to go study Ethiopian music. 

The Addis airport was confusing - it took me more than a second to realize they had dropped me off in the completely wrong building for my flight - the sign in that building that said "All Gates" only actually applied to 3 of them.  Finally I found the bus to the other building and as I walked through it made a fierce promise to myself to immediately buy a roll-along carry-on because this business of heaving 40 pounds from one raw shoulder to the other has GOT to go. 

When you get off the plane in Ethiopia, the wind immediately hits you.  It rolls off the parched grassy plains and is the coolest, freshest, sunniest, most invigorating wind I have ever felt.  A wind that says, I am in Africa, and I am alive. 

But getting off the plane in N'Djamena is a more oppressive story.  You are hit by a wall of hot, simmering, stale burnt air.  It is the anti-wind that says, I am in Africa, and somehow I need to stay alive.  At this point all the resolve and good intention built up during the previous 24 hours of travel being to melt away and you have to grit your teeth focus on the next thing - customs.

my visa expires in 2 weeks.  I decided to just tell them I would be there until March 10 ( it expires March 13).  Luckily, they didn't ask for a return flight, I showed them my yellow fever card, and walked into the madness that is the baggage claim - since I actually had smaller Tchadian currency with me this time and I was exhausted I didn't put up a fight when an enterprising soul grabbed my bags for me, loaded them onto a cart, and turned in into the pushing, fighting line. 

there is no concept of lines in Tchad.  If you wait in line kindly and respectfully you are guaranteed to be the last person going anywhere, doing anything, or receiving services.  People are banging against each other, yelling at each other for bumping into them with the carts, and shouldering their way past you in the crushing bottle-neck that must be navigated before you are finally free to leave the airport. 

Ahmet - our trusted taxi driver, is there waiting for me - my French was good enough to actually summon him and I was excited to learn that I hadn't actually forgotten any. 

We go to change money for other SMs and volunteers ( bringing in the money by hand is the only reliable way to get money here).  One SM had asked me to bring money in 5 hours before I departed.  I didn't have time to go to the bank to get his money in crisp 100's, so the hundreds I brought for him were exchanged for 20's and begged and traded along the way. 

so, of course, the man refused to change the money.  I get the brilliant idea that since I am in the most corrupt country in the world, a bribe would be the most likely solution to my problem.  So, 20 dollars of pocket money later, I was in possession of a large stack of CFA.  Of course you can debate the ethics of bribes, argue how my behavior was detrimental to the creation of a better tchad, how I could be creating problems for the Nasaras that come after me - but I must admit - the feeling of bribing someone for something they refused was delicious.  It was liberating and changed the entire dynamics of the interaction - but that is only because I was the one with money. 

I went to the Lutheran mission and got put in a room with an OB doctor that has worked for 10 years in southern Tchad, several hours from Bere.  I made top ramen and re-experienced the hour-long effort to check email. 

I got up at 5 am on Wednesday AM to catch the 6 am bus which left at 7:30.  I was taking the same route I took the first time I came to Tchad - but this time it was better, easier.  I wasn't scared or nervous anymore, spoke functional French, and felt very much like a wise old competent travelor.  Of course, that blissful feeling is a little preemptive but it was an amazing feeling to realized I had navigated this country by myself with almost no help from anyone.

I bought 2 huge bags of soft crunchy french bread - N'Djamena has the best bread in the country - almost everyone that travels there brings back bread for their friends and family members. 

on the bus I corrected my terrible mistake from last time - sitting on a tiny seat where the leg room was eliminated by the wheel hub thingy - and took a seat where I could actually sit.  The bus didn't have a free seat and even the isles where full.  I cracked the window, put on my sunglasses and tried to absorb the fact that I was actually here, that I was in Tchad, and that I would be staying.  The crisp brown countryside rolled by me, peppered with scraggly safari-looking trees, people on bicycles, clusters of mud huts and compounds, and brightly-colored laundry barely flapping in the dim breeze.  The horn honked and screamed, chasing goats out of the roadway, the brakes coming to a slamming stop for herds of cattle crossing the road, tended on foot by dusty boys in white turbans, weathered faces, and skins of water. 

In Bongor, the half-way point, the bus was mobbed by the vendors, nomad women with liter water bottles filled with fresh milk, girls with trays of carrots, mangoes, sesame seed cakes, gatos, bananas, and roasted fish on their heads.  Beggars stopped quietly before each window, pausing and then going on to the next.  boys selling pouches of water, crackers, cookies, gum, matches, and cell phone accessories. 

not realizing it was carrot season, i bought 15 carrots in Bongor to eat on the bus and when I was adjusting my things my bread bag burst open and the loaves tumbled onto the bus floor.  I picked them up and put them back into the bag. 

Me and a little girl that was sitting beside me listened to Bob Marley with an ear-bud in each ear and crunched down carrots and sesame cakes and exchanged shy smiles.  soon we were in the giant pot-holes before kelo, the bus swerving and lurching and braking as we bounced and grated our way to Bere. 

Tammy and Jamie were waiting for me in Bere, at this point I was beyond exhausted so I just went straight home and skipped the compound altogether.

it was amazing to see my family again, and realize how much I'd missed them while I was gone.  The children all looked a little older, especially the 2 year- old.  I gave them all their new outfits that I picked out and everyone was so happy.  When I gave them the blankets I stole from Ethiopian Airlines, both my grandmothers started dancing. 

at this point I realized that all the Reeses I brought had burst from their plastic bag and has melted all over every item in my duffel.  We all spent about 2 hours cleaning chocolate off every item and eating melted chocolate.  I felt a little guilty that they saw how much food I had with me, but, it is what it is.  I have such a hard time eating here.  They know I have money, they know I come from America, and I should not feel like I should hide it. 

I started getting a searing head-ache and when I opened my hut it was coated in dust and the floor was covered in rat droppings.  My head was swimming and if there was ever such a thing as jet -lag it was hitting me.  I hauled every item out of my hut, swept the floor and walls, and then scrubbed the floor with soap and water.  I dusted everything off put it back and several hours later fell into bed not even caring about how hot it was. 

The next morning, we ate bread and tea - even though I warned them it fell on the floor we all decided to eat it anyway - I then went and gave my CHW training program for the first time - i will talk more about that later because it is a whole another blog.  I was gone from 9 am to 4 pm and when I got back I started feeling very ill. 

I had Marci take me home and I couldn't eat supper.  I had to lay down because I felt like I was going to throw up. 

Then I walked over to my hut and immediately started throwing up all over the ground.  I threw up multiple times, ferocious, projectile vomit that racks your entire body and leaves you gasping for breath. 

I drank some water, layed down again, and then went to see Olen and Danae.  I barely remember what we talked about because the whole time I was trying not to vomit on them.  I left their house and walked to the SM building and immediately threw up all over the ground. 

and then in the shower,

and then again in the shower,

and then again on the ground. 

each time multiple times.

I hadn't eaten all day and I have no idea how that volume of bile fluid and funk could have come out of my stomach.

I was slumped over in the shower, crying and completely miserable.  And I hadn't even been back 24 hours.

I went home and felt so weak that they set up my mosquito net for me and I just fell into.   A couple hours later, I threw up again. 

I woke up in the morning and still couldn't eat anything.  the only thing I could eat yesterday, Friday, was a pack of Ritz Crackers.

I went to work because I promised, did rounds with Olen in peds, but was feeling so weak I had to leave and lay down.  I passed out in the SM building for 5 hours and then woke up and went out to the village again.  I couldn't eat dinner either. 

it was probably the unwashed, unbleached carrots, the bread from the floor of the bus, or the peanuts they gave us in the village.

I am not usually careful with food here, and I had never experienced this before.

so, on top of semi-culture shock, trying to acclimate to 100 degree weather from frosty TN, and trying to find my niche here again, on top of that I can't eat, am feeling week and terrible, and still have to go to church today. 

so, welcome back to Tchad~~~!!!!! There is only one certainty here- that you can literally count on something going wrong or befalling you EVERY SINGLE DAY. 

so today, my plan is to try to eat something, drink enough water, clean up my hut, study a little french, and do a lot of laying down.  So this is only 2 days.  2 1/2 months to go. 

one day, i will, i will write a cheery blog - maybe tomorrow

1 comment:

  1. Adventures, misadventures...congrats for getting 'back in the saddle', Janna. Neat to hear about your community public health beginnings. Sorry you've been sick; hope things are looking up. One day at a time: this, too, shall pass. Thanks for the descriptive update. Hugs & prayers, Bon courage! Mom xo