Thursday, July 26, 2012


it's the woman walking towards me - slipping reflection in the vast grey puddle of mud and dead bloated belly-up frogs-

 its the grey sky puffy and silver and layered behind her - a stark contrast to the bright orange bundle of cookwares piled high on her head - framed by the swaying green mango leaves in the background -

 its the blue wrap with wispy creme spots covering the lump of the baby on the back and knotted at the collarbone - its the man who walks beside her, carrying a torn handwoven purple edged mat and a worn leather valise -

 its the joy when I realize its them, the ones from bed 1 - the ones I pleaded with to go to Bendele, the ones I told all about the malnutrition center - the ones with a baby that is 2 and a half years old and 6 kilos -

its the skin stretched tight and smooth across the cheekbones and lining the deep sockets of the eyes - the one with the face I cannot forget - looking out at at me from under his fabric cocoon, large calm chocolate eyes that I somehow fell in love with -

its the fact that they are actually going - the heartrending fact that they have bundled up everything they came with, most of what they own, and are trekking barefoot 3 miles to the Malnutrition Center,

its about that they actually showed up there, agreed to stay, its about that maybe this one will have a chance, maybe this one won't slip away, maybe this one will be magic -

Its about the fact that they are walking torn and ragged and full of love, towards something that they heard could save their child - towards a giant unknown, toward a grueling month of 3 hour feedings, its about the fac that they went, that probably only 1 in 5 children that I refer actually show up there, and less than that actually stay -

its how i feel a wild excitement, a feeling that this one, this time, this day, is going to make it, about how I met her eyes, this wonderful mother, and how we smiled, and how for just a moment we felt a wild and wonderful skip of hope.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


women carrying large water pots on their heads, walking single file down
the roadside

in Tchad - the roadside procession is always shaping and shifting and
moving and the procession never ends - lone figures on bicycles, women
with babies on their back and huge bundles of sticks on their head - you
can tell when you are getting close to a town because the procession
thickens and the pace quickens - always women in brightly colored
fabrics with mangoes, charcoal, firewood, hay, other goods piled up on
their heads - one after another after another - they walk at a brisk
resolute swinging clip - they are glimpses in my memory but i wish i
knew them


vast green of the ricefields, throbbing heart of Tchad, shivering rows
bending and rising to the mercy of the rain

the hope of Tchad - this shimmering green patchwork is the only thing
standing between the farmers of Bere and starvation

here, it is really that stark

here, it is subsistence

here, rice is a way of life


shadowy treeline mirrored in the glassy flooded ricefields

the greens and the greys and the furrowed brow of the roiling sky - the
rains shatter and sprinkle from intense turbulent skies - the wild
beauty takes my breath away


splash of windswept red - who is this woman? I will never know

I only know that she is magic




rainy season - the road is a lake of mud


driving straight through the herd, close enough to reach out and touch
the horns


cattle spread out across the road as far as we could see


the following series of pictures snapped from the back of my moto taxi
as we snaked across the muddy route to Mondou

Cattle herd being driven by Falani nomads - driving them across Tchad to
Nigeria. The Falani graze and drive large herds of cattle on routes up
and down the Sahel

Friday, July 20, 2012


Its evening in Mondou, the second largest city in Tchad, the crickets
have begun their surround sound monotone buzzhum, and dusk has finally
deepened into a blackness that melts softly around my shoulders.

tonight marks the first night of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month where
the faithful that observe don't eat, drink, or swallow their saliva from
when the sun rises until the sun sets, but the night - it is plump with
flavors and colors and smells - the pleasures forgone in the stern glare
of the sun burst with new exotica and vibrancy

it is almost cool with a faint pungent city breeze and the rich clear
notes of Arabic prayers - bending and flowing across the jagged tin
rooftops. The soloist sings on and on - fainter now and then bouncing
back, swirling hauntingly into my ears and around my senses. He is said
to be singing the first chapter of the Koran - echoing across the city -
lone wolf melody of an ancient prayer

tonight feels somehow holy

its mournful and passion and courage and goosebumps

like somehow the reedy soulful crescendo is really the voice of the ages
- is really rushing with the slips of desert sand dusting thousands of
years of cracked burnt feet as they ran and danced, knelt and prayed
across the Sahel - is really dripping with the tepid quenching water
that slid from the leather flask like liquid gold down centuries thirsty
grateful throats

tonight - I understand it

I'm not sure what it is I understand - but tonight - i want to be holy

tonight - i want to pray too

tonight - i want to be part of something - to be one of the millions
that suffered through the heat of the day without water - who tasted
after sunset the mild spice of chilled hibiscus, tipping it back - a
long, perfect, shiver of a swallow - who thought nothing had ever tasted
this good

tonight - i want to bow with masses, forehead touched lightly to the
ground, reverent, obedient, sure, content. I want to experience
adoration. I want to unroll my burgundy or blue flowered velvet prayer
mat, wash ceremonially, remove my shoes - and face in the same direction
that millions of my brothers and sisters are facing - invisible to me
but forming a vast and scattered circle eyes and heart and core tuned to
the dry lands where civilization first was cradled and bloomed

there is a raw power here

an ancient primal holy call stirring through the city

and tonight i feel it too

tonight it pulls me in

tonight it is strange and peace and quiet and solace

tonight i understand

tonight is timeless

tonight is the first night of Ramadan

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


men eating rice boule with goat sauce - tchadian style on the mats under
the neem tree at my house




this darling is 4 kilos and 1 1/2 years old

spent one day in Peds and then we referred him to the malnutrition
center - it is amazing to be able to refer them there now - to know at
least that they have a fighting chance instead of disappearing back into
the village


How was Africa?

How am I supposed to tell you?

How can I make you understand? 

            You – the nameless person I have never met

You – the one who asks me how I am doing

            You – the one who will try to love me one day

You – the one who says, how was Africa?

I want to tell you,


 I want to tell you


How can I bridge this great divide?

How can I can I elevate and rotate this vast cube of experience in a way you will see every dimension?

How can I make you understand that I’m not a good person for having come here, that I didn’t do something special, that I didn’t do something others cannot do

How can I relate it to you without distortion, without vanity, without lying, without exaggeration, without losing the vibrant cadence of the moment, without betrayal?

How was Africa? 

Do you really want to know? 

There were glorious things –

            moments of color and the throaty clap of drumbeats and the raw primal passion of life coursing through your veins – moments laying cradled in the dusty arms of the earth, watching lightening roll in on roiling clouds             of grey, moments of cool water on shivering skin, moments of blood orange pink and purple sunsets, the darkly shadowed trees juttinG stark against the backdrop of a fiercely setting light. 

            Moments of magic and solace, moments of goose bumps and wild wonder, moments of  connection, serenity, purpose, and peace.  Moments of exactitude, of knowing that the place you are standing is the                         very place you were meant to be, moments of gratitude

             of laughter

            of innocence

            of purpose

            of resilience

             of breathless being

             of grit and strength

             of fearlessness

             of friendship

             of exhilaration and triumph

             of love

             of humanity

How was Africa? 

Should I stop here?

do you really want to know? 

Do you want me to tell you about the dark side?

            About what I can’t forget?

            About how I blew every vein – about how because of me, because of me, the lifesap slowly faded from the eyes, and the half-finished bag of blood sat, and separated, and congealed -  the sole                                         coagulating witness to a tiny gasping flame which faded too early

            About the veins swelling the balding sides of the heads of malnutrition, about the widest oldest eyes I have ever seen, about the open soars, about the raw gaping wound of an armpit, about the skin peeling                             off in large, dark, flakes falling onto the sodden worm infested mattress.

            About holding a tiny hand – a thin languid aged hand – a hand that no matter how far it   reached came up empty – about how those brave fingers curled around mine the night before she died, the other softy                         brushing away the flies that that clung manic to the corners of her eyes, her lips, her mouth, about how I will never forget that gesture – about how at 3 years old she was only 4 kg – about how you never will                         know what those numbers mean until you hold them in your hands

            About how her nose rotted, 24 hours before she died, about how within hours, the layers of nasal flesh were disappearing, eroding stair stepped, red and angry and black and rotten – about how her nose was                     falling off.  About how she didn’t die today – about how she really died a long, long time ago

            About how it feels to grab a chain-link fence with two hands, sagging against it, back turned to curious and judging eyes, losing reason and stamina and will, sobbing, crushed by the weight of two innocents                         that died 10 minutes apart from each other, about how you didn’t know you had it in you to cry, about running for the stethoscope to hear the silence that you  already knew – about how the                                                  grandmothers pressed the eyes shut, crunching the head down against the neck, calloused fingers coaxing rigid lids into eternal closure - shut so the soul wouldn’t fly away. 

            About how it feels not to care.  How it feels not to feel.  Not to connect.  About what it’s like to beat yourself to a mental pulp because you just don’t care – about how if you don’t care why can’t you stop thinking             about it, why can’t you stop writing it, why can’t you stop seeing it? 

            About how it feels to be stripped of all your good intentions and come face to face with   the demons within you, how it feels to re-examine, re-evaluate, re-think everything that you thought to be true about                           yourself

            About how it feels to yell at the patients parents – about how it feels to grind poor haggard souls further and further in the dust, knowing yet still doing, not being able to stop snapping, to stop being angry,                              reaching into your deepest self for kindness, mercy, compassion and coming up empty handed – about how I told him sharply – don’t cover her up – she has a fever of 40 – you are trapping the heat – about how I             said it, exasperated, about the look in those eyes, eyes that looked through me into nothing, hands twisting robotically, about the punch in the gut when you realize she is covered  because she is dead, when you                     focus on that strip of fabric tied tightly over the eyes, about how it knocked me over from the inside out

            About how it feels to have dead baby on your mouth – about how the ambu bag didn’t work – about how I was the last person in the world qualified to receive that baby with  my sterile blue towel – about how he             was limp and grey and cold under my lips

            About how it feels to stop CPR, to be the one to give that last breath, that last push, to make that call – to leave him limp and naked on the table and walk away

            About how it feels to never start at all. 

            About how it feels to be helpless, to be trapped, to want desperately to give good care, to get a lab test, to have a crash cart, to give oxygen, to do something

            About how it feels not to try

             About how it feels to see children DIE in front of your eyes, under your palms, on your watch almost every single day.  Little people.  About how I think we should stack them up – body over body over                         body – until we have a huge rotting pile – and then we could take a picture – because now they just slip away – now its as if they never were, now this great evil is faceless and nameless and African

            About how it feels to be covered in vomit and oozing liquid diarrhea – I’m pushing on your chest, rhythmic, futile, your heart doesn’t start again but fluid pours out of your nose, your mouth, , every push and the fluid             gushes out – you didn’t just die – you drowned, you didn’t just drown, no one jumped in after you  because we were told not to swim, no one siphoned the depths out of this vast ignoble pool of indifference                         and injustice – about how this, this is holy water, about how this is the black smear on the conscience of mankind, how this, this is our gargling cry for redemption

            About what it’s like to dare God to reconcile himself with this greatest of evils.

But I want to tell you.  

When you ask – how was Africa – I want to tell you – but how can I? 

Is it even mine to tell? 

Watching someone die is deeply personal.  Perhaps it isn’t something you should try to explain. 

When you do it ends up coming out cheap.  Like you sold them out for a story – like you took their soul and held it out naked and shivering on a cold metal platter

It’s something that belongs in your head.  Because when you let it out – the joke’s on you.

And it seems kind of twisted anyway – the telling of s story that isn’t yours – casting their personal suffering as the dark and tragic protagonist of this mad black place

But what is the alternative?  Lock it inside?  Is that somehow more just and fair?  Does anyone know what justice means anymore?

Can we be friends, can I let you into my life, into my world, can you really know me if I lightly brush over my “adventure” to Africa? 

How was Africa?

They say it takes a special kind of person to be here – it doesn’t. 

Anyone can do it. 

Anyone could hurdle it – grow and warp and bend and change and feel

And then they say, well not everyone WOULD do it. 

But that still doesn’t make me special. 

Everyone thinks I’m a good person for being here

That’s the hardest part. 

What they don’t know is that I’m just like everybody else.

How was Africa?

And then I’ll have to smile, and laugh and nod and engage

And demure and give cursory, expected, glazed responses

Maybe once in a while slip into something real in a pseudo kind of way

But what I really want is for someone to look into my eyes. 

And to let me be completely still

And to not have to smile or apologize or explain 

To just look into my eyes and travel in them so that they might know so that they can see what I’ve seen and then they might understand

Just seeing all of it

No undeserved flattery

No shiny veneer smoothed over cracked, chipping wood

Not thinking that I am any more or less of a person than I really am. 

Understanding that sometimes everything you want to say, everywhere you have been, the dying face of every child, every wild splash of personal triumph, is in the eyes.

The times I looked away, the times I looked for the wrong reasons, the times I looked feigning emotion, or affection, or interest, the times I refused to look at all – is in the eyes.

The times I made myself see, the times I gave you the gift of being seen, the times that salty tears rolled from the pooled corners of my eyes for you, the times I decided not to blink – that’s all in  the be eyes too.

I want our eyes to lock

            For however long it takes to transmit those images

            For however long it takes for you to understand

Is this selfish? Who would accept this great burden? Is this too much to ask?

I hope that one day I will have the strength and the audacity and the quiet confidence to do this for another – to let them show me what they have seen – to ask a question seeking the answer, to listen with my eyes, with my ears, and with my heart.

To fill the silence with the unspoken

To enter that deep pit of knowing – that dark wrenching gut that writhes with every flash, every word, every memory, every touch, every song

For it is there, and only there, that I want to meet you



I have malaria....for the third time

feeling weak
beat down

at least I've found a friend in Phenergan


Well, I feel as if I should write a blog - I have nothing sensational,
poetic, or well-written to convey.... just life here as "normal" I guess
you could say

am having the classic, age-old problem with time - slipping by too fast
yet slow and viscous in the same breath

I have 2 months here to go - its the evening of the 15th and my flight
out is Sept. 16......

I really don't know how I feel about it - bittersweet I guess is the
only way to describe it -

However, I am more sad about leaving than I am excited

home is here now

I love living in the village with Bikaou and Teskrio
I love buying fresh salty steaming-hot-when-you-crack-them-open gatos
from the neighbor
I love wandering the market on Saturdays - haggling over bright swaths
of fabric, eating crunchy, spicey, deepfried "haricots" (made from
ground black-eyed peas, garlic, onion, hot pepper - the consistency of a
veggie chicken nugget), buying fresh crisp green guavas, weaving between
mud-puddles and ducking under the grass-mat covered row of vegetable

wandering through the baskets of tiny green peppers, heaps of wrinkled
red and yellow peppers, piles of purple onions, platters of okra, bowls
heaped with hardboiled eggs, gargantuan green-striped cucumbers, piles
of leaf - legume, alum, l'ouseai, tiny fish wrapped up in plastic bags -
baking in the sun

I love it

I although I forget it most nights, I love my job on it
really only 15 more days there? I will miss it more than I can express

I love drinking over-priced, freshly chilled guava juice, spicy hot tea,
crackers imported from India and Dubai from the "pub" - a little Arab
shop outfitted with benches right across from the hospital gate -

I love the rain - how it rolls in with the wind - watching the people
stream in from the rice-fields, hoes and mallets slung over their
shoulder, spurring the oxen on, laughing and singing and chanting, muddy
and barefoot, half-running home steps before the rain

I love looking up at the bright clear stars - I don't know If I'll find
anywhere on earth with stars this bright

I love the friends that I have made here - the people I have laughed
with, cried with, thrown up with and on (sorry Marci!), worked with, and
dreamed with - we gutted it out together - experienced the shock and the
magic and every step of the experience - and who knows when or if I will
see many of them again

its just.....Ah! so mindboggling to know you are about to leave a place
behind - to leave the relationships you've built - the goals you've
achieved, the language you've learned, the place that changed you and
gutted you and built you and confused you

its always been one of the hardest things about life for me - leaving
people - leaving places - being grateful to have been there, to have
crossed paths in that moment with wonderful individuals, to learn to
surrender those people and places that have meant something to you when
life's paths diverge - while still taking away with you the full value
and truth of each experience and encounter

i have decided the only way to alleviate undo sorrow, wistfulness, or
regret is to simply strive to live as much in the present as possible.
to appreciate laughter, tears, conversations, cultures, experiences as
deeply as you can. Only then is it possible to be able to say goodbye
without turning into a pillar of salt

but I still have two months left - can't check out too early, must stop
wasting time, must work harder and line up my remaining goals and snap
out of it and back into it -

can't let myself dream to much about my upcoming Alaskan adventure -
which, sometimes I have to ask myself, incredulous, your doing what?
driving across country to Alaska? with what car? using what money? and
what.... whats that? no job? yes....yes, you are. okay, just checking.

c'est la vie
c'est la vie
c'est la vie

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


baptized in muddy waters


there is nothing like a river to give the soul a second chance






" I'll fly away, oh glory, I'll fly away...."


one of those pinch yourself, your submerged in a river in the middle of
Africa moments


i needed this day more than you can possibly imagine.....first real day
off in over 2 months.....


perfect cool muddy water swirling on a lazy Saturday afternoon

Carlie (nurse at nutrition center), me, Bronwyn (runs the nutrition center)



Monday, July 9, 2012




what friends are for.......


squishing barefoot through the warm muck of the ricefields


we don't follow paths - we create them


river bound - no turning back


Bronwyn and I - shortly after tipping the moto dangerously to the left
and burning a sizable chunk of my leg - but the sky is still a brilliant


the following series of photos chronicles the adventures of Janna,
Bronwyn, Carlie, and Athens as two paths diverged in a rice
field.....and we took the one, well, less traveled by......