Thursday, August 9, 2012


Much needed pinch-myself-so-incredibly-lucky-to-be-here tag along to Zakouma with Gary Roberts (pilot extraordinaire who pretty much facilitates or runs all mission projects in Africa), his lovely wife Wendy (who runs the Second Chance Learning Center - Malnutrition center I've been blogging about), and their little blond bombshell of a 6 year old - Cherise (who insisted on wearing a polka dotted flowered headband because she didn't want to look funky!). 

Myself and Julie Andersen, Marci's sister-in-law who holds Master's in Nutrition and Public Health from Loma Linda, got to go.  We have spent the last 2 days in Am Timan, observing the malnutrition center and outreach program that MSF is running here in eastern Chad.  The malnutrition rates are 3% in this area (and also in Bere I suspect if we did surveys).  We got to observe their outreach program, watch rounds on the pediatrics ward, access all their protocols, and learn all kinds of valuable and life-saving information that Wendy and Julie can use as they start the center. 

For myself, well, I think I got to go because it is no secret that my dearest with is to work with MSF (Doctor's Without Borders) one day.  I think people were tired of hearing me talk about it and thought this just might shut me up! Its my life's dream and kind of the reason I came to Tchad - that, and seeing James' original documentary about the hospital here.  So, it has been such a wonderful and rare privilege to be able to see their work first hand, meet the team at Am Timan, and I have gone away both daunted and encouraged but also with overwhelming clarity that this is indeed the organization that I want to work for. 

Then In between flying to Am Timan we have had the awesome and rare opportunty of staying at Zakouma National Park.  The amount of animals here both rivals and exceeds those of the more well-known game parks in Kenya and Tanzania.  Unfortunately, it is the rainy season here - so the animals are dispersed and many not even in the park.  During the dry season, the only source of water is in the park so the concentration and variety of animals is said to be truly rare and breathtaking.  It is logistically challenging and expensive to get here so I cannot express how lucky and blessed I feel to have this opportunity.

So far, we have seen giraffe's twice - a large "herd" (i don't know the proper giraffe group-age expression), then later today saw three magnificent giraffes running.  They are glorious and although lanky were wild and graceful, galloping over the grasslands as Gary kept circling the plane.  Seeing that was one of the most breath-taking and glorious things I have ever seen - their orange/brown and white spotted coats was shinning in the sun, contrasting with the lush tall brilliantly green grass - they were so beautiful and free. 

We saw a herd of male elephants that has been hanging out near the park - it is reportedly the older ones that have been kicked out of the larger herd.  Zakouma used to have the largest number of elephants in the world, but now their numbers are dwindling because of poachers, many of whom come in from Sudan or surprisingly enterprising Chinese businessmen who supply the poachers with guns in return for the ivory.  There is currently a large-scale conservation project underway at the park and many of the elephants wear tracking collars. 

We saw ostriches, water buffalo, gazelles, wart hogs, and various birds. 

Tomorrow at sunrise we are going to fly around more and continue the search.  Gary has been so amazing about taking the time to try to let us experience the park.  I have my fingers crossed for a lion. 

I am laying under a much-needed bug net as the insects here are fierce, unsympathetic, large, frantic, and determined.  I am enjoying the fastest internet I've ever had in Tchad, drinking water that is actually ice cold and am lodged in a cute little round hut with pink trim decorated with copious amounts of slimy clinging slugs. 

I am grateful to be away from the madness and surrounded by so much natural beauty and splendor. 

there is freedom with the wild things

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