Monthly Archives: July 2012



It took so much longer than expected to arrive. Physically present: head elsewhere. I got stuck flying over the north pole, misplacing my heart near polar ice lakes resembling the dusty lace doilies buried in my elderly aunt’s china shelf. That place was the farthest thing from tropical Africa I could imagine. Cold. Empty. Safe. Something in me landed there instead of here.

Feeling off, I tried everything except patience. I attempted to fill the well with huevos, oatmeal, and thick coffee. Ran straight into beach fires, thai prawns, a paddle through easy seas. Still fighting tears I rode my bike to Duncan; fast. I stayed in bed till noon. Worried (too much) that my post-equatorial self was going to feel full of fuzz forever.

Somewhere between berry picking and ocean-side napping I felt the icy space holding me hostage fade. Yesterday I noticed small things again. Sunset light on the power lines. Kettle whistling on the stove. Then, while aimlessly spitting cherry pits off the porch, I found what I had been missing: ease.

Finally; melt-water.


Way over there


Each morning we begin the day defeated (a little) by birds. The last few hours of sleep are typically wasted on silent pleas for the roosters to -just this once- begin to cry with light. In my sleepy daze I carry out long conversations with the chickens: I promise to bring them ripe avocado; make them a new beautiful hut; beg them to curl back into rest. Just, stop, crowing. Or, at least whisper. Predictably, they keep on. Add long days in the hospital and we are always a little tired.

I had no idea working in Uganda would be so fulfilling. And frustrating. Creativity in the face of missing supplies keeps us sane. Ordinary objects gain multiple meanings. A glove can be anything: a catheter bag, tourniquet, cord clamp, sharps box, perhaps a connecter tube. In desperate cases suction tubes (taped well) transform into iv lines, catheters, straws. Paper wrapped “made in china” razor blades replace the entire delivery set. Massive balls of cotton are our best friend; washcloth, pad; piece of mental softness in a room of harsh edges.

Once the sun peaks up and around the maize planted in front of our hotel I know it is time to give up and face the day. We stumble downstairs for breakfast. Sometimes, if I am out of bed early enough I attempt a run. Those days early morning fatigue is traded for high fives with adorable young girls in pressed school uniforms that cheer “well done! well done!” as I trundle past on a rutted red path. In these runs I’ve never felt so happy. So sad at the thought of going home to run alone.

Either way, breakfast is served (late) in a thatch hut under a banana tree. It is shockingly tropical. We cheer, “hello how are you” to the wispy teenage boy who makes omelets. He is always fine. Angel brings out the thermos of hot water. My beloved morning espresso is replaced with milky instant coffee infused with ginger and the slightest hint of saffron. The combination seems strange, but it matches perfectly with morning. Ginger brings courage.

Mood improved, we walk to work. We take deep breaths and try to be brave. Step into our ridiculous white uniforms, load our pockets with gloves and needles brought from Canada (sterile right pocket, basics left). Send wishes for 10 hours of breathing babies, healthy mamas, and lots of oxytocin in the cupboard. Drink more tea. We face the day. It is sometimes good, sometimes bad, always crazy

I think-when someone asks me the inevitable: “how was Africa?”- I will tell them it tasted of ginger. Warm. Impossibly sharp. Utterly penetrating.

African Tea:

Chopped or grated ginger (2 tablespoons or so)

Loose black tea (good scoop)

Enough milk for your teapot

Sugar (optional)

Instant coffee (to taste, optional)

Makin’ It:

Heat the milk on a stove with the ginger. When just about boiled (but not) add the tea leaves. Steep for a little bit. Add sugar if you would like. Either drink now or add a small scoop of instant coffee. Sip alongside some pineapple or mango, and feel some equatorial morning in your bones.