Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Next Generation – Thanksgiving, 2015

There is so much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving – and it’s easy to be reminded of all of this when you spend Thanksgiving in a developing country.

But rather than say that being here on Thanksgiving means I’m especially thankful for having family, having health, never questioning where my next meal is coming from (except for those times when I am genuinely confused), etc…I figured I’d take this another direction.

I’m thankful for Quinn. (Her dad, my coworker, gave me permission to mention Quinn and use her picture in this blog…he probably didn’t realize how I was planning on using it though.)

I spend a lot of time volunteering and I give pretty generously to non-profits. I have a hard time explaining why I do this except for maybe I grew up with two very good role models. But this inherent sense of responsibility can actually be a weakness as it often means I find it difficult to convince others to volunteer or to make a donation to something. They ask why and I freeze – what do you mean “why”? Why are YOU challenging this??

So when I was telling my coworkers about my fun times buying massive quantities of children's vitamins, cough syrup (note: wasn’t stopped…?), underwear and soccer equipment to bring over with me to Selamta, I was not expecting anything to come out of it except for a few laughs.

Boy was I wrong. Later that night, one of my coworkers, Rob – who happens to also play on the CVS Soccer Team (RxNinjaBallz) with me – followed up with me to ask if I had room in my suitcase for one more soccer ball. I mean…of course! But why?

Why is because his 5 year old daughter, Quinn (who’s probably better at soccer than I am), wanted to donate a soccer ball to the kids in Ethiopia. Before I left the office last Thursday, Quinn showed up with her bright green soccer ball to donate.

This whole experience made me so thankful. I'm thankful to see this connection made between two kids across the world from each other. And I'm thankful to see the inherent good in the world with this "next generation" of givers. AND I'm thankful to see the smiles on these kids' faces - I don’t know who is happier in their picture with the bright green soccer ball!
Quinn and Rob - making their donation!
I actually HAD to be in this picture because the Fasika and Dagim (L to R) kept running off with their new balls. The only way to get them to stop for a picture was to hold them. Not pictured is my tight grip.
The Selamta kids all have soccer practice on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I missed Saturday's practice so I was really excited to be there for Tuesday to bring the new soccer balls (and a football - in case we want to try to organize a Turkey Bowl game on Thanksgiving) to the field. I didn't get out of the office though before one of the kids (Dagim) found me holding the bright green ball. His eyes widened up as he knew EXACTLY what it was and who it was for (hint: him). He "helped" me out by taking it out of my hands (I was also juggling some other balls and some bottles of water) and played with it the whole way to the field - often passing to me but then just getting frustrated with my lack of skillz. When we got to the field he excitedly dribbled a victory lap to show off his new ball before the big boys were like "that ball looks cool - we want it" -- I had youngest child PTSD as I watched him watch the older boys kick the ball around. He was beaming about still being somewhat involved in the fun -- but -- youngest child PTSD about not actually getting the ball. 

Quinn is an oldest sibling, so I'm not sure she'll ever be able to appreciate this situation. But a little later on I smiled to myself as the little munchkin had recovered his bright green ball and taken it over to the wall to play without interruption from the big boys -- kinda reminded me of when Quinn shows up at our soccer games and has to play with herself while all her dad's friends are playing on the field. I know that if these two ever met each other, they would be instant friends!

So I hope you can have a happier Thanksgiving thinking about these two kids - on opposite sides of the world, but being connected.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Had to Comment on the Healthcare Here - November 24, 2015

Today a mystery was solved!

In the brief phone conversation I had with the Selamta Executive Director right before I boarded my plane in DC (here), I failed to mention her true sign off line: “Oh…we learned last night that Yohannes is in the hospital. It says it was for ‘stomach surgery’…so we assume that means appendicitis – but could you check once you arrive?”

Considering I went straight from the Kigali airport to a wedding when I first moved to Rwanda (check it out here), the request to go to the hospital right when I landed wasn’t too far out of the ordinary. So, after the initial money exchange and errands, down I walked to the Bethel Teaching Hospital with Abel.

[Side note to mention that the hospital was in better shape than I had expected. I didn’t want to take any pictures there – so sorry, but it was a 5-story building with a winding ramp up the center atrium – all pristine white and reasonably organized. Inpatient was on the 5th floor (well – I was misled – they said it was on the “4th floor” but then my post-plane, sea-level altitude acclimated self almost cried when we walked up one flight and I saw a sign that said “Floor 1”.)]

In the inpatient unit, there was a chalkboard with the patients’ room numbers, names, diagnoses, DOB, etc. It seemed very similar to a US hospital (I’m not sure they need Hospital IQ yet) – Yohannes was listed in room 404 (LIES – really 504) and with a “Perforated PUD”.

STOP. Put yourself in my shoes and do not Google the answer. Because Google was not available to me at the time. Does a “PUD” in a foreign country that doesn’t even use the Roman alphabet for its native language look similar enough to “aPPenDix” that you’d agree with what you’ve been told? That the patient had appendicitis?

Med school students – I feel your judgment. I don’t care. You’re the profession that's most likely to suffer from #confirmationbias

Yohannes was unsurprisingly holding court from his hospital bed (maybe this is surprising since you have no idea who Yohannes is – but let me tell you – it’s not surprising). He had about 5 visitors when we arrived and there was a steady flow of visitors throughout the miserable 1.5 hours that I was there.

Why were those 1.5 hours miserable? Because I had arrived at 8am (midnight EST) after ~no sleep during my 16 hour flight and I was sitting on a hard chair in an Ethiopian hospital surrounded by people who didn’t really know English and whose focus was the kid recovering from surgery in an Ethiopian hospital – not the white girl sitting on the side.

At one point, this very confident woman showed up. She walked right in, pulled his chart off his bed and started flipping through it. Then she inspected his IV drip and drainage bag (stuffed into a black plastic bag, tied to the side of the bed), felt for a fever, and started saying something to his mother. Of note – she was also dressed up all nice and had her nails done and hair styled perfectly. I figured she was a Selamta kid who was in nursing school – and looked down at my dirt-laden nails and travel outfit with shame – and started regretting my career path – why do I have such useless skills? How will I ever be able to help anybody with Excel shortcuts and “leadership”??

Okay – let’s bring this back from my existential crisis – I also figured that if she was in nursing school she probably knew English – so I went for it and asked her the diagnosis.

Boy, did she know English. She rattled off her response. I again caught “perforated” and a word that had some P and D sounds. It wasn’t appendix but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. I decided it was a fancier word for “spleen” because – that’s in that part of the body – and also has a P.

DON’T GOOGLE! Do you remember from 7th grade biology what the spleen does? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Anyways, I nodded along and pretended I understood everything she was saying. Especially after we exchanged some greetings and I learned she’s the actual nurse for Selamta and I told her that I work at “a pharmacy” in the US (no introduction has ever been more misleading – she probably assumed I knew exactly what she was talking about).

When I remembered to Google it later, I searched for “ruptured PED” – which isn’t what he has but returned enough search results about a medical thing (a pipeline embolization device) that I #confirmed my assumption that “PED” was just some inexplicable Amharic-to-English acronym translation for spleen or appendix.

My mother was very concerned when she arrived today and asked me what the diagnosis is. Apparently a “ruptured spleen I think” is a VERY BIG deal. She went straight to the source of the nurse, where we got MYSTERY SOLVED: the patient had had a ruptured ulcer in his stomach (peptic ulcer disease)!

Unfortunately, this wasn’t actually joyous news – because like a ruptured PUD is a much, much worse diagnosis. But at least…now we know?

PS – Wonder if my time spent in a hospital allows me to bill this as a “work trip”?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Girl Power - November 23, 2015

I have a confession to make: for all that I love and support female equality (especially in developing countries), I have a difficult time discussing it (especially in developing countries). Which is why I think that one woman who I met this week is so incredible.

On Monday I had the pleasure of visiting the two main schools that Selamta kids attend: the local Alpha school and the distant magnet-like Yeha School of Science and Technology.

During my visit to Alpha, my (female) guide just happened to mention the bathroom process – because we passed a group of boys sprinting back to their classroom from the bathroom. Everywhere you look in the literature about female equality in developing countries, you see references to girls who stop attending school when they start menstruating. The topic was there…I didn’t even have to bring it up: all I had to do was ask how they handle the bathroom process to make it easier for girls on their period. And yet, something about me felt too awkward – questioning “What if she doesn’t have a good answer? What if she doesn’t understand the question? What if she’s offended I bring up menstruation?” – so I held back.

Sorry for the teaser: neither me nor that female guide is the incredible woman I met this week. I met HER at Yeha – the school we headed to after Alpha.

This girl is also not the incredible woman that I met this week - but damn - isn't she beautiful? This was taken during a 2nd grade English class at Alpha. After the initial giggles when I walked in with my guide, most of the students went straight back to the lesson - it was incredible how they were all so eagerly engaged! Except for this one girl - she did not take her eyes off of me - she wanted to make sure she knew what was up!
Yeha is a Science and Technology school about 30 minutes away from Selamta. Twelve Selamta kids started attending this year. Given the distance, requisites, tuition, etc., it would be impossible for all Selamta kids to attend Yeha (and admittedly, of the 12 there, some aren’t too happy about it because they had been going to Alpha for ~10 years), but the school is AWESOME. The Director showed me chemistry/physics/biology labs, a computer classroom, and an IT lab (where they deconstruct computers) – and we didn’t have time to go to the biodiversity farm across the street! The halls are covered with educational posters and pictures of world leaders who have visited the school. And there’s a bunch of tortoises on the school grounds that are raised by the Kindergarten class every year.

I couldn't get the best pictures at Yeha because the classrooms/labs were locked (we got there after the school day ended) - but this "tree model" for Global Impact pretty much captures how all the hallways looked!
Doesn't this pictures just make you want to go back to school and learn??  
Anyways, as we were leaving, we ran into the elementary school English teacher. None of the Selamta kids at Yeha are in elementary school so she was unaware of the program. As we explained to her the Selamta model she said “bless your hearts” and then jumped straight into asking:

“How many of your 12 students here are girls?”

I did not know – but I learned that the answer is three.

“That is not enough. Girls need to be studying science and technology. You need to send more girls here.” And she didn’t give up – she asked me if I could come back to speak with the girls in the school about what it’s like to be a woman in science (disclaimer: I have had a hard time correcting people from thinking I’m a pharmacist #cvsproblems) – she told me that she has a Girls in Science Club.

And all the while I was kicking myself for:
1.       Not having nearly as much courage as she has – I didn’t even feel comfortable asking the guide at Alpha about female menstruation
2.       Not having asked myself at Selamta about the breakdown of girls who attend this school (but don’t worry too long about that part – I made sure that the point was not lost when we got back in the car)

Reflecting on this encounter brings a smile to my face. I am so happy that the local drive for female equality exists – and I am so happy that the girls at Yeha have this woman as a role model!

PS – I would be remiss to not mention two other points about #feminism with this Girl Power post:

1.       In every single house that I have visited, the girls have been preparing the meals while the boys basically hang out. I do keep on asking the boys if they ever cook and they do keep on telling me that “yes they do” (so they’re not embarrassed to say it) – but I still haven’t seen it L

2.       I visited Axum House tonight with my parents – I might ask my mom to write a guest blog post about the Axum mom because she’s seen her grow since her very first day at Selamta (when she didn’t even know Amharic!) to the strong, proud mother she is today!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremonies – November 22, 2015

This blog could just as reasonably be titled: “Dancing, Drinking and Other Regrets”, but I figured I’d go with a more wholesome suggestion.

I was really excited to hear that the Great Ethiopian Run would be going on while I was in Addis. Basically any expat/Ethiopian I talked with the day before the run asked me if I was planning on going. It seemed like such a huge event – I obviously enthusiastically replied “YES!” every time I was asked.

Then I woke up at 10am. The race started at 9am. And was in the city. So I didn’t make it.

At first, I blamed the dancing, drinking and other adventures from the night before. Anxious that I only had one weekend night in Addis, I had called Ishy and INSISTED that he take me out dancing. I never think it’s reasonable to say you’ve visited a city if you’ve never gotten drunk with locals – so I saw this as necessary. Ishy was a little surprised by my enthusiasm to go out drinking after arriving at 7am that morning (and sleeping next to none on the plane – I have already submitted a formal complaint to Ethiopian Airlines – I DO NOT understand why they turned the cabin lights off for the first part of the flight and ON for the second part – the flight landed at 7am! We should’ve all been sleeping right up til the landing!) but, as I’ve said, drinking with locals = necessary.

So after a great dinner with Gondar house, complete with Ethiopian coffee ceremony (a true ceremony that includes roasting beans and drinking three rounds of very dark coffee out of tiny little cups, often laden with sugar), Ishy picked me up and off we went to downtown! 

Injera dinner at Gondar house. Fuzzy picture because - yes - I was embarrassed to be #instagramming my food.
We started at a sports pub to watch the Real Madrid – Barcelona match, continued onto a “fancy place” where they had more Tanquery in one place than I’ve ever seen in my life and ended at a dance club/ hookah bar where we pushed through the blackout** and stayed until the wee hours of the morning…where then we really ended the night at a pizza joint. I got home around 3am and was still so energized that a lucky someone got to spend 20 minutes on a combination of Facebook/GroupMe/Whatsapp calls with a very drunk and happy (and sappy) me.

So…needless to say, that 8am alarm got turned off pretty quickly. (Not that I had a way really to get to the GER since Ishy didn’t wake up until around noon…)

I did spend most of today in a haze of confusion however because I have always INSISTED that jet lag doesn’t impact me/ only impacts the weak. I was a bit terrified that in my old age*, I had become weak.

This was up until I was at Menelik House for dinner tonight and, after dinner, we started the coffee ceremony again. Eyob kindly explained to me that it is traditional in Ethiopia to drink three rounds of coffee during the ceremony (the “Abole”, the “Tona” and the “Bereka”). As we were drinking the Abole, he asked me if I would do all three rounds. Eager to please and to accept the hospitality, I said yes. Everybody in the room reacted to my agreement though – with a universal “REALLY?!? How are you going to SLEEP!?!”

And that’s when it hit me: I have a rule of saying yes to anything that I am served in somebody’s house***  – it’s actually the reason I started eating meat before I moved to Rwanda (the reason I continued after Rwanda is bacon). This rule has given me a generous list of foods that I can brag about having tried (generally, once) – but I’ve never thought that I should get credit for drinking something as common as COFFEE.

But for those of you who don’t know me that well…I DO NOT drink caffeine. This little body has enough energy in it that caffeine is not only not necessary – it’s probably a health hazard. I mean – of course, I’d say yes to coffee without a second thought when invited into a family’s house and when it’s so integral to their culture. But in real life…NEVER.

So now I know why I missed the Great Ethiopian Run. It wasn’t because of dancing and drinking and pizza – it was because of the famed Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony!

Roasting the beans as part of the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony! Gondar House and Menelik House were both great hosts for my first two dinners in Ethiopia!
*Note: not that old
**In reviewing this - I feel the need to explain that I mean an ACTUAL blackout. Like...when the electricity goes out. Not a drunk blackout. Although maybe it's a reasonable pun here. 
***Entertainingly, I actually broke that rule at the Menelik house when I was offered tap water. I have seen my system handle tap water before, but given the short duration of my trip this time around, I didn’t want to waste being sick for any of it! So I did say “no” to the tap water. And immediately felt incredibly guilty as Eyob ran out to the market to buy a bottle of water for me. And I didn’t have any birr on me so I couldn’t pay him back. And I’m feeling like the worst person in the world as I’m typing this…trust me.

And We’re Off…or Are We? - November 21, 2015

Arranging pick-ups at foreign airports is perhaps my favorite part about traveling. There’s generally guaranteed to be this overwhelming sense of “wtf” when you land and realize you don’t speak the language / have a local cell phone / really even know who is picking you up or where said person will be. When you’re on the plane, everything is all wonderful and still American…and then you land it’s like “shit…I’m in a very foreign place now.”

I was not disappointed when I landed in the Addis airport early on Saturday morning after ~18 hours of travel. Luckily, I have been to Addis quite a few times before so I was able to speed walk my way to be probably the first person on my plane to the Visa line – and then I was able to reassure everybody that, yes, they had to wait in the disastrously long line.

But as the minutes in line ticked away (after probably 15 minutes I gave up pretending to be in awe of everything and just tuned into a podcast…I then listened to two 30-minute podcasts before getting close enough to the front to think it inappropriate to start another), my confidence that I’d be able to find the driver for Selamta Family Project diminished…

Flashback to 16 hours before: about 10 minutes before I boarded the plane in DC, I got a text from the US Director of the Selamta FamilyProject: “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

I volunteer for the Finance team for Selamta and we’re in the middle of a grant application…so I knew that the “few minutes” she wanted to talk would probably be ~30 minutes reviewing the budget…and I literally only had a few minutes before I boarded the plane. I contemplated not texting her back, but ultimately guilt overwhelmed me so I did, and I braced myself for the barrage of budget questions that would inevitably come. (Marisa – just so you know – I do love you!)

She called me right away.

No small talk…she jumped straight to the point: 

“Do you know who is picking you up in Addis?”

“Umm…Ishy was going to but he just messaged [about 10 minutes prior] to tell me his car is broken to Haile is going to pick me up instead.”

[Actually realizing I should be thankful that Ishy messaged me when he did. Would’ve been an unfortunate message to miss by just a few minutes…]

“Okay and do you know where he’s going to pick you up?”


“Alright…well usually they can’t come into the airport because of security reasons. So don’t freak out if you don’t see him! Just get your bags and walk down to the parking lot and I’m sure he’ll spot you!”

“Right…I’ve been to Addis before so I can vision the parking lot area. But…I’m not sure I remember what Haile looks like.”

“I’ll text you a picture. Good luck!” [Hey Marisa…about that text…I never received it!]

Perhaps the only time I’ve been less confident in an airport pick-up was when I was messaging Cory Hoeferlin from the Istanbul airport on my way to Jo’burg. It ended up that the only way I found him was by talking loud enough about my problem in the airport that a tour guide overheard and made the connection that his tour guide friend was with Cory – like what.

Back to Addis time: every time I’ve gotten a Visa before, it has taken about 30 minutes. So when I clicked onto podcast #2, I started figuring out Plan B – as I was sure it would soon become Plan A. Haile was definitely going to assume he missed me and leave the airport. There were four Plan Bs in my mind:

1.       Public transportation – I’ve taken public busses around Addis before so I figured I could figure it out again. Plus, Selamta is pretty close to the (I think) well-known Bethel Teaching Hospital so I could probably communicate that with a bus driver who would probably let me know where I need to transfer, etc. The reason I was most apprehensive about this option though was because it would be really hard to take a public bus with two 50-lb bags in tow. I actually wasn’t sure it was possible. Also I wasn’t sure if public buses came to the airport.

2.      Walk down to an internet cafĂ© – I’ve hung out in Addis/Bole area enough to know there are plenty of internet cafes. There would probably be a few within a mile of the airport. I could just walk down to one of them and pull out my phone to email Abel/Hailey my whereabouts. But again – two 50 lb bags in tow made this one a little difficult.

3.      Bite the bullet and pay the international data roaming fee and just text Abel/Hailey – This idea was especially attractive because I recently absorbed the rest of my family onto my Verizon plan – which actually means – I recently stopped paying my own cell phone bill. I actually tried this one but it didn’t work because I’m somewhat technologically inept.

4.      Cry and find a ride/ hitchhike – Would’ve been a fine idea if I could articulate where Selamta is located. But I quickly realized I could not do this when the Immigration Officer asked me the address of where I was staying and I stuttered out an inadequate response.

So without a reasonable Plan B, I only had one option once I got through the Visa line (its own adventure of follow-your-passport as it traded hands between FIVE immigration officers), I picked up my bags, confidently shrugged off any taxi offers with a “no, amaseganalo” and headed to the parking lot.

…which is where this story ends because I immediately spotted and recognized Haile, who was beaming and enthusiastically waving at me the second the parking lot came into view. With a quick hug and an exchange of cookies from the US as thanks, we were off to run some errands and head out to Bethel, home of Selamta Family Project!

[Of note: I wasn’t alone in my fear that immigration took too long. Once I got internet, I saw that I had actually gotten an email while in line from the Ethiopian Director of Selamta. He had assumed I missed Haile and was finding my own way to Selamta!]