31 May 2009

Extravagant Gestures

"At the time of Lewis and Clark, setting the prairies on fire was a well-known signal that meant, 'Come down to the water.' It was an extravagant gesture, but we can't do less. If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames." - Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

I've been reading Annie Dillard for the first time (I know, I know, I can just hear the gasps from some of your mouths), and have been completely taken from just about the first page...I started Pilgrim at Tinker Creek upon our return to Kingfisher Kichwamba after seeing the gorillas and lions...talk about timing...

The endagered mountain gorillas of SW Uganda, SE Congo, and N Rwanda are an extravagant gesture without a doubt. Absolutely magnificent creatures! Every once in a while we have National Geographic moments here...where you get a glimpse of something you feel like you've for sure seen on a National Geographic special on PBS or in the magazine, but this is no TV special or magazine article, this is for real...my eyes, my very own eyes are seeing this...these gorillas and the tree climbing lions are one of these National Geographic experiences.

So, the first few pictures at the top of this post are of the spectacular view from the top of the mountain we climbed up on steep switchbacks for about 2 hours...we took a break, drank some water, took pictures, and then the guide we were with got radio communication from the "trackers" who had left several hours before us to locate the family we were assigned to. So our guide took us (us= sarah, nathan, me, and benthe & chilion (sp?) 2 young dutch travelers) to where the trackers were, we left our backpacks and water there, and the trackers led us on, hacking away branches so that we could take the most direct path right up to the gorillas. Our eyes were peeled, we were very quiet, the only thing you could hear was the crunch of the forest floor under our feet, the hacking of the tracker's ponga as it sliced back the brush (remember, this is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and it's called that for a reason...it's pretty thick), and every once in a while a yelp from me when I would accidentally grab a thorny branch which seemed to be everywhere - occasionally drawing blood, but it was ALL worth it!)...but then we saw it...the dark, black, patch moving in the brush...the arm of a mountain gorilla...I would never have imagined we would get so close...I could have touched it if I reached far enough...don't worry, I didn't...but the photos began immediately...I kind of chuckle at myself when I look back through all of the pictures that I have...some are REALLY bad...large black blobs...but I had no idea what we were going to see so I just kept shooting...

We knew before we started our climb in the morning that we would have an hour with the animals when we found them, but I had no idea how fast that hour would go or how close we would be for that hour...we saw probably 5 different gorillas...the silverback (mature male in the family whose back turns silver as he matures, and then he has a harem of women in the family...when he dies, the next oldest in the family becomes the silverback...this one's name means 'one who sleeps alot' and he totally looked the part) was the most striking, but the mama and baby were absolutely precious, the way the mother would cover the little one in a huge hug...awwww :) The third picture from the bottom is the "20-something male" equivalent in the family...I'm not sure if you can tell from the angle of the shot but he's totally maxin' & relaxin' like he's on the couch watching sunday afternoon football...he's lying on his back and has his right leg propped up on a tree and he's using his left hand to forage for food and occasionally pauses to stuff it in his mouth. And the photo above that is to highlight the size of their hands...

We all look pretty disheveled in the photos with us in them, but keep in mind we had just hiked pretty much straight up for 2 hours and we weren't going for picture perfect as you can imagine, our focus was reasonably elsewhere. I had Sarah take one of me with a gorilla in the background and took one of she and Nathan just to prove that each of us was actually there...

When we started from the park office in the morning we were in 2 different groups, the 5 of us in the M group and then 7 others in the R group. Having left for the trek at around 8:30 or so, we returned to the camp around 1:30 in the afternoon, the R group didn't return until after 8pm! We were so glad for the short (albeit strenuous) hike, for the small, young group that we had, and for how quickly the trackers found the gorillas. We rested for a bit at the camp after our return, and then headed to the river trail, a free of cost - self guided hike along the stream near the park office...we sat and chatted on a few rocks in the stream for a while...it was a nice way to spend the afternoon after such an exciting morning! We spent the 2nd of our 2 nights in Bwindi in our tents in the Buhoma Community Rest Camp...at our oh so secluded campsite just below the dining banda...and despite how tired we were, none of us slept very well...Nathan turned to reading by headlamp at 2:30 am and Sarah and I were telling funny stories and giggling...all in the dead of night in our tents in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest...oh the stories we have to tell :)

Oh, of course, I mentioned our steep ascension of the mountain, and our return to the camp around 1:30, but I failed to mention the descent of the mountain. So, the way it usually works when hiking (unless you're doing a loop trail) is that however you go up, you have to come down in the same way...So, 2 hours of steep switchbacks were instead replaced with a path straight down the mountain...no switchbacks involved...with our guide at the front, the 5 of us single file with me last, followed by 3 trackers we began our steep descent...I can't really describe it in words, but lets just say that I provided the afternoon's entertainment by pretty much sliding down the mountain on my rear end! I mean we had hiking sticks and everything, but nothing helped...once Nathan even gallantly offered his hand to help me down a particularly slippy portion and he pointed to what he thought would be the best place for my leading foot, and WIPEOUT! At least when Sarah slipped every now and again, she did it gracefully with her toes pointed in true gymnast's fashion with her arms thrust to the sky in order to stick the landing...Heidi has no such grace...I played softball, not gymnastics, so my technique was with my leading right leg straight down the moutain with my left left bent back at the knee as if sliding into 2nd base...needless to say I provided comic relief for everyone involved...Nathan tried getting video footage, but alas it was the wrong 10 seconds...had he just waiting a bit longer I would have been sprawled out as usual. Once one of the trackers behind me slipped which made me feel a bit better but all around I felt about as far from a sure-footed creature as is possible to be...it's good to be able to laugh at yourself, right?

Oh, and the top photo is a dedication to the lovely ladies Ashley Wood and Pat Abbott who were at home in the States and therefore unable to join us in our adventures this time around, but you were with us in spirit ladies!

25 May 2009

Lion Around :)

So, here's the first installment of pictures from my most recent travels. These are the tree climbing lions of Ishasha (southern edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park here in western Uganda). I'm not a lion expert or anything close to it, but evidently lions don't usually climb trees. So, these prides are quite unusual in this behavior and there are few other places in Africa where they take to the trees like this.

Our search for the lions began at the park entrance gate (well, actually we had our eyes peeled for them in the trees as we were driving the Ishasha road - not knowing that it was pretty ridiculous to think that we might actually just see them from the road). When we paid our park entrance fees we asked the park staff where the lions had been seen recently and he wasn't sure but recommended the south road, but said that if we wanted a guide we could find them at the information center. We weren't sure if we wanted to pay for a guide, but thought we'd start by looking for the information center...one would think that an information center would be conveniently located near the park entrance - one would also be wrong...a way down the south road there was no information center to be seen, so we turned around and decided to try the other branch...also to no avail...what use is an information center that you can't find?! No signs no nothing in any direction...so we decided to go with the gate staff's south road recommendation again and went back to the south road we had already traveled...now, we've been in enough game parks to know that a good way to find lions and other highly sought after game sights, is to ask the people in the vehicles that are traveling out of the park on the road you are traveling in on...the first few hadn't seen them, then we spotted a big dark green land rover and knew by looking at the vehicle that these were people who likely knew what they were doing...so I flagged them down and asked the African driver/tour operator at the wheel if they had seen the lions yet that morning. He affirmed that they had seen them, "wuh hoo!" I thought (or could very well be that I said it outloud), and I proceeded to ask for directions. Initially, from his facial expressions, it seemed he thought we'd never be able to find them on our own, but he told us we would find them about 10 km from where we were stopped and to take the next branch left, and then continue on that road until we found them in the large fig tree on the left. We did just as he said, and had to make a few more decisions about various other branches in the road he had failed to mention but at almost exactly 10km according to the odometer, there on the left side of the road but directly infront of us as we approached was a huge fig tree with 4 lions lounging in the branches as you see above.

A couple we had mocked when passing them in their Rav 4 with the windows up (obviously making use of their air conditioning even though it was not yet noon - but really we were just jealous I think :), they were waving us down as we approached, wanting to make sure we knew the lions were there. In game parks most everyone (meaning other humans) is an ally...not really the case in the rest of life here, I'm finding, but you are all after the same goal and you work together to help each other find the treasures you've found. So we circled the tree, taking photos (until the batteries on my camera died - and guess who didn't have extras packed with her...silly), another vehicle or two showed up during the hour or hour and a half we sat there just watching the lions in wonder.

So, I remarked several times that they were "so cute!"...Nathan begged to differ, being of the opinion that they are beautiful/magnificent/powerful, but not "cute"...I still hold to my "cute" observation - I just wanted to give one of them a big hug, or shake hand/paw...don't worry, I didn't, but I wanted to...but I can see the beauty/magnificence/power as well for sure. One of the lions had the hiccups, immediately likened by Sarah and Nathan to me...I mean, me and the lion we had some things in common...have about the same color hair, like lounging around, are both female, and have a healthy appreciation for a good shade tree...but all in all, we have fairly significant differences as well :)

We read from the Bible as well as we sat in awe and wonder....Psalm 29 (always was a favorite of my brother's for the words it puts to God's power and splendor demonstrated in the natural world), and then Isaiah 11 which speaks of Christ's return and the peace and harmony that will be restored to a natural order which has not known peace and harmony as such since the Fall...As I read these verses today as I write, I am struck by God's timing...what good news it is, what music to my ears, what salve for my soul it is to read/hear of God's promise to restore us to one another in peace...
"The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them...the nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra...they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
We also read from 1 Peter 5,
"humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."
So, we sat in awe and wonder at what God has made and at what He promises to use through the use of imagery of these spectacular creatures he has made and kindly allowed us the priviledge of spending an hour or so with. Alas, we couldn't sit there all day, one of us had to pee so we each sighed a satisfied, contented, sigh and drove back the way we had been so kindly and accurately directed. We never did find the information center.

24 May 2009

the week

So much to write, so little time…

Today is Sunday, just returned to my house from church. The shutters on the front of my house were closed…I had left them open when I left for church as I do every other day when I leave the house. Must have been the day watchmen…the theft I mentioned that has been rampant around the mission in recent weeks moved to my house this past week.

Sunday, one week ago, Sarah and Nathan and I locked up our houses, closed the shutters, and drove off for a week of R&R. It was a wonder-ful week literally…we traveled south to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and went gorilla trekking in celebration of my 30th birthday (Sarah and Nathan sacrificially laying down their lives on my behalf in agreeing to join me :), after camping for 2 nights we drove North through Ishasha and saw the tree climbing lions that inhabit the southern tip of Queen Elizabeth National Park…both are once in a lifetime sights…the only places in the world you can find these animals in their natural habitat. Absolutely magnificent! BUT as everything else in life, nothing is without complication…

Monday morning, before we left our stopover at Kingfisher Kichwamba before our last leg of travel south to Bwindi, our cell phones each rang in succession, initially none of us able to get reception, but then finally Nathan’s phone rang again and he ran to find a place with a decent signal, as he ran off, I checked my phone, “1 missed call” from Scott….my heart sunk…”I bet my house was broken into” I thought to myself. “Heidi! Scott wants to talk to you” Nathan hollered. I was right. “So, your house was broken into last night…” I heard from the other end, followed by a report of a ransacked house, things missing including some things from Pat’s side of the duplex, a bike and Croc’s “borrowed”, muddied, and returned after the loot was safely carried away to it’s new home, a Guinness drank/drunk/drunken, Swiss chocolate eaten, and last but not least – a gift left for me – a pile of sh*t on the front lawn…

It was frustrating from afar, after several weeks of going through this with teammates, finally it literally hit home…my home…Sarah and Nathan were frustrated and angry with me, we piled our things into the vechicle (now nicknamed “the zoolander” for it’s brief period of not being able to turn left – post a trip through a very high river and unfortunately over a very large rock – not pretty but worth a few laughs for sure!), and drove south…Beastie Boys blaring from the car speakers, my feet propped up on the dashboard (don’t worry, I wasn’t the one driving – Nathan was at the wheel), and many “grrr!”s muttered along the way.

I will post re. the magnificence we saw in the next 48 hours, but words won’t be sufficient…neither will the photos, really, but I’ll give it a shot…such a wonderful gift from our Father.

As we drove North after Ishasha, my heart began to sink again…it is so very hard to reconcile the realities of this life…to see such vastly different parts of this world God has created, and not just to see them but to experience them, feel them, smell them, hear them…and all of the realities that go along with them…To hear a report of your house joining the ranks of several others in your community vandalized, and then 24 hours later be face to face with an endangered 500lb gorilla in the Impenetrable Forest…it’s enough to drive a person absolutely mad…there’s only so much my mind and heart can handle and both are being put to the test.

I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. I could write of the questions that run through my head, the tears of being downright sad, the screams of frustration, the doubts, the amazement, the awe, the songs of thanksgiving, the smiles of joy and the mouth gaping open in wonder…rotating between all of them as the minutes pass by.

I will write more later, but that’s enough for now.

15 May 2009

Lifter of our heads

I don't have anything slick or funny or inventive to say, I just wanted to write something to let you all know we're in a pretty bad way over here...the last several weeks have been hard for me, and this week everyone else seems to have been dragged under as well. Widespread theft on mission property has lead to us feeling threatened, unwelcome, discouraged, angry, hopeless, frustrated, and angry again. We will meet today as a team to talk about what has happened and what our plan together as a Mission will be, but we are emotionally/physically/spiritually tired, homesick, heartsick, irritable, and the list goes on, and the answers/solutions are not easy or readily obvious.

I let you know, not so that you'll all write back and make me/us feel better, but so that you will pray and that God would be glorified somehow in and through us...I have been struck that in these opportunities in which we are so vulnerable to dissension, there is such an opportunity for God to be glorified. Pray that God would be the lifter of our heads.

07 May 2009

Happy Nurses Week

Well, I was reminded AFTER that last post that this is in fact National Nurses’ Week in the United States (the first full week in May always is). So, consider these posts my ode to my fellow nurses…I won’t wax eloquent about my pride in my profession but will just say “Webale Milimo” (thanks for the work). And to my coworkers at SLCH, you guys ROCK! I just unpacked a somehow misplaced bag of vitamins you guys so generously sent for the kids here, and was reminded of my time there and of all of your smiling faces ☺ And reminded of my need to apologize profusely for failing to come back a second time and visit when I was around in March – that month was a total whirlwind and I want you to know that I was in tears on the plane out of St. Louis partially because of all of the things I wasn’t able to do and people I knew I disappointed, some of whom were you guys…so Pammy – I still tell stories about how you made me laugh and the looks you used to give me when I forget yet another thing after going in one of the isolation rooms ☺ All of the Beths – thanks for the emails and keep them comin’ (sorry for failing to respond as of late). All of you – thanks for the blog comments and emails and encouragement and know that I think of you often! Oh, and treat those med students you have this month well, one of them is a good friend of mine.

06 May 2009


So, let’s just review a bit…I am a nurse, not a doctor, not a nurse practitioner, not a physicians assistant, not a nursing assistant, but a nurse (hear “nahse”)…I have this mug at home that my mom gave me that has all of these ways to define a nurse. “Shot giving, uniform wearing, Dr’s order following, shift working, vital sign taking…” etc etc…Now, almost every one of the things on that list of descriptors was applicable to me and defined my work life for 7 years…I had learned the routine (as much of a routine as there can be when every patient is unique and has their own specific problems, situations, personalities, family members, and those patients change almost daily)…For the most part I knew how to get what I needed, what to ask who for, what was legitimate/reasonable to expect from myself and others, what general treatment and procedural protocols were, how the flow of each shift goes, which meds required which pre-meds, which meds required which drug levels and when, which phone number for the pharmacy/lab gets you to the person you actually want to speak to…now, my coworkers will tell you that I wasn’t always the best at, for instance, organizing my time (I was always staying late to do charting that I hadn’t managed to get done during the 12.5 hours of my regularly scheduled shift), or knowing when best to or how best to deviate from hospital protocol or rules of the trade, but I managed pretty well for the most part.

Well, all that routine that I had learned over 7 years’ time…that all flew out the window as I flew over the atlantic ocean just over a year ago. Nursing looks totally different here, and I’ve been reminded of this again as of late…for instance (now I know this won’t make all that much sense unless you’re a nurse, but bear with me), when you hang a blood transfusion on a kid, the kid doesn’t get the whole unit of blood but the lab marks on the bag with a pen where the tansfusion should end and you just tell the parents to let you know when the blood level of the bag reaches that mark and then you stop it. And the blood, like every other infusion here, runs to gravity, so when I asked another nurse for the first time how slow the blood should run the answer was, in fact, “very slow.” Oh, okay, of course. All those years of protocol…out the window…all those years of it being primarily MY responsibility to monitor patients and the progress of treatment from hour to hour…out the window…all those years of building up history in a system…out the window…the fact that everything else is totally different I guess helps in a sense (ie. language, cultural norms, etc) but sometimes those are just more variables to learn to adjust to everyday. Admitting, discharging, deciding on medications and courses of treatment and what labs need to be done…I do these on a daily basis…this is a person who before one year ago didn’t so much as give Tylenol without a doctor’s order…what am I again? Right, a NURSE.

My brother asked me if I enjoy being the “go-to” person for medical stuff while the docs are away…I told him that while there is confidence building for me in it, and satisfaction in seeing the fruit of decisions well made, there is a reason that I became and nurse and not a doctor…Sarah and Nathan and I were talked about the things we wanted to be when we grew up….astronaut was on Sarah’s list, medical researcher finding a cure for cancer was on Nathan’s list…I realized in thinking about the three I could remember, that they all have something in common…working for NASA but in the control base, not as an astronaut….working for the FBI but in the forensic lab, not as a field agent….and finally working in medicine but as a nurse, never once considering becoming a doctor…You notice a trend? All careers of support, positions that make the big shots able to do their stuff with all of the information that they need to make the big decisions, positions which involve getting stuff done – carrying out the details of the big decisions made by the big shots…that’s where I thrive, that’s what I enjoy…it’s a good thing to know about ones’ self, and it’s a good thing that we’re all not gifted in the same ways, enjoying the same things…diversity is what makes the world go ‘round…But it doesn’t mean that there won’t come times that we are needed to fill different roles, that we need to learn new skills in order to better perform in our preferred role, that we need to be stretched and challenged in ways that don’t always feel good but grow us. Children have died in my care in the last couple of weeks, that’s doesn’t feel good, that’s not easy (it’s nauseating and exhausting in fact) but God has grown me through it.


- I just realized yesterday was Cinco de Mayo…good thing we had tacos/burritos for dinner…
- Patient name of the week: Acrobat
- Please pray for a 4 ½ year old named Thomas, a Kwashiorkor patient who weighs just under 9kg as of this morning, who has been on the ward for a week and a half now (he came to the ward while we were unloading the UNICEF milk from the deliver truck) and has been walking the tightrope between life and death, currently gaining weight (by God’s mercy), but whose skin is sloughing and peeling and cracking and bleeding in the process of losing weight from swelling, making him extremely vulnerable to infection. There is hope…
- It was 93 degrees F in the shade yesterday
- I love it when kids smile back when I smile at them.
- I love it when the moon is so bright that you can see the fluffy white clouds even when it’s dark outside.
- I love the satisfaction of using a new Lubwisi word like “kasekuskeu” or something like, that which means “hiccup” and the little chuckle that I get from the Babwisi when I use it ☺

03 May 2009

just another Sunday

- crawling from under my mosquito net at almost half past nine when I hear the "kody kody heidi" from my front door - a neighbor requesting malaria treatment for a friend who has had a bad headache for a couple of days and now achey joints...they tried the health center and there's no one around.
- pancakes and bacon and mango at Nathan's for breakfast
- church here on the mission - today's was a thoroughly lackluster service
(now, you might remember that all of the service save the sermon is in Lubwisi, so usually I tune out relatively frequently...it takes a lot of energy to try to follow a service in a language you don't know much of...but I read along in my english Bible when scriptures are read in Lubwisi, and today I thought they said they were reading from Acts 4: 20-25, and when I turned there the verses didn't quite match up neatly but sometimes they just don't so I read in that vicinity...but when the sermon came around it became clear that the chapter they were actually reading from was the 12th chapter of Acts...whoops...well, the 4th chapter around verse 20 seemed much more interesting so I did a bit of reading around there while he was talking about chapter 12...so it wasn't remotely close to what was preached on but I was encouraged...to pray for boldness.)
- tuna for lunch
- wrapping in a kikoy before going out to use the cho because God forbid I show the white of my legs in a pair of shorts...
- the usual 2 hours of sunday afternoon internet and the joy of receiving the official mama's report and photos of the arrival of a dear friend's firstborn..."for you, little one, He made the world" (from something my dad uses at Baptisms that I think he, with permission, stole from another pastor), and a phone call to the mama herself to hear her voice her amazement in the presence and reality of the little life that just a few days ago lived inside of her!
- not sure what the rest of the day will entail, but that makes for just another Sunday I think, just the way I like it.