Saturday, July 25, 2015

Malaria - I Am No Longer A Tough Guy

Not only am I no longer a tough guy, maybe I never was. This current battle with malaria is now entering into its third week. My temperature ranges from 96 to 105 (perhaps worse as I have only been taking it for three days). I range from Parkinson-like chills and shakes to dead hot sweats.I have an unexplainable cough as well which keeps me up  when I am not suffering from the fevers. Occasionally I go almost thirty hours without feeling terrible, and I try to get up and go to work. I am very weak though, and I fade fast in the day. The fever and assorted ailments start ramping up at around two or three pm, and don't break until early in the morning. I finally went to a doctor, who told me he could not process the malaria swab right away, but that he knew of no other explanation for the symptoms he observed - fluctuating temperatures, low white cell count, low blood pressure etc. He did tell  me that often the best diagnosis is the patient himself if he has had the disease before. Oddly there are other symptoms that don't make sense, but are always there when  I get sick like this. First and foremost, the dreams are indescribable despite the fact that I always recall them perfectly. They are an odd kind of proprioceptive experience: It is an out of body sensation, with lots of conversations with other "beings" who aren't identifiable. Lately, they have involved me needing to buy things to bring back from Africa, providing tickets for children for some reason that float tentatively around and attached to my head, and conversations with a woman who suggests scripts to drive away the chills and fevers. Unlike my other dreams, they go on for hours before I realize I need to wake up. I think they add to my fatigue in the morning.
I have to wait until Monday for some anti-malarial medication, but the doctor gave me tylenol and motrin for the headaches, and an antibiotic as well. I am still riding the rollercoaster, but with a lot of help from Sindi and friends! I don't know when this will end, but I have a good support system, unlike the four other times I have been down this road.
Having said all of this, I don't regret the actions that have led to this condition, and I would do it all over again. I will endeavor to go back this December with all my resurrected passion and energy once I recover. I told someone once who thought I was crazy to go into these places that it certainly must be ok for me to risk my life to help others achieve their dreams if it is ok for others to risk their lives to kill them. I have not put myself at risk to be at risk - I have made calculated decisions that I have never regretted. I will never go into a refugee camp or similar places amped up with medications and preventatives they don't have. I know the twisted logic there, but as Henry V warned, I will not hold my manhood cheap.
But as I mentioned earlier, I am not a tough guy at all. I would cry, I think, if I could; moan and groan for sympathy if would help; and I won't tell you how I squealed trying to take a cold bath today to bring my fever down - I waited until Sindi left :)
I will be fine, and please don't worry about me. Pray for people and children who face this as a regular reality, or others who feel worse than this on a perpetual basis fighting far more devastating ills, I will follow up when I emerge from this tunnel. Thanks again

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I am feeling much better and excited for Eid. Fasting was a bit more challenging this year, but in equal ways that much more gratifying. Because of my circumstances, my zakat contributions were ten times more than ever, both materially and spiritually. It is clear to me that I have gifts and blessings and that I need to continue to exploit them. There is so much more work I can do and I have the energy to persevere. I will find more projects here in Chicago and I will continue to support the folks in the DRC. Most importantly, I will begin to tie things up here stateside in the next few years to make a permanent shift overseas eventually, where I can do my best work. I am so excited realizing my destiny and understanding now the path that brought me here. There is something approaching a sense of peace in my chest these days (not sure if my drive and need for challenge will ever permit a languishing sense contentment however) undergirded by a strength from God. I am ready for the next stage of my life, and for the first time, to determine it with purpose. I am blessed. Eid mubarek :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


I just woke up from a very long night's rest. Sindi picked me up from the airport and I didn't last long once we got home. She did wake me up in the evening for a couple of sandwiches, and then I was right back to sleep. I have picked up a mild case of malaria, and a sinus problem - not a convenient combo. I am going into work soon to sort some things out. My goal is to begin to process the past two months soon, and let people know how they can support the folks in the camp. I am confident things will continue to develop there, and even more confident I will remain involved. I am blessed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

On My Way Home

I ended up with a pretty healthy fever for the past few nights. I tossed and turned all night Saturday and when I woke up, the bed was soaked. I got some pain relievers and they helped a bit. Sunday I took it easy and went down with Bryce to the rapids on the Congo. Evidently the spot just down river from Kinshasa marks a several hundred mile unnavigable stretch the keeps commerce from reaching the ocean. I got back to the hotel and bumped into Dikembe Mutumbo, a very nice guy. The embassy took me to the airport and I managed to get some decent bulkhead seats. It was quite awhile between water breaks due to the flight, about 21 hours. By about 11pm, I started to get sick again and I put my blanket over my head as my seatmate was concerned about my state. I am sure he thought I had some sort of highly contagious disease. I am in Paris now with seven hours to kill, feeling better. Sindi will meet me at the airport and I think I will head straight to bed. A little worn out....

A few more pictures from the hotel, I could have used a few more days there :)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Quiet Day In Kinshasa

After a nice buffet last night, I went back to my room and started feeling poorly (nothing to do with the food). I am not sure if it is a sinus problem or worse. I have had a small fever all day, but I managed to make my way around Kinshasa with Sampson, Bryce's very congenial and sincere assistant. We went shopping and I bought some artwork in the local market. Later in the afternoon, I went to CALI, The Congolese American Language Institute to debrief with Bryce and to speak to his English Club about working with refugees. The students were great and they asked really sophisticated questions. I did squeeze a nap in and then went to a pharmacy before dinner for some medication. I am hoping it will kick in soon. It turns out that Sampson and Bryce are not feeling well either, so it has been a slow moving day. Sampson and I went out and got some hummos and falafel and now I am back in bed early. I will leave the hotel at 9am tomorrow to meet with them and then off to the airport at 5:20 pm. I had a great bath today and might try to grab one in the morning. I feel really clean for the first time in a while. Gonna hit the sack...

My hotel view over the Congo river

The first thing I saw when I came into the room :)

The shower isn't bad either

Didn't take long to mess up the room

The English Club - Actually these are leaders who coordinate other clubs

Bryce leading some interesting debates

Will try to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a rough day as I won't be able to eat or drink for quite a while. I don't mind as this has been a very spiritual Ramadan for me in many ways and small sacrifices are in better context for me these days.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Off To Kinshasa

I had a relatively uneventful trip from Zongo to Kinshasa today. I got up early and went down to the Ubangi river with Yaya so he could drop off the SUV for a wash. We walked down to the market and I bought him a new pair of shoes (given I got him in so much mud lately), and we stopped by his house to say goodbye to Hawa and Fatima. I then spent a few hours tying up loose ends before I left - got certificates done, messages sent, last minute details solved, and said a bunch of goodbyes. I was very fortunate to catch a plane from Zongo, as few flights come in and out of this place. There is not terminal and the runway is a gravel road. The military comes to supervise the flights. I caught a World Food Program plane and made the circuit down to Kinshasa after a few short stops. Off course the books I have been waiting for the past three weeks came in on the plane I took out. Traffic was terrible in Kinshasa, but they put me up in a five star hotel overlooking the Congo (pictures tomorrow). I have never had a better shower in my life I think. I had a nice talk with Bryce and am making an early evening of it as I watch PGA golf on tv. Rough life...........

Yaha dealing with the authorities regarding my picture taking at the river

My surrogate sisters - Julienne, Pelagie, and Nelly

Jean Baptist - my best English student in Zongo!

Zongo Airport

Check in with Michel

Didier, Albert, and Yaya seeing me off

Was an honor to fly on a World Food Program plane with other folks providing humanitarian aid to this area of the world

Taking another shower :)  More tomorrow.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Last Day In Mole

Yesterday was my last day at Mole. I knew it would be an emotional day, but I was still surprised at the genuine display of emotions I received and felt in return. It ended up being a very long day and I wouldn't trade a second of it for anything.
Yaya and I went to the camp early to do some planning with the English Club team. My last day coincided with the end of school ceremonies, so there were a thousand folks around when we got there. To date, I have been estimating that we reached 200 children with our English programs - yesterday I learned I was woefully incorrect. More than 500 of those children were rattling off English in complete sentences! I was literally mobbed, and thoroughly delighted. The children had their graduation ceremony while we had the last English lesson I will see for some time. After the lesson, the English Club assembled and we had a small going away party. It was very touching. They thanked me for helping them learn English and recounted the difficulties they had in the past when they tried to learn in the Central African Republic. Many of the women told me they had been forbidden to learn English, or that they had been dissuaded by cruel and mean teachers. The men talked of the French influence there that made it very difficult to learn English. They told me that the "French people had colonized them, but never helped them develop, they only took what they wanted from the country." It was so heartwarming to see mothers and their children learning together these past two months. Older students sat beside grade school students with no barriers or sense of entitlement. Teenagers became teachers in a matter of a few weeks. Younger students became English emissaries back to their shelter clusters. It was amazing - they had been ready for a long time before I showed up.
There were a lot of smiles and lot of tears from people that surprised me. I held it together somehow, perhaps with the firm conviction I will make it back here to them in the near future.
After the party, the Girls Empowerment Club headed back to the carpenters shop to complete the stool they were building. It was a great time and they worked like little crazed ants - it was very cute. I did cry at a very unexpected moment though. I very tall, thin young girl with a large overbite was with the group and it was the first time I had seen her. While the others were sanding, I called her over to help drive some nails into a small chair. She did a great job and when she was finished, she was beaming. She gave me a very long hug and skipped back over to the other girls. I had to turn away from the group for a minute or so.....
When I got back to the school, Yvon was finishing up the first full lesson with the new Secondary School Program. He had 19 students and it was a great start. It is hard to get across here how significant this is. These teenagers have been out of school for two or more years. They have been in the camp with very little to do, losing hope for a decent future. This program is the first step in getting them back to their plans for a better life. I will continue to help develop it, and with any luck, will be back in December to implement the next stage. I am very proud of Yvon and the whole team for taking these important projects on their backs for so little compensation. It restores my faith in humanity and decency.
The topping to this great day was that Teddy and his leadership team (Juliet, Scholastique, Yvon, and Saint Fort) all came back to Zongo with me for the night! When we got back, the staff here had a party for me and we all joined in. I won't list all the gifts I received yesterday (selfishly, they are mine) but I will say that I know they were thoughtfully chosen and at a dear cost in this economy. I am blessed.
Many of us went to dinner and then to a local club to dance. Saint Fort was the star, with the others eventually joining in. After an hour or so, we returned to the UN compound and planned the next few stages of the program and a pen pal program.  Somewhere around 11pm, they headed off to a local hotel and I fruitlessly tried to sleep. This morning we got together at 7am and had a nice morning meeting with some of the UN staff here. Midway through the meeting I found out my flight to Kinshasa today was cancelled and I briefly considered going back to the camp with them. Having made all of my goodbyes yesterday, I decided better of it and sent them off for their big open house at the camp. I will miss them.

School's out for the summer!

The student leaders getting their certificates - they are a wonderful crew and Saint Fort does a great job with them

A few Muslim families stopping by to say goodbye

Standing up on a bench to tape my goodbye song from the kids - Levy had done an incredible job with the music program here

Some gracious words on behalf of the mothers in the camp

Accepting thanks when I should be giving them :)

Good pals

Yaha taking it all in - the folks thanked him profusely for all the trips he made with me, seven days a week

The lettuce lady hoping I was hungry again

The gang (Benjamin's twin sister turned up from Bangui the other day, she is not in a matching dress). From left to right: Esther, Amina (with her new dress from Joanne), Benjamin, and Christine.

Mr. Jobson, the president of the camp's education committee, who was named by English missionaries. He would like to return to Bangui to help build a new English program

I need them on my next project

 Designing the camp's first bunk beds with Felecian. After visiting a blind student's shelter, we discovered his children had to sleep on an old worn mat. I commissioned the bed and the camp will provide the foam mattresses. As usual, once Felecian understood what I wanted, he was way ahead of me on the design.

Girl Power!

At first blush, not very extraordinary, but the kindling to a brighter future

After two months, I got a smile for Vasily (I think his mother was tickling him)


 The English Club leadership team with Yaya celebrating

The UN staff here in Zongo

Mrs. Ursula and I with the English Club leaders

Thursday morning, time to say goodbye for now :(

I haven't yet been able to begin to process my feelings about this adventure. I am not sure I ever will, or that I will be generous enough to share them. For now please know that I am simply blessed.