Sunday, November 15, 2015

First Field Trip in Ethiopia

I woke up at 6 am and met my coworker downstairs for breakfast.  We were going to a rural town in West Ethiopia called Assosa.  I would be visiting the clinics in my project to see, for the first time, how they were running the programs I only read and wrote about.  It was a 1 ½ hour plane ride and I knew I was getting close when the captain said, “we will be landing after some time and some time and the weather in Assosa is fine.”

Assosa is bright, primary colors. Red dirt and green bushes and women with yellow and blue head scarves.  We drove for hours in a bumpy land cruiser to get from clinic to clinic.  Every time my jaded eyes glazed over “this looks like Uganda” something would jar me back to Ethiopia.

Mud hut. Mud hut. Mud hut. MAN RIDING DONKEY. Mud hut. Mud hut. Mud hut. CAMEL.

The differences are subtle but I make myself savor them because I don’t want to be so world-weary at 26 that my eyes barely flicker.

At the clinics we asked the health care workers and a focus group of mothers how they felt about the calendar we developed to help them remember their Antenatal Care and immunization visit dates.  The interviews had to be translated from the local language to Amharic to English.  They would talk for an hour and by the time it would get to me the translator would tell me “they love it.”  During all this translation I had time to squeeze a lot of baby cheeks.  It was damn cool to hear what they think about a tool that was so abstract to me before.  That I had helped convince donors about and yet had never seen actually being used.  Many of the women had deep tribal scars on their face that made them look like they were perpetually crying.






We visited women at their homes and they showed us how they used the calendar to remind them of important dates.  The mud walls and straw roofs make their homes very cool.  There is usually a tarp separating the kitchen area (coal fire, a few bowls and pots), and the main part which has 1 or two big beds for the family to sleep on.  They sometimes hang dried corn from the ceilings and paint pictures on the walls.  The women told us how even their kids and husbands read the calendar and help them remember important dates.

Back at the office, I ran to the squat toilet because I had been holding it in all day.  Just as I was congratulating myself for aiming properly, I realized I didn’t have toilet paper.  I had to inconspicuously waddle around the office until I found some.

The next day we traveled to a remote hospital to see the new infant warmer they had installed.  I have learned to guard myself when I go into clinics. There are always things I don’t want to see.  And if I don’t see them, then I don’t have to look away.  http://chelseatosea.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-moment.html 

In the delivery room I saw the newborn warmer.  My colleagues oooed and ahhed at the wonderful advancement.  The room looked like a scene out of Jacob’s Ladder.  Beds were falling apart and the delivery bed looked like a medieval torture device.  I’ve seen maternity wards in these countries hundreds of times. But my friends in the US are starting to have babies. Recently on Facebook, a friend took us through her experience giving birth to a premature baby.  Every day she posted pictures of the baby hooked up to all sorts of machines, fighting for life. And she looked so small.  Here, a baby must look microscopic.  I can’t imagine how hard it’s going to be to come back here once I have children of my own.  The guilt just might do me in.  We congratulated the clinic staff on their new machine and got back in the car.







I ended my field trip with honey wine, communal eating and a scary butcher that posed for a photo.











Monday, November 9, 2015

Hello from Ethiopia

I landed in Addis at 1pm, plenty of time to get to the hotel, shower, and hit the town so that I could write an adventurous blog post.  Instead, I saw the bed and my eyes watered up like I was seeing an old friend.  So instead of exploring, I drank cup after cup of silky Ethiopian coffee and played Adele's new song on repeat.

Hello from the other siiiiiiiide.
Monday, November 2, 2015

Cupid Drinks a Coffee

Immediately off the plane from Uganda, I noticed the men.  And the big grocery stores.  And oh my god the men in the grocery stores.

I had spent a year and a half without a second date (you can read about my Uganda dating experiences here:  http://chelseatosea.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-science-of-dating-in-kampala.html ) and was definitely going a little cray cray.  I immediately revved up the old dating sites: Tinder, Ok Cupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Cupid Drinks a Coffee, and set up my profile.  Twenty something girl seeks a real live boy.  Must have teeth.

I met a real live boy and we started to date.  We ate pizza and took walks during the last NY summer days and I texted him when I traveled.  “Dude, I’m going to get such massive thighs from all of this pooping in the squat toilet at the office.  How was your day baby?” 

I was stuffing myself with affection because I remember what it was like to be malnourished.  Four months after we started dating, it ended.  I was sad so I called Val.

“Vallie, I think I wore my heart on my sleeve and it hemorrhaged all over us.”

“You got laid and cuddles for 4 months?  How dare you be upset when people are dying in Africa from lack of snuggles?”

And she’s right. I’m in the land of plenty, no need to mourn.  But now that I’m feeling less like I need to pack on the kisses for the long winter, I can breathe and actually explore New York.  Next up: New York Snuggery http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/new-york-snuggery-offers-cuddles-hour-article-1.1173154


(maybe not)


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sensory Deprivation Tank

I want to explore things in New York like I do in other countries.  I may not be able to go on a quickie safari but there are tons of crazy shit New Yorkers do that would make even a lion’s head turn.  Like, pay $100 to be locked in a pod that deprives you of your senses.

I heard about the sensory deprivation tanks from the book I’m reading, Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks.  The book shares examples of how people who lose their sight, hearing, or even who have an extended period of lack of stimulation in their landscapes (desert, solitary confinement), can start to hallucinate.  Charles Bonnet syndrome is found in people who can hallucinate whole scenes in front of them but do not have sight.  Musical Ear Syndrome is when there is loss of auditory function and yet the person can hear music or people talking.  People can even hallucinate feelings if they’ve lost their sense of touch.

In an experiment to test hallucinations, people were put in a sensory deprivation tank for a long period of time and many started to hallucinate.  So I signed me and my friend Hannah up for back to back hour sessions at a sensory tank in Gramercy.  Because New York and Adventure and Hallucinations and Africa Doesn’t Have This.

I got to the “spa” early.  Hannah had already started her tank time and I wanted to hear about her experience before I went in.  The spa was basically this old dude’s house with women and their long grey hair sitting in various corners participating in the spa services.  Such services included: Cem Tech- Communicates with the Body’s Cellular Structure Use Millimeter Wave Technology, Biomat- The Combination of Far Infrared Light, Negative Ions and Amethyst Quartz Crystals Opens the Channels for Intelligent Cellular DNA repair and Total Body Wellness.  There was a women behind a curtain sitting on a full body vibrator. It was awkward.

When Hannah came out she looked all zenny.  Thing is, she is zenny.  She’s a meditator who’s done silent retreats and stuff so she was able to completely zone out and lose herself in there.  I didn’t have such high expectations for myself. My goal was just to not get too bored and hopefully hallucinate a medieval carnival.

When it was time, I was led into a small bathroom, given earplugs, and told to shower before entering the tank.  The “tank” was an oldish bathtub with sliding doors painted black to block out all light.  The temperature was regulated at 93 degrees Fahrenheit to closely match body temperature.  The water was filled with pounds of Epsom salts to keep the body floating. 

I started out by trying to cheat the system by trying to not float.  It’s nearly impossible! You’re completely buoyant.  It is a strange sensation.  You can’t see or hear anything and you start to lose your sense of self.  As a dancer-atheist-scientist, I see myself as my body, not as something inside my body.  But this somewhat falling apart, lukewarm bathtub challenged that.  I couldn’t feel a body or a space and was completely my mind.  And so my mind drifted.  “What if I were a corpse floating in a vat of embalming fluid?” Was my main thought.  And when I got bored of that I thought about what I wanted to eat for dinner.  45 minutes passed relatively quickly and then I got bored of not hallucinating so started to play games.  What if I wiggled only my pinky.  Would that be enough to propel myself into the tub’s wall on the left.  YES! 


When my time was over, I showered and put on my clothes and stepped outside.  I felt like I was still floating and was very calm.  My mind completely serene from lack of senses.  And then I stepped down the stairs and into the subway and saw a man jacking off to the Bible.

I did not "come home"

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back in Uganda


We packed into 1 Land Cruiser, 10 adults, 1 baby, for a 9 hour trip to Kitgum, 1 long and bumpy dirt road, 0 air-conditioning.   Upon arriving, my hotel had no hot water and no electricity.  It’s a cup water, soap up, splash-water-on-self kind of shower and a no fan night.  I lay in my bed without a sheet, covered only by a blanket of buzzing mosquitoes.  A rooster wakes me at 5 am and there is no hot water to make coffee.  I get to work at 8:30 and wait for the training which doesn’t start until 2 hours after it is supposed to.  Remind me again why I left New York?

When I got off the plane in Uganda, I felt different.  It felt different.  I breathed in the thick air and didn’t feel at home.  I have only been in the US for a month, I’ve visited home for that long before, but I guess, a part of me has closed the door on Uganda.  I met up with friends and danced and drank but it was in an ecstatic way, the kind you reserve for vacations.  Not the kind of prudent, I better not really let go because that guy at the bar is kind of cute and I have to do my laundry tomorrow, kind of way.  (Just kidding I never did my own laundry in Kampala.) 

This is the first trip I’ve made after having moved back to New York.  My contract says I will travel 45% of my time to Uganda, and soon, Ethiopia and Liberia.  Part of me wants so much more.  I still want to work at a refugee camp doing research on outbreaks, or to do emergency research on epidemics.  But part of me wants so much less.  I missed my friend’s wedding and I started to date a really cute man.

I took a walk after work through the village.  The sun was setting and damn beautiful.  Nothing particularly profound occurred to me.  No eureka moment.  But in this moment I was happy.  So I guess we’ll see.




Saturday, July 18, 2015

Jews for Jesus in Gulu

While eating dinner at the hotel, in walks a rabbi.  Very strange, I had never seen a Jewish man adorned with a kippah and tzitzis in Uganda let alone in rural Uganda.  He joined a table of people bent over bibles. I moved my chicken a little closer.  The Rabbi ordered some fish and shared how he preached about the good lord Jesus Christ today at a local Ugandan church.  I picked up my wine glass and joined their table because it was a Friday night, in a town with no electricity, and this was too good.

The Rabbi had his own TV show in Ohio and was traveling to African countries to film and preach the word of Jesus.  He was joined by 2 young (maybe early twenties) camera handlers and an older man.  In Gulu, Uganda, I had found my very own Jews for Jesus.  

“Do you believe in the good lord’s word?  Have you been saved?”

“No, sorry guys.  I’m an artificially inseminated, daughter of lesbians, haver of pre-marital sex, approver of abortion, worshipper of no god, true heir to the iron throne.”

“No I have not been saved.  But I’m open to the idea!”

Rabbi S believed that Jewish people are the chosen people, Jesus was after all a Jew, but the bible doesn’t end with the Old Testament and Jesus is our true lord and savior.  He’s a preacher with a yarmulke. A pastor with Chanukah. 

I moved to the other side of the table, because the rabbi kept putting his hand on my head and praying for me, and started talking to the young cameraman.  He was nice in a pasty, long nailed sort of way and I talked with him for several hours.  He had some very good points as long as we stayed away from morality.   But is where I always trip up when someone is trying to convert me.  I don’t have faith.  I don’t believe in God, and I don’t have faith.
 
I explained that to cameraman and he said, “Chelsea, just come to the Crusade tomorrow night.  You’ll see miracles and then you’ll get faith.”  (They thought it was ok to call it a Crusade?  Yikes.)

The next night I take a boda to the Crusade Arena (…) and am shocked to see Rabbi S on a stage overlooking tens of thousands of Ugandans.  And I’m not exaggerating.  Tens of thousands.  I walk through the crowd and take pictures and videotape.   The rabbi is being translated by a Ugandan Pastor who shouts his words and stomps his feet.  It was fun, like a Jewistian field day.  People brought their kids and women were selling roasted maize.  And then it started getting dark and Rabbi’s preaching took a darker tone. 





“Homosexuality is the greatest sin and Obama is the anti-christ!” The crowd clapped their hands and whooped.  I felt a chill run down my spine.  There was a lightning storm in the distance and the clouds lit up over the faces. 



“I want you to put your hands on your head.   I am going to bless you all now.  Get RID of the evil spirits that reside inside of you.  Cast away the devil.  Be free now!”


The woman next to screamed and sank to the floor.  Her arms and legs were writhing.  People around her tied her hands and legs and shouted at the devil inside of her “You shut up!  You shut up!” And then another woman fell down beside her. It was terrifying.  I kept filming.  I pushed through the crowd and walked right onto the stage.  I was staring at thousands of faces completely enraptured by the man next to me.  A young girl was brought up onto the stage who was foaming at the mouth, her eyes rolling back into her head. This girl was having a seizure.  The rabbi comes up to me “This is how it all happens in the book of Acts.  Women falling down screaming, having seizures.”




I went home freaked out, the women still screaming in my head.  What was that? 

I opened the Bible.  I put down the Bible.  I opened up Google.  I was most interested in that young girl who was foaming at the mouth and having a seizure.  How is that possible?  Is there such a thing as a psychological seizure?  Google’s not super helpful on the matter but I did find this: http://www.macalester.edu/academics/psychology/whathap/ubnrp/tle09/Religiosity.html Temporal Lobe seizure, a seizure invoked by a strong emotional reaction controlled by the temporal lobe. 


The cameraman was wrong.  The Crusade did not bring me faith.  I am not a Jew for Jesus.  Or Jewish.  Or Jesus.  

But damn.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ebola

They were given 72 hours to leave to pack a bag and fly across the world and fight Ebola.  When they got there, the disease was already rampant.  Traditional burial practices and fear had made this disease spread faster than anyone had ever imagined and they had to hit the ground sprinting.  An alphabet of NGO acronyms competed to put their letters on the isolation tents and the efforts were disjointed and competitive.  Their task wasn’t just to move in and cure Ebola.  They had to figure out how to change the behavior of burial practices so people would not wash the dead before burying.  They had to work with anthropologists to connect with traditional healers and to learn about community practices.  They had to figure out how to set up isolation units when people feared that they would get Ebola if they went to them.  They had to teach local staff how to properly put on and take off protective equipment so that they would not infect themselves.  How do you turn over beds when Ebola has such a long infectious period?  How do you motivate health workers to come to work when their peers are dying from the disease all around them?

My friend talked of a major spread in one of her villages in Sierra Leone because two gang members got into a bloody fight. One died in the fight and the other contracted Ebola from blood contact.  He went into hiding because he was now running from murder.  In the process he infected hundreds of people and would not surrender to the hospital for fear of being jailed.

Now the questions are, how do you prevent a future outbreak if we do not know the animal reservoir?  And what are the long term effects the disease on Ebola survivors?  What about how we know Ebola can stay in the semen but we have no data on how long it lasts for? 



Saturday, June 20, 2015

Florence

Florence woke up before the sun rose.  She built a small fire, and cooked dinner for her 6 children in case she did not make it home again before dark.  Florence lives in a remote village in Kitgum, Uganda.  Her youngest child, Rwotomiya, is very overdue for his 14 week immunization and Florence plans to travel to the clinic today. 

Florence has to walk 4 hours to reach the nearest health clinic. 

As she walks, she waves to other mothers and their babies as they make similar journeys often with large bundles of food and wood weighing down their head.

Rwo was very sick.  Throwing up constantly and rapidly losing weight, Florence took Rwo to two different hospitals for treatment.  At every hospital Florence asked for Rwo’s 14 week immunizations but was refused due to Rwo’s weak state.  Yesterday, Rwo finally started to feel better, and today Florence will take him for his immunization.

“It is very important to me that he get his vaccinations,” said Florence. “I do not want any more of my children to die.”

Florence, who is now 35, had her first child when she was 15.  At 14 and pregnant, she had just begun to live at her new husband’s village when she was kidnapped by Liberation Rebel Army.  The man who captured her, took her as his wife and forced her to take tablets to end her pregnancy.  Two months later, while she was supposed to be taking a bath, Florence escaped and ran to a refugee camp where she met up with her husband.  Florence stayed at the camp with her husband for 5 years.   

“It was a very hard time for me, but I am so grateful to be alive now,” said Florence.

Although the forced tablets did not take, Florence lost her 7-month old baby in the camp.  Florence has lost 4 out of her 10 babies.  All of the babies died within two hours from intense vomiting.  She was unable to make the 4 hour trip to the clinic on time.

“I learned about the importance of immunization from the village health workers who have told me they could save my babies’ lives.

Florence tied her baby to her back using a piece of cloth, and protected Ruwo from the intense sun by covering his head with a Callabus—a hollow piece of pumpkin shell.

“The walk is very hard. When my children are sick, I have to leave them in a house near the clinic and return the next day to get them because they are too small to walk the journey back home.”

The walk is hot and the road is dusty from the lack of rain.  Flies balance on the baby’s head and face and do not leave.  Florence walks fast because if she is too late, the clinic may be out of the vaccines she came for. 

Florence cuts across the final field, 4 hours later. The clinic is busy with mothers and their children.  Florence waited for 2 hours before she could be seen by a health care worker.  Ruwa received his dose of Polio vaccine, and Diptheria/Tetanus/Whooping Cough/ Hepatitis B/ Haaemophilius Influenze type B vaccine (DPT3 Vaccine).

“The health care workers treat me and my baby so well,” said Florence.

The health care worker took routine measurements of Ruwa to determine if his weight, height, eyes and ears were functioning normally.  All tests were normal. 

“So many women travel so far to come here to get these vaccines,” said Mary, the only health care worker on duty at the clinic.  “We can only do what we can.”

The clinic had run out of the vaccines for Pneumococcal Pneumonia.

Florence has to bring Ruwa back to the clinic in three days to get the vaccine.  But she has no time to think about that right now, she has to rush to make it home in time to prepare dinner for her family.



Florence and her family








Friday, June 19, 2015

Rock Climbing in Railay

I picked Krabi, Thailand for my vacation because of the world famous rock climbing on the nearby island of Railay.  It was perfect, I could spend 2 days luxuriating at the spa resort, listening to my new favorite thing in the world: Serial, and one day climbing limestone cliffs.

I woke up at 7:30 and took a car to the dock.  My driver, Ali, told me his story.  In 2004, when the Tsunami hit Thailand, Ali was out on his boat.  He saw the wave coming.  The first wave he rode on his boat but the second pulled him and the boat into the middle of the sea.  It took him 2 days in a leaky boat to make it back to shore. 

Whether or not he was telling the truth was irrelevant.  Although the city was mostly built back up, the wave was still present in everyone’s eyes.  Signs warned that you are in a tsunami zone and to please seek higher ground.  If I die in a tsunami, I’ll be furious.

I boarded the wooden boat and sat between a girl with a Hello Kitty cat headband and a Thai man with dreadlocks and tattoos of Buddha.  The plank from boat to beach was made of old water jugs strung together.  I joined a small ground and guide and we walked through a few beaches before stopping at our rock.  A sky high limestone face that jutted in to little caves and out into arching overhangs. 

When it was my turn to hook in, I ran up an easy wall, stretching out my muscles and warming up my hands.  Some of my holds were literally stalactites.  I summited in a cave at the top and gave myself a second to look down at the blue green water and the inselbergs that looked like a tectonic plate collide had just made them.  I repelled down making sure not to swing into a cave. 




A crowd had formed where we were climbing and I felt like a rock (climbing) star.  I climbed until the sun made the rocks hot to touch and I was told I had time for one more climb.  This one had a cave right a the beginning.  You had to hoist yourself onto a platform above your head with very few footholds before.  No way could I do that: essentially a pull up then push up mid air.  I squirmed and wriggled, then blanked my mind, breathed deep and did it.  Unbelievable adrenaline rush.  And this is why I do this. 

The rest of the climb I had to chimney up this cave crack which was fun.  I looked down at my guide belayer and saw he didn’t have his hands on the rope and was deep in conversation with the friend next to him.  Comforting.

No hands.


After the climb I found this blonde Adonis of a shirtless German man and watched him climb to “learn his techniques”.  What?!?!  But I was getting hungry (Food > Man) so I packed up my hormones and looked for a place for lunch.  Along the way I saw a sign : This Way to the Viewpoint and Lagoon.  “Oh cool, I have time for this.”

The path started easily enough, slippery but relatively flat except for a few boulders you had to climb over.  Then the trail was like “Sucker! Climb this!” and I had to climb a high vertical, grabbing onto ropes to not slip down.  I reached the view point out of breath, looked around for a sec, took a picture, and saw another sign “Shortcut to Lagoon”.  Cool, might as well, I got this far.  The trail slopes down and now I am holding the ropes to walk down over steep rocks.  I keep passing people on the way. 
“Am I close?”
“Not really.”

Then the trail took a turn for impossible and I was now climbing down vertical, slippery rocks with just a rope and a few unreliable grips.   I did this down many cliffs, one of which I had to climb through hole in a cave.  Flip flops from failed tourists littered the ground like forgotten dreams.  I saw a few hikers climbing back up. 
“It’s worth it, you can do it, keep going!”
“Thanks!  …fuckyou.”
An hour, so many bruises, I reached the lagoon.  It was very silent except for birds echoing between the walls of the valley and up into the blue circle of sky above.  I was the only one there.  I lay in the water on my back and looked up serenely until I crashed my leg into a rock and cut it open.  Which, of course.

The Viewpoint

Ropes down to the Lagoon

The Lagoon


I climbed back out of the lagoon and literally pulled myself back up the walls.  When I rain into a couple in flip flops who asked how much longer,
“You’ll be fine, you can do it!”

Covered in mud, I drank two coconuts and made it back just in time for the last boat.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Love and Thailand

My work has been non-stop.  We’re in the field from 6am to 6pm running around in the bleeding heat, thrashing between tall grass to get to households, only to come home, analyze the data, have a debrief call and plan for tomorrow.  But this isn’t a post about my work.  (There will be a post on that later.)  This is a post about how I currently find myself on another bizarre adventure.

I was invited to a conference in Bangkok, so naturally, I realized this was the perfect excuse to spend a few days detoxing from my field work and deep cleaning my feet from swamp.  (I literally had to cross a swamp to get to one household.  More on that later.)

I fly from Uganda to  Bangkok and then straight to the beach town of Krabi.  I ask to see the travel book from a guy next  to me on the plane and quickly read up about the place.  I did 0 research except pick a hotel and realize that there is good rock climbing nearby. 

I have been to Bangkok before.  Traveled here when I was 22, stayed in a hotel that had no hot water and was rented by the hour, and explored the red light district with a man I had just met:    http://chelseatosea.blogspot.com/2011/12/red-bangkok.html


This wasn’t going to be like that time.

The hotel I picked is unreal.  Elephant statues spitting water, little pretty women always turning up with cold towels and shots of guava juice, 6 pools, and a view of the cliff beach.  I smooth talk/hustle ?Smustle?, my way into getting a room with a Jacuzzi tub.  The room has its own porch, and a Jacuzzi in the freaking bathroom. 

I feel so clever and pretty and even though I keep having to check in with work, well rested.  Until I get to the restaurant and realize, I’m not wearing any clothes.  Or rather I’m the only single person around for miles and miles.  Couples of all nationalities sit near me, holding hands, kissing in the pool, cheersing to their honeymoon/wedding/anniversary/affair.  And I’m alone.  So I order a drink and call Valerie.

“Why the hell are you not here.” 


Of course I invited her but she couldn’t join me because she’s going to Rwanda or some shit. 

“I’m stuck at home with Giardia or something.  I can’t move.”

“Serves you right.  I have a Jacuzzi tub damnit, and no one to share it with.”

What was just before a dream vacation was now tainted by all the loving whispers all around me.   I start to make flirty eyes with the waiter.

Then I heard one couple say “I can’t believe we’re here honey, all this planning, I love you so much.”

All this planning?  I jumped on a plane and barely knew what I was doing until I landed.  How ridiculous am I?  How could I wish it to be any different?  Why would I want to be that couple?

I hope our adventure will be right in the middle of all the others we will make for ourselves.  And when we look back on our honeymoon, at the amazing time we stayed on the beaches of Thailand, we’ll laugh and wonder “which time was that?”


Cheers

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Gorillas in my Midst

The thing left to do in Uganda was to see the gorillas.  The thing I was told about when I first firstly first got to Uganda and the thing I was told I could not leave before doing. 

I know about the gorillas.  I watched Gorillas In the Mist.  I wanted to be Dian Fossey.  The Gorilla exhibit was my favorite part of the Bronx Zoo.

So I gathered up my partner in travel, Val, from Tanzania, joined together with 4 other women friends and went to the Impenetrable Forest bordering the Congo to see them. 

There are only around 700 gorillas remaining in the world and they are only found in two places:  in the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, and in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.

Our car tilted on the large cavern that separated us and the forest.  We carried our packs and walked, with armed guides, down the almost vertical wall into the canyon.  My legs shook and I fell an obscene number of times.


And then there, just ahead in the clearing, just casually loping along was a family of gorillas.  My breath caught and I started to cry.  But quickly pulled my shit together to take the following pictures.  The rest of the journey we whispered to ecstatically to each other, thrilled and terrified that they might charge us.  There was a 1 year old baby and an infant in the family and 2 silverbacks.  Valerie and I gripped each other as one of the gorillas brushed my leg.  Please see video for proof.

My first sight of the gorillas in the clearing

One of the brothers

The non-leading silverback

The gorilla family

Thinking Man/Gorilla

Mother with her infant

Baby playing with his brother


Casual.

Head silverback

Baby!

WARRIORS

Impenetrable Forest

Friday, April 3, 2015

Tax Soul Suck

I'm generally pretty proud of myself.  I work hard, fill my life with interesting people who like spending time with me, go on many adventures.  I'm exactly who I want to be at 26.  But when it comes time to do my taxes every year, I dread it.  Taxes make you take stock of the very tangible things that I do not have to show for myself.

Yeah thanks, I'm well aware.

No investments

NO property



But I went to 6 countries in 2014?
Started my dream job?
Am happier than I've been in years?

But yeah, no, I don't have any dependents.




Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Comedy of Errors

Val and I work very hard: long days, weekends, nights.  So when we have a second to catch our breath, we like to breathe deep.  Val was in Uganda for a conference and we decided to escape to the Nile on the weekend.  We booked a peaceful and luxurious cabin right on the river and begged the owner to let us check in at 1pm on Saturday and check out at 3pm on Sunday to maximize our time. 

Saturday morning I picked Val up at her hotel, we stopped by the grocery store to get food to cook at the cabin and hit the road.  It would only take 1.5 hours to get to Jinja and we left ourselves a bit of time in case of bad traffic.

An old woman, bent over her cane, shuffling her feet without lifting them off the ground, passed us in our car as we sat for an hour in standstill traffic.  We moved a smidge an hour.  Smidge/Hour.  And then my car stopped.  The dashboard lit up all the indicators and then turned off.  I put the car in neutral, like mommy taught me, and drove to the side.  Smoke was pouring out from my hood.  But when the smoke cleared, the miraculous sign “Highway Motor Garage” appeared.  A mechanic came out and poured some water into the thingy to cool the car down.




“There is a leak in your radiator and you need a new water pump and belt and radiator cap.”
“How long?”
“3 ½ hours.”
“Is there a bar nearby?”
“No.”

So we pulled the car into the lot, let the 20 mechanics do what they do in the hood, and we cracked open some beers (“maybe if I just try to keep opening this bottle with my hands someone will appear with a bottle opener”--someone did) for ourselves and the 30 mechanics and settled into the spare tires that were laying around.

Val chilled on a tire

I preferred the car


It rained, we got wet.  I started teaching some children how to do the Saturday Night Fever Dance.



The car was fixed 4 hours later.  I thank the 40 mechanics, and start to drive away but even when I press the pedal to the metal, there was barely any acceleration.  The mechanics saw our problem. 
“Ok we made a mistake, come back.”
30 minutes and 50 mechanics later, the car is fixed.  It’s not fixed.  But we are too anxious to get going so we get back on the road with our faulty belt and, very slowly, reach our cabin in the dark.  We get unpacked, eat salami and cheese sandwiches (we ditched our dinner reservations because were too tired), finished a bottle of wine and crawled into our beds at 10pm. 

At 4am I heard a loud flutter just above my head.  I turn on the lights and see a fucking bat.  I scream, and run across the room into Val’s bed. 
“Bat!  Rabies!  Marburg!  Nipah virus!  Potentially ebola!” I scream getting my geek on.
“OH shit.  Quick, lay flat on the floor! Bats like height!”
“Is this science or is this your theory?!”
“My theory!”
We slither across the room into my bed, keeping our iPhone flashlights above our head ‘cause bats don’t like light, right?  We jump into my bed and tuck my net into the mattress to create a bat free zone.
Until 6am, when the sun started to rise, I stared at the bat just chillin’ on the top of my net.  Periodically it would use it’s talons to drag itself along the net. 

I made myself wake up at 10am so that I could enjoy the last few hours of the Nile before having to make the trip back to Kampala.  Trying not to wake Val, I snuck downstairs and opened the door to the porch.  A large bat plopped onto my hand.  I screamed.  But it wasn’t a bat, actually just a frog.

Val, now awake, came down, we made coffee and enjoyed the last bit of the Nile before having to check out.  We try so hard to relax but it always ends up just being comical.  Luckily we have a good sense of humor and can enjoy a beer anywhere.

I drove us back to the city, hugged Val goodbye as she boarded her flight to Tanzania, and went home.


While unpacking my car, my wrist bent back, and a ganglion cyst on my tendon that I didn’t know existed, hemorrhaged, and I had to go to the hospital.