Saturday, June 20, 2015


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.