You learn something new everyday, well… You should at least try to learn something new…

My trip to Africa really is a learning experience. I am learning a new language. I am learning a new culture. My stomach is learning new food (and how to not make me feel sick from it!). I am learning about other people. But I think the most important lesson I am learning here is about myself.

So things I know about myself before Africa:

1. I like to help others (classic pre med answer)
2. I love to talk to people and learn about their lives.
3. I am a good listener.
4. What those individuals in the medical field do for their patients inspires me.
5. I am good at science.
6. I do not want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life.
7. I love to learn.

Okay so I definitely know more than 7 things about myself and so do you. But trust me these ones are going to relate to this self reflective post you are about to dive into… So buckle up. Twenda (let’s go)…

So surprise surprise, I didn’t come to Africa to go to Viavia on Thursday nights and visit a snake park (those parts are just an added bonus). I came to Tanzania to volunteer in Arusha through a program called Projects Abroad. Projects Abroad is a program that takes volunteers from all over the world to different places, other than Tanzania. Right now, my buddy Connor Dugan is over in Nepal doing the same program. Here in Arusha people are here for all different projects. Some are doing care projects where they work in a day care or orphanage. Someone is here doing a civil rights project teaching women how to raise chickens to make an income (Johnny that’s you!). I am here (with Jenn) working on a medical project.

Before coming to Africa, I have spent a lot of time shadowing in different areas of the medical field. (If you’re dying to know where and what I’ve seen hit me up and I’ll send ya my resume for some fun reading).

Here in Arusha, I am working at St. Elizabeth’s hospital. Everyday Jenn and I walk to work (it takes about an hour) and then see where the day takes us. Saint Elizabeth’s is one of the nicer hospitals in Arusha, as the patients have to pay for most things, and less is sponsored by the government. The hospital is pretty large for the area that we are in, with a few different wards and about 100 beds. Since Jenn and I have been here we have gotten to see many different aspects of the hospital. So let me take you on a tour…

Upstairs is the medical and pediatric ward, which is where Jenn and I have spent most of our time. There are about 7 rooms each with anywhere from 4 to 12 beds smushed in each. Every morning we would do rounds with the doctors, taking notes for them as they saw each patient. Most patients have TB, malaria, or HIV. Most of the children have pneumonia or AWD (acute water diarrhea). The doctor would spend about five minutes with each patient in the morning talking to them before prescribing a plan of action to treat their ailments. The pediatric room is my favorite because I love making faces at the children, trying to make them smile. Usually the moms all laugh at me but I don’t care I’m having fun. 🙂 the best part about the pediatric ward is when we dismiss patients, although sometimes they really aren’t in any better condition. Some are, but most are just not responding to any treatment, so being in the hospital won’t help them. Believe me you wouldn’t want to spend any extra time in this place. It smells, is dirty, and crammed to capacity. Hygiene seems to be an unfamiliar term here.

Downstairs is the surgical ward. Patients there are being treated for wounds, burns, and broken limbs. There is a theatre, or surgical room, where actual surgery is done, but because of some annoying “red tape”, we have not been allowed to see anything in there (I’m not bitter). What we have seen is peoples wounds get cleaned. Note to self: don’t get hurt in Africa. It is rare that I see a doctor or nurse wash their hands let alone put on gloves in this place. They have them… Just tend to not use them.

It’s hard to explain the arrangement of the hospital but to get to most areas you have to walk outside. I know that’s hard to picture but just go with it…

So outside and around the corner from the surgical ward is RCH… I still don’t know what that stands for… But there is where we test for HIV, malaria, and Syphilis. What’s awesome is that for pregnant women, all of that is free! What’s not so awesome, is not everyone knows that. But in RCH, I have personally tested people for those diseases and given Tetanus shots. I’m questioning the legality on that one so I’m gonna pull the my-dads-a-lawyer card.

Back inside the main building is where I have spent most of my time recently: the maternity ward. Our first few days were full of folding gauze all day. So. Much. Fun. But then our favorite nurses invited is to do a night shift with them! The night shift was amazing! Within the first three hours, Jenn and I had seen 3 births. After the 12 hours, which went by surprisingly quick, we had seen 5 deliveries total. It was incredible.

There is something so amazing and beautiful about seeing a baby take it’s first few breaths; Something so fulfilling when you see the change on a mothers face from agonizing pain to pure joy when they hold their child. I wanted to cry when I saw the first delivery… Okay okay I did cry. You would have too.

During the night a baby was born prematurely. She had to be taken to another hospital because we don’t have a neonatal care unit. But when I stood next to her for the first twenty minutes of her life I thought how pure and innocent she was… All I could see was potential. She was so lucky to still be alive. I’m praying every night that she’s okay because the care here for her is no where near what it should be. I don’t think I’m ever going to look at an American hospital the same…

Working on the medical project, I haven’t spent all of my time in the hospital. One of the best parts about my program is the different outreaches that we do for the community.

The best outreach that we have done was the last one. All of the medical volunteers went to Asher Vision Orphanage. (At least I think that’s what it’s called) Anyway, we set up mobile clinic at the orphanage for the about 25 children. All of us volunteers were spread out and had different jobs so the children could go from station to station. They had their weights and temperatures taken and then went to see one of the two doctors with us. They would do a check up with them and right down any medication that they needed. Then the kids came to us… Well the station I was at. The medicine area (yo Tay j I’m a pharmacist like you now!) There I handed out medication for tapeworms, vitamins, and put cream on children’s heads to eradicate the lice on their heads. It was an incredible experience. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpful… And I loved it. The children were so happy and grateful for us. If I ever come back here, I will just do mobile clinics the entire time as nothing is more rewarding…

So you see I haven’t spent all of my time here galavanting around Arusha site seeing… I may not be here curing aids, but sometimes I think it’s the little things. It’s a smile, an encouraging hand, a congratulations on the baby, and some medication for those who can’t afford it. It’s all I can give but maybe it’s just enough..

So now is the part where I tie it all together. Learning. That’s why I’m here, and even though I have only passed the halfway point of my trip, I have learned a lot.

Things I’ve learned so far from Africa:

1. I know nothing about the differences in health care around the world.
2. It is free to have a child here. The government funds all pre and post natal appointments and procedures.
3. A lot of deliveries occur before the mother gets to the hospital. It is one of the major problems of childbirth here.
4. I do not want to be a midwife. Seeing a placenta made me light headed.
5. No medication for pain is given to mothers here for deliveries. It’s completely natural as we would say in the states. (Let that one settle in for a bit).
6. Whatever the problem is… Education is the answer. One of the biggest issues with healthcare here is the lack of education.
7. I love babies. Okay so I knew this one before hand but when I was standing with newborn, I was in heaven. I may have been happier than the mothers.
8. Being nice goes along way. Okay I’ve known this one forever especially because Ginny always says “Kill them with kindness”, but working with the staff here has been frustrating some days… But when I kill the nurses with kindness, they let me see and do more.
9. I talk to much…. With a huge language barrier, Jenn and I just have to sit and listen sometimes… And it’s made me realize how much people have to say. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to listen to others then talk about yourselves. Everyone has a different story to tell and you don’t want to miss out.
9. We all can make a difference in this world. Okay that’s cliche but it’s really true. You don’t even have to do much… Donate you’re clothes… I’ve seen countless American sports team shirts here. Donations do make it… And people need them. Everyone has the potential to change the world in a positive matter. Like the newborn children in the world we all have endless amounts of potential to make the world a better place. Sorry that’s even more cliche. But it’s true! Donate clothes! Donate money! Don’t have the money? Donate you’re time. In fact even if you do have money, you’re time with others priceless. (And for everything else there’s MasterCard). Help a friend. Help a stranger. Pay if forward. I apologize I am feeling very inspired and want to share it with you all.
10. I WILL make a difference in this world. I can decide if the conditions of my hospital and the people in it are pissing me off or inspiring me. Either way I want to change it. Somehow. I’ll start with making patients smile for now and move on to bigger things later.
11. I don’t know how to make that difference. In my head it’s always been simple. “You like medicine and to help people: be a doctor. Check. Career found now go… ” well now I don’t know anymore… I like people. I still like medicine… But if you were paying attention, medication isn’t the answer, education is… Hmmm educating about healthcare… that could be something…

Or maybe I’ll just blog my thoughts for the rest of my life … Anyone out there want to pay me? 🙂




Mickey goes to Africa

Mickey goes to Africa

Mickey goes to Africa!

Go ahead laugh all you want, but how could I not bring my childhood stuffed animal to Africa with me. Come on, have you seen toy story?!? I wouldn’t wanna miss out on this adventure if I was a stuffed animal! Even a mouse!

My friend Mickey has been to animal kingdom and seen the safaris there. But let me tell you something… There is no comparison between the fake Serengeti in Disney World and the real one in Tanzania.

Now let me back up a little bit. You see guys, it’s been a few days since I’ve last had the chance to talk to you, my adoring fans…aka Hi mom!…but I want to tell you all about my adventure last Thursday night…

You have all heard of Thirsty Thursday… So this past Thursday a bunch of volunteers had decided to go out to this night club called via via. Before going out, Jenn and I met our two friends, Julia and Phil (guys, that’s your shout out) for dinner at Mount Meru Hotel. It’s a place where all of the rich people who come on vacation here stay… It was kind of a reverse culture shock walking in there. That’s how nice it was.

After way too much food and some pombe (cough cough alcohol) we took a cab to Via Via. We listened to party in the USA about 6 times on the way there. (Way to go Miley doing good things for USAs reputation in Africa).

Now we had no idea what to expect of this place… The drop off there was a little sketchy, especially since this was our first time out at night. But once we got in, I was in awe. The place was freaking awesome!! There was a projector screen playing the World Cup. There were about three different bars and two dance floors… All outside. And the best part… The bathrooms had toilets!! ( trust me peeling in a hole is not as fun as it sounds.)

The atmosphere was a mix between a middle school dance and a frat basement. There were some locals and a lot of Wazungu. I danced to American club music… I sang a great rendition of Single Ladies on Karaoke with the help of some friends… And I had some Safari Lager! (I’ll try and sneak some through customs for you, Dad!) All in all it was a great night and for a little bit we all got to escape the world.

Now for the next adventure… Safari

This past Friday, Jenn, my friend Agnes and I set off on a three day Safari. I was both anxious and excited as we headed out at 7am.

Why anxious? Well for those of you who don’t know, I get very car sick. When I was little I used to wear these bands around my wrists that apply a pressure point that is supposed to prevent the sick feeling…. It probably is just a mental thing, but I’ve been wearing them since I’ve been here because the roads are so rough. So where were the bands when we were heading off to the Serengeti… On my bed at my home stay of course. Luckily the three days of driving on dirt and rocks going up and down hills actually didn’t bother me. So you can all take a big sigh of relief 🙂

Why excited? … Have you been paying attention?!? I went to the Serengeti!! Guys that’s one of the 8 or is it 7… Wonders of the World! Who wouldn’t be excited?!

I don’t even know how to begin to describe what I saw this weekend… There is no way that my words will do it justice. I don’t even think the 679 pictures that I took fully captivate the beauty that I saw.

The open space: so much of it…. Standing in the safari car I could do a 360 and just see land. Everything was very lion king-y. In fact I still can’t get the Circle of Life song out of my head.

The trees: were few and far between. There would be one and not another for miles.

The Tembo: aka the elephant… Were incredible. Tembo are my favorite animal in the whole world and they most have known that I was coming because we must have seen dozens. First on our way to the Serengeti, one was walking towards us on the road. According to our driver, the elephant was angry and the shaking his head all while walking towards us. Apparently since it saw us first we were it’s locked target and we had to keep backing up until it eventually went into the jungle. I should have been terrified… But I was smiling like a fool.

Simba: He was everywhere… Usually the lions were napping in the grass. We saw one lioness sneaking through the grasses trying to hunt a wildabeast. Another mail lion was posing like a model for JCrew standing about 50 feet from us staring with it’s golden brown eyes.

The Ostriches: were so weird. They creep me out.

The wildabeast: were everywhere! At one point that’s all we could see. They were actually at our campsite. All night they made this weird noise that if you ask me when you see me I will try my best to mimic because why not lol.

The zebra: are apparently bffs with the wildabeast. They were also everywhere especially along the road. I think seeing them was one of the best parts.

The cheetas: were laying in the middle of the road!! We almost hit them! Such beautiful creatures and we were so lucky we got to see them up close!

The Vice President of China: was there! I know random right? But I have a picture to prove it. I think all of the police of Tanzania were with him too.

More Tembo: okay so I’m biased towards elephants but I also have another crazy story… One during which I saw my life flash before my eyes… So Saturday afternoon we arrived at our campsite to set up our tents. (We literally camped in the middle of the park… Not guard, no fence, just us!) but unpacking the car, I saw a Tembo walk up! She was beautiful and huge!! Then her baby walked up behind her! I was in heaven… And then shit hit the fan… I swear she was staring right at me and starting walking towards me and Jenn! Jenn hid behind a tent and I ran to the side as she walked up to my sleeping bag and stepped on it, kicking it away like she was in the World Cup. She past threw and then her baby panicked! She spun around looking for her mom making that elephant noise that I can’t think of a word for! My thoughts: great, my favorite animal is going to kill me. But guess what… I lived. I know shocking. The baby found it’s mother and they continued on their journey…

Those are some of the highlights from this trip… I’d tell you more but then I’ll have nothing to talk about when I get home!! Plus this is getting too long for even me to read… For those of you who have made it this far, I’ll have something special for you when I come back!

For now, Mickey and I will continue our adventures in Tanzania… So stay tuned…

Rafiki means friend

And so far that has been the best part about the trip. I have met locals on the street who have become our rafikis because it talk to them everyday. I have met people within my program who are from all over the world… Sweden, England, Canada, Holland, Germany.. And many more. We have met doctors, nurses, children, and vendors on the street. Every person has a different story, and sometimes a different language.

On Wednesday our program did a medical outreach at a hospital. There doctors gave out information about women’s sexual health to a group of women from different villages. It is amazing how little they know about safe health practices. After the doctor talked to them, mostly in Swahili, we broke into groups and answered their questions. It was hard because a lot of the women didn’t speak English but we did our best to explain different things.

On Friday, we had a dirty day. Literally. A group of volunteers from project abroad got together and we went and painted a school. It was freezing! I know. It may seem crazy to you, but it is actually kind of cold here, especially when it rains. We painted the outside of the building all day and in the end it looked pretty good.

After that was done Jenn and I really had a great Friday the thirteenth… Just wait you’ll see… On our way to the restaurant where our friend was waiting we got completely lost in the city. Not gonna lie I was terrified. I hate getting lost in Philly and I was lost in a foreign country… Hapana Asante! (It means no thank you). Eventually we figured the direction we were going in and made our way to the restaurant. Then when we were finally settled down to eat we noticed that Jenns bag was missing! That’s right missing! What the hell? Some very skilled person had taken it while we were eating. I still can’t believe we didn’t notice it! The good news is Jenn and I don’t actually keep anything valuable in our bags so the person was probably more pissed than anything when they found a map and some hand sanitizer in her bag. After that catastrophe we decided to call it a night and take a cab home. Last night was the first time that our home stay felt like home to me.

Today was another adventurous day. We met some friends, rafikis, at the shoprite and took a dala dala to a snake park! It was really cool… Mom you would have hated it! Haha I even got to hold a snake. It was there that I made friends with the monkey!! We rode camels too!!! It was awesome! And a little scary but still awesome 🙂 after that we went to a museum that had a lot of shops and art. I kind of felt like I was on a vacation today! Don’t worry Ginny, I will post all of the pictures!

Now here I am waiting with Jenn for a can at the Internet cafe. It’s hard to believe it’s been a week here! The time is flying by! In my short time here so far I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson… A smile is universal… When you are in a place where people speak a language other than your own, sometimes all you can do is smile… So do it and I’m sure that you will have a new Rafiki!

We found a shoprite!

We found a Shoprite!!… But it was closed. But hey we take what we can get…it was something close to home. Where In Arusha it is… I can’t tell you. Give me a week.

It has been overwhelming here! I think it took me over a week to figure out Gettysburg’s campus…let’s see how long it takes me to figure out the city of Arusha.

We live in a place called Sakina. It’s a small part of the city of Arusha. On Sunday, Manka took us to this traveling fair called Karibu. (Karibu means welcome in Swahili– see this blog is educational). Karibu was a huge fair that had a lot of different safari companies and such. It was cool to walk around and pretend like we weren’t sticking out like two sore thumbs. Still it was nice to explore.

On Monday we got an orientation of Arusha. In the morning, our manager picked us up and we started to walk to town. Then we got in a dala dala. The terrifying but cheap public transportation system of Tanzania. We were stuffed in there like sardines. We got off at the triple a night club. This means nothin to you but the more that I say landmarks the better I know them so just deal with it. Then we walked to the hospital and got a tour. (I will go in more detail about the hospital at a later date).

After the tour we walked some more and found the shoprite! By the shoprite, there were tons of European and American restaurants… And most importantly we saw Wazungu! Wazungu is the Swahili word for white people… And seeing other Wazungu is a rare occation, but when we do, I feel like I stick out a little less. Jenn and I brought clothes to make us fit in, but what were we kidding. Everywhere we go children point and about, “Wazungu!!” Sometimes I pretend they are pointing because I’m a celebrity. A lot of people try to touch my hair and hand. It’s just something we’ve got to get used to.

It’s all a part of the experience right? So far it has been a great experience though. And I am starting to get a little bit more comfortable with everything! I’m excited to start working and keep meeting more people!

Asante sana!
(Many thanks)

We made it!!

We have arrived!! After 24 long hours of travel… 36 long hours without sleep.. we made it!!

The trip over went uh… smoothly… We started out strong when our car did a 360 on ramp of the turnpike (sorry mom)… but we made it.. no structural damage.. just jenn made need therapy later in life.. and for the record, she was driving! Then we safely got to the airport, through customs and security… and on to the airplane. 2 and a half movies later, we arrived in Paris. The airport was huge but easy to navigate as we made it to our gate with an hour to spare, boarded the plane to Amsterdam. Then the stress began. Our flight was only supposed to be an hour, but it was delayed about 15 minutes. I know 15 minutes may not seem like a big deal, but when you only have an hour lay over before the next flight, it is a HUGE DEAL. We landed in Amsterdam five minutes after our plane to Kilimanjaro started to board. We sprinted through the airport with only 45 minutes till our plane was scheduled to take off. Then we had to wait in line to go through security and passport check for what seemed like forever to us (it was more like 10 minutes). And we finished up strong with a final sprint through the airport making the plane with 20 minutes to spare. It is easy to say that I probably ran more through the airport than I had in the past week.

Once we finally got our heart rates down to normal, we were able to enjoy our 9 hour flight. I tried to sleep, but the excitement was too much to contain. That and the fact that I really wanted to watch wolf on Wall Street and American Hustle. And I swear that the actor from American Hustle (the guy from the hangover) was on our plane in the first class section. Jenn doesn’t believe me but I am sticking with that story.

When we arrived to Kilimanjaro, we had to go through immigration and get fingerprinted. During that time Jenn and I were scanning the baggage area for our suitcases… spoiler alert — they made it!

We grabbed our items and headed out of the airport. We found two men with a sign that said Projects Abroad and went over to them. They welcomed us and gave me their phone to call home (Ginny that’s the weird number that called you while you were at work). Then they drove us to our host family. Boy were the roads bumpy.. I swear there is a speed bump every five minutes. Also, they drive on the left side of the road here… did NOT see that coming. And dear whoever thinks I am a bad driver.. please come to Tanzania. Dear lord. I feel like there are no rules for the road here. its like survival of the fittest… Note to self: never buy a car here.

We stayed on the made road, Arusha-Nairobi. Whats cool about this road, is its one of the few roads of the country and it stretches from one end to the other. After 45 minutes we turned off to a dirt road… yes it was even bumpier. Then we pulled up to a gate and out walked hour host mom. She welcomed us and took us and our bags into her home.

Now going into this trip, I really had no idea what to expect, especially with what our home stay would be like. Now let me tell you.. we lucked out. Our home is gorgeous. There is a dining room, kitchen, living room (with a television), bathroom (WITH A TOILET AND SHOWER), and three bedrooms. Jenn and I are living in bunk beds. Yes mom, they have malaria nets all set up. It actually looks like those princess curtains I used to have over my bed when I was little. So we unpacked and got some much needed sleep.

Today, Jenn and I stayed in our rooms unpacking some more before going outside. Our house maid made us Spanish Omlets and Yams. I loved it all.. Then our host mom, Manka, drove us into town. To be honest, I have no idea where I am in Arusha. We made many turns and got pulled over by a cop.. she paid him off. way to go Manka. And now here we are at this Internet Cafe. We have a taxi driver who is a friend of Manka’s who is going to take us somewhere to eat and then back home. Tomorrow, Manka and her daughter are going to take us to a market to buy some things. Then on Monday we have Orientation with Projects Abroad and start working at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital on Tuesday.

So far it has been an incredible, terrifying, and amazing experience.. and it has only been a few hours. Wifi is not really a thing here as far as we have seen, so it may be awhile until I get to post some pictures… but don’t worry I am taking lots!!

Kwa heri!!

Leaving soon

On Thursday I will be embarking on the adventure of a lifetime! At 4:30 pm eastern standard time I will take off towards Tanzania. I will spend my next five weeks living in Arusha, working at St. Elizabeth’s hospital. I cannot wait for this journey to begin and have no idea what to expect. I am going to try my best to update this with stories from my trip! Enjoy!!