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to africa

a travel blog by theresa

I'm going to Africa to see my brothers and my sisters, to see where they've been living, how they live, and how I can help meet their needs. I'm going to learn what primary health care looks like in a rural, third world country and hopefully open eyes to the circumstances of others. I'm going to practice what little I know about love and medicine and hopefully learn more about both in the journey.
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Love and Medicine

Lexington, United States

Twenty four and counting.
I suppose I should describe a little background to this trip, so perhaps it'll make a little sense:
Five years ago I went to India. I think mostly it was a thirst for adventure, but also a desire to do something different with my life without knowing exactly what that was. It was in India saw extreme poverty; naked, dirty, and staggering. I saw leprosy, a disease mostly eradicated here in the U.S. but extremely prevalent there. And then out of that overflowing pool of stark poverty and curable disease, I saw a generosity that humiliated me.
I guess the experience has never left me. It's definitely been a fuel in my desire to study medicine and a large influence in my perspective of health care, poverty, wealth, and what it means to have a 'successful life.'
So I started to study something that could possibly be used to make a practical, lasting effect on the world and the people who live in it: nursing. There were many times I honestly didn't know if I was going to make it all the way through school(it was hard as hell), but there were dreams I had that really drove me on through the finish line (besides my mom's unending coaching, lots of prayer and loads of grace).

One image I couldn't get out of my mind was a sick baby who just needed some fluids. In that dream I was helpless and could only observe it's suffering....
Another was sort of a vision of a thin emaciated child running towards me in some tropical jungle. I caught them with my outstretched arms and as we spun the child became whole and well again: obviously a scene out of some corny Shirley Temple film while we sang about the sun coming out tomorrow, but inspiring nonetheless.
The gnarled, yet loving faces of India have tackled me in my rest at times.
I can't live like they don't exist. I can't forget them.

Also, I've seen what uselessness I can become when I put away the responsibilities I feel about the poor and the sick. I'd rather die than live like that, all selfish and materialistic, promoting my own success or desires and ignoring the oppression of others. Jesus died giving and loving and I'd like to die like that.

Anyways, so during the last year I've been praying and checking out this website called www.ngoabroad.com and I called Ann to talk to her for a couple hours. She set me up with a special program specific to my personality, skills, and passion. I'll be headed to Cameroon, Africa on the 15th of October 2009 and won't return until the 17th of February 2010. In Cameroon I'll be aiding a local woman doctor as she provides care primarily to the poor and underprivileged. I'm gonna hopefully learn a lot about primary health care in a third world country, loads about love, and maybe even a little french, but this isn't really about me. It will definitely be a great experience, but more than that I'd like to open your eyes to Cameroon, Africa and the people who live there. I don't want you to forget them either.

So, if you have the time, I'm gonna try and keep this blog. I'll try and write about the things that I see more than anything. I want my readers to get a feel for what's out there and what's possible. Feel free to comment, keep in touch, and pray. My time of departure is closing in fast!

"The only nation is humanity." Paul Farmer

"Love the one in front of you." Heidi Baker

"My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I'm mistaken, after all.
Please, don't be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second."
-Wislawa Szymborska, "under one small star"

permalink written by  theresa on September 21, 2009 from Lexington, United States
from the travel blog: to africa
tagged Love, Africa, Mission, Cameroon, Nursing and Purpose

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a little about cameroon

Lexington, United States

so here she is.

Cameroon is also called 'miniature in africa' because of the diversity of terrains, climate and people groups. desert, Highlands, mountains, jungles and coastal terrains...(a.k.a. i'm really excited about exploring!) ...also, approximately 240 languages are spoken in the country. luckily English and french are included in the official languages!

there's history of a Portuguese presence in Cameroon as well. somewhere back in the 1500s those guys went over to visit and probably took things that weren't theirs, including people. good to know my ancestors left a mark for me.

i'm not going to pretend like i know a lot about the country...and i hesitate to cite everything suggested by www.cia.gov or wikipedia...so i guess i'll have to learn when i get there. just thought i'd host what little info i know...

permalink written by  theresa on September 23, 2009 from Lexington, United States
from the travel blog: to africa
tagged Information and Cameroon

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goodbye to friends

Lexington, United States

this week was full of goodbyes. i suppose it began by visiting my home church in campbellsville. then moorehead, ky to spend some precious last moments with sara, a dear friend of mine. my last 3 nights at UK hospital were very eventful. i was showered with generosity, kind words, good food. i even got a cookie cake that said "jokes" on it and a necklace reminding me to "be the change i want to see in the world" and gifts of tylenol and toothbrushes that will hopefully help some cameroonian soon to have headache relief and a brighter smile. saturday morning i was taken out for breakfast by some of the girls at work. it seems so surreal that i have to say goodbye to these women who've been such a joy to work with and know. the ladies of 5th floor at UK have taught me so much about caring for patients, serving people, and providing great medical care. i don't know what i'll do without having them by my side as excellent resources and friends! saturday night it really hit me that i was leaving. i think my heart broke a little bit, watching old friends go and sensing the finality of my moments. i've been so blessed to have such amazing friends this last year. i'm lucky to not have to say goodbye to everyone all at once. maybe that would be easier, but i think i enjoy having the extra time to process it all. sunday night my church prayed for me. it was really special hearing their words. i've learned so much about love and faith from these people. i've never known such a simple and kind community. they've really challenged me to be good to people, good to the planet, and to live faithfully and patiently.

my drive away from lexington tonight was a little lonely. i felt like a person who was choosing an experience instead of relationships. i could see the ways people might feel abandoned. it's not like that though. the people that have been in my life thus far have shaped me and inspired me in so many ways. i suppose this is my thank you note to them. all of them. and this is my attempt to keep you all involved...

as for this next chapter of my life, i can hardly contain my excitement. i get to share all the things that have been shared with me. i get to give back a little. i feel like i'm about to fly a little bit. and while i'm sure my heart will break even more when i have to say goodbye to my family, i can only look forward with long awaited anticipation.

also! i found out we'll be traveling to rural villages to provide healthcare, not just remaining in the city. (this really excites me) i have all kinds of ideas of what this trip will be like, but there's really no telling, so i'm going with an open mind ready to learn. i just hope i'm a help and not a hindrance!

permalink written by  theresa on October 11, 2009 from Lexington, United States
from the travel blog: to africa
tagged Goodbye and Anticipation

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24 hours...and counting!

Campbellsville, United States

it's honestly closer to 23 hours. but i've been printing out my itinerary... i'm still not fully packed, and wondering if it's all going to fit. i have one suitcase filled with medical supplies thanks to the generosity of many friends. THANK YOU

plans are to leave at 4am in the morning.
i'm so excited. i just hope i do well, adjust quickly, and learn fast. i'm real excited about the plane trip too. i love traveling!
it's important to me that i'm not traveling just to travel, just for the experience. i have a purpose. whether or not the world understands it is fine with me. honestly, i don't think i do a very good job of explaining it when people don't understand or don't agree. i suppose if i try to live it out maybe one day they'll realize the point. it really doesn't take going to africa to make the difference i want to make in the world. i'm not sure what entirely it takes honestly, but i think it takes being open...taking people in just as they are and accepting them. opening our home and our heart to those in need of rest and love. opening our checkbook to those in need. it doesn't have to start with a trip to africa or having complete strangers or all the homeless people in your city over for a meal...it doesn't even have to end that way. it sometimes starts with saying hi to the person next to you, being generous at a stop light, actually chatting with that grungy kid on the corner just to find out they're actually a person who's life circumstances have screwed them to poverty. making a difference in the world might be just spending ourselves for one moment in order to give another person a little break and realize their humanity. not as hard as it seems really...but then at times very challenging. ...it's just so easy to forget that
"the world that is satisfying to us is the same world that is utterly devastating to them." -r.m. brown
i never want to live away from that...
i see my sisters and my brothers and wonder how i would act if i heard they were born into circumstances i've heard of.... i would act rapidly and aggressively. i would sell everything i owned to extract them from the situation immediately. it could have been you or i, you know? i guess we've just been blessed...or cursed. sometimes i'm not sure. i suppose it depends on what we do with our blessings.

permalink written by  theresa on October 14, 2009 from Campbellsville, United States
from the travel blog: to africa
tagged Thoughts, Anticipation and Hope

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airport musings

Louisville, United States

this is the beginning.

here i am with my new tan&black rolley bag and my guitar leaning close to me. ole girl (not me) takes up four seats close to the plug in station so the floor is the only option for me. i'm checkin the lights of louisville out, smelling the bounce rising out of my suitcase and my hoodie (which i'm very glad that i have), listening to john mayer's 'why georgia'

"everything happens for a reason
it's no reason not to ask yourself
if you're living it right
are you living it right?"

leaving some..or all... of the people that mean the most to me nearly makes me question leaving them. it just hurts. hurts to see them hurt. aches to walk away from them. i love them so much. the last thing i want is to hurt anyone.
it would be so easy to turn back. to stay. to build my place beside them. to get the most loving hugs and kisses everyday. to never leave their ever holding arms and ever kind words.

i can't stay though. there are so many people in the world who don't know the kind of love that i have known. there are so many broken hearts, broken lives, broken people. i just want to share some of what i have experienced...

if i could forgive people the way my mother forgives, if i could hold people the way manny and mary hold me, if i could laugh like my nick or listen like matt... if i could be strong and determined like angella....if i could be consistent like the lord... the world would know love....

"god is love. whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him..." 1 Jn. 4:16

teach me love.

lucky me.
my flight got cut a bit shorter. i'll have a direct flight to Washington, d.c. (instead of going to chicago to change planes). AND they gave me a free round trip ticket to any place in the states in the next year because of the "inconvenience." i've always wanted this to happen to me!!!!!!

permalink written by  theresa on October 15, 2009 from Louisville, United States
from the travel blog: to africa
tagged Flight, Airport and Excitement

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Washington, United States

"where you headed?" =SDF travel agent
"Cameroon" -me
"...is that out of the .U.S.? "
"...yes..yes it is."

sorry...i just thought a travel agent would know :)

last night i got about an half an hour of sleep. the night before i only got about 4-5 hours. the excitement has been waking me up in the middle of the night for at least a week. at last night i had a best friend hang out til one while i bug sprayed my clothing and did last minute packing...
part of why i still wasn't finished was not procrastination but mostly forgetfulness...(i'm not sure which is better).but you see i forgot premetherin soak for my clothes and when heidi brought it i had to spray all of them and wait for them to dry...it took a while. that was at about 1 am.
so..you see...i was pretty exhausted when my mother dropped me off at SDF airport. i slept through the entire flight. i can't remember the take-off, flight, or landing. i think i woke myself up once talking. and another time drooling. (lucky for my co-passenger). i was only slightly delerious so i'm sure i was an enjoyable travel companion.

thank you mom for my spicy italian panini and my last caramel latte.


(p.s....this computer won't let me put excitement marks...boo)

permalink written by  theresa on October 15, 2009 from Washington, United States
from the travel blog: to africa
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Douala, Cameroon

i realized i was headed towards a foreign land when all the people around me looked and sounded very different. i suddenly realized i didn't know french...hardly a word. oddly enough, the flight had english words on the back of the seats, all of the flight attendants were able to speak english well, and most of the movies that were showing played only in english (unfortunate for the french only speaking cameroonian woman next to me). i helped her handle the remote only to find that most of the shows she was interested in were not going to be translatable.

i, however, was able to enjoy a few and i would recommend watching The Proposal. I really loved it :)

Upon landing, I had to find my bag and decided they must have sent it down to the baggage claim. Down a dimly lit corridor that smelled a smell strangely familiar, i was wordlessly directed (as were all the other passengers). I began wondering if anyone would really be there to pick me up at all. I mean...they didn't really have to, right?... it was only slightly exciting. I decided to trust that they just would be. I walked and there was a lady at a counter standing and selling something. she stared long enough that I decided i was supposed to talk to her. she was giving SIMS cards out. whatever those are...for your phone i think... i did'nt need one so i began to walk away and she asked me if i had a card filled out important for entry. i did. she was obviously trying to be helpful as she directed me where to go. i went thru customs thankfully without any conflicts and as i went to get my bags the woman from before came up next to me and asked me if there would be anyone to pick me up. "who knows." i laughed and then said "hopefully"...she didn't really laugh, but instead helped me find a baggage pusher and taught me how to use it...(they are surprisingly tricky).

so...it turned out to be just like the movies. a little round woman with brown round eyes held out a sign in front of me that declared,
It was very nice to be found.
Especially in this dimly lighted, strange, and bustling place.

It turned into a 3 hour drive home. The freeway was nice...nice enough to go backwards on at times. I think the drivers here must be very close to the skill of my father (who is the best driver in the world). It was dark. The sky was brilliantly lit with stars. People were everywhere; the side of the streets, in the buildings, on the street, in front of our car... We did at one point stop for some money exchange. There were men dressed in white robes who pulled money from the folds like magic. We didn't even get out of our car. I felt like we were exchanging unmentionables, but we weren't.

When we finally made it to the place i will be calling home for the next 4 months I met my gracious host.
We stayed up talking for a couple hours about medicine and what she does and Cameroon.
Unfortunate that I won't be aiding in many (if any) surgeries...but fortunate that I have such a laidback teacher who will lead me through rural visits, education programs, and basic clinic care

Tomorrow is another day\! (i found the excitement mark!)

permalink written by  theresa on October 16, 2009 from Douala, Cameroon
from the travel blog: to africa
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day 1

Douala, Cameroon

my first meal in cameroon consisted of fish and rice and sauce. the fish reminded me of a very fishy trout...with little bones, good meat, and the skin still left on it. it's round and long with one bone through the center. it made for a delicious first...and second...and third meal :)

after that the doctor's daughter and i went to market. it was brilliantly busy with MANY buildings made with a pole at each corner, a tin roof, and some had something similar to seedsacks laying on the floor to keep it clean. there were vegetables, spices, and fruits of all kind. (2 small pineapples selling for 500 franks (1 dollar=450 franks!). People shop very locally around here! :) We even bought a chicken (a live one) and carried it home (tomorrow we'll eat it). ....For a chicken about to lose her life, she was very well-behaved.
I was looking for some pants (i DEFINITELY could have worn my own), and stepped into the 'dressing room.' (there were more pants around me. no mirror.) ...it's quite an adventure.
fortunately, i felt that i'm not as famous here as i was in India. more people smiled at me in a friendly way, than in a "i can't take my eyes off of you" kind of thing. i did get hissed at only a couple times and it took me back to bolivia for a moment. phht phht...
i feel like a child at times. slightly dumb since i'm unable to communicate very clearly with people. lucky for me this is primarily an english speaking area and the only thing really holding me back is catching on to the accent. it must be what newbies experience in the heart of kentucky with our "ya'lls" and "ain'ts".

when we returned from market, the daughter and i worked for half an hour to an hour on peeling ginger and garlic. my mom would probably be proud of me, but offended that i don't work as hard at home! (sorry mom!)

then i went to take a short nap...which turned into three hours. i thought night shift would make the time change easier but i find myself very sleepy. of course, it is only the end of the first day.

speaking more with the doctor about the kind of work that we will do is very interesting. we've talked about a lot of ideas i hadn't thought of when it comes to community healthcare. i'm very eager to work bedside her and learn....

all for now! love you all!

permalink written by  theresa on October 17, 2009 from Douala, Cameroon
from the travel blog: to africa
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day 2

Douala, Cameroon

1) i'm surprised to have such available internet access. i probably won't be able to write everyday, but will do what i can. plus, this computer has quite a virus and is unfortunately completely inaccessible at times.

2)the doctor...
i was able to speak with her a bit about why she does what she does (and what that exactly is!) i am happy to say that ann from NGOabroad has fitted me with quite a perfect match...of course it takes time, but hearing the doctor talk this morning was so encouraging.

she's a medical doctor, educated in northern africa...she could've gone to europe, U.S.A, or wherever and made much more than she does here, but
"why would i work to earn more money? money fades away. i can pay my bills. i can eat. staying in cameroon, i can help people," she says (a slight paraphrase). she has chosen to serve the poor and underpriveledged, to make meager earnings, and be happy.

i'm also happy to find that she believes in God quite faithfully and simply. her lifestyle is so christian that it really softens and moves me. i'm really excited about being under her roof during my stay here.

today i helped cook a chicken dish with palm oil, garlic, and ginger...also we used the huckleberry (not honeysuckle)...and we ate a paste like bread called 'fu fu' (sp?). i liked it!
i think i am surprising them with my ever-willing eating habits.
i suppose after eating my mom's cooking for so long, i've been prepared to eat anything..(.including chicken feet! (and they gave me the heart!!) (jokes about your cooking, mom! i love your cooking...and would kill for some meatloaf!)

love you all.

i appreciated a segment from oswald's book today:
'"the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit..' ro. 5:5. ...it is that love in me that effectively works thru me & comes in contact witheveryone i meet. i remain faithful to his name, even tho the commensense view of my life may seemingly deny that...and {even tho my life} may appear to be declaring that He has no more power than the morning mist.",
is it possible to at the same time "remain faithful" when it seems like the your life declares otherwise? .
i suppose he sees deeper than the "commonsense view" of things.

permalink written by  theresa on October 18, 2009 from Douala, Cameroon
from the travel blog: to africa
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the clinic

Douala, Cameroon

today was my first day of visiting the clinic.

i went there with ketch after i took an inventory of the items i brought from the US.
it's one large room that you walk into with long school bench seating along the edges. there is a desk a few feet in with a dark woman dressed in white seated behind it. i took a right to the doctors office and checked a room with two beds and an IV pole to one side....and ahead the doctors office. a desk piled with papers and educational literature, a wall stacked beside meager sums of medical supplies. i saw old glass vials of ampicillin along with packages of sterile NS and LR. there were no filtering syringes...no iv bags made specifically for certain vials...

this day we only had perhaps 4 patients. we took two vitals of each patient: temperature and blood pressure...filled out their patient forms on pages that smelt of time and let them wait til the doctor came to retrieve them...or merely called from her chamber.

mostly in this day we sat. we waited for patients. we read from my tropical medicine book, which i'm very happy to bring here. the other nurses and pathophysiologists found great entertainment among her pages.
zinger showed me the basics to labratory testing of syphilis, malaria, and typhoid, which was very exciting. it seemed very ancient to me. the bottles seemed old and used, as did the supplies. due to lack of supply, the experienced bloodworker had to reuse supplies he would have otherwise disposed of. little things like the most basic of eye droppers. everyone was very kind and patient with me...even if they had to explain something twice...even if they didn't have to, but due to hindered communication levels just THOUGHT they had to...

and afterwards helen, and zinger, and franklin and i (all in the medical profession) met at a local pub for grilled beef and onions on a stick and some amstel lager...we spoke of climbing the mountain and furthering our careers and enjoying our families.

it was a good good night.
and it ended with rice and beans!!

and tomorrow we'll go to the community to teach...and to inform of some extra test we will be performing on saturday. i'm looking forward!!

permalink written by  theresa on October 19, 2009 from Douala, Cameroon
from the travel blog: to africa
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"For me, an area of moral clarity is: you're in front of someone who's suffering and you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate that suffering or even eradicate it, and you act. " (paul farmer)

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