Monthly Archives: October 2010

Bridge Over [Africa’s] Troubled Waters

Two weeks ago my journey through Africa concluded as I returned to America. Two weeks I’ve been back in the Midwest adjusting to a society of convenience, overstimulation, impersonal exchanges, and hectic living. Two weeks since I last put pen to paper in an effort to document my thoughts and feelings during this new phase of transition.

Today I muster up courage to write even though I’m still processing. Today I break the silence to tell you about some good news and bad news.

The bad news?

  1. Today 1 billion people without access to water. Clean, safe water.
  2. This week 38,000 children under age 5 will die from unsafe drinking water and unsanitary living conditions.
  3. This year African women will walk over 40 billion hours, carrying over 40lbs of water. Water which is usually still not safe to drink.

This issue violates the basic human right to clean water and sanitation.

clean water africa

photo courtesy of Living Water International: http://www.water.cc

This issue hits close to home…
Because in the village I called home, I watched my neighbors drink water from the same creek in which they washed clothes, bathed children, and dumped waste.

Because most days someone I knew was hospitalized, suffering from any number of diseases spread through unsanitary water.

Because even though I was diligent about boiling and filtering water, I still contracted typhoid fever, amoebic dysentery, among other parasitic infections. May I never again take clean water for granted.

This issue has changed me. I’m trying to stop wasting water…
Before I went to Africa, I used to take long, hot showers.

Before I went to Africa, I used to leave the faucet running while brushing my teeth.

Before I went to Africa, I used to throw clothes in the washing machine even when they weren’t visibly or smellably dirty.

The good news?

This issue can be changed. And YOU can help change it…

  1. Educate yourself. Learn the facts.
  2. Find out how much water you use and discover ways to conserve water. Calculate your water footprint. Use the Web calculator or download the iPhone app
  3. Follow San Francisco’s lead and stop drinking bottled water (1/3 of which is actually tap water).
  4. Clean up our water. Dispose of hazardous products correctly.
  5. Consider making a donation to a reputable water project like Charity: water or Living Water International.

FYI: Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event which unites bloggers worldwide. By focusing on the same issue, blogs are able to generate discussion and encourage social action. Its a wonderfully noble, forward-thinking concept, put forth by change.org. Today the global conversation is centered on water. Clean, safe water.

Animal Planet

Before Africa, the only type of animals I knew where either caged creatures at the local zoo or domesticated pets. No comparison.

mama ostrich and her babies

You don’t talk during a safari. You become mute like a giraffe because your mouth just hangs open, speechless at the sights.

what does a giraffe say? nothing…it makes no sound. giraffes communicate entirely through gestures.

Guess this is why they call it wildlife. How does one control a herd of elephants like this? They don’t. They get out of the way.

stampede of elephants

zebra, eland, impala

Parting Gifts

I’ve been meaning to write, but honestly, it’s been difficult. Those beatitudes that I mentioned. Yeah those? Well, they were tested. More accurately, my faith was tested.

Perhaps Africa just wanted to say goodbye and leave me with a few souvenirs before I returned to America.

During my final three weeks in Burundi, I suffered an onslaught of illnesses: malaria, amoebic dysentery, intestinal infection, typhoid fever. These came very nicely packaged with severe symptoms, painful treatments, and a delay in my travel itinerary.

The temptation to succumb to despair was overwhelming.

It’s always easier to give up than it is to persevere under trials. Nevertheless, I’ve been working on changing my attitude. So I decided to look for blessings in the midst of the mire; find a way to persevere. And as I gazed into the flames of a fiery furnace, I saw God’s presence by my side; His hand upon my life.

His presence was manifest through presents. Corny, I know. But that’s how I saw it. I saw eight gifts in eight days…kind of like Hanukkah in Africa.

The Gifts

Gift 1: Chicken soup
Olivia, an expat working with GLO in Burundi, became a very close friend over the past few months. Through Olivia, God gave me the comforts of home during my illness (running water, quietness, chicken soup, toast). Although my Burundian host family was entirely generous and caring, beans and rice aren’t usually on the menu of “comfort foods”.

Gift 2: Bedside medical care
Hospitals in East Africa are not the most cleanly, welcoming, or warm environment, if you catch my drift. And praise the Lord, I didn’t have to be admitted for inpatient care. God gave me Adam, a trained medical professional from South Carolina serving as a short-term missionary. Adam was willing to administer IVs and medical treatment at my bedside in Olivia’s home.

Gift 3: Get out of jail FREE card
Due to these unforeseen medical conditions, I was leaving Burundi a few days later than anticipated. I was leaving Burundi with an expired visa. I was leaving Burundi, a nation ranked as the most corrupt among all others in East Africa.

Departing with an expired visa has the potential of reaping severe consequences including steep fines or even jail. God gave me Sadate, police officer and friend of my host family. He was able to negotiate our way through the immigration offices and I was able to leave the country without any financial penalty.

Gift 4: Faces of Joy
Having finally left Burundi, I returned to the Amani headquarters in Kenya for a few days of debriefing. Upon arrival, I was surrounded by an exuberant group of women eager to see my face again. God gave me joy through reunion with these women who had become so dear to me a few months prior.

The women had been informed of my illness. They told me they had been praying for me daily. Knowing that these women—women who have suffered much more pain, illness, and devastation than I will ever know—have been on their knees for me was humbling. And encouraging.

Gift 5: Mini-safari
My final day in Nairobi was spent with some Kenyan friends exploring the 30,000 acres of Nairobi National Park. God gave me an up-close and personal view of His creation.

I have been forever ruined for American zoos. Caged creatures have nothing on animals in their natural habitat.

Animal Planet: zebra, wildebeest, eland, giraffe

Gift 6: Familiar Face
Returning to America was supposed to be straightforward: Uganda to Chicago. That was before the British Airways financial crisis which caused a mis-connect in my itinerary and an overnight stay in London.

One week prior to my departure, a former college friend who had relocated to the UK contacted me. Miraculously we were able to re-connect during my day in London to enjoy a lovely Italian meal at a quaint restaurant overlooking Windsor Castle. God gave me a friendly face in a foreign city.

Gift 7: Cleanliness
This may not sound like a gift, but for a girl who’s been bathing out of buckets (a.k.a. splash baths), this was heaven-sent. God gave me a hot shower at my hotel in London. Oh, the things we take for granted.

Gift 8: Reunion
Tonight, I got to see my family again. That was the greatest gift of all. The look on their faces at the airport was priceless. Friends decorated the house with signs and flowers to welcome me home. God gave me sweet reunion with loved ones. I feel utterly cherished.