Friday, April 25, 2008

World Malaria Day...

Even though I am on vacation, away from Sierra Leone, away from the clinic, away from malaria, I do want to take the time to recognize World Malaria Day.

- a disease I diagnose every day when I am working in the clinic

- the disease that has taken the lives of some of the children that I have cared for.
- contracted by up to 1/2 billion people per year.
- killing more than 1 million people per year, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
- the leading cause of death in African children under 5; killing a child every 30 seconds
- claims more lives in Sierra Leone than HIV/AIDS
- breeds poverty and underdevelopment in vast regions of the world
- IS preventable and treatable.

This year’s theme - Malaria: A disease without borders - emphasizes the need for global collaboration in the fight against malaria including the need for cross border strategies, well documented strategies and coordinated actions at both international and local levels.

How can you help FIGHT MALARIA???

The Getty in LA...

Downtown LA...

Union Station Los Angeles.
Sandra and Morgen in LA.
Union Station, where they filmed 'Alias' scenes.
Tallest palm trees ever & a very blue sky.

Malibu hike...

L.A. Trip...

Los Angeles was FABULOUS. I had a great time with my friend Morgen (who used to work in Sierra Leone with me) and her husband & family. It was seriously like being with my own family. I loved it. It was fun catching up and a bonus being able to see bits and pieces of LA too. We did all sorts of things: hiking in Malibu Creek National Park, driving past Beverly Hills, watching the Golf Masters tournament with Morgen’s husband and brother (I’d never watched but seeing as we each took on the name of one of the players it was quite fun, and me being Immelman, won!), going to their church and hearing her husband speak, first burger at In-N-Out, trip to The Getty museum with an amazing garden, dinner in Korea Town (a definite highlight, with a table with a built in BBQ so that we could cook the meat at our table), checking out downtown LA, walking around the neighborhood, visiting at the church office, lovely home cooked dinners at the appartment, first time shopping at Trader Joe’s, going out for brunch in a cute little cafĂ©. Lots of fun in other words! (pics to follow)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Snow in Denver...

I honestly didn't think I would be seeing snow on this trip.
I've had quite the range of temperatures.
From a week of rain and cold in Holland, followed by a sunnier week.
To a few days of hot & dry weather in Los Angeles (reaching 90F, 32C)
To a cold first day in Denver yesterday with snow.
Strangely the weather in Denver varies quickly...from 2C on day to 22C the next.

Doctor Zoey...

So, one of my last evenings in Holland my nieces pulled out their medical kit.
It was so cute to see them play. And we had lots of fun.
They look quite professional don't they; okay, maybe besides sucking on the syringe.
It just so happened that the day after these pictures I felt miserable and also had to go for my meningitis and typhoid shots.

3 out of 4 flights delayed...

Flight 1: Freetown – Brussels. 8 hr delay. Quite the event which made for some great blogging.

Flight 2: Amsterdam – Dulles. No delay. Good flight.

Flight 3: Dulles – Los Angeles. Delay due to storm.
As we were about to take off we hear there is a big storm 100 miles to the west of us.
No flying allowed. Stranded on the runway.
10 minutes later we are told we might be re-routed but nothing official yet.
15 minutes, no news.
90 minutes later we are told we can take off and take a different route.
Off we go.
An hour into the 5 hour flight we are told we are behind schedule due to strong head wind.
We might need to make an extra landing to refuel, unless, we can get on our original route.

I'm awfully tired. Been up for almost 24 hour.
Loads of turbulence on this flight. This has really not been a good flight.
Finally we're okayed to switch routes and end up in LA a few hours later than expected.

Flight 4: Los Angeles – Denver. 330pm flight.
Everything looked good. Quick check-in. Plane at gate. Ready to board.
Then it happened.
Just before boarding we hear that there is a problem.
One of the aircraft doors had malfunctioned and needed to be fixed.
We received an update every 10 minutes.
Well, the updates were the same “it’s not fixed yet”.
Finally we hear there are some options:
-1- door fixed, take off as expected
-2- door not fixed, board plane with no one seating next to broken door
-3- door not fixed, re-book.
They stated that option 2 was not safe, so why it was even an option...???
I saw there was a flight at 5pm and got wait listed.
32 people on the wait list for 15 seats.
I watched as my name slowly moved further down the list as those with connections were prioritized.
(So that’s what my patients must feel like when we prioritize)
I didn’t get on and wandered back to my original gate.
And surprise surprise the door was fixed and we boarded at 515pm.
Fortunately the flight ended up taking 30 min less than stated, so the delay wasn’t too bad.

3 flights left in the planning. Wonder how those will go.
But for now, I’m not even going to think about those flights.
I’m going to enjoy my vacation in Denver!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

News from home...

I am in Los Angeles.
A world away from my life in Sierra Leone.
Taking in the sunshine.
Enjoying times with friends.

Then I hear that one of my Sierra Leonean colleagues passed away this morning.
Is it really true?
In a whirlwind my thoughts are back in Africa.
Reality hits hard.

The statistics have become real once again.
A mother and a child lost.
This time the mother was my friend.
Can it get any more real than that?

My thoughts are with her husband.
With her family.
With my fellow colleagues.
Far away from LA.

All I can do is pray.
Believe that He is in control.
Know that my friend is in a better place.
And trust that He will comfort those of us who have lost a friend/colleague/wife.

In a country with the highest child and maternal mortality, this is another statistic.
To those of us involved it is much more.
Words fall short.
I am speechless.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Fun in a maze of activities...

We had lots of fun at an indoor playground a few days ago. I literally found myself in a maze of activities...having to crawl through small tunnels, in between padding, going off of slides, treading through zillions of plastic balls, riding miniature bicycles, walking on a rope bridge, climbing through all sorts of things hoping I wouldn't get stepped on etc. The things we do for others. Ah, honestly, I loved being able to be a child again!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Visiting friends in Arnhem...

This year's visit to Arnhem was very short but very sweet. I had an absolutely wonderful time with good friends. And they spoiled me once again. I visited with friends I've known for years & have so many memories with. It was great to catch up, have some fun, etc. We went to a big zoo in Arnhem for the afternoon which was fun and also quite funny since I used to work there- hosting parties etc. Then we went out for a tasty dinner and then headed home to meet up with some more friends.

We spent the evening chatting and catching up. Lots has changed- children have been born, houses have been bought, jobs have changed. Lots of news. Many things are different. But it was good to know we could still share all of these things together. It's good to feel re-connected again. Thanks friends for an excellent time!


Time with my nieces has been great. The day I arrived at their house they were a bit shy; probably for all of 30 minutes. Within no time I found myself playing hide and seek, jumping on pillows and swinging my nieces around. Seeing as they both wanted to be swung around, I thought I'd try 2 at a time. And it worked! They loved it.

Zoey remembers me as aunt Sandra, but also as 'knuffelmonster'- a name that stuck from the last time I visited- basically meaning a 'hugging monster', that being a friendly monster of course. Anyway, I have to live up to my name, so there are always lots of times for hugs, which usually involves running after my nieces and lots of laughter. The cutest thing happened the first night I was here- at dinner time Zoey prayed and she basically said she was thankful that 'knuffelmonster' (me) was here. The fact that she called me that in a prayer was quite funny. Fortunately she does know my real name too.

Since being here we've done a lot of activities- coloring, making a house out of couch pillows, painting with bath paint, playing outside, doing flips on the monkey bars at the playground, blowing bubbles, singing and dancing, going crazy in a huge indoor playground, playing games, teaching Zoey to take pictures, reading books, etc. It's been good. What can I say, they're the cutest!

Different scenarios...

A few cultural scenarios…just because…

Just before arriving in Brussels we were served ‘breakfast’ on the plane, if you can call it that. It consisted of: a single chocolate croissant. I didn’t find it the greatest of breakfasts; it was a very tiny croissant. Anyway, I couldn’t help but wonder what some of the Africans were thinking as they were served this small bread like food with a squirt of chocolate paste in the center. I’m sure some of them were craving rice with sauce at that point.

One of the first things I noticed on arriving in Europe was that the people do not seem as open and friendly. Basically on the street you are only talked to if you are asked a question or ask a question yourself. Not much greeting happens. In contrast to Sierra Leone, where just a few weeks ago I was walking along Spur Road in Freetown with a few expat friends, when I started a converstation with a Sierra Leonean lady walking in front of me with a baby in her arms; just a brief greeting and asking her about the baby etc. At the time it wasn’t awkward and quite pleasant. However, being back here, I can imagine anyone would think I was crazy or rude if I started a similar conversation with a total stranger on the street! Makes our culture seem somewhat cold…

After taking 3 trains from Brussels to Holland, I had to take a bus for the last hour. I figured I’d have to put my suitcase in the baggage compartment and quickly wondered if someone would be likely to help me or not. I figured that this being such a self-centered society, it was very unlikely. However, I also thought, that on the off-chance that someone would help me, they would probably do it free of charge. This being unlike one of the check-in men at Lungi airport in Sierra Leone, who after checking in my luggage asked me if I was going to tip him. My reply was of course, ‘no, this is your job’. I suppose it’s always worth a try...and maybe I shouldn’t blame them for asking, at least they are giving a helping hand…

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

24-7 power & lights on the street...

Like I said, there are quite a few differences... I love the bicycle lights.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Reverse culture shock...

To be honest, this is the first time I have not felt like I was going through reverse culture shock on returning to the developed world. Yay. I even survived shopping downtown for all of 2 hours the day after I arrived here! It’s been different in the past. Somehow it seems easier to adjust this time of year, rather than around Christmas time with the craze and materialism that goes along with the season. Needless to say however, the differences are obvious. Here are a few observations I have made/things I’ve experienced over the past 6 days to illustrate the differences…

- Seeing fields of green grass as the plane approaches the landing strip in Brussels.
- Being able to drink a tall cold glass of real milk.
- The language; no Krio and lots of Dutch, fortunately the transition has been easy.
- It’s cold & wet rather than hot & humid. I even saw a few small piles of snow the day I arrived.
- There are street lights and they work.
- And wait, are those traffic lights?
- Happy that I realized I can charge my phone at any time here. Yay for 24 hour power.
- Thinking oh no I drank tap water, oh wait, that is okay here.
- Sophisticated infrastructure. Holland is known for its special bike paths- small mini roads with miniature traffic lights especially for the biking traffic; cute and convenient.
- A shower that I can actually wash my hair in standing up. Thank God for great water pressure.
- There are a lot of white kids here! And yay, they’re not all showing up to see me!
- And there are many elderly people. I never really thought about it much before, but feel it’s almost bizarre to see so many people over the age of 60. Obviously a much higher life expectancy here.
- No sky high walls with razor wire on top; I can actually see the neighborhood.
- And I can walk around, on my own, morning afternoon evening and night if I please.
- What is that orange thing in the fruit basket? Oh, an orange! They’re not green here?
- One of the roads under construction here (now looks like a dirt road), looks better than most roads in Freetown.
- I rode a bike again, after 8 months of not riding.

I’m sure there are many more differences but this gives you an idea. I haven’t even touched issues such as health care (the fact that there were only 3 people in the waiting room at the doctor’s office when I was there at 1115 yesterday morning), abundance of schools, housing, etc. I can only imagine what it must be like for native Africans to make a trip across to Europe for the first time. Talk about culture shock.

~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~