Goodbyes but also some hellos in the final days

July 12, 2011

This was a rather uneventful week at work as I waited for all of the samples to be collected before starting the tests. In terms of people, this week was one of the best and worst. So many people were leaving this week (8 in total by Monday), but this meant lots of goodbye parties and memories. Tuesday night it was at Lauren’s where I helped her to cook burgers. She was quite a cook and even more so because of the 1950s kitchen in each home. Time passed so quickly as Lauren and I goofed off in the kitchen making what seemed like millions of burgers and when we went out to eat, grabbed a glass of wine, and finally joined the party. It was quite a feast and everyone (volunteers) was there enjoying themselves either by the bonfire outside or dancing in the kitchen. It was sad to think that Lauren, Crystal, and Betsy were all leaving the next day and I knew I would be feeling rather lonely. Two British boys had just arrived and the best way to describe them would be as US frat boys because they popped their collars, wore board shorts, and had bottle openers in their flip flops. Crystal and Betsy finally showed up at 10 after spending a lengthy amount of time with Turid, the medical director’s wife, and they were quite exhausted. They had been working like maniacs since the beginning but the last week they had warned me would be insane (they were right). I always asked why they worked so hard because I could tell they didn’t always enjoy it but they would say that this is their last visit due to funding so it has to be finished…. period. There is a different sense of urgency when a timeline starts to run out on a project that’s a thousand miles away. Anyways back to the party, they finally ate and started to finally relax because the long hours were over. People started to peter out, some med students came in to sing Lauren a song, which was very cute, and she made me promise that I’d be the last to leave (and I agreed obviously). The only silver lining to people leaving is being able to take stuff they’re leaving behind so I was able to inherit various random items I needed, but wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere in Haydom or maybe even Arusha (for example hand sanitizer, a cord for the computer, and many movies off of her hard drive). I said a goodbye, but I was driving to the airstrip with them tomorrow morning so I could have a proper one.

Marion and Lauren walkin' it out at Lauren's goodbye party

Of course I went to bed at 2 in the morning so waking up at 6 was a bit of a struggle, but I threw on clothes and loaded into the cruiser with my America buddies. At the airport I held back tears as I hugged them goodbye with the Norwegian pilot hurrying us along in the background. Nina, a med student from Denmark, loaded into the cruiser with her family, who had just arrived, to go on safari together. I went on with my day, headed to the lab, and came home to a very empty house. Work was good, but it was slowly sinking in that I would be leaving next Thursday and I wasn’t ready to go. I was ready to do more than just my research and help the girls with their testing or follow doctors but there was little time left. In the afternoon I went with Katka, Jaap, Eljakim, and Marion to the Armada, which is a twice-monthly traveling market that comes to Haydom. We went in search of congas (fabric for a wrap skirt) and Maasai blankets (they’re wrapped around their shoulders most often). The market was colorful, loud, and full of the most unusual and random items. My best analogy is that it is similar to a traveling Walmart. Jaap and I split two beautiful fabrics; one a bold turquoise geometric pattern and the other a black and tan zebra pattern piece with zebras along the bottom. Eljakim and Jaap found vibrant Maasai blankets and I am so glad Katka was there with us to help haggle brilliantly in Swahili (she’s been there for 6 months). Time after time we would ask for the price and it would be 2 times the amount it normally is just because we were wazunugu (white people) and they assumed we didn’t know the real price or what the local people paid. It is quite customary for the bartering transaction to occur in various shops and in due time I would get my chance as well. We headed to a place to get all of our pieces split and hemmed for about one dollar. While we waited we headed to Two Sisters (the place to shop for the volunteers) and had a soda to relax.

This week zoomed by due to another illness I got Thursday morning that was bad enough that I had to take Cipro. I hoped this would be the last sickness of the trip because I wanted to be healthy before starting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I unfortunately missed the going away party/bonfire for Jaap, Eljakim, Katka, and Kajsa. Saturday I was feeling much better.

In the evening I surfaced again for dinner and everyone was wondering how I was doing after another update of my bad luck from Christian. I greeted Verena who had just arrived today and was beat from all of the traveling I headed to Kajsa’s place for another bonfire with Johanna, Liselot (a new Dutch med student who arrived Thursday, and some of the male nursing students. I finally got to experience the making of breadsticks over a bonfire, a common activity in Scandinavian countries. It was a lot of fun and time flew by as we talked, ate, and enjoyed each other’s company. Eli, Tuamnini, Sam, and Danny were the local guys who joined us. They seemed to enjoy watching us get so into the breadstick making and all loved the bread except Danny. Danny was actually a field worker for the MAL-ED project and part of the Dotoga tribe. Most local people I met that were from a village far away from Haydom town didn’t like bread (we made the mistake of making a ton for the people helping Crystal and Betsy with research in the house for lunches).  We repeated this on Sunday as well, but this time the British boys, Alex, and Katka joined us after arriving back from the snake farm. Again it was a beautiful evening and Verena was finally rested enough to join us too. We listened to Celine Dion (Tumanini’s favorite) and many current songs that kept us all awake for hours.

Johanna and Danny cooking breadsticks around the fire

Monday I was in the lab early and started testing as soon as possible. I finally understood the pressures of finishing ones’ research before you leave. I had three days to finish it all and write it up because the hard copy of my data had to be left behind. I was swamped with performing hundreds of qualitative tests and about a hundred quantitative tests (each taking about 15 minutes). I strategically overlapped them so as to save time and by the end I was a factory of weighing out a sample, adding reagents, letting it sit, and then titrating it. I figured the amount of time between each sample needed to optimize efficiency. I also brought my camera and snapped a few photos of the girls as they worked. In the evenings I started packing, but also was hanging out with the 4 med students that were left (Liselot, Verena, Marc, and Ben). We watched Forrest Gump, played cards, and got to know each other quite quickly. Tuesday I followed Christian around the old ward, which is the more general ward with a variety of types of patients. I got to see several patients with distended abdomens with no cause known (unknown bacteria/virus/parasite). Christian also let me more of a med student and gave me a stethoscope so I could listen to patients’ lungs and hearts. I listened to an arrhythmic heart, lungs of someone with pneumonia, and various other patients. Christian would ask me questions and I felt like I was actually learning and experiencing basic aspects of medicine. In the evening it was soccer, dinner, and then a bonfire at Case’s and Elona’s. I sat with everyone and just listened to them talk across the fire. I felt removed from the situation as if I was already looking back on a memory. Conversation blurred as I just stared at their faces and once again tried to embed these images into my head forever.

The main street in Haydom on my final day

I hustled to type in the massive amount of data into my computer, dropped everything back in the lab on Wednesday morning and spent the last day in town with Norbert and the four medical students. We went to the market, paid for my land cruiser ticket, ran errands, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in town. As they got their groceries and items I no longer needed I observed the town streets. I watched as people passed and tried to take as many mental photos as possible. I had already contemplated asking my parents if I could stay for the rest of the summer, but I knew it wouldn’t work out. I said goodbye to my friends and the people I worked with, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this place. My goodbyes were more of a see you in a bit type of thing because I will be back and hopefully sooner than the end of medical school. Monday evening all of the volunteers went out to dinner at Greenview, even Norbert, who informed me that this was his first time eating in town. We had chips and skewers of meat (clearly a common thing we had) and Eli joined us as well. Caroline and Upendo called me and I met them outside where we said our goodbyes and I began to cry a little. After dinner we headed home where I finished packing with the medical students watch a movie, went to bed, and woke up to catch the 5:30 am land cruiser to Arusha.

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