Monday, June 24, 2013

While the rooster crows

Mama Glory’s house – Sunday morning 6/17/2013

We were driven from Kilimanjaro airport to our respective homestays in the middle of the night.  As we were bumping along the dark roads, with no idea who or what would meet us at the other end, I thought to Christine, “This requires a lot of…trust.”  Around 5am on a leap of faith, I stepped out of the van and into the blackness.  But my fears faded right away when my host mom came running out with open arms and a big smile on her face.  Mama Glory is a darling woman, caring, perceptive, and incredibly warm.  Her home has been so comforting during my transition, and I will say more about the home and the family soon.

I deliriously jotted down some notes before going to bed. (Note that the jetlag gave my thoughts an edge of extreme.) Here are some fun excerpts:
Already I am in love with my home stay.
The ride here was sketchy and I felt nauseous from all the travel.  Blindly stepping into this.
Mama Glory is so sweet and welcoming.  I didn’t really know what to say.  Her English is great.
I believe she has children.  I think I woke them up, exclaiming “COOL” when I saw their loft of a bed.  She called them “her girls”.  She also said to me, “I am your mama”.  Sweet :)
She showed me the bathroom.  It is interesting.  She accurately described it as two-in-one.
My room feels very safe and right.  I think the reason I feel immediately at ease in my room is that it reminds me very much of my room in my grandparents’ house.  LOL.  The bedding is identical—faded yellow/orange floral comforters.
Mama Glory says we will have bread and chai and juice for breakfast.  Oh boy…so much for protein.
Time to sleep. I'm finally out of limbo and I am home.

Friday, June 21, 2013

In Limbo

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Saturday afternoon 6/16/2013

The good news: My friend Christine is also going on this trip! She and I have been anticipating this since December, and we’re SO excited.  It’s what motivated us through many long nights in Teer basement, wrestling with our breadboards in an introductory circuits class.  I can’t believe how lucky I am to be going on this trip with her, to share these experiences, and to conveniently share the same flight plan!  International travel is so much more fun with a friend by your side.

The bad news: We have an eighteen hour layover…in Ethiopia.  We arrived here at 6:30am local time, and our next flight isn’t until tomorrow around 1am.  It’s pretty ridiculous, and I don’t know what I’d do if I were here alone.  It’s such a life-saver that Christine and I are here together.  (Our moms are pretty happy about this, too.)  And by another stroke of luck, Ethiopian Airlines offered us a complimentary hotel to make up for the long layover, so we’re here at the hotel now having a nice rest.

The past 24 hours has been such an eclectic succession of circumstances.  I’m trying to find a way to tie it all together.  It’s so…random.

Well first, the airport.  To be honest, waiting there for 18 hours would have been awful.  The waiting room was dim, dingy, warm and sticky.  It had rows of padded lounge chairs for people to sleep on as they waited, but it was so crowded that people were often piled two to a chair.  That room stank of weary travelers.

Though the airport itself was not very welcoming, the airlines staff was unbelievably gracious.  They were so helpful, sympathetic of our circumstances, and very transparent about their procedures—almost opposite of the treatment we would’ve received in an American airport.

But things got a little too friendly when Christine received several good-natured but still unnerving compliments about her hair.  (I’m realizing the pros of being brunette.)  Things went smoothly though, because we make a good traveling pair: Christine’s good at approaching people, and I’m good at being calm :).  Together we surveyed our circumstances and took the calculated risk of passing through the city to reach the hotel.

That was the most interesting part, because we got a real taste of the city.  There were no lines on the roads, so cars were just flying past each other and merging as they pleased.  And on the sides of the roads, constant streams of people…walking, just walking and walking.  They crossed the streets and  calmly walked amongst the cars, even through a roundabout.  And there were goats!  Piles of them sitting on the side of the road.  Along one highway, we saw a man sprinting after some goats, which was pretty funny.  The whole atmosphere exuded a sort of calm chaos.  All the while, Christine and I were holding hands in the shuttle bus and staring at this incredibly foreign city flashing past us.

We’re here now, holed up in our little hotel room in the middle of Addis Ababa, feeling like we’re suspended in limbo.  We’re in this alternate universe, literally, in between two worlds, our home and our destination.  No idea what time it is.  Although we’ve reached the right time zone, we still have another red-eye ahead of us.  Our internal clocks are all messed up, but we can’t reset them until we arrive Tanzania.

Anyway, we’ve actually been enjoying ourselves!  We took a four hour nap, showered, and watched some Ethiopian TV.  A little while ago, we threw a two-person dance party. We're about to head to dinner, our first African meal.  See you in Tanzania!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Hello!  Thanks for visiting my little site.

I leave in just a few days for Tanzania, where I'll be living and working for the next two months.  I've set up this site to keep track of my trip, to stay in touch with you all, and to let you see what I see in Tanzania this summer.

I'm traveling as part of a DukeEngage program that partners with the organization Engineering World Health (EWH).  DukeEngage is an umbrella organization that supports students to pursue a summer of civic engagement, sponsoring trips both within the US and around the world.  My program in Tanzania approaches service through the lens of engineering, i.e. by applying technical problem-solving to address issues, specifically healthcare issues, in low-resource settings.  I'll be working for EWH along with a group of about 20 other students, first acquiring the necessary training and then diving into field work.  We'll spend the first month in classroom, in Usa River, Tanzania, learning basic Swahili and relevant technical skills.  The second month we'll disperse in pairs to hospitals scattered throughout the region, where we will collaborate with the hospital staff and work to meet the unique demands of our hospital.  I've been assigned to Marangu Lutheran Hospital, which sits at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, about an hour outside the town of Moshi.  The village of Marangu is supposed to be beautiful, as is the rest of the country, full of natural wonders.  I can hardly wait to see it!

For some background: There's been a lot of effort to ameliorate conditions in developing world hospitals by simply donating vast amounts of equipment.  These efforts have not just been futile; they've been harmful.  Donated equipment has become a source of grief for many hospitals.  Much of the equipment is useless, either broken, so old that its replacement parts are no longer manufactured, or in need of parts that can't be found in low-resource settings.  The hospital staff is often unable to repair the equipment or supply the correct parts, so the equipment must be tossed aside, serving no purpose and consuming precious space.  Perhaps what's most striking is that donating equipment to these hospitals actually takes away jobs from the local people.  Much of the donated equipment addresses needs that can already be met by local manufacturers.  While these are generally simple needs, e.g. lighting and wheelchairs, the donations threaten local businesses by imposing competition.  Despite good intentions, charities that donate equipment to developing countries ultimately stunt opportunity for local growth.

The mission of Engineering World Health is to find other means of improving healthcare conditions in the developing world, by designing low-cost equipment that can be maintained, or even created, in low-resource settings.  This TEDx talk "Donations Hurt" by Dr. Robert Malkin, Duke professor and founder of EWH, explains more.

As far as this summer, our goal is first to fix medical equipment.  But the larger goal, really the true goal, is to make sustainable repair.  We'd like to find ways to extend the life of equipment beyond initial repair, to prevent against breakage, to develop reliable methods of repair in the given circumstances, and to document those methods in an accessible way so that repair may continue long after we leave.

I have an incredible summer ahead of me.  It's both a great privilege and a responsibility.  I am empowered yet humbled by the opportunities this trip presents me.  And I'll do my best to keep you updated on life in Tanzania--as I see it.