Monday, September 30, 2013

Apologies. Promises.

Funny thing... writing about getting sick? Got me sick, I think! I know I owe you the story - and the end of it all, as we're in the home stretch, only about 5 more posts after that! But thanks for your patience just a little longer. I'll get it wrapped up soon, I promise.

In the meantime, the way you show a promise in Tanzania? Not with a hand up, like we might, as if swearing on a Bible, nor with a cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die gesture like we did as children.

Instead, you draw your index finger across your throat, an exact imitation of the gangster-movie threat gesture, but faster - and then end it with a snap as your hand flies out past your neck, and back down to your side. THAT caught our attention! And it's a helluva way to say you promise!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Just Pictures.

Oh, we'll get to the sickness story! But a few photos I forgot to post first. Below, with Emmanuel in the safari jeep - only 18! But so mature and thoughtful, and how I hope he does get to South Africa to train to be a chef, and make his dreams come true.

Where there's no copyright, there's Obama everywhere. Yes we can chew strawberry gum, my friends! 

Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Women carrying the stuff of life - water, food, and firewood.

And an amazing baobab:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

July 29, A Pommern Monday. Part 4.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

The feeling of being in the right place, at the right time, lasts all day. There were two more working events. First, a clothes-sizing and second, the latrine again. The clothes-sizing was for the 13 orphans at the other primary school (not the one near the mission house, where our fellow volunteers have been working).

I have visceral trouble, coming from the land of 25-cent BINS at Goodwill and corner sidewalk FREE BOXes and even piles of clothes strewn near homeless encampments, with this first task. How can I understand the importance of two pieces of clothing per child? We're told many of these orphans have one single outfit. These orphans live with grandparents or aunts, and a shirt might be 1,000Tsh, Edward says. It might take a month to save that up, after buying food and cooking oil and fuel and matches and salt.

So Meggie, Marie and I slapdash our way through the kid's clothes Marie tossed in a suitcase back in New York (and some very small adult clothes chipped in from the rest of us).

We hold things up to each child, lined up by size, erring on the side of "too big" so they can grow into it. I'm able to give one of the big girls, maybe 12 or 13, a training bra - a thin, grey, shelf bra, a castoff of the girls in our volunteer family, and as much as she'll let herself express emotion, her eyes light up at it.

This is also the nicer part of Pommern, I'm shocked to discover. The school grounds are really quite pretty, the homes are neater, all the grounds are kept up, fences are more common. The school was built by the Roman Catholics, and there's a big difference between it (below, in the background) and the buildings built by Global Volunteers. Interesting to find out we're in the poorer section of a poor village. And I resist making jokes about things Catholics build versus things Lutherans build.

(After giving away clothes:)

For some reason, I like the picture below of us talking after giving away the clothes; it shows the intensity of conversation among volunteers the whole two weeks. Experiencing, analyzing, discussing, stretching - a lot. Beyond comfort. 

And I wrap up the day's work with a couple hours back on the latrine - and how much progress we've made! I also find out that Thomas and Moses call me The Commander. They're busted by a bilingual person who tells me this at the construction site, and I turn to them in mock insult, eyes wide and mouth open in shock. Then I laugh and they laugh, and Moses says, "Commander njema!" But our bilingual companion says, "Oh no, not true! When you walked up they said, 'Oh no! The Commander is back and now we'll die!" And here I thought I was working slow and matching their pace. Apparently, as my pal at home Mikey says, I've been mushing their butts uphill! 

As we're wrapping up, as the mortar is running out, around 4 PM, I start to feel - a little  - off. 

I walk slowly back to the mission house alone. I hope it's that I didn't drink very much today, or that I pounded my lunch of peanut-butter-sauce-with-local-cabbage over noodles (yes, it was that weird). Maybe it's the smell of the latrine, especially pungent today. 

I come home. I pound some water. I take a half-bag-shower and then absolutely MUST lie down. I'll feel better if I just rest through this terrible weighted feeling.

I get up a couple hours later for dinner, which I don't really want to do. I take only a slice of papaya - papaya!  Good for the digestion, too, right?! And I heat up a cup of the powdered chicken noodle soup I brought from home. The packing list recommended soup packets for "homesick tastebuds" and though I was sure that would never be me, I said to John, "If someone gets sick, wouldn't it be nice to give them chicken noodle soup? I'm bringing four of these."

I have to leave dinner early and lie down.

And at 7 PM, it begins. Truly violent vomiting and top-of-the-line diarrhea.

Monday, September 23, 2013

July 29, A Pommern Monday. Part 3.

Not written in my journal, but a couple quick stories. First, stool samples. Meggie and I did not witness one. We saw the slides, and we saw the specimens. They keep a couple formaldehyde jars of examples, either to impress visitors or to illustrate to parents the importance of treatment - or both.

Also, when urinalysis was ordered by the doctor, the man or woman had to give a sample. And what are you given to collect your urine in? A now-empty insulin jar. As pictured above (small ones on the left) with worms in it. Think of the size of the opening on those little jars. Have fun peeing in that! Oh and I'm sure hands get washed...

Also during our day, one of our cases negative for malaria, negative for typhoid fever, was an old woman - oh, probably about 300 years old. To my eyes. Her grandson was with her and he was in his late teens, so that would make her in her 70s at the oldest - if he were the youngest child of her youngest child.

The woman was asked to give a stool sample and when she left, Patricia engaged in a long conversation with her grandson. As an observer with no language, I relied on body language and tone of voice. It appeared like she was lecturing him. He didn't want to argue with her, he maybe even knew she was right, and he felt ashamed, but stuck. She showed him a Bible passage. Once he left the room, she explained to me. "He has completed his secondary school and it is time for him to go teach. To go away to a new place and to have a job. But every time he has made plans and found somewhere to work, she gets very sick. But no tests come back. Sick with what? Sick to keep him home? I tell him he needs to go; he cannot cancel again his plans and his life. Again and again."

Nurse Patricia:

The rules:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

July 29, A Pommern Monday. Part 2.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

After cleaning, I move into the pharmacy with Patricia. The "pharmacy" consists of a rickety, mostly-empty shelf of cough syrup, OTC pain meds and antibiotics.

After seeing Dr. Elton, patients bring a scrap of notebook paper to the dispensary window - most today were for tooth pain or an abscess (some oral, some not); 18 aspirin and 30 cipro is the common scrip.

Patricia tells me we're to make "a Chinese envelope" out of old homework paper for each pill type - because there are no envelopes, plastic or paper, in which to give you your pills. She explains, "We say things are Chinese when they are badly made," and I lean in and tell her, "We say that in America too." She laughs and laughs, and she loves that my mother's name is Patricia too - she calls me her mtoto, her child, for this week, and tells the other nurses they can call her Mamaemmy. (I've shortened my introduced name to Emmy, with an exaggerated pronunciation like Ay-Me, as Emily is just too hard to wrap around for Swahili mouths.) The other nurses laugh at her.

Finally we move into the lab, as tests have started being ordered. It seems like people are tested for one or more of: malaria, typhoid fever, HIV/AIDS, a baseline urinalysis, a stool sample. No other possible diagnoses are discussed. We don't see any malaria; we see one typhoid fever. The tests are all prepackaged single-use, but the procedure is, simply observed and without frustration or surprise to me, just totally horrifying.

Sometimes alcohol swabs are used to clean the inner elbow site where blood is drawn - sometimes not. A new prepackaged syringe and needle is used to draw blood each time but there's no hand washing in between (there's no sink with running water in the lab, only the common one just outside the door in the public waiting room), and the drawing of blood is probably done with a skill level that I'd have after a few weeks of training. 2, 3, maybe 5 stabs with the needle into each patients arm. A little digging around to find the vein. The blood comes out slowly, thickly.

A glove serves as the tourniquet first, and then as the sterile surface to place the test and blood-filled syringe on (see the background of the above photo). Sometimes multiple blood draws are taken, put on their glove, and only then is each test run. No tests got switched around - I think - but you can imagine the potential for a blood vial to get moved, and then recorded in the little blue-book-like health record of the wrong patient. Oh, those blue books. Talk about taking charge of your health care!

It's a little terrifying to be allowed to help with this, though all I'm doing is dropping blood into a small plastic hole and adding the right solution to start the test...

Meggie wears gloves. She is smarter than me. 

This is a close-up of a malaria test, sitting on top of the blue-book health record. If that was your health record, you'd keep it with you for each doctor visit. The "back up" record kept at the clinic is a giant bound book with lists of patient names, estimated ages, date of the test and results. So unless you know what day you came for a test, there's no way the clinic records are going to be helpful. Lesson? Don't lose your blue book! 

Drop-drop-drop the solution on top of the blood sample.

Multiple tests to get going; we wait two minutes by Patricia's watch for results. Who has malaria? Who has typhoid fever? I keep thinking, what if you have cancer? What if you're depressed? What if it's Chrone's Disease or fibromyalgia? What if you've developed an allergy or esophageal damaging reflux or a urinary tract infection? 

Basically if it doesn't show up on these few tests and it's not enough describable pain for a knock-ya-out course of Ciproflaxin, then it's probably not a disease recognized in Africa. Or not in Pommern, at any rate.

The four tests we take sit out, on the gloves, on a table also strewn with empty packaging, dried alcohol swabs, partial bottles of the processing solution. The disorganization, the mess - these are not too shocking. The trash can, however, is. I don't think they've heard of sharps containers.

It all goes into the same place - blood, needles, you name it.

Then a young man, who says he is 27 and has only a primary school education recorded in his blue book, has a malaria test come back negative. He's been feeling unwell for a little over a year and was referred here by another clinic in the nearby village for this set of tests. The AIDS set of tests. With fascination and horror, Meggie and I watch Patricia get a first-test positive. SOmetimes these aer wrong though, so she puts the rest of his blood in to the second one. Count down two minutes, and watch the lines appear. Positive.

Normally the doctor delivers this news but if he is really busy, Patricia does. Which, HIPAA concepts be damned, she does with Meggie and me in the room. 

I have the same reaction as when the students were being beaten - I try to become physically small, I look at the floor and refuse to make eye contact or be seen as a voyeur; I won't watch. I breathe quietly. I think, I want him to forget I'm here. Patricia speaks calmly in Swahili. She sounds straightforward and unemotional; she doesn't touch him or appear to give words of comfort. Just the facts, ma'am. She asks often, "Sawa? Sawa?" which is, "OK? OK?". He nearly whispers in response. Sawa." She gives him a CTC information notice; that's the once-a-week AIDS clinic on Thursdays here. I think, there's no way this guy is showing up again later in the week. 

Blood draws. Single use test kits. Recording the results in patient blue books, and again in the clinic ledger. Using our own pens - no one at the clinic can ever seem to find one. Rinse and repeat. How long would this relatively simple work take Patricia if we weren't here helping? At her pace, it seems like we're cutting the time by half, helping the patients move twice as fast through the line. And it finally feels like I am being useful. I'm supporting existing work and not supplanting existing knowledge. Just a pair o' hands here. And this is exactly what I wanted to do in Africa: pitch in, not harm, experience life as it is before I was here and will be after I go, among the poorest on the planet, as one of the richest.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

July 29, A Pommern Monday. Part 1.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

If there was only one day to journal about in Africa, this would be it, hands down. I'm writing late on the 30th and you'll see why. This is going to stretch over a few blog posts, partly to prevent an epically long post that only my parents would fully read! Meggie and I were assigned to the clinic today - the first volunteers, yet again, to take on an assignment. Somebody sure trusts us.

After Dr. Elton, a dentist and also the presiding medical officer in the village (actually, in the whole area - this clinic serves seven villages and he's in charge) introduced us to the three nurses - Nema, Patricia and Farajah - I learned from my past eagerness in the secondary school, and instead sat on the bench to wait for an assignment. When Patricia began to mop, Meggie and I jumped up to do it for her. Something we can do!

I mopped the laboratory, the children's ward, the IUD insertion and sterilization room, and the delivery room. (Sterilizing of materials, not people. As far as I could tell.) It was amazing that last week, on our first day, during the brief clinic tour as part of village orientation, I was horrified at the filthy conditions. Too-small sheets on rusted frame beds with mattresses about 2 inches thick. Peeling paint. Pitted cement floors, windows so covered in red Pommern dust you can't see outside. A stained, torn and dirty curtain over the window, if you're lucky. Chipped metal bedpans back from well into the last century. Side tables with the tops smashed in but nothing to replace them, chairs missing armrests. But then...

This is where your baby is weighed and checked, immediately after delivery:

Ladies room...


Inside the men's ward...

Need an IUD? There are instructions on the wall, so don't worry. And this is the room speculums are sterilized in too (in something that looks a lot like the cooking pots, to be honest). But it smells like the Piniest Pine Sol ever.

For the gents...

This pretty room is the maternity ward, where you'll labor and recover (though to deliver, you'll be moved - only two beds, not four, in there.

Ladies' ward...

Meggie making beds.

... after I straightened everything to my beloved right angles, and tucked in corners, and mopped it carefully with the most intense-smelling disinfectant yet (and that's saying something!), I look around and think, hey! This is pretty clean! It looks decent! Ah, satisfaction.

Just like coming through Iringa Town the second time yesterday, after being in mud-hut rural villages, I thought, yeah, this is pretty modern. Fairly organized. I'd rather live here than in a hut, I see why people come to live in towns and cities. I would too.

If in only a week my perspective can shift that much, what will a second week bring? And how those Peace Corps or State Department folks must feel after two or three years away? Unimaginable. Though I can try. What else is being a writer about?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

English is a hard language.

I now present to you the three best lines so far, from men who speak beautiful and accented English, but who struggle with the difficulty of our complex language and idioms (and it is a crazy language)...

First, shouted across the mission house yard by Edward to the man who only semi-committed to provide the night's lecture, "Pastor Bennett! Come here! I must screw you for tonight!"

We later learned he meant "nail you down" and admittedly, both are tool metaphors - but we did explain kindly that one is sexual and one is not.

Second, when asked how old Mamatony's children are now, he replies, "Big! Big, big, big. But not so very big." (This turned out to mean about 16 and 18 years old.)

Third, when asked how often they see warthog mamas with babies, Emmanuel confidently replies, "Yes, a lot. But also, often not too much."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

July 28: Back in Pommern.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

How can you give a gift when the balance of power is so badly weighted as to basically be a straight vertical line? For we Americans, we wealthy and confused (are we generous, guilty, or desiring of sharing the things we love and put so much meaning into?) little Americans, with our language taken from us - we want to give. But we want to give the things we treasure - to show gratitude for allowing us to come into the community and for being so patient with our cameras, our energy. But how CAN we give? We're so far from the first to bring boxes of school supplies - and yet, there are none in any of the classrooms. But if you got a pen, and were hungry, wouldn't you sell the pen for crackers? So how can our gifts make sense?

Edward asked me what I was sorting, when I was inventorying medical supplies before Zumba class the other day, and it was a pile of dental floss (many small packages, a few yards each). When I explained, he asked me to put it in the clinic pile because if given directly to the people, they'll use it as fishing line. The things I don't about about this kind of generational poverty - and the things I don't even know that I don't know! - make me useless. As a giver of any kind. People say, "Oh, I learned so much from 'them'" in reference to a poorer or less powerful society and I've always - and still do - take that to mean that any people with less than us will teach lessons about what is really important - love, family, laughter, connection to the community. And I've thought that was total crap. And to be honest - I still do. 

But my head is figuratively spinning tonight as I come to grips with low little - how nothing - I'll contribute here. I'm stunned and embarrassed to realize that what will be learned here will ONLY be learned by me. But not the sweet things in life, not at all a reminder of the simple profound pleasures. Instead I'm learning the profound depth of sameness the third world endures. The pain of meeting daily needs with nothing leftover at the very best, or a debt as the sun falls, at the very worst. But never two pennies to rub together - never enough to have one task done for a week or a month. Every day is exactly the same and you're lucky to just catch up every 24 hours. My human desire to communicate with the person in front of me, but the overwhelming reality of a boggingly large group of individuals in front of me.

By way of hard details, the flickering generator light tonight makes me laugh - it's terrible illumination that gives me a headache, and it is still more than all the people here have. 

Most of the women volunteers swapped clothing stories tonight - yup, most of us are heavier than we were a week ago. And in our Rose & Thorn sharing tonight, my rose was the baobab trees and their evocative emotions. My thorn was reaching wifi for the first time in almost eight days only to have it be down today. I really want to hear from John - about his backpacking trips and plans, that he is OK, that all is well at home. It's 9 PM here, 11 AM Sunday there - and he is so close to me right now. I can't feel if it's because of nerves or a problem, or if he just wants to hear from me, too.

Finally tonight, I am burdened with a good bit of despair. I feel so much like I'm letting you all down. I've put on music for the first time since arriving in Africa - Sigur Ros - in order to let these intense feelings of disappointing you flow through. 

Don't get me wrong - enough of you warned me. 

"I hope you don't think you're going to help/save/affect anyone." 
"You know you're not going to make a difference, right?" 
"What can you do in two weeks?" 
"It's arrogant to do this." 
"Just go to any town and you'll find someone who needs help. Why go with an organization, that costs money?" 

Oh, I came with much caution and pessimism - those are all direct quotes from professed friends. I haven't thought I would save anyone. But now I feel I owe you - you who sent me and Meggie off with contributions, and so much excitement and love. How can I come home with nothing tangible to show you? How can I come home broken? 

There's the septic tank, thanks be, and the joy of Zumba. And that very well might be it. So if it is - I have to let go as this second week starts. If that is all there is show for it, by way of successes, then that is the truth. Or all there is for others. The soul lessons have been great, as I can even understand them so far. And the affirmation of intuition as a guiding force has been deep. Within ten minutes of meeting all the volunteers, I was immediately drawn to Leslie - the world is full of soul connections and one here is a sweet surprise, a little reminder that life as it was ticks on and on, and I'll rejoin it - but the Tanzanians won't. 

I was asked by Emmanuel if all us Americans - can we all afford most of the things in most of the stores? How to explain a platinum ring, a vacation house, owning two cars for two adults? WalMart versus Saks? How do I talk about disposable diapers and throwing away food? Or closets of clothes so big we probably could not make an accurate list of every tee, every pair of panties, every coat, sock, shoe and baseball cap that we own? I actually didn't recognize Moses tonight, when he came to stoke the fire, for he was in a new jersey! After I got back John said, when I was explaining how I struggled to explain poverty in America to Emmanuel, "Oh, I get it! It's like, how do you explain the difference between flying ON a plane and flying on your OWN plane? How do you explain the difference a Bentley and a Ford Focus?"

If the choice had to be made right now, I wouldn't come back to Tanzania. It is so broken, and I am so small, that my little dollars to the deaf women who make crafts, or to Mamamorrie for doing my laundry, just seem to make it worse. Dangling the prize in front of Wile E Coyote but never, not once, letting him win. And we are the roadrunners - moving too fast. Someone said to us, during one of our evening lectures, "You need to slow down, America, or we really will never catch up." 

So I guess I want to apologize for how little - or negatively - I might effect Pommern, when you sent me with such enthusiastic support. I want to apologize for possibly bringing back more pain, a deeper understanding of grinding poverty, dirt, smell, anger from those who watch us zip by in a private vehicle. 

I'm groundless again tonight and so I took in a little Pema Chodron reading... she's right about one thing... how can I be both so big and so small? How can I stay right where I am without resolution; how I need resolution! Ah, but how Pema wags her finger at me lovingly - no, no, no; you don't. Resolution is bad for you; better always to sit in it. And get softened because of it. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

July 27: Night in Ruaha.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

As an aside, we'll be the only people who leave Africa fatter than when we arrived. Margarine, peanut butter, honey, jam - all this to go with our bananas, white bread, sugared oatmeal. Our lunch in Ruaha today? A boiled potato, a roasted plantain, a pretzel bread roll, 3 carrot sticks and 1.5 ounces of chicken (hey, I'm two years valiantly attempting Weight Watchers - I can spot 1.5 ounces of chicken across the room!).

Dinner featured rice and spaghetti. We're happy to have enough to eat; almost everyone around doesn't. But blessedly having enough doesn't equal having anything healthy; we still only have what there is - and I understand "protein starved society" now.

Most of us honestly notice tighter pants already, and I laugh tonight that we'll look Tanzanian women - nearly all of whom are larger than the men, softer, rounder, plump, bellied. It is a compliment to the man who provides for her - so we'll fit right in! 

First world problem in the third world today: Sure would be nice to have that stargazer app up and running on my phone so we could ID some Southern Hemisphere stars!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

July 27: Safari in Ruaha.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

Interlude day. The safari. Safari means "journey" and Mamatony said to me, "Safari njema" before I left - good journey to you. (This photo is at the Nyerere Airport in Dar.)

The hot shower still eludes us, alas - but we're in much lower country now. And low country "cold" water is sort of like LA "cold" water - and any shower is a good shower! It really is a remarkable change in the weather, just an almost-four hours' drive away. And today was a remarkably unemotional day - a reprieve dearly needed by this overloaded emotional self.

Our driver through Ruaha National Park was again Joseph, and our guide was Emmanuel. They were wonderful - the right level of talkative and enthusiasm for our group (not too much). Anyone we told, including Pommerini who can't afford a toothbrush much less entrance to Ruaha National Park, that we were going on safari to a national park was deeply, truly happy for us. (Entrance fees are listed and charged in cash or to your credit card in American dollars. It is $30 USD per day. The average annual income in Tanzania in 2011, according to the World Bank, is about $530. I'm thinking of households of 5, 6, 7, 8 people - living on one income.) Their pride shone. And now I know why! For great reasons...

Waterbuk, baboon, blue monkey, dikdik, elephant HERDS, crocodile, impala, lions, hippo (with babies!), zebra, giraffe, vultures, storkbills, hornbills... like a Disney cartoon image, like a painted landscape, the great Sub Saharan East African plains in the dry season.

I'm in love withe baobab trees. Joseph picked up pods for us, broke them open, and gave us the seeds. You suck on them like candy; the hard coating tastes tangy and sweet - sort of like a lightly pickled plum or a SweetTart. Then you spit out the heart-shaped brown seed!

Thanks, John B, for the binoculars! Meggie checking out hippos, hanging in the slight current, some of the water that's not yet dried up.

Lions eating what we believe was a baby elephant. Later, we saw some eating a giraffe leg. Yes, it is scary to be in a totally open, rusted, rickety, seat-belt-free Jeep watching these guys. You could hear the bone crunch. You could hear them "purr".

Vultures waiting above the lions...

One of literally dozens of elephant herds:

I'm pretty excited about elephants, I won't lie.

Meggie couldn't pose; possibly the planet's loudest small bird screeched and she was making sure it wasn't coming for us.

The herds don't seem to mind the people in cars; interesting note - it is illegal to step beyond 5 feet of any road in the national park. Not exactly the backcountry hiking we do in our national parks! But while they don't mind us... they do NOT let the babies be seen very often...

This guy is not charging us! He is just looking at us, and then gave a huge head shake. It was a-dor-able.

It almost made me want to become a birdwatcher.

It makes perfect sense why giraffe are used to decorate baby nurseries. They're docile, they're fascinating to watch, they're non-threatening and their ears are really, really, cute. And they stare right back at you - just as weirded out by your body shape as you are by theirs.

This picture makes me laugh; using someone else's camera is hard, as my seat mate in the Jeep illustrates with her efforts here: 

This baby monkey chattered and yelled at us, and then when we pulled away, he ran out in front of the car, scooting like the dickens and howling for his life, for the next tree over - and his mama.

Yes, that is what it looks like. That's a dead, bloated hippo carcass in the river, with a bird on one side and a croc on the other - devouring it. It reeked of death, rot, and slime. I got video of it. It was awesome.

More elephants!

The lushness remains, even as the dry season creeps in from all sides.

We've been whipped around the van for about 7 hours at this point, hence looking so fresh-faced.

Crazy cactus.

I love this one. We crossed the Great Ruaha River many times - since the river is mostly dry right now. This is the riverbed of soft sand, and I liked thinking about the water flowing through, the great herds migrating. We're told that 85% of visitors come in the dry season to see animals. 15% come in the wet season to see plants, flowers and birds.

It really was a Disney cartoon at the end - we finally saw a much-desired warthog mom, running at sunset through the high grass with her tail up, so the three little babies behind her knew what to follow and where to go! 

Emmanuel speaks wonderful English - he tells me he learned from cartoons - and has a steady maturity that makes us all gasp when he says he is only 18. He is at university in Iringa but wants to go to South Africa and become a chef. I am uneasy about the situation - being guided through the park like royal visitors - but then again, if $530 is what most people make in a year, and our Jeep of 5 is going to tip him somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 or $100... are we helping him? Are we hurting others? Is he a good enough actor to pretend to enjoy his day with us - as he seems to? On the ride back, all questions about animals answered, we ask what he'd like to know about America. He wants to know about our big game - our bears, our mountain lions (they're not like your lions!), our moose. He wants to know about our roads (all tarmac, even in national parks?). He wants to know about rain and snow and our landscape. I ask about hospitals and medical care and he asks about health care in America - we get a little out of our depth with that one, but I try to explain that there is poverty in America, and what it looks like, how many people we consider "poor" and the ways we measure it. 

He stops on the road up to the lodge and picks hard berries from the ground - large, like a small kiwi. We're to rip them open and suck out the sweet pulp - amarula fruit. Emmanuel tells us that they fall to the ground, ripe and delicious, but after a couple days, they become dangerously alcoholic though the taste does not change! You have to know when they fell to eat them safely, and animals sometimes eat them too late too - the stories of drunken elephants rampaging through villages sound like lies, but at the lodge later, we learn they're true. An American group is there for a cold drink, though they're on a six month assignment with an NGO to build bee fences, which sound brilliant. 

Superficial as it may sound, back at the lodge and before dinner, I'm thinking about my tattoo #3. #1 was on my 18th birthday to celebrate adulthood and getting away to college. #2 to commemorate marriage. #3  - maybe a baobab tree to memorialize this trip? But the baobab can look angry, it can look joyful, it can look profound, it can look foreboding or funny or brokenhearted. What to pick? To emcompass it all?

The tree far away on this hill is a candidate for the tattoo design; it's two baobabs together, standing so proud and confident.