Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stanley, I Presume

A review of "Stanley The Impossible Life Of Africa's Greatest Explorer" by Paul Theroux

Poor Africa, the happy hunting ground of the mythomaniac, the rock star buffing up his or her image, the missionary with a faith to sell, the child buyer, the retailer of dirty drugs or toxic cigarettes, the editor in search of a scoop, the empire builder, the aid worker, the tycoon wishing to rid himself of his millions, the school builder with a bucket of patronage, the experimenting economist, the diamond merchant, the oil executive, the explorer, the slave trader, the eco-tourist, the adventure traveler, the bird watcher, the travel writer, the escapee, the colonial and his crapulosities, the banker, the busybody, the Mandela-sniffer, the political fantasist, the buccaneer and your cousin the Peace Corps Volunteer. Oh, and the atoner, of whom Thoreau observed in a skeptical essay: “Now, if anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions ... if he has committed some heinous sin and partially repents, what does he do? He sets about reforming the world.” Thoreau, who had Africa specifically in mind, added, “Do you hear it, ye Wolofs?”

Friday, September 28, 2007

Trashing Teens

Like the author, I also believe that alot of unnecessary angst occurs from parents treating teens as children, rather than adults in America. Nearly everywhere else I have been, from Iran to Africa, children are given a much higher level of responsibility/expectation at a much earlier age than here in the States...
They thrive on this...

Another thing that is missing here in raising young men and women is a traditional rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. For example, young Masai warriors in Kenya are given spears and told they must not come back until they come back with a lion, in order to mark their passage into manhood.

Psychologist Robert Epstein argues in a provocative book, "The Case Against Adolescence," that teens are far more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed on them.

In recent surveys I've found that American teens are subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as mainstream adults, twice as many restrictions as active-duty U.S. Marines, and even twice as many as incarcerated felons. Psychologist Diane Dumas and I also found a correlation between infantilization and psychological dysfunction. The more young people are infantilized, the more psychopathology they show.
Dumas and I worked out what makes an adult an adult. We came up with 14 areas of competency—such as interpersonal skills, handling responsibility, leadership—and administered tests to adults and teens in several cities around the country. We found that teens were as competent or nearly as competent as adults in all 14 areas. But when adults estimate how teens will score, their estimates are dramatically below what the teens actually score.

Other long-standing data show that teens are at least as competent as adults. IQ is a quotient that indicates where you stand relative to other people your age; that stays stable. But raw scores of intelligence peak around age 14-15 and shrink thereafter. Scores on virtually all tests of memory peak between ages 13 and 15. Perceptual abilities all peak at that age. Brain size peaks at 14. Incidental memory—what you remember by accident, and not due to mnemonics—is remarkably good in early to mid teens and practically nonexistent by the '50s and '60s.

Fighting Giraffes in Tanzania

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Cellphone without Borders

This sounds intriguing:
Early next month, a small company called Cubic Telecom will release what it’s calling the first global mobile phone.

But here’s the other dizzying news: Cubic’s cheap global dialing has nothing to do with the phone. The real magic is in the SIM card, the memory card that determines your account information.

So get this: For $40, you can buy this card without the phone. Cubic says that you can slip it into any GSM phone — even your regular T-Mobile or AT&T phone, as long as it’s an “unlocked” phone (one that works with other companies’ SIM cards). Then your own cellphone behaves exactly like the Cubic phone described up to this point, minus the Wi-Fi calling, of course.
f nothing else, this ingenious melding of the cellphone and the Internet should strike fear into the hearts of the giant corporations that are currently bleeding travelers dry. This is how the last great overpriced pre-Internet racket will end: not with a bang, but with a SIM card.

He’s Happier, She’s Less So

This intriguing — if unsettling — finding is part of a larger story: there appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women.

Bono's Liberty Medal Acceptance Speech Transcript

Hey, these are the reasons I’m a fan of America – and one more. America is not just a country. It’s an idea, isn’t it? It’s a great and powerful idea. The idea that all men are created equal. That “we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are great lyrics, Mr. Jefferson. Great opening riff. The Declaration of Independence has a great closing line too – “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Well the men who made that, the men who signed that pledge, had a lot to lose by signing - like their lives. So what then about you and me? What are we ready to pledge? What are we ready to pledge ourselves to? Anything? Anything at all?

What about this idea of liberty? Not liberty for its own sake, but liberty for some larger end – not just freedom from oppression, but freedom of expression and worship. Freedom from want, and freedom from fear because when you are trapped by poverty, you are not free. When trade laws prevent you from selling the food you grow, you are not free. When you are dying of a mosquito bite for lack of a bed net, you are not free. When you are hungry in a world of plenty, you are not free. And when you are a monk in Burma this very week, barred from entering a temple because of your gospel of peace, it is an affront to the thug regime, well then none of us are truly free.

My other country, America, I know you’ll not stand for that. So, look I’m not going to stand here, a rock star who just stepped off a private plane, and tell you to put your lives on the line for people you’ve never met or your fortunes – I haven’t. But our sacred honor might just be at stake here. That and a whole lot else. So what, then, are we willing to pledge? How about our science, your technology, your creativity…America has so many great answers to offer. We can’t fix all the world’s problems. But the ones we can, we must.

Enough of my voice. Listen to the voice of young Africa. Good night.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Miracle" Saved Teenager's Eye after Chair Assault

THESE X-ray images show the leg of a chair embedded into the eye socket of a Melbourne teenager who miraculously survived a random attack outside a city nightclub earlier this year.

The images of teenager Shafique el-Fahkri at the Royal Melbourne Hospital were taken as a team of five surgeons prepared for the complex three-hour operation that would save his life and his eye.

After leaving intensive care, Mr Fahkri spent a month in hospital and today has 95 per cent of his sight back.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Freedom Flight: Kid's Homemade Paraglider Leads to Fame

Cyril Mazibuko got his start in the sport at the age of 12, building homemade wings from plastic bags and rope.

Cyril Mazibuko grew up in the shadows of the mountains. Born in a small kraal at the foot of the Drakensberg range in the southern part of the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa, Cyril would often look up at the 3,000-meter basalt peaks, a playground for African paragliders. Enthralled, Cyril made a decision: He would build his own glider and join them in the sky.

Now 26, Cyril is the only black South African currently registered with the sport's ruling body. And it all started with a glider he made from plastic bags, purloined rope and baling wire, a glider that flew -- sort of -- though it both amazed and horrified the professional paragliders who saw it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?

Interesting article on morality, but in my view, the analysis breaks down when discussing differences in morality between conservatives and liberals...

Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.


He likens the mind’s subterranean moral machinery to an elephant, and conscious moral reasoning to a small rider on the elephant’s back. Psychologists and philosophers have long taken a far too narrow view of morality, he believes, because they have focused on the rider and largely ignored the elephant.

Dr. Haidt developed a better sense of the elephant after visiting India at the suggestion of an anthropologist, Richard Shweder. In Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa, Dr. Haidt saw that people recognized a much wider moral domain than the issues of harm and justice that are central to Western morality. Indians were concerned with integrating the community through rituals and committed to concepts of religious purity as a way to restrain behavior.


Thanks for all who have been valiantly attempting to get the correct diagnosis--the ideas put forth demonstrate brilliance indeed.
Okay here is blues clues #2--The Patient's Father:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Big Gamble in Rwanda

A concise summary of the history of Rwanda up to the present day from the New York Review of Books
(although it does not reference the most chilling book I have read on the Rwandan genocide:
"We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We will be Killed With Our Families" by Philip Gourevitch.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Dr. Fatima from Zaria brought a picture of this young lady to the Nigerian Ophthalmologic Society for a consult:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Drugs Banned, Many of World’s Poor Suffer in Pain

This article sheds light on the abysmal state not only of pain management but of the entire health system in places like Sierra Leone. When I was there last Fall, I was surprised to find that the country had not had an electricity for >40 years. Even the hospitals I visited depend on generators. However, most of the hospitals I visited either did not have functioning generators or could not afford the petrol required to run them. I visied the "ICU" in Kissey Hospital in Freetown, where there was a single patient being fanned by his relative. He had a high fever and was delirious. He had no I.V. nor monitors hooked up. The nurses said there were no bags of saline etc.. for the I.V. The monitors hadn't worked in years. Anyway, the generators weren't working. I asked the nurse what then made this and "ICU?" She repllied, there are two nurses per patient.....

Like millions of others in the world’s poorest countries, she is destined to die in pain. She cannot get the drug she needs — one that is cheap, effective, perfectly legal for medical uses under treaties signed by virtually every country, made in large quantities, and has been around since Hippocrates praised its source, the opium poppy. She cannot get morphine.

That is not merely because of her poverty, or that of Sierra Leone. Narcotics incite fear: doctors fear addicting patients, and law enforcement officials fear drug crime. Often, the government elite who can afford medicine for themselves are indifferent to the sufferings of the poor.
At pain conferences, doctors from Africa describe patients whose pain is so bad that they have chosen other remedies: hanging themselves or throwing themselves in front of trucks.

Westerners tend to assume that most people in tropical countries die of malaria, AIDS, worm diseases and unpronounceable ills. But as vaccines, antibiotics and AIDS drugs become more common, more and more are surviving past measles, infections, birth complications and other sources of a quick death. They grow old enough to die slowly of cancer.

About half the six million cancer deaths in the world last year were in poor countries, and most diagnoses were made late, when death was inevitable. But first, there was agony.
When he first saw her, her tumor was wrapped with clay and leaves prescribed by a local healer. The smell of her rotting skin made her feel ashamed.

She had seen a doctor at one of many low-cost “Indian clinics” who pulled at the breast with forceps so hard that she screamed, misdiagnosed her tumor as an infected boil, and gave her an injection in her buttocks that abscessed, adding to her misery.

Nothing can be done about the tumor, Mr. Lewis explained quietly. “All the bleeders are open,” he said. “Her risk now is hemorrhage. Only a knife-crazy surgeon would attend to her.”

Earlier diagnosis would probably not have changed her fate. Sierra Leone has no CAT scanners, and only one private hospital offers chemotherapy drug treatment. The Sesays are sharecroppers; they have no money.

Quote of the Day

"Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living."
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Global Coalition of Good

Dr. Tabin gets recognized by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs,the famous economist from Columbia and author of "The End of Poverty" in this week's Time magazine. According to the statistics below, Dr. Tabin and his team saw over 650 patients a day!!!

Geoffrey Tabin, an accomplished American ophthalmologist, sent me an e-mail recently reporting on the week he spent in a poor village in Ghana, in West Africa. "We examined 4,600 people and documented their visual status, refractive errors and any pathology or disease," he wrote. "We gave spectacles to all who needed glasses and gave away 500 pairs of reading glasses. My retinal partner and I performed 159 cataract surgeries. All of the patients were seen one week postoperatively. There were no infections or serious complications."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Note That Makes Us Weep

A PUBLICIST long ago gave Luciano Pavarotti the sobriquet King of the High C’s, for his remarkable ability to hit and sing the heck out of one of the highest notes of the tenor voice.
The tenor high C has a long and noble tradition, and a healthy dose of mystique.
“It’s the absolute summit of technique,” said Craig Rutenberg, the Metropolitan Opera’s director of musical administration — in effect, its chief vocal coach. “More than anywhere else in your voice, you have to know what you’re doing. To me it signals a self-confidence in the singer that lets him communicate to us that he knows what he’s doing and he has something very important to express with that note.”
“The reason it’s so exciting to people is, it’s based on the human cry,” said Maitland Peters, chairman of the voice department at the Manhattan School of Music. “It’s instinctual. It’s like a baby. You’re pulled into it.” When a tenor sings a ringing high C, it seems, “there’s nothing in his way,” Mr. Peters said.
Mr. Pavarotti once described the feeling this way: “Excited and happy, but with a strong undercurrent of fear. The moment I actually hit the note, I almost lose consciousness. A physical, animal sensation seizes me. Then I regain control.”

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Vitamin A Fortified Cooking Oil

This potentially seems like a great solution to Vit A deficiency which depresses immune function and is particularly relevant to measeles infection. Vit A deficiency in itself is a leading cause of developing world blindness.

HKI Announces $2.7 million multi-partner public/private initiative to produce vitamin A-fortified cooking oil in eight countries in West Africa.

Fortifying cooking oil with vitamin A has proven to be effective, widely-accepted, sustainable and low cost. Approximately 70% of the target population, including children, consume industrially processed oil. The cost of fortification per liter is only 1 cent, an imperceptible increase to the consumer since cooking oil prices normally experience slight seasonal variations.

Back Home

Well, Devin and I finally made it home last night. Perhaps the best part of the flight to JFK was the final approach when we hit major turbulence. Let me explain.

There was a large section in the middle of the airplane with many Nigerian children. They were whooping,hollering, and laughing as the airplane lurched up and down and sideways. To them it was like being on a roller coaster. Even though we were about 10-15,000 feet above ground, or so I judged looking out the window, they were oblivious. The joy that these kids were having made all the adults on the plane smile and erased the normal anxiety one might feel when one suddenly finds one's stomach in one's throat. When we landed the kids were absolutely ecstatic! I had never experienced anything like it on the numerous flights I have taken in the past. It was a great reminder of the vibrant character of Nigeria and its people.

Thanks to ORBIS INTERNATIONAL for a very successful trip!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lagos Airport

The airport

9pm--After saying "Goodbye" (with some difficulty) to Ahmed and Amelia, we started the arduous process of going through the Nigerian check-in procedure. There were a total of 8 checkpoints that I can remember, including one where I was told that I had committed a grave error by not checking in my wooden statues with the Museum of National Antiquities.The two guards simultaneously, as if on cue, pointed to a rickety wooden sign which appeared to be at least 100 years old and hung askew on a concrete pillar behind them, stamped with the same message. The flimsy wooden tablet, crookedly hanging reflected,at least in my mind, the level of the gaurd's true concern about the two statues they had unearthed in my suitcase. I could tell that they had done this act before. I had never heard of the Museum of Natural Anquities. In fact I wasn't sure that such a museum existed. I wasn't sure where the gaurds were going with this, so I played it cool and they eventually let me go, despite my "sin."

10:30 pm--we are at the Boarding Gate, after going through our final 2 security checks. The fatigue starts to set in as Devin, Sandy, and I plop down on the blue metal benches. My mind a bit of a mush by this point, is easily distracted as my eyes wander over the boarding area. I am transfixed by multiple protuberant 2" inch high black pieces of rubber protruding from and screwed into the tile floor every few feet. Other than testing feet to eye coordination, what function could these multiple rubber stoppers serve? Perhaps an artistic attempt to simulate mushrooms at the boarding gate? Part of the randomness...

My sense of relaxation slowly starts to erode as our scheduled boarding time passes without comment from the staff of North American Airlines. I wonder why an airline that serves North Africa, with its fleet of 10 planes as claimed (Devin and I thought they surely had only one plane), would name itself "North American Airlines." Are they are trying to emulate our airlines not only in name but also consistent delays?

1:45pm--2 hours past the scheduled boarding time, and an employee at the Gate announces cheerily and sharply--in the tone of a bugle call and with the ubiquitous smile of Nigerians: "North American Airlines Flight 134" is having mechanical problems. We are working on it." Well at least we finally know why we are delayed, but there is no indication if or when the problem might be resolved.

Fortunately and inexplicably, Devin's cellphone, a Samsung Blackjack, is working for the first time since the beginning of this trip. This is a rather exciting development. Unfortunately we can't figure how to get the "+'"sign for international calls to come up. Devin recalls that he was able to text message his wife, Laurie, last week without the plus sign. So we try and text Laurie as well as Dolores Craig, travel arranger for Orbis based in New York City. The dice don't roll our way however, as the error messages abound from the Blackjack.

After numerous unsuccessful texting attempts, I decided that I must get into a zen relationship with the cryptic keyboard and "play" the Blackjack, instead of it playing me--like Einstein riding the photon to come up with his Theory of Relativity, E=MC2. Entering into a trance-like state, clarity strikes as I mentally ride the GSM bandwidth..I see what I must do to materialize the '+" sign on the keyboard--the mark of cultural literacy among the international cognescti and the culturally hip..."Ah ha" I exclaim as I push on zero and count to three.
Sandy, thinking that we have received a text message on our communication device, promptly stands up to walk over. At precisely this same moment, a large African flying insect flys right by Sandy's nose at rapid velocity, nearly knocking her glasses off and setting her back down in its wake.Another example of the random nature of the day.

+ sign leading the way, we are able to call Dolores Craig's contact number based on the information given us by Amelia..but unexpectedly we get someone other than Dolores on the other end. After a bit of oblique conversation (I don't want to say I am calling from Lagos, Nigeria as this could raise suspicion and result in her hanging up. She is our lifeline to Ms. Craig-must keep her on the line). We determine that I am calling Dolores Craig's friend. She puts me on hold and tries to call Dolores' cell phone. Given inernational cellphone calling rates, it is decided that she will keep trying to call Dolores and have her call us. Wait 20 minutes but don't hear back. We are in a bit of a dilemma as we don't want to bother Ms. Craig,, and don't want to bother Ahmed and Amelia who are both asleep in the "Hardly Suites" (true name) as they have worked so unbelievably hard for the Orbis team since we have been here the past two weeks.

Tonight probably represents the first night of real sleep for them. However, we do want to get on the next flight, which is a Virgin Atlantic Flight in the morning. lest we be stranded in Lagos, officially rated as the worst airport on the Earth, for an indeterminate amount of time. Our anxiety partially stems from difficulties another Orbis team member, Alicia, had in getting back to the States after missing a flight. (Of course she was flying from Nigeria to Columbia--two countries that are not exactly on the "no crime" radar of international transport authorities). The other concern of course is the connecting flights from New York to each of our individual destinations. We process all the options and resolve to relax and wait a bit longer.

Around 2:30 am we suddenly note large plumes of black smoke coming from the front door of the plane. Images of our airplane exploding into a ball of flames rush in as we rush over to the window to get a better view. We can see that it is actually petrol fumes comng from a large portable generator adjacent to the plane. Whew--big sigh of relief, sort of...I mean the airline surely wouldn't purposely allow such a visible anxiety-provoking "smoking" of the plane on purpose. The large clouds of black smoke keep recurring. There must be something terribly wrong and out of control. I could be wrong but I don't think that an American based airline would allow billowing clouds of black smoke to envelop a plane as the passengers-to-be looked on. Might..I don't know..make one think twice about boarding....Confidence levels indeed drop precipitously and I can hear the faint murmur of discontent growing increasingly audible as more and more passengers are pulling out their cell phones and trying to control the escalting sense of alarm --" Book me on the Virgin Air flight tomorrow am" seems to be the identical theme of these multiple conversations--an idea we have been considering as well--Now we are thinking that there will be a direct correlation to the availability of the Virgin flight seats and the height and duration of the black smoke continuing to envelop our vessel of return to the New World.

Devin and Sandy both seem content to wait a bit longer, while my fingers, holding the Blackjack,are itching to call Amelia and Ahmed--our "special ops."

3:00 am-- Devin makes the comment: "This is looking worse." As the word "worse" is being formed by his buccal cavity and not even vocalized yet, my fingers are already calling Ahmed's number. I wake the poor guy out of a deep sleep--pretty much as I expected I would, and explain the situation. He, as consistently as ever, responds with great kindness as he simultaneously and quickly throws off the mantle of sleepiness to jet into a "high alert" state of consciousness.
He will book flights on Virgin for us through the internet. He rapidly fires instructions:
"Find a local Nigerian phone as phone calls from Devin's U.S. sim card phone will be too expensive. In the event your flight does take off leave your phone on until the last minute before take off. On arrival to JFK check your email to find your new connecting flight information. I will call Amelia immediately after we hang up to enlist her assistance in obtaining seats. We will continue to contact Dolores as well."

I am marveling at his (and Amelia's) ability to yet again instantaneously shift into crisis solving mentality as I take mental notes on the above. I am sure that he either was totally unconscious from fatigue or dreaming of meeting up with his wife and two beautiful children in Cairo tomorrow when he received my call. Unbelievable people he and Amelia are. I feel much better, having these guys on our sides.

3:10am--Good news. An airplane representative (different one this time), crisply, happily, and authoritatively announces that everyone can now get on the plane. The whoops of excitement give way to a mad rush to the boarding gate. I call Ahmed and Amelia to tell them the seemingly good news. Ten minutes elapse... and we start to see the passengers stream back from the boarding gate--off the plane! The previous murmurs of frustration have now reached full shouting level as people retake their seats in the boarding gate area. The potential for the scene to get ugly starts to rear its head. We inform Ahmed of the latest development. By this time it is nearly 4:00am. Ahmed says he and Amelia are just going to come to the airport! Wow!!! I cannot believe the sacrifice and dedication of these guys. In fact I am so struck by their dedication to our welfare that this sentiment not only ameliorates but even supercedes any anxiety about how and when we will get back across the Atlantic.

Around 4:30am another airline employee in the same sort of stilted and Nigerian accented, cheerful delivery announces "North American Ailines Flight 431 will now begin boarding!." Surreally, there is no reference to the previous aborting attempt, nor explanation of why there has now been a 4 and 1/2 hour delay. At this point a few intrepid passengers tentatively head on to the boarding ramp; others, whose anxiety has now been combined with a liberal dose of indignity have to practically be coaxed to get on the plane--a total reversal of the chaotic boarding process that is usually the case for flights in the developing world and which occured on the first boarding attempt.

Once all the passengers, collectively bound by a huge leap of faith in the airline (and an astounding ability to shut out visions of aviation disaster) are on the plane, a very high-pitched whirring sound followed by staccato, grating "knife like" sounds (reminiscent of a horror movie soundtrack) rises to incessantly pound our eardrums at very high volumes. These are not the normal sounds associated with an airplane starting up--more akin to what might imagine--"mechanical failure" to sound like. I wonder if we are unknowing participants in a psychological experiment to see how much toruture can be administered to prospective passengers and still have them board the plane...

The captain gets on the P.A. and mumbles something which basically sounds like "blah, blah, blah" to me--something about the need to replace a battery. I am thinking that is really weird. Is it like jump-starting your car? Pull out the jumper cables, attach to monster generator, and if the battery doesn't start, run down the local Sears store for a replacement? Where do you get a replacement battery for a jet at 3am in Lagos, Nigeria? I don't know. Are my sleep-deprived neurons are at this point lacking in coherent connectivity, or I am in the set of the next movie version of "Airplane." Obsessing over whether or not key neurotransmitters levels are depleted or whether I really am a character in a slapstick comedy and just don't know it, I settle into my seat, next to Devin. (Nurse Sandy, due to an error at the scheduling gate, is not seated with us. Another random absurdity, as she was standing with me at the ticket counter, plainly visible to the ticketing agent when I announced that "all three of us would like to be seated together. Several minutes later (security check #5 out of 10 I believe it was) we did notice that she had been assigned a seat far from us. We felt that in the overall scheme of things, it was a minor inconvenice. Little did we know that was a sign--a sign; yes (sigh), a sign...)

We settle in, and Devin, peering through the window, notes that the airplane is unable to taxi backwards. A vehicle is called in to the runway to tow this tube of steel in which we will be hurtling over the Atlantic during the next 11 hours... backwards... Now the pilot is testing the wing flaps. Up, down, up, down--feel like I am watching a marionette show. Is the Captain really going through a safety check, or is he a really happy guy having fun? Is it hot in here of are my just catecholaminses just a little ramped? . Actually, at this point the butterflies in my stomach can't be roused --they have all gone to sleep. Some part of my consciousness, which is going up and down in rhythm with the wing flaps, and in parallel with my nodding head, keeps saying in a soothing manner "Relax, this is all a dream."

The Captain interrupts my slumber to cheerily announce in the exuberant tone that has become a trademark of this airlines, "We are almost ready to go...We just have to wait for paperwork in order to document the previous problems." Heavens to Betsy--Paperwork? Yes he said, "paperwork." "Can't you see that we are weary, hungry, sleep-deprived and..and...and... smell bad" I want to say. Well I for one sure am glad that we are committed to protocol. Definitely agree that we wouldn't want to say start out 5 hour delayed/11 hour journey without filling out the paperwork.... After all what possibly could be more important right now? Surely not 300 passengers mentally and physically fatigued, bordering on the edge of lunacy... and on track to miss all our connecting flights " from J.F.K.. "Should only be another 10 or 15 minutes to get that paperwork!" the same voice cheerily announces. Do they have some kind of Happy acoustical filter in the P.A. system, or is the Captain just a little too out of touch with reality for all of our good I wonder as I slump down into my seat, not quite yet in a foetal position..

Fianlly the plane starts to move in fits and starts. Or am I just imaging this as I dazedly gaze out the airplane window. It is real. The plane is picking up speed.
At 5:15 am, a "slight delay" from the 11:45 pm scheduled time, we are lifiting off....

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Waterfall streaming down the cliff

The Waterfall

We had breakfast and said "Bye" to Alicia, who was planning to fly back early to Bogota.

Ahmad and I did a live television interview with Dr. Ezepue on the NT national television station about ORBIS and the symposium. We took calls as well--the first caller was an irate gentlemen, upset that live broadcasting of the under 17 soccer world cup had been interrupted. No more call were taken after that. The first call notwithstanding, the interview went fantastic with discussions centering on eyebanking, early ophthalmologic exams for new onset eye symptoms, and acknowledgement of the enthusiasm of the local ophthalmologists. Ahmad also did a great job informing everyone of the purpose and history of Orbis, leading into an overview of the success of this mission.

We then came back and changed out of our jackets and ties. Devin, Ahmad, Amelia and I went with a male resident and a female consultant, Dr. Ezegwui, and her three kids to a "waterfall." But before we left, I asked the front desk attendant why he had was wearing two ties. He explained that there was about to be a wedding and he was trying to help the best man get his tie on. He implored us to help. Feeling sympathetic and a bit of wonderment at the proximity of the tying of the tie to nuptialization, Ahmed and I went to work helping these chaps out. It was a nice exchange and we were happy to help the groom try and match the sartorial style and elegance of his bethrothed (who we saw later that day).

Back to the hike--described to Amelia and Ahmad in minimal terms as a half hour walk across flat terrain. It actually turned out to be much more than this.

As our vehicle turned and headed into the densely vegetated forest; Ahmed, after a period of silence, inexplicably to me brought up a random comment about the foilage at the Monastery being a great place for war! "The dense foilage would provide many hiding places," he elaborated.. in response to my gaze of puzzlement. My question was "But what brought war to your mind; we are in a monastery?" "Eventually to bring balance and hoping that the tears in Ahmed's eyes (as well as the rest of us) were those of laughter and not hurt, I thought a little levity and more gravitas was in order. Thus, I been enquiring of the male resident about the Biafran war and acknowledging (on Ahmad's behalf) this jungle would truly be a great place to have a war. After a quick review of the history of the Biafran war, Ahmed , not surprsingly I guess, gave a full account of the details of the war. Completely confused as to how Ahmed knew so much about the Biafran was, I was nonetheless quite impressed. We were still chuckling several minutes later as the bus came to a halt inside the monastery grounds, at which point Amelia promptly noted that she "had to go to the bathroom." I chivalrously pulled out a travel pack of mini Kleenex for her. Grasping it with great gratitude, she hurriedly headed into an unpopulated area to find a spot. The male resident accompanied her to scout out a place. As they disappeared into the distance, the resident asked her in a mattter-of -fact tone if she had to "pee or poo." As she related later, " I thought the question was a little personal. But after regaining my composure, I replied."Pee." A suitable spot was found. Business was accomplished and we began our nice "Sunday stroll."

Uh actually ...a bit different .... Though it started out like a scene out of the "Sound of Music" (in Africa) as originally envisioned, the nature of the terrain began changing. The path started getting steeper. Vines formed natural steps. The green bushes started getting closer on either side. The firm ground gave way a bit more...There were many Nigerians on all sides of us, engaged in purposeful walk and excited talk. They were moving at a rather rapid clip and a bit more focus than I would associate with a "relaxing stroll" Every once in awhile we would pass somebody drenched and excitingly shouting "The Water. The Water." I am thinking "Oh okay, it seems that you might actually be able to duck your head under the Fall." As we kept advancing we encountered increasing numbers people of all ages were singing and laughing and talking excitedly as we made our way down a muddy path. Enjoying the beautiful harmonies and polyrhythmic singing, we stopped suddenly. We had reached a 3 feet creek, with about 6 inches of water. The forward momentum of the Orbis group came to an abrupt halt. We glanced down at the stream and at everyone taking their shoes off in order to traverse it . Luckily for me, earlier the male resident had noticed my black leather dress shoes and had insisted on buying me a set on Nigerian flip-flops--this despite Amelia's protestations that I should have to "muddy my shoes to learn my lesson"--something about packing right.... We had even bought an extra pair of bright green (with design) slippers for Ahmad. But he was insistent on wearing his black leather shoes. Everyone else had appropriate hiking footwear.

Realizing at this point that this hike might take on a different character than originally expected, we each made an individual calculation as to whether or not to take our shoes off and go on, or just turn around--to perhaps go past "the point of no return." The residents who were with us had never gone past this point, so really couldn't help in our decision either. As I was pondering the possibilites of schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, and other parasites that might be residing the water, I looked up and saw that Devin and Amelia had made the decision for the group. Ahmad and I rolled off up our pants, took off our shoes, vanquished thoughts of tropical parasitemia as we crossed to join our barefoot buddies.

Sensing no acute signs of parasitic infection, we marched forward on the dirt path--passing large "trains" of people coming the other side. Some were carrying jugs of water, considered holy, on their heads as we passed their smiling faces. Others were excitedly telling us about the water. I couldn't really understand the details of these passing conversations, but started to realize that this hike could indeed be completely different than imagined.

We then came to a river bed at the mouth of a canyon. The canyon walls at least 100 feet high and insinuating did not allow a further look as to what lay ahead. Realizing this was our last chance to turn back...we hesitated. In the space of the hesitation, it was clear that we were surrounded by very, very happy Nigerians, singing, dancing and praying. No one seemed to be wretching, writhing, or showing other signs of sickness. Having "boldly"surmounted our first creek, we felt rather intrepid--ready to handle the river (and whatever lurked beneath). As we sloshed through the river of various depth from 6' to 3 feet, we started feeling a childhood sense of joy from doing something we weren't planning on doing. All around, behind, in front and on the side of us people were walking with us. Amelia, as usual, was making friends with many of the Igbo people around us.

Turning through dark caverns, with water sliding down the walls beside us, we were in communion with hundreds of Igbo Nigerians singing and laughing and dancing and praying and soaking up the water. The turns were rather abrupt and I lost sight of our fearless leader, Devin. Knowing he was leading the charge we kept marching forward, occasionally, okay more than occasionally, wincing with pain from stepping on the steep rocks invisible under the flowing water. The flowing water and the flowing people kept us moving forward in a near-hypnotic march, as we were focused on avoiding sharp rocks and not falling into the water en bloc,and intermittently looking up to see where the rest of the group was.

It was amazing--so much human African spirit rejoicing at the beauty of nature and the nature of God.
Amelia pointed out to me a spiderweb on the side of the cavern about 50 feet up-- with a ray of sunlight reflecting off and shining through the wet silk. Her only words were "This is one of those moments."-- a reference to discussions we have had in the past where one is totally opened to the Spirit, to God.It was truly transcendent moment. Everything stopped. I hope one day, Ahmad, will paint it. He is an accomplished oil painter. (But don't as ask him about his childhood violin lessons).

When we got to the end of the riverbed, the canyons which had varied between 2 and 6 feet wide, opened up into a natural amphitheater about 60 x 60 feet.
At the end of this was the waterfall-- rushing down a sheer rock face into the base of the river. The loud Fall was a great acoustic backdrop for all the pilgrims and celebrants in naturally harmonious praise, dancing, and laughing...
Some would say they were "catching the spirit." I stood there with Ahmed, Amelia, and transifixed--just took it all in.
At one point Amelia, in awe of the whole scene, asked someone how long they stayed here at the end of the journey to the Fall. In typical Nigerian fashion, the woman answered, "Not long. Once we get here, we turn around. Some people are coming. Some people are going."
That brought us back from our group fugue state and we started heading back.

We then navigated the rocky, and at times sandy, way back through the river bed, clutching the walls of the cavern to keep from falling. Luckily no one fell in the water and exposed themself to any seriously high titer of parasites. No river snakes were seen. No flash floods occurred, and we made it back to the mouth of the riverbed.

As we emerged from the riverbed, shook ourselves dry, and regained our bearings on solid ground, we were surrounded by many others who had just completed the pilgrimmage. Ahmed, perhaps still inhaling the air of exhiliration, greeted everyone around us with great sincerity with the unwritten message that we have shared something fantastic with you. Shaking his head alternately left and right while walking forward as though on a great diplomatic stage, he beamed out "Anisha! Anisha!" He must have uttered this word about 15 times. Later on the path we learned that the word, "Anisha" does not mean "Hello," but "white person." Upon learning that this was the meaning, Ahmend's first response was "But this is very bad."

Onward we walked and were pleasantly surprised by seeing the rest of the Orbis staff who had driven here, after a surgery for congenital ectropion.

It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.
I was very fortunate to share it with my friends.

The weekend

We had a busy, culturally enriching weekend and made many further connections with our hosts here. I don't have time at the moment to detail them all as I need to refine a uveitis talk to be given later today. Today is the opening of the Nigerian Opthalmologic Society. Several hundred ophthalmologists from all over Nigeria are expected to attend.

Anyway, I can't wait to share a "walk to a waterfall," which turned out to be much more than that--in fact it was one of the most amazing experiences I have had in all my travels to Africa.

Meanwhile here is a quote (sorry--I can't remember the author at the moment) which rings true:

"Africa's not an issue. It's not a cause or a problem. It's a continent - a complicated, confusing, beautiful continent, with wealth and poverty, peace and strife, success and tragedy. When Africa becomes a cause, we tend to see only one side of the continent - a helpless, dependent, starving side that "needs our help"."

I think that anyone who has been to Africa would certainly agree that this continent is so rich in so many ways, and it does it unjustice to reduce it to a cause...
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