What’s Happening

Although admittedly this blog has focused on our extraordinary adventures, and while admittedly some of them have been quite amazing, (and admittedly much more interesting to read about), these aforementioned adventures in reality occupy a minuscule fraction of our time here. Our minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and yes, almost a year, are, in actuality, spent working. To be imprecise, (much to my chagrin, I don’t have a spreadsheet with exact amounts like my engineer son and brother would have), I’ve spend about 2200 hours working, 5500 hours on call, and 672 hours having amazing adventures. Do the math: minuscule proportion.

So I thought it only fair to give a shout out to something other than vacation, as I really don’t want to completely misrepresent my life. I could write about work, (see below the snapshots of my office, complete with my homemade stand up desk, our well-organized pharmacy and well-stocked lab, and one of our Marine Security Guards horsing around with EK, our Cameroonian RN), but that might decrease my readership substantially, due to the boring aspect of the daily grind. (The work days are spent mainly filling out governmental forms and squeezing in a patient visit every now and then. Every once in a while something vaguely exciting happens, like when the Regional Security Office is conducting victim extraction from an armored vehicle training and shards of glass go everywhere. PPE, people, PPE.)

I could also describe our cushy “East Africa-light” lifestyle, with a generator insuring that our refrigerated goods stay refrigerated, our massive amounts of “consumable goods” shipped from the homeland stay cool and fresh, and we sleep in mosquito-free AC. But that’s not all that exciting either.

But what might give you a little insight into my everyday life is to throw a little spotlight on what’s happening here in Burundi. Nothing that I write can’t be found in any media outlet: the NYTimes, the BBC, Reuters. But reading it here might make it a little personal, a little succinct, a little simplified, and a little closer to home.

Right now in Burundi, there are two major issues going on. The first is ongoing; the second is new. Both represent an unknown future. Facts remain hard to find and rumors run rampant. Through informal discussions with everyone I know here, people are all over the map as to their predictions of the not-so-distant future. On one side of the spectrum are the bright-eyed, optimistic souls floating along in the River of Denial. (I myself am happily ensconced in this boat.) On the far opposite end are the risk-averse, nay-sayers that are packing suitcases and preparing to leave at a moment’s notice, thinking that could be any moment’s notice. (I’ll leave you to guess who’s the president of that club.) And the rest of the people, locals and ex-pats alike, are somewhere in the middle of these extremes.

The first, ongoing issue is the political situation. In a super simplified, non-politically sophisticated version of current events, here’s my take on what’s happening: After emerging from twelve tumultuous years of civil war in 2005, Burundi is set to hold its second set of democratic elections in the coming months. I wouldn’t begin to pretend that I could outline all the parties, oppositions, alliances, and intricacies of the political landscape, (it takes an entire spreadsheet just to name the parties) but here’s what is clear: according to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, a president is limited to two five-year terms. The current president, Pierre Nkurunziza,

Screenshot 2015-03-21 16.52.15

has been in office since 2005. Now I’m not good in math, but that feels like two five-year terms could be up. Of course, there are some loopholes and extenuating circumstances, but the potential exists that his party (the CNDD-FDD) will nominate him to run again.

Again, I’m not savvy in all things political, but that feels like a problem waiting to erupt. And in a country with limited infrastructure, political instability, and prone to violence, you can see why those risk-averse people are camping out at their end of the spectrum, suitcase in hand.

The second, more recent development involves a fuel shortage. As mentioned earlier, facts remain hard to find and rumors run rampant, but gas lines are long.

IMG_20150320_173941448

IMG_20150320_173848344

I wouldn’t begin to make a stab at why, because speculations and stories are all over the map, but as mentioned earlier, in a country with limited infrastructure, political instability, and prone to violence, this doesn’t bode well.

Put the two situations together, and you might pitch your tent at the pessimistic end of the spectrum, too.

I write this not to be a sensationalist, nor to alarm any of my friends and family back home, but just to paint a more full picture of our lives here in Burundi. While our adventures have been amazing, our every day lives are a bit more mundane, and sometimes, uncertain.

We are watching this space closely, and live everyday, prepared and ready. We will, of course, respond to each new development as it comes, and cross each bridge as it presents itself.

In the meantime, I remain optimistic, maintaining hope, a belief that all will continue to be well, and a basic trust that our Creator will protect and provide. Ah, you have to love my ever eternal optimism!

Randy keeps his suitcase packed.

Out Of Africa

(With apologies to Karen Blixen, of course.)

When I left The Land Of The Free and The Home Of The Brave last April for Amazing African Adventures Unknown, my intentions were (what did I know??) that I would not leave the continent for the duration of my two year commitment. That was my plan. I had waited many years to see Africa and I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of it that my limited time off, money, and energy would allow. But when my employer informed me that they were sending me to a Continuing Medical Education conference in Bangkok, Thailand, who am I to say no?? And why not capitalize on the paid travel and tack on an extra week to explore the area?

(My astute friend Jean, who knows me very well, commented on my excitement with this gem:  “And to think it wasn’t long ago that Babette was excited about her UC employer paying for mileage and a hotel for business travel to Glenwood Springs!” Jean, remember that UC paid for my mileage and lodging to Montrose as well. I was rocking the big perks.)

So off to Bangkok we went, excited about the Continuing Medical Education conference, of course, but maybe also just a little excited to explore a new part of the world and eat Thai food!!!!!!!!!!! 

The conference went along as planned, with great sessions on all manner of stuff so that we in the bush don’t emerge two years later having never heard of all the latest. (Did you know that Hepatitis C, currently infecting more than 3.2 million people in the US, will be a rare disease in the next 20 years??) Amazing advances are going on in the real world while I’m over here worrying about schistosomiasis and cordylobia anthropophaga. For real.

It was also a great opportunity for networking with my worldwide colleagues, as half of our medical providers from all over the planet were there. And since I came into the service as a cohort of one, I was excited to get adopted by the group who came in right after me. Woohoo! I have colleagues I can email and ask the simplest of questions!

While I was busy conferencing, Randy, who happily accompanied me as the Trailing Spouse, an identity he is embracing without reservation, did a bit of exploring. He visited the bridge over the River Kwai,

59-IMG_1475

and made a few purchases at the floating market.

58-IMG_1450

03-IMG_1449

I only had a couple of sight seeing moments in Bangkok, but we did manage to see the Grand Palace…

60-IMG_20150208_133331791

…which included a model of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world.

IMG_4986

(This is just a model. Seeing it was kind of like going to Legoland. If you can’t go to the actual location of Angkor Wat, which is just north of Siem Reap in Cambodia, just check out the model of it in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Seriously.)

There were lots of Buddhas…

56-IMG_20150208_132726278

…including reclining Buddhas…

49-IMG_20150208_133338412

…and “The Emerald Buddha”, which was actually made of jade. Go figure. (No photos of it, though, as it wasn’t photogenic.)

02-IMG_1414

I feel like we can safely say we checked the Buddha box.

Then we visited the Jim Thompson House (Jim Thompson was an American who is credited with single-handedly reviving the Thai silk industry, among a few other things),

IMG_5024

IMG_5027

and ate some street food.

IMG_4993

(You can’t imagine what this was like to our taste buds. Bujumbura has some good food…if you like brochettes and french fries, with a little Ethiopian thrown in from time to time…but lacks variety in a big way.)

IMG_5006

(Barked with crap??? We didn’t order this particular delicacy.)

When the conference was over, we headed north to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, to explore a little bit more of the region, neither of us having ever been to this part of the world.

There were more temples and monuments here…

04-IMG_1490

05-IMG_1486

…but since I don’t speak the language, I’m not exactly sure what this actually is. It was just the whitest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I wonder if they power wash with bleach??

But Thailand isn’t all temples and Buddhas. If you follow this blog, you’ll know that we’ve had some incredible wildlife experiences, like seeing the gorillas, and our East African Safari Extravaganza, and this day with the elephants at Patara Elephant Farm, in Chiang Mai, was no exception. They advertise that you “own an elephant” for the day. They weren’t kidding.

We had to brush them…

1-IMG_2291

…then lead them to the river with voice commands (and a little gently ear tugging)…

38-IMG_2313

(I must have looked grandmotherly. Everyone else got an elephant. I got a mom and her baby.)

…then bathe them in the river…

24-IMG_2367

…after which they said thank you in their own inimitable way.

26-IMG_243127-IMG_2432

28-IMG_2433

After feeding them, (and by feeding them I don’t mean gently hold your hand out, palm up, so they can daintily take the offering with their trunk. I mean stick your hand and arm way up into their mouths and deposit bananas and leaves and whole stalks of sugar cane. They have really big, soft, squishy, gooey lips)

1-IMG_2226

we were treated to a bare back ride, but not until after we figured out how to get up on these huge but amazingly gentle animals.

With simple voice commands, (it was amazing) you can have them lie down and climb on top, as Randy did…

61-IMG_2496

62-IMG_2497

63-IMG_2498

…or with another command, you could stand on their trunk and they would lift you up and over.

64-IMG_2500

65-IMG_2501

66-IMG_2502

67-IMG_2503

And voila! Off we go!

31-IMG_2549

We didn’t understand the words the guides used for this little moment, but it must have meant something like hug or nuzzle. The more he said it, the tighter the hug.

23-IMG_1607

And to round out our elephant escapades, we spent some time with these little cute, but rambunctious, babies.

21-IMG_155122-IMG_1573

20-IMG_1544

All in a day’s work and we still had a week to go in Thailand! The fun had just begun.

The next day we checked out The Flight of the Gibbons. If you’re counting primates, you’ll remember that we saw the Eastern Lowland Gorilla in the Congo, went chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda with Megan, followed dozens of baboons in the Serengeti, and now watched a gibbon perform for us in the trees of Northern Thailand.

42-IMG_1654

40-IMG_1649

 

39-IMG_1647

 

This guy really interacted with and entertained us. He stared at us; he swung from branch to branch; he turned his back on us, then turned upside down and looked at us from between his legs. Quite the character!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cool thing about these guys is that they never leave the trees, so to see them, we had to go to where they live. We did this by means of the most incredible zip line adventure I’ve ever heard of. There were 30 different stations, and 17 different zip lines, including a tandem one, a vertical one, and the longest one in SE Asia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

45-IMG_2854

True confessions:

In addition to the incredible Thai food and the eye-popping street markets…

19-IMG_1725

15-IMG_171713-IMG_171412-IMG_152011-IMG_1515…I did enjoy a wonderful food coma from this little haven of deliciousness in Chiang Mai:

IMG_5119

After all this excitement, we needed a break before heading back to work, so we headed to Phuket, a small island off the SW coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. We enjoyed the beach and the seafood and one last adventure, of a very different nature.

We spent the day on John Gray’s sea canoes. It was quiet, peaceful, beautiful. We explored caves and lagoons, 51-IMG_1776

 

53-IMG_1819

swam in the sea, ate wonderful sea food, and at nightfall, we participated in a traditional Thai ceremony: the Loi Krathong.

This was such a beautiful, touching ceremony I could write a whole blog post about it. (But since this one’s taken me more than a month to get up, I won’t.) We made these little arrangements on the boat,

54-IMG_1838

then after sunset

55-IMG_1847

we lit the candles and set them afloat in the lagoon.

Most of the decorated baskets only had two love birds, but we put two extra on ours and dedicated them to our son, Adam, and his new bride-to-be, Val, who had just announced their engagement!! Welcome to our family, Val!!

In the end, I decided I liked SE Asia far more than I thought I would. I could totally see us living somewhere in this region. The climate is pleasant, the food is incredible, the adventure ops abound, and the people are way funnier than I anticipated, and quite genteel as well. We will certainly keep our eyes open for SE Asia opportunities.

10-IMG_1726