Ethiopia Trip #11

imageI’m waiting for my flight to Washington where I will connect to London. I think I may be the only woman going to Washington and NOT marching in the Woman’s March. Damn I wanted too. But my trip back to my kiddos in Ethiopia was booked long ago and there is no way I could cancel on them.

I’m meeting my cohort, Stacy in DC where we will travel on together to London. We are going to stay there for a couple of days and take in the sites (and gradually work through the jet lag). After that we will meet up with the rest of the OA Board in Frankfurt on our way to Addis Ababa. It’s a crazy, but good, itinerary.

For now I’m trying to get my devices charged up for the long flight ahead while enjoying a beer and a snack in the United Club. I always have this urgent sense of, eat and drink while you can, when I travel. So I am.

See you on the other side of the pond.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

The Long List in Korah

Another one of those loooong travel days. 


I woke at 3am (ugly given the fact that I didn’t go to bed until midnight) for my 6am flight.  I arrived at the airport about 45 minutes late –something I NEVER do- due to a nasty bit of snow and ice. I met up with our Brigade Medical Director and we checked in together though not until we addressed a few hundred dollars worth of unwelcomed baggage fees. Groan.


Rant: Come on United (Gawd I wish I had another viable choice) I flew more than 100,000 miles on United last year, almost never checked anything, except of course when I’m brought medical supplies and donations somewhere, plus our bags for this trip were much lighter than the allowed max…yes they were big hockey bags but seriously your telling me IF I had them full of 70 pounds of hockey equipment there would be no fee but with 40 pounds of donations its $200??  How on earth does that make sense??? Ok rant over.


After being late and having the bag frustration our mission mojo took a turn for the good.  Though there was a blinding snow squall and talk of flight canceling buzzed through the gate area we boarded our flight within a half hour of our original schedule and arrive in plenty of time for our connecting flight.  We later learned that we were one of just two flight to take off then as many were cancelled due to the weather.  I asked, “why us?” and the flight attended shrugged “we were just lucky I guess”. Well OK, Ill take that!


In DC we met up with three more team members from Out of the Ashes.  The flight to Addis which was thankfully uneventful and we actually landed early in Addis. We then cleared customs with minimal pain considering the 800 pounds of supplies we were carrying (NO not kidding) 


After a quick bag drop at the guest house we headed to Korah to survey the clinic site. The rest of the day was spent orienting, surveying the brigade site and meeting the new nurses at the clinic.




One thing that stood out for me was a large list names taped to the blue metal fences outside the gates of the shelter where we will work.  It was a list new students for Out of the Ashes. (out of the Ashes is the organization I serve with that provides scholarships to poor students in Korah…scholarships that provide food, housing, books, tuition…and a way out of the poverty that surrounds them.


 It was humbling to see all of those names…kids counting on us to send them to school and provide healthcare.  It was both exciting and terrifying as we took in the responsibility we carried with us.


I cant wait to put a face to everyone of these names.



She’s seen these walls and they never change
Everything’s in its place
Her relationships are neatly arranged
Down to religion and race

And she says, “Here in my security
I don’t make a move unless my friends approve
I do what’s expected of me”

And as I grow older
And there’s so much that I do not know
I’m drawn to those who are bolder
And go where no one dare to go

~ excerpt from “Hero in Me” by Jeffrey Gaines

Hello Hubster

This is my third trip to Ethiopia in 13 months.  I traveled with a friend the first time and then last summer I brought two of my sons.  I cannot tell you how proud they made me on that trip and how touched I was when they said they wanted to return.  No Disney or Caribbean Island for them.  Nope they want to go back to Korah.  I get it, obviously.  Korah is…compelling.

 This trip I’ve added my favorite family member to the brigade, my husband! I am so stinkin excited to finally be able to share this with him.  Usually he is the one staying home and manning the fort so I can do what I do.  He’s amazing and selfless and beyond supportive in this way.  And while it is very difficult for both of us to travel, I really felt the need for him to experience Korah directly.  After countless words and tears trying to make him (and anyone else who hasn’t been) understand,  I am still incapable of communicating the powerful hold Korah has on those who witness this place.

Because, it’s not enough for him to know ABOUT Korah…I needed him, the person who matters more than any other to me, to KNOW Korah.

 I’m not sure how many other couples regard Korah Ethiopia as a romantic destination but for us, it sort of is.


Heading Back To Ethiopia

In less than a week I’m heading back to Korah Ethiopia.  This will be my third trip in a year.

Its hard to explain the connection I feel to Korah.  I have no obvious reason to be there.  I did not adopt a child from there or even know a single Ethiopian before I traveled there last January.  That first trip was more about my own personal wander lust, that and a curiosity sparked by my good friend Stacy who had recently returned from a mission trip to Korah.  But once i experienced Korah, the warmth of the people, the smiles of the children and the need…the UNIMAGINABLE NEED, I was hooked.


You’ll recall I led a team of physicians last summer on a medical brigade to Korah.  It was a small team, sort of the knock down cruise for what I hoped would be a full brigade at some point.  And that’s just how its worked out. Next week our second Brigade, this one 29 Brigadeers strong will return to Korah.

Much is planned for this brigade. We expect to see upwards of 2,000 patients.  We have added a dental hygienist to the team.  We are teaching local physicians and nurses critical skills that will survive long after our visit.

Before the medical team arrives though I will be working on another project that is near and dear to my heart. I serve as the Board President for an organization called Out of the Ashes. OA provides scholarships for kids in Korah Ethiopia, a leper colony and slum located on the edge of a garbage dump. Quite literally the OA program takes kids from the dump and places them in boarding schools where they receive food, clothing, healthcare, books, supplies and the education needed to lift them out of poverty.


Last summer OA started its program with 51 students. (More than 3000 kids applied for scholarships!) While the program was modest in size it was well executed. The kids just completed their inaugural semester in school and I can confidently declare the OA program is a success. The kids are healthy, thriving and learning.

Unfortunately though at that same time OA was getting started another organization also providing student sponsorships under the program name Project 61, was falling apart. P61 was responsible for educating 360 kids in boarding schools, local schools and technical school. Last November P61’s board announced suddenly they would be closing the program which meant 360 kids would not be able to return to school.

The OA board, entered into discussions with P61 in an attempt to keep the kids, many of whom were seniors about to graduate, in school. P61’s board agreed to transition the program to OA however support was limited. At the end of the day OA needed to find sponsors for 360 kids…and we had to do it in 45 days!

Well call it a miracle, good luck or a phenomenal fundraising effort but as of today we have 310 of those kids sponsored!

And while that is fantastic it does leave us with 50 children still needing sponsorship.

OA’s founder (my a fore mentioned good friend Stacy) and I leave in less than one week and (GULP) one of the first heartbreaking things we will have to do in Korah is inform children without sponsors that they will not be returning to school. Can you even imagine?

Praying for miracles…


Medical Brigade to Puruhla Guatemala

I got back late Friday night, (or was it early Saturday morning?) from a week long medical brigade in Guatemala. I traveled with MedWish International and 41 other adventurous brigadiers I now claim forever as friends. There was very limited communication and no access to Internet so real time updates were not possible….though honestly I think I would have been too tired to blog anyway. Our days were LONG….no I mean LOOOOONG-AH. Plus between the Malarone and the motion sickness I was pretty much a hot mess the whole time I was there.

I’m still exhausted but since you are here Ill try to catch you up…

Our base of operations was a small town called Puruhla about a 4 hour drive from Guatemala City. We stayed at Rom Tzul, a “resort hotel” that felt more like a bad summer camping cabin. We did have running water and flush toilets (well most of us did) but the luxury pretty much ended there. On the subject of our accommodations I will simply say this…

  • While not easy, five women (three of whom **yeah I’m counted in there** are total diva princesses) can in fact share a room and a single bathroom. (Also contrary to popular beliefs, mud masks, clarisonic facials and hydrating facial sprays are not incompatible with camping cabin life…I mean there’s no need to be uncivilized.)
  • Black moths as big as bats dive bombing onto your forehead at 1 am will elicit screams. Also hunting and capturing said moth with a bath towel will add squimish giggles to the screams.
  • Even big black moths on your face aren’t as bad as waking up to a roach crawling in your bra (not me, thank gawd).
  • Ice cold showers suck no matter how much you sweat your ass off in the afternoon.
  • Apparently when you are tired enough you can sleep anywhere….just pull the blanket over your head so the moths don’t lay eggs in your ears.

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Each day we traveled two to three hours one way from our base camp across rugged mountainous terrain to the Mayan villages we served. In some cases we could only reach our clinic sites by 4×4 caravan.

There was lots of motion sickness, a few hairy moments as we slipped and slid our way down the narrow dirt roads and when we were lucky enough to ride in the back of the pick up trucks some pretty bruised tushies. But that’s what it took to reach the people we came to serve…(communities who hadn’t seen a medical team in more than four years!)

And even though it was rough and tumble and occasionally treacherous, we were rewarded with some of the most incredible views imaginable.

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We held three clinics over three days providing general medicine, pediatrics, ENT, GYN and dentistry services to an estimated 2,000 patients! We took over schools and rural village clinics and turned them into make shift hospitals. More than ever before this felt like jungle medicine. It was at times beyond the pale, especially as multiple team members succumbed to the relentless heat, (lots of IV’s were started for people on our own team!)

Our second day was so hard I honestly just wanted to give up and go home. I didn’t and neither did anyone else but damn it was ugly. Though I suppose looking back on that second day it will go down as one of those experiences that you hold onto with pride and even a bit of awe. Like I don’t know….childbirth.

We did that…it was hard…and it was good.

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I have two highlights of this trip…

On our first day of clinic we realized that we did not have enough Lidocaine to treat all of the dental patients who came to us. We had to shut down the dental clinic by mid morning. So many people still needed dental care. A decision was made to go into “town” to buy more medication. Now going into town doesn’t quite communicate the effort undertaken here…a staffer had to travel hours back over the mountain roads to five different pharmacies before returning with every drop of anesthetic in Puruhla.

By then it was 3pm.

The medical team was finished and ready to return to Rom Tzul for the night so volunteers were solicited…a small group (including me) stayed behind to reopen the dental clinic. We were given strict instructions to close up shop and head back not a minute later than 5pm because it would be dark after that and not safe to travel back on the now muddy mountain roads.

Well we worked as fast as we could and let me tell you this team of dentists and assistants were outstanding but we could only go so fast. As 5pm rolled around we still had 20 or so patients waiting in line. They had been there ALL DAY. WAITING to sit at a school desk, tip their head back and have a dentist pull out a painful tooth. Can you imagine?

They needed us to stay.

And we did.

Two hours after our “curfew” and after seeing EVERY patient who waited on us we drove back in the dark and rain.

Maybe it was foolish, maybe it was no big deal at all, but whatever it was, it FELT LIKE THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

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The other highlight of the trip for me came on our last day. Truth be told the clinical acuity was not high most of the week. For the most part we saw patients with complaints of headache, stomachache and general pain…no surprise given the harsh conditions of rural life in Guatemala. We just didn’t see the “big” cases we medical junkies get excited about, you know the stuff you look back on a say we made a definitive difference in someone’s life.

But for one little baby we were as they say, in the right place, at the right time, WITH THE RIGHT SURGEON…

A very concerned mother and father came into the room carrying their eight week old baby. The baby had six toes on each foot and a sixth finger on his left hand. Not a big deal in the US but can you imagine this in a place where something as basic as Tylenol and Vitamins are in rare supply? What this young family could not have known is that a world class surgeon was there that day.

We draped a school desk and placed the baby on our makeshift surgical table. Using a flashlight to illuminate the surgical field and with the baby’s mother holding him in place (and even occasionally breast feeding him to soothe him) our doctor carefully removed the extra digit. All that was, well, just freaking cool… but that’s not what stood out for me.

What struck me was the humility of the surgeon doing the procedure. I was holding the flashlight so I was right next to him, “You are amazing Jeff, you changed this kids life” I said as he finished his cut. “Its not a big deal, anyone could have done it” he answered.

All I could think was, sure anyone could have done it….anyone who was a surgeon…and who had traveled to a Mayan village outside Puruhla Guatemala…on precisely this day. Yup anyone…(Just love me these everyday heroes!)

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There were of course other moments…non clinical stuff…friendships formed and strengthened, tears, laughter and straight up ridiculousness that form the memories that will stay with me for a very long time. Each of these trips has these moments: part of the richness that keeps me coming back again and again. In fact this time the tug on my consciousness has left me wondering if I should be doing “this”, whatever “this” is, as a mainstay rather than sideline activity in my life.

Ahhhhh, so much to think about…maybe its the usual re-entry emotions…

I don’t know…maybe it’s more.