Rocks, Ruts and Osteoarthritis
Soft, warm gentle breezes; roosters busily scratching in the dirt and crowing nearby; the happy noises from adults learning to succeed in our classes; tiny lizards threading themselves through the broken-glass topped concrete walls surrounding our compound. Yes, after an exhausting and very long plane ride, I've returned to my part-time home in Eastern Africa.
We often have power outages with no electric for many hours (or days)! Modern conveniences aren't available. The few small stores (dukas) we have are very limited in their inventory. Few people have ovens since the cost is prohibitive. My Swahili (the language spoken here) isn't as strong as I wish. BUT, I sleep well each night, I don't have tension headaches, and I do have many native friends and adopted family who deeply care for me and will do anything to help. Although it is almost Thanksgiving in the US, our temperatures are usually somewhere in the 100s each day, but it cools off a little at night.
Our cook is a very sweet lady, but is VERY limited in her cooking skills. She appears to only know how to cook six things: rice, potatoes (boiled or mashed), peas, spinach, beans, and ugali (a staple food here). I'll eat almost anything, but this is a little strange. One night she just boiled two small pots of potatoes (no seasoning or anything!). One night, she discovered we were having guests for chakula (evening meal), so she cooked two pots -- one of rice and one of peas. Gratefully, I guess I won't regain any of the weight I lost in Africa last year. I didn't try on any slacks from last year's stay in Africa, and just threw them in my duffle bag. Much to my dismay, they are WAY too big for me, but there's nowhere to buy more clothes, or have these altered, so... At least when I'm teaching I'm expected to wear long skirts and tops or long dresses! Oh, I have had a local seamstress I know make me two pairs of slacks that won't fall down, and of course are wild and fun African fabrics!
For a few weeks this year, I'm teaching for a foundation called Give a Heart to Africa. Our population is made up of 37 adults from 20-57 years old who have been single parents trying to raise a family for many hard years. We teach them English Grammar and Composition (my job), as well as computer skills (a challenge when our electric goes out), as well as Business skills. The ultimate goal is to prepare them to run their own small business. When our students have successfully graduated from our educational programs, we will help them purchase the necessary products for their stores and monitor their work for the first year. It is an incredible feeling to watch our students begin to blossom as they learn and gain self-confidence!
This part of Africa is a world of incredible contrasts. We have inspiring beauty in our surroundings, yet incredible contrasts. Unique and colorful flowers and birds sprinkle our environment, yet we also have corruption, major economic problems, and numerous unresolved health issues. This is a land of wealth and unremitting poverty. As an OA patient with mobility challenges, this can be a very frustrating place to live. Roads are usually made of dirt and liberally sprinkled with large rocks and deep ruts -- few have any form of paving. The major source of transportation is from the waist down, ie. walking. This isn't an issue for most people, but can become almost an insurmountable challenge for me. I'm NOT too lazy to walk, but I do have nine artificial joints (thanks to OA), and really can't afford to fall! I actually do walk some places, but have found this to be very time-consuming, and I need to watch every step. Cabs become a source of transport for me, but this can become quite costly.
Although my work here is quite exhausting, the feeling that I'm actually making a positive difference in someone's life is incredible. In SPITE of my OA; in spite of all of my orthopedic surgeries and joint replacements; YES, in spite of the pain; I can, and AM making a difference in many lives. I KNOW I'm where I want to be - I know I'm where I NEED to be - I KNOW I'm where God wants me to be.
Please try to make a difference in someone's life. OA is a challenge, NOT a life sentence!
Mama P (my Swahili name)