Many people take time to think about the year just passed and the new one arriving; some of these memories are not necessarily happy or positive ones, but many also show amazing growth and achievements of ourselves and those we love.
Last year, I was probably sitting in this same chair in an internet café in Tanzania as I am today, taking a brief break from the insufferable temperatures, my active volunteer work with natives and my photo-journalism. Last year, I was in incredible pain much of the time (compliments of OA of course) as my right knee continued to completely disintegrate. I am forever grateful for my incredible orthopedic surgeon in the U.S. (as well as my healer in Africa) who have made radical changes in my life. The healer suggested I change my diet to help my body heal better (a small change that excluded spicy foods). My surgeon was astounded, when four weeks after a total knee replacement including a patella, he observed that my incision was completely healed!
My surgery was in May, and I returned to my work in Africa in November pain-free, and without the previously vital cane! Because walking is the primary source of transportation around here, I've been gradually increasing the places I will walk to in spite of the rocky dirt paths.
Yesterday, some friends called and invited me on an adventure I'll not soon forget. They had said we'd go on a little walk to Machame - that we'd go slowly and not rush. Gee, what they forgot to tell me were the DETAILS of the day! We walked to town to catch a dala dala, a challenge and a truly memorable experience! A dala dala is a fall-apart van used for inexpensive transport from location to location; they are held together I think with prayer and baling wire, and there is no such thing as a full one (a friend claims that the most people she's ever been able to count on one at one time was 32 people)! People get on and off frequently - there is kind of a door with one of the workers hanging out (no more room). People climb on and off constantly carrying children, bags of rice, etc., and sit (if possible) on top of someone or simply lean against someone. You're not likely to fall - there's nowhere to go!
After two hours of this delightful experience, we arrived in a tiny village in the Machame area, a little way up Mt. Kilimanjaro. After "discussing" with a variety of terribly unqualified "guides" who tried to charge us exhorbitant amounts to walk beside us on the path (there's only one path, and it goes only one place...) we decided to go without one and began our trek. Of course, we were initially told that we would only hike about two kilometers and it shouldn't take more than 30 minutes; however, after climbing up progressively steeper areas for over an hour, we were informed it was only about two or three kilometers more, and then the next person said one or four kilometers ad infinitum!
We came to a tiny Muslim village up the mountain where everyone was very friendly and helpful - all gave us different answers about where we were going and how far it was. The best information I received was from a tiny old man who came over after the Call to Prayer sounded and showed me how to raise my arm in prayer since I couldn't
kneel properly (I had brought my cane for safety)! The sky became very threatening ahead of us over the peaks of Kili, and I finally suggested (after almost two HOURS of walking) that I really needed to stop and go back down the mountain.
Two of my friends (much younger) decided to continue, and my friend Sam and I decided to try to get a car to take us back down the mountain. By then, it was beginning to sprinkle, so we ducked for cover in front of a tiny duka (shop with an inventory of two tomatoes and one potatato or vica-versa). My friend had looked through the screened-in window and saw tins of soda. We asked if we could buy some - at first the proprietor said yes, but a little later in the discussion, she announced she didn't have any. I've lived here long enough to just accept whatever, and go on.
As my transport arrived, the rain became harder, and I think the entire village ducked under that tiny awning and stared at us. I was also beginning to wonder where we could sleep (obviously no Best Western here)! Oh, I forgot to mention that there are no cars in the mountains, so my only source of transportation was a choice between hiking for two more hours down the mountain or riding on the back of a boda boda (yes, a motorcycle)! We accepted the ride from a friend of my driver's, so when the rain slowed down, we left. I was unsure whether I could climb on this beautiful metallic steed, but knew I had no alternative, so my friend lifted my right leg (the limb with four artificial joints) and we happily (scared to death) took off.
It was rapidly understood that both men were very competent and safety-conscious. I was the recipient of tons of waves and giggles from children and adults alike as we passed farms on the way to the village. I'm sure noone's grandma (bibi) EVER rides a motorcycle! We safely arrived back in the first village and crushed back into our dala-dala for another two hour ride to our own village and a taxi to our eating place. At the end of the day, we were both exhausted and pleased that our friends had finished their climb and returned also.
In retrospect, it was an exciting and fun day - but not the kind I'd rush back into. A year ago in this village, I could barely walk (due to OA) and was in incredible pain. With good recovery and therapy, I was able to hike/climb part of Mt. Kilimanjaro for my second time. I know that I can continue my life of adventure and helping people whether in Africa or in America.
Osteoarthritis is a diagnosis, NOT a life sentence. I KNOW a big part is attitude; I try very hard to NOT let it control my life.
I hope you all had a happy and peaceful holiday, and that your New Year is blessed.
Mama P (my Swahili name)
Published On: January 03, 2011