Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Good Life....

Just finished week 1 in Kenya. When I booked my flight to Nairobi it was only supposed to be a transition city on my way to Tanzania, but has turned out to be so much more. Landed in Nairobi at about 130 am after a stop in Ethiopia and a bittersweet goodbye to great friends in Ghana. At the airport in Ghana it took everything I had and a few tears not to board the Delta flight to New York. Christmas with my loved ones was only a flight away, but thanks to positive thoughts from Sioned I boarded the scheduled flight to Kenya... it was already paid for after all. On the flight to Ethiopia I met a lovely gentlemen who lives in Spain and does work for Global Fund in Ghana and Zambia with malaria, HIV, and TB. He has contacts in Tanzania so I'm planning to email him this week and hopefully work out a time to volunteer with them whenever I make it to Tanzania.

Getting the Kenya visa was surprisingly easy... most of the countries I plan to visit want some sort of verification of departure and since I have no departure details that was a bit of a concern. Fortunately I was welcomed with open arms and big smiles, paid my $25 USD and arrived at the hostel around 230am... after passing zebras in the taxi! The first day I was too exhausted to face the bustling city of Nairobi, which is dubbed Nai-robbery in the travel guides. Hung about the hostel, walked to the bank and the market, had an overall relaxing day. Met 3 guys from the US who have started an NGO called Books Build Hope ( I had planned to spend the holidays in Mombasa on the beach, and after a few phone calls found out everything was booked so the boys were nice enough to offer me a place to stay in Lamu, provided I was up for the 16+ hour journey. Lamu was a place I had planned to make it to anyway so I headed to the bus station the next day. My making it there must have been in the cards because after trying about 10 different bus stations looking for a ticket to the first stop, Mombasa, I got lucky and found a ticket departing about 2 hours later... the only ticket available until after Christmas. Rushed to the hostel, packed up, and headed back to the bus station for a 10 hour journey which fortunately I slept through. The bus arrived in Mombasa at about 530am and me being the planner I am, didn't even consider the fact that I would have the same issues finding a bus from Mombasa to Lamu. But again, luck was on my side. One of the security guards at the bus station took me under his wing (with the ulterior motive of marriage and me bringing him back to the states of course) and ran me all around town trying to find a bus to Lamu. Once again, everything was booked until after Christmas.... things were not looking good. Then, in broken english Omar kept saying “staff seat”... with no other options I agreed to find out about the staff seat. He sat me in a chair and ran off, only to bring back the conductor of the 9am bus to Lamu. After some shady talks I was snuck onto this bus and was on my way to Lamu... the first of many Christmas Miracles!

Another 8 hour brutal bus ride and 30 minute boat ride to the island of Lamu... made it around 5pm. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Lamu is absolutely gorgeous. Soft white sand, water so blue it's nearly black, and accommodations so amazing they should cost at least double the $20USD/night I paid. The next 5 days were the stuff dreams are made of. There were 6 of us plus 3 French people staying at Abdul's EcoNest and we all exchanged names for Secret Santa, so on Christmas Eve when the boys had work to do at one of the school's, Jolene (one of the guy's girlfriends) and I did some shopping. First stop was to buy me a scarf to cover my shoulders... the town is mostly Muslim and my exposed chest and shoulders felt extremely uncomfortable for everyone. For dinner Abdul and his crew cooked us a delicious Lobster dinner, we exchanged presents, decorated the tree, and enjoyed each others company until the wee hours of the morning. Woke Christmas morning to mango and banana pancakes and made our way to the beach. Stopped for what we all thought was just a drink on the way home at Lamu House and after glancing over the menu decided to splurge on one of the best meals of my life (plus 3 glasses of wine)... mind you the splurge was a whole $25USD. Dare I say it... don't tell mom!

The day after Christmas we were all feeling lazy and only really had enough energy for a good ol' fashion Sunday Funday! Sat at Petley's bar overlooking the town and drank one too many Tusker's chatting with other travelers. From what I remember it was a great day. Came home to one last phenomenal seafood dinner... the best calamari I've ever eaten and huge delicious crab.... again with a hefty $6 dollar price tag.

The fun came to an end on Monday when we began the journey back to Nairobi. Arrived last night around 830p. Spent the day enjoying the cooler Nairobi air... read, napped, drank, and ate. This is the kind of life I imagined during all those 12+ hour work days... 

Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth - Martin H. Fischer

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Final days of Part 1

Day 62

My last post was 5 weeks in, now almost a month later I'm only days away from starting the second phase of my journey.  Flying out to Nairobi, Kenya on the 20th!  My original "plan" (not sure that word even registers in my vocabulary anymore) was to spend 3 months in Ghana.... as its been well established, plans change.  My two months here have been wonderful, a learning experience to say the least.  The most disappointing and frustrating part about my time in Ghana has been my project, or lack thereof.  There is an abundance of help in the clinics and hospitals by local people (better staffed than any of the hospitals I've ever worked in), which is a great thing for the community, but leaves little need for volunteers.  So, I decided the money is already spent (hopefully some of it made it into the community and not just the pockets of execs at Projects Abroad hdqtrs), I don't want the time to be wasted as well... better that I move on with an extra cushion of time to either volunteer longer at one of my other projects or spend it exploring!

The past 2 weeks have been amazing.  I've been traveling the eastern and northern regions of Ghana with Elin, a Welsh volunteer and one of her girlfriends, Sioned, who came to tour Ghana for a few weeks.  Exploring the more rural areas where fewer travelers go... away from internet, phone signal, and on occasion running water and electricity.  There are proper mud huts inhabited in the north which we were able to visit a few of.  Saw shea butter made, freshly picked cotton turned to thread, pottery being made, intricate basket weaving, rocks turned to beads.  Visited a couple monkey sanctuary's... we got to feed them peanuts and bananas, some of them would jump onto our arms and stand there and peel the banana!  Hiked to a couple of waterfalls, visited a pineapple farm.  Survived what I think was potassium overdose, as well as the numerous death traps we traveled in along the way.

It's amazing how fast money goes, even here.  We managed to keep lodging down to an average 7 USD/night per person, and some meals only cost 1USD... but between the tours, snacking, transportation fees, more expensive meals at lodges where there was no other option etc. I guess it all adds up.  I did break my "no buying anything I don't need" rule on 2 necklaces and a piece of fabric which I had hemmed to be a sarong... which I realized would be invaluable here as a cover all for dirt roads, to put on top of plastic seat covers on sweaty bus rides, after a shower, etc.  The no shopping rule has been my biggest challenge, the artwork and jewelery is absolutely gorgeous and ridiculously cheap, and when I'm a grown up I'll be making a specific trip back for them!

I'm working on an EVERYTHING GHANA post to hopefully finish in the next couple of days.  It's no wonder Ghana has been dubbed the friendliest country in West Africa.  The hospitality and genuine friendliness of the people is inspiring.  With the exception of the post office... possibly my least favorite place on earth...

Still no luck with the photos... I have my fingers crossed for better luck in Kenya!

Hope everyone's enjoying the holiday festivities... you can write off the overindulging as contribution to what I'm missing, guilt free!  The peanut butter cookies with a hershey kiss in the center are my favorite...

Lots of Love. xx

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end" Seneca

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Day 37-  3:30pm - A cool 81 degrees F, feels like 86  Humidity 80%

Can't say I've ever imagined 81 degrees with 80% humidity would feel cool, but in Ghana its hoodie weather... and much welcomed by yours truly.  It's cloudy and drizzly too, almost qualifies as SF weather!

The past couple weeks have been somewhat eventful.  The weekend of the Nov 5th a few of us headed about 2.5 hours west on the coast to Busua beach. Supposed to be one of the best beaches in Ghana partly for it's beauty and partly because of the surf.  The first evening was great.. stayed at this little hotel owned by a french couple.  I walked into the bathroom first and looked up and staring back at me was the adorable face of a monkey in the window.  Had a delicious swordfish dinner accompanied by an equally delicious bottle of wine. Enjoyed the last glass with my feet in the sand listening to the waves crash. Perfection.

The next day another 6 or so volunteers joined us, and brought the rain along with them. After hiding out under cover for a couple hours we decided to endure the wetness and head to our lodging for that weekend which was about 20km away in Butre.  The roads had started to flood so it's probably a good thing we left when we did.  We had to drive through a little village on the way there and the ride ended at a foot bridge that looked a bit questionable.  In those situations it's best to just go and not spend time thinking about it too much... we all made it safely!  About the time we arrived Mark had given into the stomach pains that had been nagging him all morning, he went from a little queasy to SICK fast.  As the hours passed his condition worsened and by 8p three of us were in a taxi headed back to Cape to get him to the hospital.  What an experience the hospital was.  Mark got fluids and a couple of injections for nausea and malaria and was asleep within the hour, lucky for him.  I managed to get some sleep here and there, sitting in a plastic chair next to his bed in the Accident and Emergency department with 3 other patients around us.  One of the gentlemen in the room had been involved in a car accident and unfortunately the hospital just didn't have the means to treat his ailments. I watched him decompensate throughout the night, receiving zero medical attention.  He passed on just as the doctor arrived for rounds in the AM.  Thankfully Mark was discharged after a few liters of fluid and a couple of prescriptions, I left with eyes opened a little wider.

The HIV clinic is going well.  It appears to only be run by this one woman who is a volunteer herself.  She's starting to get involved with an organization that is putting on youth soccer and health education events, so that's pretty exciting.  Reaching out to the youth is really the only way to get ahead of the rapidly spreading virus.  The clinic is actually run from the prenatal clinic inside one of the local health centers.  They can't test everyone, there just isn't enough funding or time for it, but in the days I've been there I'd say we test about 20-30 pregnant woman, and their husbands if they are present and willing.  One of the women who has been diagnosed delivered last week so we went into the village and brought her medication for the baby and some formula.  Fati, the woman running the organization, also educated her on ways she can prevent spreading the virus to her child... provided it hasn't happened already.  I've emailed a couple of distributors for test kits hoping for donations or at least working out a discounted price but so far haven't even received a response.  A past volunteer started making website for Needed Life but seems to have let it fall by the wayside.  SOO ***To my technologically inclined friends out there... anyone willing to donate a bit of time to help update the website please send me an email!*** The website is  And if anyone would like to make a donation let me know, anything helps. 

No more births to report.  There was one last week while I was there doing exams, but they forgot to tell me.  Trying to ward of discouragement... there's still time to see at least a few more before I leave.  The midwives seem to be extremely grateful for the lightened workload and time on their feet so even if no more babies come, their gratitude is enough for me. 

Went to Accra last weekend to say farewell to James along with Mark, Elin, and Georgie.  After a day of watching rugby at Ryan's Irish Pub (where I FINALLY had SPINACH) we had a much needed chinese food feast for dinner and went back to Ryan's to meet up with a few South African's we had met during the day.  One of them lived in Accra and he had been clamoring on about his house all evening so a few of us went there after the bar closed.  It was no joke. Security guard, swimming pool, marble kitchen, flat screen tv's, leather couches.... def. not the Ghana lifestyle I've experienced!  We had a swim and I got to sleep in a real bed. Turned out to be a great night!  Did some touring of Accra the next day... nothing really noteworthy.... except for the Koala supermarket which carries western products.  I splurged on a jar of pickles!  It's the little things in life...

I'm still having trouble uploading pictures to my blog, but have posted several on facebook the past few days for those of you haven't seen them yet.  Hopefully I'll get the blog worked out soon for the facebook non-conformists!!
Hope everyone is enjoying their cooler climate this time of year brings.  Stay warm and think of me Thursday when you're enjoying all the deliciousness.. and Friday when you're reveling in all the day's good buys!  


Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them...  -Alan Watts

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Positive Mental Attitude

Day 19- 4:15pm  Cape Coast, Ghana -87degrees F, feels like 100 with 73% humidity

Back to Ghana:  What a difference a week makes!   I think I’m just about acclimated to the Ghanaian way of doing things… definitely a process.  As I mentioned in my last post life is slooooooow here.  But really, there isn’t much reason for hurry.   The first time the taxi driver stopped for gas after he took me to the wrong hospital I almost lost it, but it's how things are done here.  I’ve started walking slower and go out to eat when I think I should be getting hungry so that when I am borderline starving the food will have arrived.  No joke, an hour for a salad… that being said I’d wait 4 hours for a salad because they are rare here.  Lots and Lots of starch in my diet now.  A typical day is white bread with peanut butter for breakie, if I have lunch it’s usually pasta with tomato stew, and dinner is either pasta, potatoes, or rice and tomato stew.  I’m craving nutrients.  I’ve started scoping out the best places in the market to buy decent produce and have picked up some vitamins.  This is definitely manageable.

Started work at Adisadale Urban Health Center on Friday.  Such an improvement over the hospital!!  They are short staffed at the moment so there is only one midwife and a nursing assistant in the department.  After the first day they had me doing all the vitals and the physical exam portion of the antenatal visits (taking fundal height measurements, listening for the fetal HR old school style, and palpating for presentation of the baby).  Since I’m not quite fluent in Fante yet, the midwife performs the verbal portion of the exam -for now anyway. ;) Most important news of the new placement: I SAW MY FIRST DELIVERY TODAY!!!   Not anything like I imagined, and I’m positive they don’t all go this way but since it was her 4th pregnancy the baby all but fell out.  Quite impressive.  Some tough ladies they have here… she would snap her fingers during contractions and moaned a bit… and then it was over.   I’ve met 3 of the 6 midwives working at the clinic so far and I’ve given each of them my number so that if any deliveries come in after hours I’m on call.  AHHHH BABIES!!!!!

While I am enjoying my time at the new placement, I’ve been looking for ways to make more of an impact in my time here.  Sure taking vitals and performing the exam is helping to ease the workload for the midwife on duty, but it’s not exactly life changing for anyone involved.  I’ve talked with projects abroad about possibly doing education in the schools re: sex education, HIV/AIDS, family planning etc.  They seem open to the idea and if I put together a presentation they would assist with coordinating with the schools.  Even better yet, I met with a local HIV/AIDS organization today called Needed Life.  They have clinic hours Mon-Thurs and provide free HIV testing and counseling with a huge focus on pregnant women with the virus.  Every other Friday they visit different schools and do the exact education I was hoping to do and the opposite Friday they visit homes of diagnosed patients and make sure they are taking medications, have no other ailments or questions, etc.  I’m going to start working in the clinic on Tues and Thurs beginning next week and will hopefully be able to do some of the home visits in the evenings.  Needed Life was started in 1999 and is almost entirely donation based.  Once I get to know a bit more about the organization I’m hoping to do my own fundraising so be prepared for my letters!

Went to the Cape Coast Castle on Saturday with a couple other Volunteers.  It was once used as a holding cell for slaves before being transported to the Americas an has since been turned into a museum.  It was sickening.  Sunday was a mellow beach/pool day.  There is a resort about 20 minutes away that a bunch of the volunteers go to on the weekends to unwind and have club sandwiches.  Decided to go to a Halloween party at the last minute and threw together a makeshift American football player costume.  I lucked out that in one of the boy’s laundry a random Notre Dame shirt turned up, borrowed a pair of shorts and used mascara to paint lines under my eyes.  My housemate went as a woman, I was happy to lend him my bra for the photo op.  The costumes were fabulous and so creative!!  There were even jack-o-lanterns carved out of watermelons!  Perfection.  Pictures will follow in about 2 weeks when I get to a faster internet.

We're down to 5 volunteers in the house now.  James the British guy has moved on so we had a bit of a goodbye gathering for him Friday at Molly's house (Molly is the greatest host mom in all of Ghana, more to follow about her in future posts)... he did enough celebrating for all of us and paid quite the consequence all of Saturday.  James was my resident drinking partner after a rough day I could always count on him to accompany me to Oasis for an afternoon brew (or 2).  Now I turn to the Aussie who may not always be up for a beverage but is always good company.  He's become the big brother I never had in so many ways, we bicker like children and at the end of the night even when he's exhausted he's around to make sure I (or any of the other girls in the house) get home safely.  So to my birth momma and all my other mom's out there not to worry... Mark is the house protector and a perfect gentlemen.  I'll be sad to see him move on at the end of the month!

Well my loves... thank you so much for all your love and support...  sending big hugs and kisses to each of you. 

Don't let what you can't do stop you from doing what you CAN do  -John Wooden

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Life is Change

Day 10.  Cape Coast, Ghana.  930am - 81 degrees F with 83% humidity

Ok, ok... I suppose it's time for my first destination entry! Thank you all so much for the emails, messages, and wall posts... your interest in my travels and well being is so amazing and I love you all!  I've partly put off writing because the internet is slower than dial up and a 90+ degree room filled with 10 computers and 20 sweaty people isn't exactly at the top of the list of places I want to spend time at after work.  The rest of the reason for my reluctance to write is that things haven't exactly gone as planned.  Turning this blog into a place for my ranting isn't at all what I had in mind so I've been trying to collect my thoughts and weigh my options so that when I was ready to write I would only have positive words to share. 

I'm so lucky to have had my mom with me for the entirety of departure day!  If you didn't know, she is one of the most organized people ever.  If I had been alone trying to accomplish all of the last minute errands, I'd probably still be in MD enjoying the fall foliage and cool weather.  My last meal was the most amazing corned beef sandwich on rye with matzoh ball soup and pickles. YUMMMMMM.  We got everything accomplished with just enough time to get back to the house to pack and charge my iPod!  I had read a few other blogs and websites that stressed packing light so at the last minute I downsized my pack from a 60L to 44L, and still have room to spare.  I packed less for 6 months than I do for an average weekend trip.  Check out this list... I'm quite proud of it!

1 pair of pants (the kind that zip away into shorts)
3 t-shirts
1 skirt
4 pairs of socks
3 each of bra/undies
1 tank top
1 light sweater jacket
1 rain/wind coat
2 pair of scrubs (was supposed to be 3, but I accidentally packed 4 shirts and 2 pants)
2 ultra dry towels  13x20 and 33x20ish... incredibly small and paper thin.
1 pair of flip flops
1 pair of walking shoes
2 tubes of mascara
Mosquito net
Sleeping bag liner
First aid kit
Water Purifier
Nalgene bottle
2 books- Life in The Time of Cholera and Rough Guides to Africa
The usual toiletries (including a loofah!), all under 3 oz so I won't have to check my bag.
1 pack of organic beef jerky :)

Seeing as how I'm spending so long in one place I could have easily brought more and shipped stuff back or donated it when I finish, but I think I'll manage.  I have picked up a pair of shorts and am having my bathing suit shipped since I forgot it but other than that I'm pretty content with what I have.  Everyone looks at me like I'm crazy when they see my bag.  Most other volunteers have multiple suitcases, some brought more clothes than I even own.

The flight over wasn't too bad.  I was asleep before take off and slept the bulk of the 10.5 hour flight.  I immediately noticed how nice the Ghanians are, particularly the very generous immigration officer who let me through even though I had forgotten the paper with my host family's address.  The airport was a bit of an experience, with the electricity going off every few minutes... which meant the luggage belt as well.  Exchanged money, picked up a local SIM card and met up with Yami, one of the local projects abroad
team members.  He taught me the proper hand shake, gave me the welcome speech about how magnificent Ghana is and told me that I will never want to go home and then sent me on my way.  I stayed the night at the projects abroad guest house.  Three other volunteers arrived throughout the night.

Headed out at 630am with about 10 locals and 1 other volunteer in what is called a tro-tro, essentially a van, for a 2 hour bumpy journey from Accra to Cape Coast.  My first day in cape coast was mellow, a few hour tour of the small town and lunch, then met my host family and the other volunteers.  Accommodations are very basic.  There are now 6 volunteers in my house, 4 of them female, sharing 1 washroom and 1 electrical outlet.  So far there hasn't been too much of a timing issue with the shower in the morning which is amazing to me with so many people!  There are a couple German's, one Swiss, one Aussie and one Brit.

As the name would suggest the town is right on the coast and is located in the Central Region of Ghana.  My house is about a 10 minute walk to the beach and I am finding myself there after work somewhat frequently... specifically the beach bar, Oasis.  Oasis is also a hotel so it's a mix of locals and like minded tourists/volunteers.  Club and Star are the local light beers and Castle, my personal favorite, is the local milk stout.  Not the best stout ever, but I'm not really in a position to be a beer snob!  The food is all very similar... lots of stews served with some sort of starch.  My favorite is called red red, it's a spicy black eyed pea stew served with fried plantains... DELISH.   One of the host mom's in town offers cooking lessons... look out for date and time of the red red feast when I'm back in the states! 

Kakum national park is about a 40min ride from here so I got together with a few of the volunteers last weekend and did the canopy tour at the park.  Also stopped by this random monkey park on the way home which is run by a danish couple.  They bought the land with the intentions of opening a bar/restaurant and guesthouse as well as the animal rescue but things are coming together on African time, read: SLOWLY.  Seven years later and they have a quite nice sized animal sanctuary and dreams of a guesthouse and bar/restaurant!

So... to date my free time in Ghana has been most enjoyable.  It's not love at first sight like SE Asia was, but still enjoyable.  My role as a volunteer here has been a little less enjoyable but I'm trying with everything I have to practice greater patience with my placement.  The programs website was a bit misleading, I was under the impression that I would be in an environment conducive to learning about midwifery.  Upon my arrival to the hospital I was informed that unless you are already a qualified midwife time in the delivery suite is not permitted, per hospital policy.  Of course delivery isn't the only aspect of midwifery there is to be learned, but it's a pretty significant part!  I've spent my first week between the OB/GYN ward which is essentially a pre/post op ward for c-sections and other female specific surgical procedures and also with a midwife seeing outpatients.  Both departments were well staffed and did not have much need (or want) for volunteers.  The staff is so busy seeing patients my presence most of the time felt as if I were more of a nuisance to them than an asset and the last thing I want is to make their job more difficult.  After chatting with a few midwives and one of the surgeons it sounds like one of the local health centers would be a better option and so I am to start at a clinic later this week.  And if that doesn't work out... something else will, it always does!

Life is Change, Growth is optional, Choose wisely. -anonymous

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Moving is what I do.  Since I was 16 the longest I've stayed a place was the painful 3 years in Virginia for school… otherwise I’m usually good for about 6-9 months before I’m ready to go again.  Not long after starting radiology school I learned about the travel healthcare world.  The excitement I felt about this new career option manifested deep inside and became the drive I needed to get through school and the city that I so clearly didn't belong in.  When school was done I was fortunate enough to have my dream job waiting for me in the Cardiac Cath lab.  Although it meant sticking it out in Winchester another year at least, I knew this was an opportunity that couldn't be passed up.  So, I did my time and started applying for travel assignments as soon as I had a year of experience under my belt.  Looking back on it now, it was probably a little too soon for such a rookie, but I had the itch to move and it was long overdue to be scratched. My first assignment was Mesa AZ… that was 3 years, and many many chapters ago.
Other than the fact that this next chapter is taking place in freaking AFRICA, something else is different. I was struggling to figure out why I was having such angst about this move.  Why was I feeling envious of my roomies who signed a year lease last week, when I was getting ready to embark upon such an amazing adventure?!  The reasons I came up with were probably all a little bit true...  figure in my anxiety and notorious indecisiveness and, well, that's reason enough.  For those who don't know I’ve been working near Sacramento for the last 5 weeks and commuting back to San Francisco on the weekends.  Something happened last week when I was driving back into the city on the Friday before my holiday party.   My brain was inundated with thoughts of the 738282 things I had to do that weekend, the windows were down, and the radio blaring (as usual).  When I started over the bay bridge with the entire San Francisco skyline in front of me everything suddenly made sense; I was home.  

I didn’t immediately know what to do with that feeling.  I was excited.  This was something I’ve been waiting to feel.  Whenever someone asks me what I’m looking for doing this travel thing my answer is always along the lines of “a place that feels like home.”  Now I had found it… and I’m leaving?  What??  Saturday, possibly after a glass (or two) too many, while I was preparing my very first Thanksgiving dinner all the emotions I had been bottling surfaced at once.  Did I even want to go on this trip anymore?  How could I not want to go?  What kind of mashed potatoes was I going to make?  Was the water cold enough when I made the pie crust and did I stir it too much?  What costume am I going to wear?  Why am I even having this @&^%#$* party when I have so much other stuff to be doing????? I think you get it… I had a little Jen meltdown right there in the gorgeous kitchen of the best sublet ever, in my newest favorite city.

After dialing all of the usual suspects I was comforted by the idea that I wasn’t just up and leaving this place that I wanted to call home or the people that have become like family.  In fact, having figured this out now frees me to explore myself and my surroundings without the burden of worrying about where I’m going to go when I return to the states.  Now the answer is simple: I’m going home.   The hard part will be finding a job, apartment, and getting into school… but in my book, nothing easy is ever really worth doing.

In case you were wondering the holiday party was more amazing then I had ever imagined. With the help of my beautiful ladies Jennifer and Dar we managed to pull off Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Years, Valentine’s Day, and St Patty’s Day all in one.  The evening was complete with an appearance by Santa, formalwear and a countdown to midnight with a foil ball drop (okay it was only 7… it was a Sunday night after all), love notes and green jell-o shots.  Minus the subpar Pumpkin Pie… it was definitely a night to remember.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How it all began...

Ever since the day pretty little Darlene walked into the cath lab at Stanford in the spring of 09' and said "hey, you wanna go to Asia?" my life has completely changed. As the trip approached and I started learning more about the countries we were visiting I naturally got more excited, but it wasn’t until I stepped foot in Bangkok, Thailand in January 2010 that I felt the difference within me. Instantly I was flooded with emotions that were new to me, emotions that I somehow knew I had been missing before I even felt them. I don't know how to to explain it fully but I felt a mix of curiousness, compassion, completeness.  I wanted to run through the streets, smell the smells, learn the culture, love the people.  My big Indochina adventure was going to be magical.

By day 3 I was ready to abandon the overly planned tour group and wander on my own (I know you’re all SO surprised).  Following the pack has never been my thing, and this was no exception. Having a formal itinerary for each second of the day with an occasional hour or two to spare is one of my worst nightmares.  I'm more of the "explore the unknown and do what feels right inside" type.  So after I backed out of a Thai cooking class to go for [what turned out to be] the most amazing run of my life through the streets of Chiang Mai, continuing on with the group just didnt' feel right.  But, after chatting with my beautiful mother and roomie Darlene, I came to my senses and decided not to waste the insane amount of non-refundable money I had already paid.  Instead I made a conscious effort to take in as much of the culture as I could when we blew in and out of towns overnight and ventured off on my own or with Team USA as often as possible.  In all my big Indochina adventure was still magical and I learned two very important things: 1. I was meant to travel 2. Never again will I travel with a tour group.

Last fall, I was living in Baltimore and became great friends with one of the cardiology fellows who had spent a number of years living in Africa.  We would have dinner or drinks after work and I loved to listen to stories of his experiences there... sometimes for hours on end.  Before leaving for Asia I had begun research for volunteer programs in Africa, and when I returned finding a way to get there became my main priority (aside from finding a job to fund my next journey). 

For the past 5 years or so I've been drawn to the holistic aspect of medicine and have considered going back to school for numerous disciplines trying to find my niche.  The top 3 options include Doctor of Naturopathic medicine, Acupuncturist, and Midwife.  The more searching I did for volunteer programs, the more I noticed how high the demand was for midwives internationally.  Live in any country I want AND always have a job that I'm passionate about?! SOLD.

As I was researching midwifery programs I came across the organization Projects Abroad.  They have a "no experience necessary" nursing/midwifery program in Ghana geared toward just about any skill set, only requirement is an interest/desire to learn about the field.   I talked about the program for months before finally making the commitment.  I owe Dar again for this one... I came home one night and was talking about taking a permanent staff position at the hospital where I was working at the time.  Started rambling about school and work and growing roots and other "grown up" stuff that's foreign to those of us in the travel medicine world.  She looked up at me and said "What about Africa??"... wow. She was so right... WHAT. ABOUT. AFRICA?!  I applied to Projects Abroad within the week.