Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yes! We're in Thailand!

Hi just a quick update we flew the family to Bangkok from Accra about three days ago! We're in Asia and planning to fly home through SF making it an around the world journey by airplanes.  We have two friends who live in Bangkok and Laos and they have both been here for 6 years so figured it was time to swing by and say hello... So much to say about Ghana where we spent about 3.5 weeks...plans are changing and much happening I'll will write more details soon --big hellos to everyone!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ghana travels now off to Asia

Hello we have just arrived in Asia and we are already reflecting on our family vacation time in Ghana.  Shortly after my last blog we joined up with my brother Wayne who we met at the airport with a ice cold bottle of pineapple juice.  Wayne has traveled alot and we found him a very easy traveller to be around, admittingly our family style of travel "budget backpacking" was different for him but it certainly led to alot of good stories to tell!  

Friday, February 4, 2011

Travel in Ghana

Hello everyone~  Greetings again from the capital of Ghana where we have just returned after a big trip around the country with my brother Wayne who flies out tonight back to the states.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Saying goodbye to KW Hospital and hello to Ghana

Hello everybody!  First I'd like to say that I am writing with unlimited electricity from the capital of Ghana where we arrived yesterday~ Since I have lost several blogs and emails half written to on and off electricity which I would load on the slowest speed you can imagine in Kamakwie.  Today is the first time I have been able to see our blog site or read any of the comments .  Its exciting to see the replies thanks for sending them sorry I have not been able to reply.  Its not just electricity that's on in this city, it seems everything is working better than ever and a testament to our trials and tribulations over the past several months in Sierra Leone which were mostly sprinkled {and perhaps sometimes downright soaked} in poverty and desperation and struggle. Not every minute, not every person but certainly remnants from the war and devastation that leaves our family appreciative and stunned to have made friends and lived in such an unbelievable place with such stunningly beautiful people.  Today we are all  in awe at returning into this world here in Accra of order, easy travel, unlimited food and relaxation and warm companionship of Charles' family.  {We are staying with another teammate of Peter's soccer team in Portland, Charles mother and her large extended family!  They are wonderful thank you Charlie!}

Hard to explain and I'm sure now that we've landed in Ghana we feel like we'll be mentally processing the first half of our sabbatical and volunteer work.  No doubt life and spirit changing in a way we didn't expect!  Let me bring you up to speed, as I last left you in mid December.  We were working as doctor volunteers when basically everyone who had come before were missionaries bringing the message of the Wesleyan Church and Christianity to Kamakwie Wesleyan Hospital of which the community is 70% Muslim and 30% Christian.  The two doctors we worked with were on year 2 or a 4 year commitment.  Believe me the experience is worth many delightful dinner conversations with all of our friends and family when we return about  a place that could on its own be the overflowing source of masters thesis in Public Health.  It was like peeling the layers of the onion everyday Peter and I discovering some other layer regarding the church, the staff, the patients, the local traditions, the community of Kamakwie.  In the words of one of the nurses "You and Dr. Peter are not  like any of the other missionaries that have come here before and I've worked here a long time."  I thought even though it was said with question and serious tone that it was a bit of a compliment.  And to answer Julie, no neither of us got kicked off the compound but we just did things somewhat differently than expected.   The boys had their own learning going on as they were completely set free with a huge flock of all ages and sizes of kids who are all raising themselves.  In the end we were sad to say goodbye but physically and emotionally pretty exhausted and ready for the next step in our trip.  For Christmas we took our bicycles 18km (all 4 of us! }to a game reserve to camp .  Much to my amazement as I had joked with the boys when looking through our bird book, "If we ever see a Great Blue Turaco I'm done I don't need to see any other birds."  Sure enough Christmas morning while canoeing the river we saw a whole bunch of them fly across and perch before us.  Giant, incredible blue and green that was our Christmas present floating and laughing at our luck to see them.  I covered my eyes and said I was done with birds as I promised and the boys laughed and laughed.   Then I peeked through my hands and spotted something in a tree across the river.....

Anyway since then we finished we spent the next several weeks at the beaches and as predicted sinking our toes in the sand at the Banana Islands, beaches like John Obey and one of our favorites as mentioned before River Number 2.  Meeting many new faces, total characters and such....We decided for this trip in general that for every one to two weeks of unabated discovery and travel and excitement there is a day where nothing can go right.  And given some time later recalling these days of doom really makes the whole family laugh at how crazy and short and unpredictable and uncontrolled life really is!  That was the story for our one night at John Obey beach.  But a story for another time...So overall we are great and very much looking forward to seeing the wildlife and animals of Ghana and my brother who arrives in a few days. We wish you all the best holidays and the happiest times in this amazing new year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'll have the Goat please...

Greetings again from Kamakwie!  We are fast completing our 3rd month of volunteering at the hospital and writing to say hello to all of our friends and family out there!  We are all doing great-Peter and I are just finishing up several large projects that we created for ourselves at the hospital. In about two weeks we'll finish being volunteers and become official travelers again!  It's an exciting time although certainly sad as well to say goodbye to all of our friends here and look forward to meeting new friends on our journey. 

Our one week vacation during Thanksgiving gave us a taste of the ocean and we are heading back to soak up more sun and surf on Sierra Leone's beautiful beaches.  The sand at a beach generically named "River Number Two" is white and powdery like sugar with palm trees and warm as a bathtub water. Nearly everyday we had local fishermen in dugout canoes with string fishing lines that would leave in the morning and return with a boat of fish around 4pm. One guy became my personal favorite and we talked about his father and my father and the family traditions of fishing.  Then I picked out my fresh fish and the restaurant grilled it.  My fish-phobic family quickly came to realize that the fish was amazing and started coming to choose their own fish for grilling.  One day Peter splurged and bought me a lobster.  It was fun to go with the guy to the submerged cage and he stuck his hand into a bunch of lobsters pulling out a giant!  They grilled the monster on the BBQ with a peppery sauce-delicious the best I've had in my young life!!!  He he he.  We met many other travelers during our 7 hour trip to the coast including a family from England and two French NGO workers from our village who have now become our local friends.  When we returned home we drove down the bumpy dusty road and the best part was as we turned in front of the hospital the staff was waving and dancing that we were  back!  More than ten kids immediately descended on our house to welcome back Jordan and Philip who are much more popular than their parents.

Other recent highlights include many family mountain bike trips in our area and around Kamakwie.  We biked to the village where Peter's nurse Amos lives and met his family.  It is hard to describe how moving this experience was while we were there-perhaps photos will help!  When we left about 25 kids ran alongside our bikes for a couple of miles laughing and keeping us company.  If Philip crashed (the roads are very rough with big valleys and rocks) the kids all picked him up and if it was uphill they pushed him on his bike until he was properly started again sometimes launching him at rocket speeds!  He loved it! 

We've all had a few good crashes as every mountain biker who thinks they might be in more control than they are but I must say in general our bodies are bouncing back and healing.  Health wise we are well but all pretty skinny.  Peter is the skinniest as his shorts are just falling off him and today announced he is at an all time low for his weight.  No surprise as he is playing soccer nearly everyday and we are all exercising all the time mostly with our bikes or on small tropical runs plus just the generally minute by minute sweating that occurs every minute!!!  Our diet is pretty much the same everyday as we have local food from subsistance farmers who grow just small amounts to bring to the market.  Our biggest challenge is getting enough protein.  We are eating lots of groundnut butter (like peanut butter from local nuts) but we realize that our mostly vegetarian diet at home includes a lot of dairy and mostly cheese which we are sorely missing.  Ahhhh....just thinking of cheese!  We have little circles of Laughing Cow cheese but what we would give for a big chunk of Tilamook Cheddar!!! 

Our latest and greatest discovery is goat.  While there are no restaurants in our village we did discover this random guy from Guinea who roasts meat downtown and for about $2 you can buy marinated goat with onions and spices.  Not totally my thing but I'm eating it, Peter and the boys have become definite goat-holics--they can't get enough goat.  Before I came to write on the computer the boys proposed again...maybe goat tonight???   We make rice and some veggies then Peter takes the bike for "take out goat" and a tupperware and rides into town about a mile and comes back with the steaming goods!  We all cheer!   Tonight I'm on goat duty and nearly running out of electricity and on my bike so will say goodbye for now---perhaps the next time I write we will no longer be doctors but rather beach faring tourists sinking our toes in the sand.  We plan to travel in SL for 3 weeks then fly to Ghana middle of January.  Ghana has more infrastructure with things like roads and buses and electricity and we look forward to logistically easier traveling and more wildlife and meeting up with my brother Wayne for our continued African adventures! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vacation in Freetown!

Hello everybody!  After about two months of hospital work we decided it was time to take a vacation.  We travelled with two people from France down to Freetown to enjoy the city and today will go south to the beach for a week of swimming and relaxing.  Next weekend we will make the long journey back up country to Kamakwie. We are staying with our same friends in Freetown on the busiest street we have ever seen.  The sounds and action of the street start very early in the morning and carry throughout the day.  We can walk on the balcony and look down at people doing business of buying and selling everything you can imagine.  Since we last communicated we have had several adventures...near Kamakwie we finally managed to go to the local wildlife preserve called Otumba Kilimi.  It is fairly close by distance but the road is very rough.  Our first plan was to ride our bicycles there (we bought 4 old mountain bikes!) We tried but it is very hilly and the roads have mud and rocks ( Rex and Grant would be in heaven) but we traveled slowly in the heat.  Enjoyed a beautiful ride through many villages but at the end of the day had only made it part way to the ferry.  The next week we stepped up our efforts and hired two drivers and motorbikes to travel "small small" (very slowly) to the park.  The guys were great drivers and the boys enjoyed the ride!  When we got to the river a barge like ferry moved our bikes across then more driving.  At last we arrived at the park.  Due to all of the rains the river through the park was high but we still took a canoe upriver and saw birds and wild hippos!  They were great snouts and eyes out of the water looking at us as we watched them.  We also saw some monkeys.  We have been doing a lot of local birding in Kamakwie and have seen some amazing birds!  Even Peter has been birding as the ones we see are so spectacular--!  Jordan and Philip have identified several species completely on their own!  The only other animals around Kamakwie are of the legless slithering variety.  We are trying not to see them (except for Jordan of course).  We have black cobras (one very large one who apparently lives near the garbage area-as yet unsighted).  In the close by villages they have the "Red Snake"  which is actually green and yellow called a Green Mamba.  Very dangerous and we have had several patients with snakebites in the hospital. I am getting to be an expert at them. These snakes I think tend to be out in the jungle more but we are watching our steps on our beautiful afternoon birding adventures~!  We will write more about the beach later! 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another message!

Hello everyone!  I'm so excited to be connected and to write a second message.  The last message was written with speed and few minutes but I have a little time today which is very nice.  So much to tell about our journey!  We have been living in Kamakwie for about 6 weeks now.  I equate leaving Portland and coming to this remote part of Africa for us as somewhat like leaving the gravitational pull of the first it seemed like we needed incredible force and power to set up our lives in such a way as to go, just go with the family.  At times over the past few months Peter and I were worn down by the details and what seemed like a constant flow of information pulling us back to home and making it a crazy idea to go!  We felt this way on the journey too.  We brought a lot of medical supplies in many bags and as many of you know we usually pride ourselves on packing light.  When we got to the airport several of our bags were overweight and we could not change the weight.  We gave the ticket agents our best smiles and stories about where to go with the boys chiming in as well with their charming and sweetly naive comments "if we leave the medical things here how will it help people in Africa?" The agents smiled and let us through!  Many flights to Chicago, then London, then Freetown but the plane in London broke before loading, a second smaller plane pulled up...again the boys "mommy look how cool it is they are changing that really flat tire on our new plane!" Our new plane much smaller than the original had to stop once somewhat unplanned in Southern Spain before continuing to Freetown.  We arrived in the airport and it seemed to us a situation from a movie only we were in it!  After more than 36 hours of travel we arrived late, very late and were scheduled to take a Pelican Fast Ferry across the water (about 1 hour ride) to meet someone from the Wesleyan Church who would be taking us to an expensive hotel for the night...We were on our own to get ourselves and our stuff through customs and onto this private ferry.  Instead we joined a movie plot.  While waiting in an enormous line Jordan tugs at our sleeve saying he thinks he saw a guy in a crowd with a cardboard PETER MAHR sign.  Of course we don't believe Jordan as the crowd outside customs is giant and we know no one is meeting us at the airport which is on a peninsula several hours by car from Freetown.  But Jordan persists, "I just saw him again" he mutters, we look out, sure enough we wave to this random guy holding our name.  He pushes his way through 50 feet of line to us and grabs our arms and takes us to the front, into a glass room where a man looks at our passports and visas and stamps them loudly.  We are then led to immunization booth again stamped, then baggage each time ahead of giant lines of people.  At baggage we point and he and his friends swoop up our bags which keep coming out more and more of them!  We have no idea who these guys are but they are insistent.  They load us and lead us around aggressively.  We follow like sheep. We clear customs without them even considering looking inside our bags.  Peter asks the guy who he is with? The church? "A lady has come to collect you."  Turns out it is Tiggikay who is the aunt of Fodey who lives in Freetown.  Fodey is Peter's teammate in Portland on his soccer team.  We told Fodey about our trip and he said he would try to call his family but that never seemed to work out.  We met Tiggikay outside the airport, incredibly nice woman with two SUV's to load all of our stuff and go to the ordinary ferry more than 30mins from the airport.  We ended up staying at their apartment in Freetown.  We arrived after 2am after much ferrying and driving. The street was empty and we went upstairs and slept in Tiggikay's room under our mosquito net we all collapsed for the night.  At about 5am we heard the Muslim call to prayer on a loud speaker near our ears, by 8am we heard something like a crowd at a stadium.  Sleepy, we emerged and went out to the balcony.  Our road Fobah Rd. is the central market in Freetown and over 1000 people gathered below us outside buying and selling. Philip's drawing in his journal of this scene is amazing.  It was really crazy.  This family was so kind to us, taking us out, changing our money, setting up our cell phone and also buying us tickets for the national team match the next night Sierra Leone vs. South Africa.  This is another post as the story of the tickets and seeing the football match was another movie scene all together.  We called the church with Tiggikay's phone and notified we were safe and would meet the next day!  So that is Freetown really hard to describe.  Bustling, busy, colorful, desperate,  disorganized, but a place where it seemed nearly anything was available if you knew where to go.  Now we live in the opposite of Freetown.  We are here in Kamakwie.  The landscape is like something you would imagine if you think about dinosaur times. Huge palm trees, ferns, green, lush and overgrowing.  Our escape from the forces of gravity to Portland is now complete and it seems we are now floating here in Kamakwie. Our typical day starts around 7am, up and breakfast and walk the boys to school.  Then Peter and I go to the hospital for work until about noon. The hospital work is very challenging and different from our other world.  At lunch the boys meet us at the hospital and we take lunch at home. In the afternoon either Peter or I teach the boys and one person goes back to the hospital.  We have a small house with a few lights working off a car battery, regular electricity is by generator for a few hours in the morning and evening or if surgery is needed at the hospital. People are very very friendly and we are taking Krio lessons to learn to speak with them.  There are other local languages but Krio is pretty popular.  I am impressed with the beauty of the people, they dress in very bright colors, often stark white shirts which they wash by hand and use an iron from the fire to press.  Top diagnoses at the hospital are typhoid fever, malaria, worms of many types-tape, pin, hook, whip, schistosomiasis, TB, HIV, onchoceriasis, many infections with staph, cutaneous anthrax, gas gangrene that kind of thing...We feel very needed, appreciated and useful.  Much to Peter's joking about Internal Medicine we have very few tests to order but seem to be figuring it out with the help of the other doctors.  We are already treating the wards on our own and doing some outside projects.  We have become big birders as a family and have seen more than 12 species of amazing colorful birds.  We bought 4 bicycles and have been cycling, jogging and visiting many nearby villages.  That is all I have time for at this point-we send our love and good wishes to everyone and will write more when we can. We are 5 hours by dirt 4x4road from Makeni which is 3 hours by paved road from Freetown.  We have no mail service and electricity makes email not that practical!  I will keep updates by this post. We are planning a vacation in 2 weeks to the ocean beaches near Freetown!