Monday, August 30, 2010

Why they call it Main Mall

Thursday, August 26, 2010 3:15 PM

Sniff…sob…okay maybe just sniff…but today was my LAST day in the pediatric side of the clinic. Though my last day in the COE is not until tomorrow, I will be working in the family medicine clinic and seeing adults and HOPEFULLY a couple of babies.

The morning was like any other prior to getting to clinic. I showered, got dressed, and grabbed the coffee packets and sugar I had snagged at the Chobe lodge on my way out the door. I arrived in time to talk to Ali again for maybe twenty minutes, then wished her goodnight and was off to work.

Today I worked again with Dr. Brianna, and the kids were really fun, more fun than usual even. A couple had issues here and there, but for the most part all of them were pretty on target with where they should be. I was able to see one child be initiated on HAART, which isn't all that common thanks to the success of the PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) program (most of the kids here are older and acquired HIV before the current protocol for PMTCT). This patient had some social issues that were not resolved on a previous visit (which I was present for), but everything was set up nicely today and he was started on meds!

Next came a few kids who made it very apparent why being able to treat pediatric HIV is so awesome. First was a young girl who had not been diagnosed with HIV until she was 16 years old. She had a really bad case of ringworm on her face and head that made someone suspicious enough to run an HIV test, and subsequent tests of her CD4+ cell count (which should be at LEAST 300 15% for her) revealed her count was at 11 and 1%. That's BAD. Fortunately she was started on therapy and her viral load is now undetectable while her CD4 count is gradually recovering. Success!

Our final patient was a young boy who was supposed to be patient #23 for the day. He had arrived at 7:30 in the morning by himself, but then went outside to the play area and was having so much fun running around and playing games that he forgot to come back in until about 12:30! By that point, he was the last of the 45 patients to be seen for the day. He was a joy to see though, with a lot of energy, friendly nature, etc. Perhaps the most remarkable thing to think about was the fact that this kid was being treated for HIV but was so healthy that he almost missed his appointment as he played outside the clinic. That is EXACTLY the way it's supposed to be, not just with HIV patients, but with all patients in the field of pediatrics. It was an excellent microcosm of what the field is all about, as far as I'm concerned. And if I misused the word microcosm, then whatever: I'm going into pediatrics, I'm not supposed to use big words around my patients anyway…

After clinic finished up I decided that I finally needed to make my way over to Main Mall during the middle of the day rather than at night when it's dead. I walked out and past Princess Marina, beyond the Cathedral, and into the Mall area. And today I realized why it's called a mall. There were booths, vendors, about 10 different tables set up with cafeteria style food, and music, all in open air and under umbrellas or those collapsible outdoor "gazebos" if you will. First I pretty much just walked up and down the Mall, looking at the different booths and seeing what they had to sell. There were statues, jewelry, paintings, shoes, jerseys, candy, phone cards, wood-carvings, dresses, clothing, etc. Nearly every sort of souvenir you could want, if the price was right.

As I reached the end of the Mall area and prepared to turn around, a voice I didn't know said hello to me. The next minute, I was talking briefly to Ricky from Zimbabwe, an economics student looking for work in Gaborone to pay for school. We talked for just a few moments about what each of us was doing in Gabs, then he asked me if I had ever seen a one trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe. Of course I hadn't, and he pulled one out to show me. I didn't know if it was real, if the currency is pretty much worthless there, etc. Obviously I needed to read up on my world news. Regardless, I thought it was interesting and asked if I could take a picture of it. He told me that I could and then said I could have it if I wanted, if I could just give him some coins for it. I asked how many coins, and he said maybe 5 pula. Fine, I thought, whether or not this is counterfeit, worthless, etc, it was worth the essentially 80 cents to be able to keep the souvenir. I gave him all the change in my pocket and told him I had to head back towards work. Then he continued on in the direction he was traveling.

I turned back, ready to peruse some more and buy some food and souvenirs. On my trip back down the mall, I stopped and bought a pair of earrings and a couple necklaces for about 2 dollars each. The earring I had picked out was missing its pair, so the woman asked me to come back in five minutes after she had time to make another. As I continued on, I decided I wanted to try this "pie" place I had seen closed one of my prior evenings in the mall. Making my way through the booths, I walked past a man selling about 14 inch long hot dogs. As I passed, he yelled out "Doggie, sir?" I asked how much, to which replied ten pula, and I told him sure but that I'd be back in a minute. At this point I decided that I'd have both the a pie and a hot dog for lunch…that way, if one of them made me sick, I wouldn't know who to be upset at. Having reached the point where I'm not super afraid of getting sick because I'll be home in 72 hours regardless, I was open to eating pretty much anything, even off the street.

I reached Monate Nate's Pies and walked in to see how much they cost. Only six pula! Sheesh! Essentially you could make a small lunch out of one, and at less than a dollar, who could say no? Knowing that I was about to eat a second lunch though, I ordered just one, a chicken peri peri pie, and a soda. I made my way out to the Mall again with my portable lunch and kept perusing. As I finished my pie, I walked right back to the more open area where I had committed to a hot dog, and ate possibly the most questionable thing I've had since arriving. It tasted just fine, aside from one or two hard pieces that you sometimes find it ground meat/sausage. However, as I looked at the greasy dog, the butter on the bun below it, and what looked like natural casing, I was pretty sure I'd know who made me sick if I ended up in the restroom later in the day…

For about twenty more minutes I walked around, eventually buying a few more pairs of earrings and necklaces for various women I know back home (family of course). I also even spotted a wood carved Nativity Set, which seemed so out of place, but was pretty cool looking. At 250 pula though, I thought maybe I'd go back tomorrow and see if I could get the price to budge a bit. After about my 3rd trip up and down the mall, I ran into a convenience store, bought a lemon soda (conveniently), and headed back to the clinic, passing the Cathedral, Princess Marina Hospital, and about 50 tables on the sides of the road selling everything from fruit and airtime to fresh French fries and what appeared to be pork rinds. Having had my fill of street fare, I held onto my money (including the trillion dollar bill I had in my wallet) and made it back to the clinic without being tempted into buying anything else.

August 26, 2010 7:00 PM

I returned to clinic to check my email, but was also blessed to talk to Ali and John-Paul on Skype. My friends, I am READY to get back to my wonderful family: my wife is beautiful and waiting for me to come home, my son is growing up without me there, and my Dad is in town in need of all the love he can get. I am ready to leave this place, as much as I've enjoyed it, and go home to be with the ones I love and the ones who need me. The image of Ali putting John-Paul in his new play-chair (for lack of a better word) and watching him hold his head upright while cooing, laughing, and essentially talking to me in a language I don't understand lets me know that I've been gone long enough.

I said goodbye to my loved ones and headed to Mass. Afterwards, I was blessed beyond what I deserve by my conversation with Vincent. I was able to speak to his brother in Kenya, who is disabled but who Vincent insists is like a father to him and "loves God more than I do." I found this very hard to believe. After this, he told me that he has never seen a lay person as faithful and prayerful as I am, and that he sees Christ in me. Honestly, I do not relate this in order to toot any horn of my own, because as he said this I knew that it was not a compliment to be enjoyed as truthful but instead as a call to be who I should be. Truthfully, I did NOT deserve such a comment, and though glad that God was able to inspire Vincent in that way, I know that I am not the holy man that he imagines me to be. I am sinful, I am very very very very imperfect, and I don't deserve to have him, and the other people who inspire me to do better, as examples and role models. However, I am blessed to know this man, and all the others who remind me to live as Christ's instrument each day, though I don't always listen.

Regardless, of course Vincent walked me back to the where the clinic was as always, even though it wasn't dark. He is used to it, he says. As we came to our parting place, he called his wife in Kenya so that I could say goodbye to her. I did, and briefly, as only moments remained on his airtime balance. With that, I saw perhaps (but hopefully not) the last of Vincent Ochowa, the man I never expected to meet but hope that I never forget. As we said goodbye, we wished each other God's blessings and hugged goodbye. The love I received was almost tangible, and the love I was called to give now and in the future was almost as obvious.

And so here I sit. I'm caught up on my blog as I sit at the Sun. I'm not sure what the last two days in Gaborone hold, but I do know that, despite my ever-present resistance, God is blessing me and protecting me in ways that I have not even realized. What is to come surely will be a blessing as well!

August 28, 3:49 PM

So I'm here in Johannesburg, out of Botswana and waiting to go home! But now to finish off Thursday:

So as I was typing toward the very end of that previous entry, I was sitting at one of the tables at the Sun rather than at the bar. As it was crowded, I felt kinda bad about taking up a whole table. In any case, as I asked for my bill, this lady comes up to my table and asks if she can sit there so that when I'm done she can have the table. Sure I say, and keep typing. My bill comes and I give my card to pay it. As the waiter leaves, this lady's girl friend sits down at the table as well. As I'm waiting for my bill to sign, a different waiter comes up and asks them for their drink orders. They say what they would like, and then he turns to me. "Oh no, I just paid my bill…I'm about to leave," I said. He laughs briefly and says something about him thinking that I was there with these two women. Being polite, and joking with him I said "Oh no, I'm not that lucky."

Then woman number A says, "Are you sure??"


I'm not sure what that was all about, what she meant by that, but I do know that all of a sudden I felt uncomftable. I just kinda chuckled softly and shrugged it off, signed my bill and go the heck outta there. That's all I will say about that encounter.

I ran home and caught a quick shower because tonight some of the PAC docs and their friends were going to a place called "Tavern" for karaoke. After my shower, I finished off the last of the couscous and vegetables, just as good as the night before. Dressed and ready to go, a few of the docs picked me up on the way there.

Now Tavern sounds like a place where you'd imagine English/Irish/etc people hanging out drinking Guinness and Smithwick's, but this was slightly different. There was just a bar with refrigerators and bottles behind it (nothing fancy, no taps), a bunch of tables, and a stage where the karaoke would take place. We perused the karaoke list, which as we listened to the Asian man running the karaoke singing "The Gambler", we realized was kind of random. On top of this, the songs were not grouped by artist but by title. I found this very unhelpful. Regardless, as different people picked out songs, I hesitated. Instead, I waited a bit until my first drink kicked in. A little later on I agreed to sing pretty woman with Jay, a guy here from Gabs who has befriended the PAC docs.

As I enjoyed the people in group as they sang "I Will Survive," "Sexy Back," "It's Rainin' Men," etc, Jay and I waited for our song. And we waited, and waited, and waited. It never came. I think our little slip must have gotten lost somewhere inside that dark tavern. Regardless, I had plenty of fun singing along from the crowd, and felt especially at home when a few of the docs went up to sing "La Bamba." It only could have been better had someone chosen Marty Robbins' "El Paso" or the Aggie War Hymn. Somehow I think both of those were not on the list.

As 11 PM rolled around, I recalled that someone had mentioned that the place got a little sketchy after that point in time. I learned why, however, when one of the guys I had met that night explained that after 11 the place becomes very much populated by prostitutes. He continued to tell me how one of his friends had been given and unsolicited description of two separate prostitutes "nether regions" if you will. Shuddering, I became ready to leave very quickly. After a few more songs, everyone decided it was time to leave, and about 11:45 we were out of there, and I had fortunately not been propositioned at The Tavern…whether or not I had been propositioned at the Sun earlier in the evening is still up for debate.

The PAC docs gave me a ride home, which was rather fun as we were all a little rambunctious and gave our driver a hard time for not knowing where she was going and almost missing a turn. I arrived home safely, and pretty much went straight to bed. I was le tired, and a long day awaited me as my time in Gabs was drawing to a close.


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