Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Impressions...

Much of my day is spent trying to remember simple things - like to breathe. Today happens to be one day when breathing comes naturally. It helps that I've had a day off from the clinic.

I've only been in Tonj for 5 days and yet it feels like longer. The things I've seen so far... the smells... the sounds. It feels both familiar and foreign.

Each morning I'm greeted in my new Dinka name... Kuac. I hear, 'Chibek, Kuac' and am saluted. I respond with a hand shake and smile. 'Chibek?' means 'How are you?' I'm told that my new name means 'White cow with black spots all over.' :- ) Yes, I'm named after a cow!

But I'm digressing... Let's back up a bit.

Tuesday, I arrived with the rest of the team on a small plane. It only seats 10 - including the pilot. But such small planes afford extraordinary views. We flew just above the cloud line and from my small window, I marveled at the patchwork below.

As we left Nairobi, it seemed like each inch of land was parceled out in neat little farms and quartered off in fences. But as each hour passed,  and we traded the deep luscious farms for grasslands, a new part of Africa was revealed - An Africa with rolling hills and towering peaks. An Africa with deed mountains that rival the Alps in every way but color. An Africa with rivers so deep they empty out 2000 miles away in the Mediterranean. Yes. the White Nile wiggled below us in all its muddy splendor. But by the time we landed, the ground was spotted in round mud huts set quietly among grassy fields and scraggly trees. The diversity was breath taking.

My first impressions of Tonj are too confusing to draw any conclusions. The town seems brimming with activity... but I've only seen it once. The roads are dirt and dusty. And the landing strip had a wrecked airplane at its end... someone forgot to apply the brakes! I wanted to take pictures but didn't. There were armed guards in military fatigues helping us unload our things... or where they just watching? I can't recall. All I remember is they were right in the middle of everything.

Hugs and great excitement greeted us by the staff and has remained the same. I'm impressed with the team here at the clinic and the Kuj family is lovely. I look forward to knowing them better. We only had a day with some of the team as a handful left the next morning for a little R&R. Our pilot over-nighted with us and flew out early the next morning before the rain descended.

When the rain came... it came with power and force. Many of my patients opted to wait it out for hours. I'm told, when it rains, no one comes to the clinic and now I understand why. Streets become rivers and rivers become lakes. I love it... but only because I had no where I needed to go.

It's winter here now with days of 80 degrees and cool evenings and rain. It is muggy and warm. I worry to think it will get hotter. But such is life for them... why not for me too. :- )