Into Africa–March 21, 2013

242“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”–Maya Angelou

Friday, March 15 was my last official work day in Mozambique. And what a day it was–finishing my last few reports, copying files, debriefing the director. “We appreciate the way you do things,” Edmundo said simply at the end, which apparently is high praise. I’ll take it. He seemed engaged and interested as I summarized my findings, accomplishments, and recommendations. Who knows what will happen once I’m gone, but I am satisfied that I gave them everything I could, and that I have moved the communications bar up a few notches on several fronts. I have shown them how strategic communications practices in certain key areas can improve their program.

And then the goodbyes. Helder and Suzanne took me out for lunch…you choose your meat, and then they cook it for you! Some of my other work colleagues even took me out for a beer at the end of the day…very thoughtful. Even Laura, who has been stone cold with me since the beginning, finally cracked at the end!

Then onto what I knew would be perhaps the toughest goodbye…Chico. I met him at our usual cafe. We played our three songs together one last time. This time I recorded them, which will not only be a great memory, but it will also give me something to practice with as I try to recreate them at home. Saying goodbye to Chico was very hard…maybe this is what they mean by “bromance?” He has been so kind, open, and accepting of me over the last two months. I will be forever grateful.

Working with Chico and the band also reminded me of what Ron and Rob, my music teachers and mentors in Ottawa, have drilled into me for so many months–the importance of being flexible and versatile, bringing more than one talent to the musical table, and being familiar with what others are doing in the band so you can speak their language. I have done well on the first one, but definitely need to work on the last two.

I capped off Friday night with a boys night out with Mike. BBQ meat, beer, and pool. Arrrrr! Great to have some one on one time together, and a nice way to close things out. I am grateful to him for opening his life to me while I was here.

After a short, restless night of sleep, I was up packing and getting organized to go. A few more goodbyes. Francesco at the park insisted on giving me a gift, so I chose a small stone rhino. Very generous, and rare, as I have not noticed much gift giving here. And then to the hotel staff–Moyenne, Cristina, Matoush, Orlando, Editio, Domingues–who also seemed genuinely affected. I surprised them when I said “salanini,” which is Changaan for goodbye. Liz and the kids picked me up, and off we went to the airport. I will always be especially grateful to Liz for opening this African door for me in the first place, and being so generous and welcoming with me in so many ways. This could be the start of a whole new chapter for me.

Although I am so happy to be going home, the goodbyes were much, much harder than I could have imagined. That must be a good sign.

The voyage home began uneventfully Saturday afternoon from Maputo airport. A quick hop to Joburg where I had about three hours to kill before the 8 pm flight to London. I was feeling a little off, but chalked it up to the stress of leaving, and not having had much sleep the night before.

Right before boarding, sitting in a jam-packed waiting lounge I began to feel very strange indeed. Everything started to feel distant and distorted, becoming opaque. And then the nausea kicked in. I put me head between my legs to try and control it. Then I passed out, not sure for how long. When I came out of it I was drenched in sweat. There is no way I can board this plane like this, I thought (or spoke?) to myself. But it passed, and I mustered up enough energy to board what would be a brutal 11-hour, jam-packed flight to London.

I remember having some very interesting chats with an elderly South African man sitting next to me, as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I also remember the nausea and the pounding headaches. I just have to get though the next hour, I kept thinking, over and over again.

When I arrived in London, I did not have the strength to get my stuff off the plane. I was greeted by some very kind airport staff and paramedics who checked me out, and wheeled me to a quiet lounge where I could rest and re energize for five hours before the next flight. Those Brits were so good to me, which I know will make my mother very proud! This was in stark contrast to what happened in Joburg, where not one person asked me if I was OK. Although one incident does not define a nation, I do get the sense–as I have throughout my trip–that there is an overriding lack of human compassion or consideration for others. It’s every man for himself.

I have never felt as defeated, weary, and alone as I did on that final leg of the trip, sitting on an airplane toilet with diarrhea, the shakes, fever, headache, and sweats. Little did I know this would define the next few days. Just need to make it through this flight, I thought. Just need to make it off the plane. Just need make it through customs. Just need to get my bags. Then it will be OK.

It took everything I had (and some of what I didn’t know I had) to make it home. It was a very gruelling 30-hour trip, but It could have been worse. If I had become sick just one day earlier I never would have been able to make it. I am grateful for that.

Although it was not the homecoming I had envisioned, I was so very happy to see my wife. I hugged her for what felt like a long time, and remember not kissing her in case I was contagious. My great friend Tommy was also there, decked out in full St. Paddy’s regalia! He has been a rock, and I am very grateful.

I don’t remember much after that…my wife and son tell me my colour was grey, and that I was somewhat delirious for the rest of the day on Sunday.

As I write this, it is Wednesday, and I am in the hospital where I have been in quarantine since Monday morning, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. Typhoid, dengue, H1N1, and cholera are the front runners. They’ve ruled out malaria. My body has done and produced some things in the last few days that I would not have thought possible, or even human. I haven’t eaten since Sunday, but finally think I can start.

And now, Thursday, they think they have identified the bacteria responsible, but after doing some research, this explanation does not cover off most of my symptoms. So I am preparing my case for when I see the docs later today. I began to feel better on most fronts late yesterday, that’s the good news, but there were a few complications that will keep me here until the weekend. Oh well…might as well deal with it all while I’m here, eh?

But lots of good news so far today: they’ve taken out the IV, I am keeping solid food in me, all my symptoms are fading, my tongue is pink, and my blood level indicators are all normalizing.

The hospital experience itself is a whole other story–good, bad, and ugly. I won’t go into this part in detail, but I will say that if you do get sick, make it some sort of infectious and contagious disease. You get to bypass that usually horrific emergency waiting room scene, you get your own private room, and you get our own dedicated air supply. Luxury!

On a serious note, I cannot stress enough the need for someone to advocate on your behalf while you are in hospital, and that you yourself keep track of what is happening as best you can. Write things down when you have lucid moments…questions, comments, what’s happening to you, symptoms, etc. Hospital systems are usually big and clunky, and not designed for the personal, intricate issues surrounding you and your health. There is so much going on–decisions being made, medications being prescribed, changes in staff, dissemination of your information, politics, and priorities other than you.

As the patient, and depending on your condition, you are hardly in a position to keep track of all this. There have been several key decision points during my hospital stay where if my wife had not stepped in, things could have easily gone off the rails for me. Remember that how well you are feeling is not the only determinant to what happens to you in hospital (although it should be). Bed availability, other patient’s conditions and requirements, and cost of care all factor into the decisions made by hospital staff and administrators. So it is absolutely critical that you have someone who can follow what’s happening, and push for the right decisions to be made that are in your best health interests, at least until you are well enough to take over. Thank you, my love, for being that someone for me.

Having said all that, I sure was happy to be back in Canada for all this medical madness. Getting treated in Mozambique would have been an adventure. If I were in the US, I’d have to take out a second mortgage to cover the costs.

I keep asking myself what the lesson is for me in all of this. I’m not sure yet, but it will come. It always does. I just don’t always see it clearly right away.

Oh…and one other work-related thing I am quite proud of: my commitment to describing the journey in this blog. I wasn’t sure that I would have that much to say, or even that I would know how to say it. And I am so grateful to those of you out there who have taken the time to read about it.

This was not the wrap-up I had envisioned, so I will be back in the coming weeks with more “uplifting” thoughts and images from Africa. I will close with a quote I really like from an excellent blog called What is Real True Love.

“At every moment we’re either becoming more aware and more sensitive, or we’re becoming more self-preoccupied and numb; we’re either moving in the direction of becoming more alive inside, or internally dead; more ego driven or more soulful and guided by perennial universal and noble principles.”

‘Til next week,

Jonathan
(MoJo just doesn’t seem to fit today)

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18 thoughts on “Into Africa–March 21, 2013

  1. What an experience!! I’m so glad you’re in good hands.
    Many years ago my father was taken critically ill while in Canada; he collapsed at his hotel . he was very well looked after and I’ve always thought kindly of Canadians since.
    Get well soon!

    • Thanks Viv…I will be fine. Just need a little time. And in the grand scheme, a relatively small price to pay for such an incredible trip. So pleased to hear that your father was properly cared for by my countrymen!

  2. You did great, sweet pea, just great! Welcome home! We all really need you here too! 🙂 Sending you all the fresh, calm, pure white energy we can muster! Peace, little brother!

  3. What a horribly long trip home that must have been, but so lucky you didn’t get sick any sooner and not be able to make it back to have your family help you through this illness. Hope you’re feeling better every day.

  4. Your farewells to your new friends vibrate with the energy of connecting — beautiful, sad goodbyes. I like that you’re looking for “the lesson” in all of this, although sometimes it is what it is. It certainly sounds like you stayed in the moment admirably throughout your ordeal. Best wishes for a speedy recovery; you sidestepped the reverse culture shock with a real shock to your physical health. Thank the universe for your wife! And all people who care without caring to point it out to the rest of the world.

    • Hi Lorrie…my wife actually joked about how I have been easing the transition home with this hospital pit stop, but maybe there is something to this, as you have suggested. Great insight, as always.

  5. What a journey! I hope as I type this, you’re feeling MUCH better. I love your opening quote from Maya Angelou. Very profound quote. I only wish more people understood the depth of it.

  6. Wow… It’s about time I caught up on your blog. I’m in awe of your bravery, and so sorry you’re ill. Yes, there is a lesson in all of this … It will come.

  7. See, this is what happens when one gets behind in their blog reading. So darn sorry to hear you were so ill but thank goodness you are now on the mend. I have really enjoyed your African stories and one day I hope to get there as well. I have wanted to volunteer wherever I am needed for the past 25 years and I am going to start serious planning in 2014.
    Welcome home!

  8. This was another wonderful, honest, and interesting post. You’re marvelous at this! I can’t wait for the next adventure. Meanwhile, I’m hoping they’ve found the problem and corrected it! Your attitude throughout is inspiring and uplifting. Be well. Jeanie

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