Saturday, May 30, 2020

My Past Birthdays

Note:  I wrote this piece in August 2019 and didn't finish it because . . . I don't remember!  How crazy is that?  I got so busy with other things and forgot all about this project.  Well, I'm back!  Fast forward to COVID-19 in the year 2020, and it has totally changed the world.  Choosing to stay home as the world slowly re-opens, I am blogging again.  So here is my first post in the age of the corona pandemic.

My birthday was a few days ago (August 12) and the day didn't unfold the way I had hoped.  After the recent mass shootings throughout the country, I decided to donate blood - something I hadn't done since I was 29 years old but was committed to doing since I was 18 years old.  Through the Red Cross website, August appointments were very few and I wanted a morning appointment.  I found an opening which happened to be on my birthday.  Since there was no mention of anything being planned for my special day (but my family did celebrate me over the weekend) I went ahead and booked it.  

The above photo was taken a year ago on my birthday.  The group visited a farm and stopped by the piggery to visit the baby pigs born that day.  My husband suggested that we should name one of the babies Marie and everyone thought that was such a great idea.  The founder of the nursery, who also was our guide today, told me to pick out a baby to officially name, and I picked the smallest piglet in the litter.  She squealed and wriggled in my arms so much, I thought I might drop her.  Adorable little thing!
Back to my story.  This morning I felt great that I would be doing something meaningful and important but it wasn't meant to be.  After my vitals were taken,  a finger pricked for blood, and a short interview, it was determined that I wasn't a good candidate.  Why?  Because I was in Africa a year ago, in Uganda.  I was told that Uganda has one of the highest rates of malaria and even though I had the necessary vaccinations to enter the country, the Red Cross still couldn't take me as a blood donor.  Damn.  I wasn't happy about it but I understood.

I've spent past birthdays in pretty cool locations like Tonga, Maui, Santa Fe, Oahu, and New York City.  But last year I was in Africa!  Entebbe, to be exact.   I never blogged about it but it seems appropriate now to share thoughts of my time there.  I went to Entebbe with Project Compassion and a team of doctors, nurses and other volunteers called Helping Hands.  I was one of the helpers.  I did a lot of reading about Entebbe as soon as I signed up for this gig.  All I knew about Entebbe was it once had a dictator named Idi Amin, nicknamed the Butcher of Uganda, one of the most feared leaders in world history.  Also, Uganda was, and still is, a third world country in terms of human development.  In the early 1900s, though, Winston Churchill penned the book The Pearl of Africa in which he states, “For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly “the Pearl of Africa.”  Churchill got that right!

Our plane arrived at the Entebbe International Airport late at night.  Going through Customs was a little chaotic, and became very concerning when we later learned that the agents withheld large suitcases of antibiotics and vitamins.  We left with a truckload of our personal luggage and the remaining suitcases of medicine.  We did not drive into Entebbe but stayed near the airport at the Sisters of Mary Retreat Center as it was too dangerous to drive to the Asili Medical Center in Luwero late at night.  It was past midnight when we arrived at the retreat center.  Sister Ernestine, a Kenyan nun, was there to welcome us.  The next morning we departed for the two-hour drive to Entebbe.  Days later I would learn from Sister Ernestine that she went to the airport to confront the Customs agents about the two suitcases being held.  She told them that they were wrong for withholding medicines that were meant for the needy.  Customs said she could have the medicines if she gave them money.  Crooks, she called them.  Sister was not happy. 

My first impression of the Ugandan landscape during the drive was unlike anything I could have imagined.  I was expecting vast areas of dry land.  Instead, the landscape was so lush and exotic and the birdlife plentiful.  Something also stood out that I didn't expect.  The dirt is a rich red.  It was everywhere!