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Escalators, ER Visits, Airplanes, and Heartfelt Gratitude

October 13th, 2017 8 comments

It has been a hectic few days to say the least.  On Monday, my son Max told me it was the worst day of his life and he was certainly correct (and we hope he doesn’t have a worse one anytime soon).  But, it is in the midst of difficulty that you gain an appreciation for true nature of humanity.

Here is a run-down on what happened (Note: If you don’t want to read all the details, please skip down to the end – that is the most important part):

Max and I were in the US for a couple weeks (work for me, visiting grandparents for him).  We were schedule to leave on Monday.  We had to return the rental car to Louisville airport and then fly to Chicago to catch our flight back to Swaziland.  Even though our children are phenomenal travelers, the logistics of travel can be a bit much.

We were already a bit under pressure because I had miscalculated the time zone changes, but we were going to catch our plane no problem.  After dropping the rental car off, we loaded up our luggage.  Max had his little backpack and I was pulling two 50-pound suitcases as well as a heavy backpack and my laptop bag.  He followed me up the escalator to the ticket counter.  About halfway up, one of the bags which had a strap wrapped around my wrist slipped down a step and pulled me off balance.  Between not having any free hands, and the heavy backpack, I tumbled over backwards with me and bags landing on Max.  Someone hit the emergency stop on the escalator and several people rushed to help.  Max was crying and scared and that is when I noticed a deep gash on his foot.

I sprinted up the stopped escalator with him and was quickly joined by police and the EMS.  There was a good bit of blood and it was obvious the gash was more than superficial.  While Max was obviously in pain, he quickly gathered himself and let the police tend to his wound.  One of the officers brought him a stuffed animal to distract him while the others focused on providing first aid.

At this point the reality of the situation started to set in.  We were 9,000 miles away from home and were obviously going to miss our flight and our connecting flight (and then bus to Swaziland).  We were going to have to get medical treatment somewhere and I had an injured son, nearly 200 pounds of luggage, and no transportation.

The police offered to watch my stuff while I carried Max to try and figure out the details.  First we went to the ticket counter and canceled our flight.  Then I went back to the Hertz rental car to see if there was any way I could get my rental car back.  I could have ubered to the hospital (the police wanted me to take an ambulance), but that presented crazy logistics with luggage.  I told the people at Hertz what happened and they immediately got on the phone and pulled the car I had used back out for me and even delivered it to the door. (More on Hertz later).  From there I headed to the nearest hospital.

The next several hours moved very slow compared to the chaos at the airport.  We checked in the hospital and were triaged.  At this point, Max is calm and we are just waiting for our turn to go back.  This relative downtime gave me a chance to think a bit more about logistics.  In particular the fact that our international health insurance doesn’t cover the United States.  I had no idea how much this trip to the ER was going to cost us.  The time in the waiting room also gave me a chance to make some phone calls.  Obviously I was updating Beth and the family in the states.  Beth took care of rearranging all my transport and everyone else reached out to offer help however they could.  I called Hertz back and talked to a manager who was incredibly sympathetic to our situation and told us it would be no problem to extend the contract for a day and that we could even return the car to O’hare in Chicago since our plane tickets would cost nearly $500 to rebook.  I asked how much it would cost and he said “not too much more, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

At this time I also got in touch with my cousin Jana who lives in Louisville, has traveled extensively internationally, and who is a physical therapist specializing on hands and feet.  We talked about our options and she suggested an urgent care would be cheaper and most likely quicker.  She set out to call around to see what was available while also arranging for us to stay at her place.  She found an urgent care with no waiting near her house that was going to cost $250 to get Max stitched up.  At this point, Max was completely calm and relatively little pain.  I asked triage nurse an estimate on time (I am sure she hates that question), and was told “when you checked in there was one person in the queue ahead of us and nothing has changed.”  That made it easy to decide to head out of there and go to urgent care.

At Urgent care we quickly got taken back to a room and the nurse was very attentive to Max and his needs.  The Physician’s Assistant on call came in to take a look at things.  Both medical staff let us know from the very beginning that there was a chance they couldn’t treat Max due to his age and the location of his injury could have caused nerve, tendon or vascular damage.  At this point it had been about 4 hours since the accident and when they took the bandage off it was still bleeding.

The PA was incredibly gracious when reviewing our options.  He recommended we go to the children’s hospital (there was a branch close by), but also understood our situation with insurance and travel.  Basically he told us that he could probably stitch it up, but that really an expert should look at it.  At this point, I called Jana to ask if she could come over to help me think through our options. There was some concern because Max was not moving his toes very well.  We agreed to put some topical painkiller on it and see what should be done next.  During this time, he also called around to see our alternate medical options.

The longer we were at urgent care the more obvious it was that we would be heading back to the Emergency Room for treatment.  The PA came back in the office and said that his attending physician had told him he couldn’t do the stitches due to the complexity.  Additionally, in calling the nearby children’s hospital branch, he learned that even they wouldn’t accept the case because Max needed a place where a pediatric orthopedic surgeon could consult.  Due to the location and depth of the injury there was a possibility of tendon, nerve or even vascular damage. Our only option was to go to the main branch of the Kosair children’s hospital.

It was obvious that the PA was going above and beyond to help us.  In additional to his medical care, and the time he took to consult with doctor’s across the city, he told us he would work it out so that the entire visit to urgent care would be free. Holy Cow… what a relief!

So off to Kosair we headed.  Jana called ahead to her friends in the medical community to get advice and information and I followed her to the hospital.

We checked in, were triaged, and found our place in the waiting room.  Interestingly enough, a family friend from my hometown was sitting in the waiting area as well.  Throughout all of this Max was a trooper.  At this point it was past his bed time and despite his injury, he was incredibly calm and patient.  His biggest complaint was that he couldn’t eat or drink due to the possibility that he would need anesthesia if surgery was required.

After a couple hours we were taken back to a room.  The resident doctor took a look at Max and did some initial cleaning of the wound.  He confirmed that tendon damage could be a concern, but they wouldn’t know until they could look at it further.  The attending doctor also came and checked the situation and called for an X-Ray, so I carried Max off to radiology for three pictures of his bones.  The initial report looked clear, but the radiologist came back to say he saw a hairline fracture.

Now it was time for the tough part – exploring the wound and stitches.  Max was given a nasal dose of medicine to reduce the pain, but it didn’t seem to help much because even the cleaning process caused him deep distress.  With the attending and resident doctor both looking at things, they told us that tendon damage didn’t seem to be an issue and there also wasn’t any obvious nerve damage.  Next step then was actually getting the stitches.  Despite the topical pain killer already applied and the nasal painkiller, Max did not react well to the numbing injections.  This was certainly the most traumatic part of the process for him.  Eventually, the doctor was able to start sewing.  Even though Max was crying through the whole process, he never flinched his foot and let the doctor do his job.  In the end, it only took 3 stitches to get him put back together.

At this point it must have been about midnight and Jana headed back home while we wrapped things up.  The doctor told us that because there was a minor fracture and an open wound, it was technically a compound fracture and we would need IV then oral anti-biotics.  I already knew Max was not going to be a fan of more needles.

As you could imagine, Max was exhausted and fell asleep in my arms.  The nurse came in to give the IV and he was so sleepy, I couldn’t even rouse him.  The nurse found a vein in his hand and applied an aerosol pain killer and then inserted the IV.  Thankfully Max didn’t wake up during the procedure, but unfortunately the vein the nurse was going for blew.  He then found a vein in his arm, but Max woke up for the second stick and was none too happy.  Once again the vein blew and we would have to try again.  A different nurse came in and despite Max’s protests, successfully put the IV in.  It was hooked up to some antibiotics and we began the waiting process.  After about an hour the IV was removed and we were presented with our discharge papers.

After taking care of the paperwork, we finally head over to Jana’s house to get some rest.  When we got there, it was about 2am – 12 hours after the accident had initially occurred.

The next morning we were able to sleep in a bit and also take care of the logistics like repacking and getting Max his prescription.  At around 1pm after some lunch, we began the drive to Chicago to drop off the rental car and catch our flight.  Thankfully the drive was pleasantly uneventful, but it did give me a chance to think about the logistics of actually getting from the car to airplane.  Somehow, I was going to have to carry two backpacks, two 50 pound suitcases, a bulky duffel bag and an injured 4-year old.  No problem!  Thankfully my parents called ahead to try and work out the details, but unfortunately there wasn’t a clear solution and I was going to have to wing it.

Upon arriving at the Hertz return office, I ran into what seemed like a problem.  The guy checking in the cars said he couldn’t do anything because the contract had been closed.  Essentially I was driving a car without a formal agreement from the rental company.  He told me I had to go downstairs to talk with the office.  That is when I realized the only way down was by escalator.  You have got to be kidding me!

At the counter I talked to one advisor who said there was nothing he could do and I was going to have to work things out through Louisville AND the national Hertz office.  I had gotten to the airport more than 3 hours early, but didn’t really want to spend time negotiating contracts.  I was then directed to another representative who looked more into my situation.  After punching a few keys he outlined the situation:  Essentially the Louisville manager had kept my contract closed rather than extending it.  While that initially looked like a problem, what it really meant was that the guy had loaned me the car, and arranged for the drop off in Chicago, all on his own.  It seems there weren’t going to be any additional charges for our big change of plans.  WOW!

At this point I went back up the escalator and began dreading the next challenge: getting all my stuff, with an injured kid, down the escalator, to the bus, and up to the ticket counter.  Quietly this was the part of the whole ordeal I had been dreading the most.  As I was loading up my bags and thinking about options such as throwing my bags down the escalator and then dealing with them later, the car attendant offered to go get me a luggage trolley.  Excellent!  Why hadn’t I thought to ask for that!  Oh, and he mentioned there was an elevator I could take!  First complexity handled!

Next came the bus.  Thankfully the bus was already waiting for us when we got to the ground floor to take us to the terminal.  I was able to carry Max and get the first bag on the bus.  But then, the bus driver quickly got up and grabbed my other bags to help load up.  No problem at all!  Once on the bus, it was just a matter of waiting.  Once we got to the terminal, before I could stand up with Max, the driver was back there to help me unload.  I set Max down, grabbed a trolley and loaded up our stuff.  From there I headed into the terminal, found a quiet place, and repacked our bags for the journey home.

After we made it to the ticket counter, the complexity of our travel was greatly reduced.  We checked in, dropped our bags, and Emirates arranged for us to have a wheel chair to get through security.  Despite some juggling required to get through the scanners, it all was a pleasantly uneventful process.

On the first flight from Chicago to Dubai (14 hours), we ended up with an aisle/middle seat combo with an empty seat between us and then another guy on the other aisle.  Beth had called ahead and told them of our situation and Emirates agreed to flag our seats to try their best to keep things open.  It turns out that there were actually a couple empty seats available and the guy in our row willing to move so we ended up with a whole role of 4 seats to ourselves.  That meant that Max could fully lay down to sleep!  What a relief!

Our original plan was to spend a long layover in Dubai doing things in the city.  One of the only non-injury-related things that Max cried about was the fact that he wasn’t going to get to see the dinosaur skeleton at the Dubai Mall.  While on the plane, I was chatting with Beth (inflight internet is amazing!) and we realized that since our flight was ahead of schedule, if everything worked out, there was going to be enough time to still make it into the city.  I did all my calculations and set alarms on my phone so that we could try our best to give Max some distraction during the downtime.

At Dubai, things went flawlessly.  We were through security and in the cab even before we were originally scheduled to land.  With Max on my shoulders, we were able to quickly see all the things I had promised him (dinosaur skeleton, water show, tallest building in the world, aquarium, and the biggest candy store in the world).  We caught a cab back, and were able to get quickly through security with enough time to take advantage of the lounge (having frequent flyer status is such a blessing) to get a quick bite to eat and more importantly a shower.

Our next flight went just as well as the first.  We had an open seat next to us despite it being an almost full flight.  The people around us were very friendly and Max once again traveled like a champ.  When we got to the Johannesburg airport, we got our luggage and a trolley and had some time to grab a bite to eat (who doesn’t like calamari for breakfast!).  We caught our shuttle back to Swaziland, which thankfully had a lot of empty seats.  We both got some sleep on the ride home and were met by a staff member who had us home by afternoon with enough time to decompress and get cleaned up.

We started our journey on Monday morning and by Thursday evening we were safely back home – exhausted and a bit frazzled, but overall in great shape all things considered.

Looking back on the situation, I realize just how fortunate we were and how thankful I am for all the strangers and family/friends who helped make a chaotic situation so much more bearable.

So now for the main reason I am writing this post:

All the people I want to give thanks to:

  • To the staff and bystanders at the Louisville airport who quickly responded, pressed the emergency stop on the escalator and attended to Max and I before I could even comprehend what was happening.
  • To the police and EMS of the Louisville PD who provided immediate and competent care. They were primarily concerned about our wellbeing, but also understanding of our situation with the lack of insurance and the need to get home.  In all at least 4 people gave their time and attention to our situation providing excellent first aid and evaluation as well as emotional support.
  • I don’t know the name of the main police officer who helped us, but he was absolutely incredible. He watched our stuff while I sorted out the logistics.  He carried our luggage to the curb.  He even came back to ensure we not only got his foot checked out, but also kept an eye out of head trauma.  Most of all, he made sure we got the care we needed without incurring unnecessary costs or taking unnecessary risks.
  • To the Hertz people at the Louisville airport. I simply cannot say enough about how compassionate and helpful they were.  The people at the desk ensured I had transportation even though I had already closed my contract.  They could have easily told me to just take an Uber or made me fill out paperwork for another car.  They were primarily concerned about Max’s wellbeing instead of processes and procedures.  The fact that they even arranged the car to pick us up at the curb shows their level of detail.  When I called to sort out the paperwork, they were more concerned about us than about the rental details.  At this point it seems they even comped us our extension and are working out the details on their side.  Above and beyond!
  • To the random guy waiting in the hospital ER who offered Max and I a gift card for dinner after overhearing our ordeal.
  • To Beth who did an amazing job at handling her son being hurt 9,000 miles away. She handled all the details of changing our flights and ensuring we had open seats around.  But more importantly, she stayed calm and was there to help where she could without panicking.
  • To my cousin Jana who completely dropped everything to help us and give us a place to stay. She helped us think through our options and the implications.  She made countless phone calls to friends in the medical community to explore our options and get recommendations.  Her expertise in PT helped us get straight answers and understand the risks.  She spent more than 7 hours physically with us to help with the details and logistics of moving between medical centers and ensuring everyone was comfortable.  The next day she helped research pharmacies and other optios.  Also thanks to Curtis and Knox for letting us crash on their couch and disrupt their lives for a couple days.  We were so fortunate to have friends and family in the city where this happened.
  • To the staff at the Urgent care, especially the nurse (don’t remember her name) and to Travis the PA. They expertly balanced the concerns about travel and insurance with what was in the best interests of Max.  Travis in particular fully commited himself to looking into all the options and ensuring we had a clear path forward.  The fact that our medical services were provided free of charge is absolutely amazing and goes a long way in helping us process through the secondary struggles of this ordeal (financial).  What a compassionate and commited staff – especially at the end of the day on a bank holiday).
  • To all the staff at Kosair hospital for providing calm, professional, and expert service. In particular to:
    • The billing lady for understanding that financial issues can provide additional strain to already hectic situations.
    • Grant for always being straightforward with us and taking the time to talk with Max when he was scared. He did his absolute best to ensure Max got the care he needed and minimized the trauma.
    • Star for giving her attention fully to Max even during a very busy night.
    • The radiology staff for focusing so much on Max and making sure he was comfortable and the experience was as simple as possible.
    • The intern(?) who came to Max with an iPad so he would be calm during the IVs and even left it with him so he could watch during his treatment.
    • The nurses who took care of all the details and did their absolute best to make sure Max was comfortable. Even bringing a slushee after his IV stick.  The late night nurse also make sure that we were informed not only about post-discharge care, but also our options for payment reduction.
    • To the billing department for working with us on the finances and also explaining the situation in details when I asked specific questions.
  • To all my family to checked in with us and offered to help. In particular to my parents who helped to arrange the details around our transition at the Chicago airport, even being willing to fly back with us if we needed them.  Even extended family reached out to check on us and offer any help we could use.
  • To the Walgreens pharmacist for working with us to reduce medication costs and “Adjusting” procedures so that I could get a partial prescription in the states and then get the rest in Swaziland where it is cheaper.
  • To the random country lady at McDonalds who saw Max’s foot and offered to get him extra chicken nuggets if he wanted them.
  • Again, a shout out to the Hertz people. In Chicago the check in guy ensured I had a cart and access to a trolley.  The associates at the desk helped me figure out the logistics of the rental.  The bus driver went out of his way to help with the bags.  Spectacular service at one of the complicated legs of the journey.
  • To the Emirates and O’Hare staff for arranging for a wheelchair and helping through immigration and security.
  • To the guy on the plane to Dubai who moved seats so max could have a whole row to lay down on
  • To the flight staff on all our flights for going out of their way to ensure Max was taken care of (and that I was able to rest when possible).
  • To the random Arab guy on the escalator in the Dubai Mall who talked to Max and told him it was going to be okay when Max was hesitant to take an escalator.
  • To the receptionist at the Emirates lounge who let Max in even though my status did not allow guests. She also went and got us a stroller so we could move around easier with Max.
  • To all the security officers at all airports who didn’t hassle me for taking a bunch of liquid (medicine for Max) through the screening areas.
  • To all the friends and family who reached out with genuine offers to help however they could and to make sure we were taken care of.
  • To all the medical experts who gave their input and advice through friends to help us process our situation.
  • And finally to Max for being so brave and strong during this ordeal. He went through so much and was an absolute trooper through it all.  Getting hurt would overwhelmed many kids, but he not only handled that, but also spend the next 2.5 days on a crazy travel schedule and never once complained about anything besides the taste of his antibiotic.

Our trip back certainly did not go as planned, but it could have been much worse.  When I think about it, I realize just how fortunate / lucky we were.  My 4 year old son had over 350 pounds fall on him on a moving metal escalator and he escaped with only 3 stitches.  While the logistics and challenges of having all this happen so far from home were a bit overwhelming, the kindness and generosity of friends, family and strangers made things so much better.  I am so grateful for all the ways people reached out to help – some in small ways, some in large ways, but all where meaningful.

And just so you know, Max and I are now safely back home in Swaziland.  He is on the mend and most concerned about not being able to go to school yet.

This event will change my thinking on many things, but for now, all I can think is how grateful I am for the generosity of those around me.  I only hope I can return the favor to those I find myself around in their times of need.

Sex, Drunk Driving, and a call to Polygamy

April 29th, 2013 1 comment

It is no secret that Swaziland’s main newspaper The Times is more akin to The Weekly World News than to the New York Times.  It is also common knowledge oddities are often a part of daily life in Swaziland.  But occasionally, you find an article that really makes you shake your head and say “Did I really read that?”  Today’s paper included one of those articles.  Here is a scan, but you can also click the image to read the online version.

sex drunk driver

This article really has some gems (or you could call them glimpses into depravity).

MANZINI – A drink-driving soldier told the court that he committed the offence after his wife refused to have sex with him.

Sifiso Dlamini (33) of Ngwane Park, who is employed by the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force and is based at Mdzimba, said this during his appearance in court on Thursday.

“Your Worship, I was refused sex by my wife and I was so angry I decided to go and drink with the hope that I will get a secret lover (makhwapheni) at the drinking hall.”

Ahh… the classic sex-depravation justification.

But thankfully we learn that this gentleman’s needs were met:

He said when he was arrested by the police, he was on his way to a secret place with a makhwapheni he had managed to snag at the bar.

So how does the court respond to his self medication with drinking and infidelity?

Magistrate Dumisa Mazibuko applauded him for not trying to rape his wife because he would have been sentenced a heavier fine than that of drink-driving.

Mazibuko also told him that it was better to go and buy sex from sex workers than raping. “If you have the money, go and buy instead of raping,” he said.

I don’t even know how to comment on that.  At least there is an acknowledgment that marital rape is not a good thing, but how in the world can a judge recommend the utilization of sex workers as a viable solution?

After he was found guilty, the defendant asks for mercy:

He asked the court to be lenient because he was a first offender and had a wife and two children to look after.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget that wife and family he has to take care of.  I am actually surprised that he didn’t ask for a waiver of the fine so that he could have enough money to pay sex workers in the future.

Instead of being leniant, the court offers a long-term solution.

After telling the court that he traditionally wedded his wife, the court advised him to take a second wife.

“The law allows you to have more than one wife,” said Magistrate Mazibuko.

The accused also agreed with the court. “After what happened, I will now consider taking a second wife,” he said.

You  just can’t make this stuff up!  I understand that polygamy is a recognized part of Swazi culture.  But we are in a whole new realm when multiple wives are being recommended by the judicial system as a way to solve issues of varying libido in a marital relationship.

At the article’s conclusion, we find that Mr. Dlamini is in fact sentenced for his crimes:

He was sentenced to two years in prison or a fine of E2 000.

In case you are not up on your currency conversion, this gentleman was given the choice of either spending two years in jail or paying a fine of $220.  That is the typical judgment against drunk driving which brings up a whole other set of issues.  If you are rich, you can break the law and easily afford to pay the fine without even flinching.  However if you are poor (and remember that 70% of the country lives on less than $2/day), you either give up over a month’s salary, or you sit in jail for a long long time.

I will let you draw your own conclusions and judgments, but this article was so over the top, I just had to share it.

Hiking Execution Rock

July 1st, 2012 No comments

Anyone who has driven the Ezulwini corridor between Mbabane and Manzini in Swaziland has certainly taken note of the large precipice known as Execution Rock.  The mountain is officially known as Nyonyane Peak, but goes by the more sinister moniker because it is said criminals were historically forced off the edge at spear-point for their crimes.

Execution Rock
[View of Execution Rock from one of our previous trips]

Since coming to Swaziland, we have wanted to hike to the top, but it is one of those things where it is so close by, you never get around to doing.  Plus, there is notoriously little information on the internet about.  I knew the mountain was in the Mlilwane Game Reserve, and had heard there was a short route and a long route, but beyond that reports vary widely.  Some sites say the hike takes 6 hours and others say you can get there in 15 minutes.  But, we enjoy spending time at Mlilwane, so we decided to make a day out of it; if we got to the top of Execution Rock that would be great.  If not, then we would enjoy a relaxing game drive and other short hikes.

Mlilwane is a relatively small park, but most of it is criss-crossed with trails.  There are no large predators, but you are absolutely guaranteed to see zebra, warthogs, wildebeests and a wide variety of antelope variations.  Plus it is super cheap.  The entrance price for all three of us was supposed to be E75 (less than $10 USD), but we have a Wild Card that lets us get in free.


Execution Rock 001

[Execution Rock is the summit on the right, note the hippos on the island to the left.]

At the main gate I asked about hiking trails to Execution Rock and was told I would have to go to the Rest Camp to get a hiking map.  That is only a 3.5km drive, so it was no big deal.  Basically you leave a E10 deposit, let them know where you are going, and you get a wrinkled laminated map.  Here is a photo of the map to give you an idea of the hiking trails inside Mlilwane:

Mlilwane Hiking Map

As you can see, there are a couple longer routes that are possible which start around the Reilly’s Rock area.  We ran into a few other hikers while we were out and they said they were told it would take them 2.5 hours to get to the summit of Execution Rock from the lodge at Reilly’s Rock, but they were able to do it in about an hour and a half (they looked to be in pretty good hiking shape).  You can also see there is a much shorter route that starts most of the way up the mountain.  That is the route we decided to take.  We were told at the Rest Camp that that route takes about 15 minutes to hike.  It’s probably possible to do it in 15 minutes but It took us closer to 40 minutes with our toddler in tow.

The drive from the rest camp to the Nyakato viewpoint took us about 20 minutes to drive.  We had a large 4×4 truck and did the drive in the dry season so it really wasn’t a problem.  If you’re used to driving on mountain dirt roads, I think you could probably do it in any vehicle, but if it rained, I could see how it could get pretty sketchy.

At the Nyakato viewpoint there is a nice picnic table and the views really are incredible.  We could hear the drums from Mantenga Cultural Village and the views of Sheba’s Breasts (neighboring mountain) and down into the mid-veld were pretty incredible.

Execution Rock 087

[Aloe plants in the foreground, Sheba’s Breast in the background.]

Execution Rock 033

The trail was well maintained and easy to follow.  I would guess the walk was less than a mile from the trailhead to the summit (1.2 km).  Most it was gradual slopes although the last stretch required careful foot placement and an occasional hand on the ground.

Execution Rock 025

Execution Rock 042

Execution Rock 075

[Mikayla handled the trail just fine.]

The day we hiked Execution Rock, there were several wildfires burning so the valley was pretty smokey.  However, the views from the top were still incredible.

Execution Rock 043

[Summit!]

Execution Rock 047

[Don’t worry, she really isn’t as close to the edge as it looks.]

Execution Rock 048

Execution Rock 060

Execution Rock 062

[Looking up the valley towards Mbabane]

Execution Rock 064

[Down the valley towards Manzini]

Execution Rock 065

[Looking back towards the trailhead]

From the time we left the truck to the time we returned to it, it was probably about 2.5 hours.  The hike up Execution Rock was certainly not an epic journey, but it was a great day hike that you can complete start to finish in 3-4 hours including the drive up to the trailhead.

After the hike, we spent about an hour driving through the park before grabbing lunch at the rest camp.  We were there during the hottest part of the day, but we were still able to see quite a few animals:

Execution Rock 008

Execution Rock 114

[The animals at the Rest Camp are pretty accustomed to people]

Execution Rock 158

[Mlilwane is known for its birdlife like this kingfisher.]

Execution Rock 186

[This is actually the first crocodile we have seen in Africa and it was HUGE.]

Execution Rock 190

Overall, it was an absolutely great day.  We ended it by eating at a new restaurant called Marimba’s in Manzini that specializes in African cuisine and it was excellent.  We were even able to throw in some grocery shopping and a stop at the airport and still make it home 12 hours after we left.

I am so glad we finally got that hike in.  Now we just need to make time for a few of the waterfall hikes in the highveld that we have been talking about doing.

There is already too much death in Swaziland

May 15th, 2012 1 comment

Last Tuesday morning started like usual… in fact, it had a certain air of excitement to it: We had just informed a few of our staff members that they would be traveling to the United States for an AIDS conference.  Adults who rarely show excitement were bursting with smiles, almost to the point of giggling.

Unfortunately within a few hours the whole community around us was bursting with a different type of emotion: raw sorrow and pain.  We found out around 10am that the two 2-year-old children of one of our former staff members had drowned in the canal.  They had been staying with their Gogo (grandmother) and had wandered away.  Some of the children on a nearby homestead saw them in the water and called their parents.  By the time people reached them both were already dead.

I simply don’t have the words to express the amount of sadness and grief that instantly swept through the entire area.  The mother, Nakiwe, was one of our brightest employees before she took a new job to be closer to her husband in Manzini.  The father, Felix, is a police officer, but has worked with Cabrini in the education for years and years, he was apart of life on the mission even before the current sisters were.  The grandfather was one of the major leaders in the church and in his chiefdom.  Probably a quarter of our staff live within a couple kilometers of where the boys drowned.

For five days, friends and family came to the homestead to grieve with the family, but despite the crowds of people, there simply aren’t the words that can be said.  You can’t give an explanation for something as tragic as this and any words of comfort will always ring hollow.

On Sunday morning before the sun came up, Beth, Mikayla and I didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day; instead we had to watch a wonderful mother bury her two innocent children.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

At least once a week one of our roughly 3,000 patients dies of HIV or TB.  The country has had to encourage people to only bury people on Saturdays because otherwise there would be no time to do anything but go to funerals.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

We deal with severe malnutrition and extreme poverty.  Rape and abuse is a common occurrence and it often comes from those closest to the victims.  Life is tough here under the best of circumstances.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

Our community shouldn’t have to deal with pain of losing two toddlers on top of everything else.

I have read the Bible cover-to-cover and spent years studying scripture.  I have a degree in Religious Studies and another in Biblical Studies.  I have spent years teaching and counseling people about God and his work in the world.  But with all that knowledge, I still can’t even begin to answer the question of why things like this happen.  What Nakiwe, Felix, and their families are going through is more than anyone should every have to endure.  We simply cannot justify it or explain it; to even try is insincere and crass. All we can do is mourn and comfort each other in whatever small way we can.

During our time of grieving with the family, Sister Diane had this to say:

Times like these are a great mystery, and while we may never have an answer for the pain we feel, one thing never changes: God has eternal and perfect love for all people.

True comfort will never come in our circumstances, it can only come in understanding and living out the perfect love of God.  It doesn’t answer the question and it doesn’t end our heartache, but hopefully that perspective can help to shape our trajectory in life – even in the midst of pain.

Mabuza boys [Nakiwe, Sisandza,Tandziso and Felix Mabuza at the Feast of St. Philips] 

Feast of Mother Cabrini 052

Swazi Incentives

April 5th, 2012 No comments

In the United States, it seems companies everywhere are offering chances to win a new iPad as incentive for using their services.  Apparently Apple technology doesn’t have the same appeal here in Swaziland, so they have tried other schemes:

2 cows 
[Advertisement found in local magazine, although billboards of this offer are also prominent in the country.]

I would love to see the logistics involved in making this promotion work.  I can just imagine the fine print:

Offer not available to employees of Standard Bank, their families or the cattle farmers involved in the raising or delivery of above mentioned cattle.

To put it in perspective, if a Swazi did win this promotion, they would already be 1/7th the way towards paying lobola (dowry) for a new bride.

Swazi Classified Ads – Traditional Healers

April 3rd, 2012 No comments

I have commented before on the craziness that is the Swazi Media.  Well today, I wanted to pass along a clipping from the Classified section of the Swazi Times (the most popular paper in the country). 

As you may know, a majority of Swazis visit traditional healers either instead of or in conjunction with western medicine.  This can include everything from "throwing bones" to consulting the spirits to taking herbal remedies to casting spells.  Most of these traditional healers (often incorrectly called witch-doctors) take a spiritual / magical approach to issues.  However, as you can see from these classified, the issues they often work on rarely have to do with spiritual (or even medical) issues. [Click the image for a larger view]

swazi_times_classified-resized

So, if you need assistance with a "week erection" or are looking for "a specialist in warts and womb cleansing" then look no further than your local Swazi traditional healer – conveniently advertized in the classified section.

This has to be my personal favorite (words in brackets mine):

My muthi [magic] is your answer.  It stops your relationship from breaking apart.  Put him/her under your feet, listen to everything you say [ahh yes… using oppression and subjugation to solve marital disputes].  To apologies when she/he is wrong by using emindi smoke remote control. [I wonder if works even if he/she is not wrong… it’s worth a shot… after all, who couldn’t use some remote-control smoke.]

But, I want to be fair… these listings are more indicative of the newspaper they are in than the overall profession of traditional healer.  The organization I work with regular collaborates with traditional healers, and while there are certainly some who are way out there, most are people whose view on the world is simply shaped by their cultural experiences and expectations.

Anyway, I thought you all would appreciate one of those "Only in Swaziland" insights.

Another Snake Story

February 1st, 2012 1 comment

I know our parents probably don’t like my snake stories very much – they would probably prefer not to think about the reptilian risks associated with our location.  But, the reality is that our life is so normal and boring here that it is the snake stories that remind us of the uniqueness of living in Swaziland.

So here is today’s story:

I was up at our health care office for a data audit from PEPFAR.  Basically, the largest funder of HIV services in Swaziland is the US government and we receive a good portion of our funding from them.  They were coming into town to check to make sure the numbers we submitted could be verified by source documentation.  In other words, it was a pretty important meeting.

When we came into the health care office, we were looking for a quiet place to sit and meet.  I was pretty frustrated because as I was trying to give our guest a quick tour, our health care staff was being very loud and boisterous.  I was a bit disappointed by how unprofessional they were acting.  Well, if you read the title to this post, you can see where this is going.  It turns out everyone was loud and rowdy because they were trying to kill a snouted cobra that had come into the office and made a home  under the desk.

Our data officer (a woman in her 30s)  jumped into the mix, grabbed a weighted stick (called a knobkerrie) and beat the snake to death then turned casually to join us for our meeting.  As we were walking past the office to our meeting room, they were cleaning up the mess and accidently slid the snake right in front of the PEPFAR officer’s foot.

I couldn’t help but crack up laughing because where else would an important meeting with a key funder be interrupted so a meeting participant could kill a cobra in the office. 

Obviously the most important thing is that everyone was safe (which they were) and it was good to know that if there had been a bite, the anti-venom was a few meters down the hallway.  There is actually a good side to things like this happening when our funders are here; it makes them realize that while most of the big wigs work in air conditioned offices in the city, the real work gets down in the bush away from all the amenities. 

In addition to cobras interrupting meetings, we have had financial audits where we have had to shut down the water system to run the office computers on the backup generator because power was out.  We have had site visits rescheduled because a monsoon caused torrential rain to wash out the road.  We have been delayed to workshops because of cattle crossings…

… it is all part of a day’s work!

Categories: Swaziland Tags: , ,

2011 Year in Review (AKA: US to Swaziland in 5 years or less)

January 14th, 2012 3 comments

The coming of a new year gives us a reason to reflect on the year that was. Inevitably, we notice how fast time goes by and how, in a relatively short time, so much can change. That notion of mutability was amplified for us in 2011.

One year ago, my wife Beth and I both had jobs we loved. We lived in a comfortable house in a quiet sub-division where we knew our neighbors. We had a great support network of friends and family. We drove cars that were paid off. Our daughter had every luxury a one-year old could want. Heck, one year ago, there was probably snow on the ground, Christmas candy on the table, a Netflix movie streaming over the Internet and left over food from our favorite restaurants in the fridge.

Today, as I am writing this reflection, I am sitting in the dark because a summer storm has knocked electricity out. My whole family is sweating because it hit the high 90s today and the humidity is unbearable. My back hurts from cutting the grass with a glorified machete. Going to town today to get our mail and groceries meant 30 minutes on dirt roads through the bush and then another 10-15 on “tar roads.” We are still mourning the loss of our dog that was killed by a 7’ black mamba. Everywhere around us people are dying of HIV, TB and neglect.

One year ago we lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Today we live in Swaziland, Africa. And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing.

In January of last year Beth was teaching, I was preaching, Mikayla was playing and life seemed normal. By March we had begun selling our stuff, saying the first of our goodbyes, making last minute arrangements and preparing for a huge transition. In July, everything we ever owned was either sold, stored, loaned out or in our suitcases and we would spend 72 traveling from the life as we knew it to the bush of Swaziland. A month later we had taken in two TB positive twins as foster parents, had experienced oppressive heat of the Swaziland lowveld, and begun to learn what it means to live in a new culture. By the end of the year, while still far from full adjusted, we had begun to accept our new normal.

Snow day 051 
January in the States

Mbabane and Mountains 150 
December in Swaziland

Suburbia to Savannah in a year may sound like an incredibly quick transition, but in reality it was the culmination of nearly 5 years of planning, praying and preparing. In 2007, Beth and I began to take inventory of our lives and started talking about our long term goals. Up until then, our lives had floated along a very positive trajectory; we were very happy with the way our lives were turning out, even if we weren’t overt about planning. But, slowly we realized that all the things in life we wanted to do could not co-exist. We could not commit to staying in Bowling Green to make a difference while also talking about pursuing Ph.Ds at distant colleges. We couldn’t talk about living overseas while also talking about living in intentional community with our friends. Simply put, we had to make a decision about which direction our lives would take in the coming years.

You would think a big decision like that would be difficult, but it only took one conversation over dinner to decide that at some point in our lives, while we raised our kids who were yet to come, we wanted to experience life outside the United States. I think even early on we realized that it was not important to have all the details figured out, but rather we had to know what general direction we were headed and then be faithful in pursuing it.

Over the next several years we researched opportunities, got in contact with people on the ground doing ministry, and gradually allowed our future to be shaped. It was a lesson in balancing intentionality with ambiguity. We had to learn how to stay on course pursuing a reality that we did not yet understand. We had to be bold in making decisions, but humble in allowing those decisions to change if needed. Slowly, as the details came into focus, we began planning for a life in Swaziland, Africa.

In July of 2010, Beth and I flew to Swaziland and met with over 20 individuals and organizations. Our goal was not to find a job, but to see what sort of work was going on and where we might fit into it. At the conclusion of the trip we were more confident than ever that we were on the right track in moving to Africa, but completely unsure of where we would end up. Once again, we continued planning, even if we didn’t know the details.

In October we were offered positions at Cabrini Ministries (http://www.cabriniministries.org)  in the St. Philips. The irony is that St. Philips is in the lowveld bush; that means it is in the middle of nowhere and ridiculously hot. We had intentionally avoided researching any opportunities in the lowveld because of the environment. However, when Cabrini offered us the positions, we realized that even if the location was not right, the place was perfect. It offered housing, paid a modest salary, was a safe place to raise a family, and provided the opportunity to live immersed in Swazi culture. Most importantly, it was a place where good work was being done that we could be a part of and the skills we brought were exactly what they needed.

In July 2011, when we finally arrived, we realized very quickly that the faithfulness and diligence of our preparation had paid off. When we began looking to live overseas, we wanted to be a part of restorative work that was driven by community needs and assets. We also wanted to head to place where we could be shaped as individuals and a family. We certainly found both. Here at Cabrini we are in one of the most forgotten areas of the country all of our work is dedicated to serving the needs geographically around us. We have an HIV infection rate of nearly 40% and nearly half of children under 18 are either classified as orphans or vulnerable children. In response to this Cabrini offers a full-service HIV/TB clinic and a child care program that includes 7 levels of care from comprehensive residential care to one-time needs assistance. Last year over 2,000 people received direct care or treatment support from the organization. One of the most phenomenal things is that most of our staff began as clients and have been capacitated to do the work needed. For instance, our current database administrator was left for dead on her homestead dying of HIV and TB and was slowly nursed back to health by our nursing staff. 2 years ago she had never seen a computer and now she manages a healthcare database that is more robust than what the government hospital runs! Of our 55 staff members, all but 3 are from Africa, and 44 of them are from within 25 miles of Cabrini.

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Cabrini’s Staff

In looking back at the transition we have gone through, it is easy to make things sound much more incredible than they really are. I can make the Kickert’s sound like heroes, but the reality is that most of the time, life is pretty mundane. On one hand crazy things happen here all the time (we have had two black mambas and a cobra killed within a couple yards of our front door in the last week), but then when I look at my actual day, I spend most of it behind a computer writing grant reports or doing IT work. Sometimes we spend 25% of our time without electricity, but we have decent access to internet. There are days where I may be in a national level planning meeting, only to come home and find that I have to chase cattle out of the garden. Last night Beth cooked cookies for the “Ambassador” to the EU (European Union) while I spent hours formatting report documents. I learned real quick that I can’t take myself too seriously.

A lot has happened in the last year, but all of it has been part of a dynamic yet consistent movement in our lives. Some people move overseas with only a few months notice; it took us 5 years. The hard part has not been the transition, it has been staying on course even when there isn’t a lot of action.

I have no idea what the next year or the next 5 years will hold for us, but I am confident it too will part of this direction we have been heading in for quite some time.

-bk

Cutting the Grass the Old Fashioned Way

January 12th, 2012 1 comment

When we first came to Swaziland, I found it odd that Swazis tended to get rid of all the grass in their yards, preferring instead to have "swept dirt."  That didn’t make sense to me since people in the US spend thousands on keeping their yards neat and green.

But, the first time I cut the grass the way most Swazis do (with a machete-like tool called a "slasher") I quickly understood the appeal of dirt.

Here is a video of me giving it my best at Swazi lawn care.

 

It is a short video because as soon as Beth started filming, I had to take a break!

Private Surgery

December 5th, 2011 1 comment

Many of our friends and family members have expressed concern about the quality of health care here in Swaziland, so I wanted to do a quick post to set their minds at ease.  Most people are aware that here on the mission we actually have two clinics: one specializing in HIV / TB and another that deals with general health issues / maternity / etc.  We have 8 nurses that live within a few hundred feet of us and a doctor who works with our clinic.  This is by far the closest we have ever been to basic medical care and assistance.

But, if that was not enough, we recently discovered a place within 20 minutes of that offers private surgery if we should ever need it:

Private Surgery

With a facility this close and convenient, we might just have to undergo some elective surgery.  I am sure it is cheap and we could always use a good appendectomy or lobotomy!

 

 

 

NOTE: This is obviously written tongue in cheek… but in all honesty, we do have access to surgical services within an hour of us, and "first world medicine" is available just across the South African border.