Friday, November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

GHI’s 4th Thanksgiving Celebrations. . .

“We are each other’s harvest” and celebrating the essence of community was once again realised at the 4th Annual Gardens for Health Thanksgiving held on November 8, 2013. Helping coordinate the event and being part of a composite team, including young children, GHI board members and friends from the USA, GHI staff and community friends, was a fantastic experience. I definitely felt that I was in my element!

The preparation process was in full swing the day before when dedicated staff did the predawn trips to the market to purchase 1000 ears of maize and 700 kg. of potatoes, as well as much more produce. Decorating, cleaning, slaughtering and butchering 10 goats were also some of the list items on Thursday.

Cooking and food preparation began in earnest in the night and through the AM on Friday. The amazing cooks working over hot fires magically produced the food: rice, beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, turkey stew, goat stew, and maize. The delicious salad was prepared by another contingent.  As projected, lunch was served to about 2000 people (including children) right on schedule. An astounding achievement!

The festivities really began when the mamas enrolled in the GHI program from the Musanze District arrived via prearranged transport. These women had been in bus transit for about 2 hours, some walking about two hours before meeting the bus. For many it was their first time to Kigali.  Greeting them and witnessing their elation and excitement was very moving.

Before departure mamas from the eight different health centers sang and danced wholeheartedly, presenting their offerings of food from their own gardens resulting in an enormous cornucopia of food deposited on large mats. These offerings manifest true generosity in the purest form.
Luckily the ominous clouds building throughout the day did not break into downpours until after most of the departures. We were definitely blessed! Continuous music accompanied the work of steadfast dishwashers into the night with intermittent spells of fervent dancing.

Being part of the extraordinary Gardens for Health team for this event was definitely an important goal for me as part of my post-operative recovery and healing. It helps put much of life into perspective in terms of needs and gratitude.

For more photos please see the Gardens for Health Facebook album:



 Salad crew

 One more turkey for the pot

 Kale smoothies



 Musanze mamas arrive

 The queue

 Carla serves beans

 Exuberant dancers

 Julie with the offerings from the mamas

Carla & Helen 
Wonderful sharing this time
 with a dear friend from Maine

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rwanda Boomerang. . .

“You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine.”
Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

Stegner’s quote has always hit a deep chord with me, but minus the “dissolving” aspect, because I am doing fine! Over the past month I have had an opportunity to fully realize the rest of his words in a powerful and personal experience.

I was five days into my fifth time at Gardens for Health (a planned two month stint with a definite agenda of projects) when out of the blue I awoke from a great sleep having significant discomfort with basic breathing accompanied by a sharp pain in my posterior chest wall. Intuitively, I felt that this was not a pulmonary embolus, but most likely related to bronchiectasis, a chronic pulmonary condition I have dealt with for the past thirty years. Coincidentally, this also happened to be the exact 20th anniversary when I had the lower lobe of my left lung surgically removed in 1993.

Without wanting to be an alarmist or go into “freak out” mode, I observed my signs and symptoms for 36 hours and started my ‘usual’ regimen of antibiotics. I felt in control, not feeling as though I was experiencing a medical emergency. I felt safe and trusted my mind and body. When it became obvious that this was not a transient situation I decided to enter into the Rwandan medical system and went to the emergency room at King Faisal Hospital, the best Kigali has to offer. It was the beginning of a ten day long swirl spending many hours at King Faisal as an outpatient; including visits to the emergency room (twice), radiology (chest x-ray and CT scan) laboratory and having a consultation with the only pulmonologist in Kigali. He was an avuncular type who I intuitively trusted and respected and South African trained. His diagnosis was a significant abscess on my lung, which would require surgery “sooner than later”. This set the ball in motion to return to the USA as soon as possible for further evaluation and culminating with thoracic surgery on 10/10 in Portland, Maine with the same thoracic surgeon as 20 years ago.

In Kigali it was humbling to realize how fortunate I was to have the capability (both financial and self advocacy) to readily access these medical services. It was enlightening to experience the medical system in Rwanda first hand. “Pay-as-you go-in-cash” was a new approach for me. (An emergency room visits was ~$8 USD, the CT scan with contrast ~$145 USD, and the specialist visit ~$16 USD.) Throughout my dealings with the staff in all areas, I was impressed with their caring and professional manner which was not just due to my “muzungu” status, as I had plenty of opportunity to observe their interactions with Rwandans while waiting. Some of their professional training still needs finessing such as implementing the rudimentary and crucial name and MD order match up.

Once I was ‘in the system’ back in Maine, the advanced computerized technology and systems were mind boggling, especially since I have not worked nor been a patient in a hospital for many years. (Despite, these systems, I was ALWAYS asked my name and date of birth before any medication or procedure.) Similar to Rwandan health care workers, compassion and care were characteristics of all
those I encountered.

I am convinced that my baseline good health, a positive attitude, terrific medical/surgical and nursing care, and a global abundance of support and love, has helped my healing process tremendously. As a result, I was given medical clearance by my surgeon and infectious disease specialist to return to Rwanda within three weeks of my surgery.

I am very grateful to be back amidst the Gardens for Health community. I am pacing myself as I try to pick up from my surprise month hiatus in Maine and feeling really well as I gain strength each day.  Helping coordinate and prepare for the 4th annual Gardens for Health Thanksgiving preparations (anticipate 1500-2000 people) has been my main focus. I am back in major list mode, but always mindful of Stegner’s words!


Day of departure Kale drink before
Kamanda's wedding festivities

There's a Rwandan tradition that people hold
their right breasts to transmit strength and
solidarity to others during challenging times.
Turi Kume means "we are all together."
These photos arrived the morning of my surgery.

Helen with pre operation positivity

Helen in list and scheming mode