Swan Song

HELLO EVERYONE! It’s a pleasure to be reporting to you from the good old US of A. Since my Africa adventure has come to a close, this will be my last post on this blog. Well, that said, I suppose we should dive into it.

We left the MDC at about 9:00 Friday morning to begin the almost 6 hour trip back to Nairobi. This was really quite uneventful other than the poor nature of the road from the clinic to Narok (about 2.5 hours of the total road trip). Again, these roads are just really bumpy, and generally will shake your brains out of your head. I’m not going to lie—–I was glad I had on a sports bra. I had intended to take Dramamine before the trip since I did so before going to the clinic and had no issues, but I totally forgot to do so this time. I don’t usually get car sick, but by the time we got to Narok, I was ready to be off the bumpy road. At Narok it was finally time to say goodbye to William and Eunice. William, without knowing what Lucy had said, told me “Next time you come, I hope you have boyfriend.” Eunice just started laughing, which confused William, so we explained to him that Lucy told him I couldn’t come back unless I had a kid. He said “Oh, I’d be ok with just boyfriend. That’d be good.” I again just laughed, and said “Eunice, what’s your request?” At first she said “I have no request. Just come as you are.” Awww, Eunice, you’re now my favorite! Then she said “Well, maybe you should have 4 kids when you come back”. Eunice, you just dropped way down on the list as I can guarantee there will not be 4. Anyway, it was all in good fun, and we had a great goodbye. Now time to go to Nairobi!

Harrison is the one who drove me from Narok to Nairobi. It was a fairly quite and uneventful drive other than having a few traffic slow downs as we came up out of the Rift Valley. There’s TONS of truck traffic, and they can only go like 5 mph on the grade of the “mountain”, so that did take forever. We get to Nairobi shortly before 3, and Harrison asked if he should take me to the airport. Well, since I have 2 suitcases and a backpack, I really have no where else I want to lug these things around in this heat, so yes, to the airport. I get to the airport, and get ready…as this is quite the experience.

First, there’s like zero signage. So the plan of avoiding walking around with my luggage has already failed. I finally find where I’m supposed to go into the airport at, and there’s literally a security screening at the entrydoor. Metal detector, conveyor belt, the works screening. I have no boarding pass or anything yet, so the guy asks to see my flight confirmation. I show it to him and he goes “Its too early.” I said “Yes, I know I’m really early but I have no where else to go.” He accepts this answer, and lets me in. Ok, get all my bags and stuff through security (with my shoes on…we didnt have to take our shoes off here), and go up to the desk to the agent. She asks where I was going, and when I said NYC, she said “It’s too early”. At this point, I’m just assuming that’s they’re way of saying “You know your flight doesn’t leave until 11 right?”. Welllllll, not quite. I can’t even check in for this flight until 6:00. It’s 3:15. Ok then. I have to sit in the waiting area until 6:00. There is no access to food or drink—-I’ve had nothing but breakfast and feel like I’m about to die of thirst. But, I tell myself there are worse things and I can survive another 3 hours.

3 hours goes by (in case you were wondering….I’m still sweat soaked as this airport is not air conditioned), so I go back up to the counter to the same woman I spoke with earlier. She goes “Oh, you need to go to that line over there and they’ll get you at counter 3 or 4”. Alllllriight. First…why is there NO SIGNAGE. Second….why did you not tell me this the first time I spoke with you?!?! Sigh. Try not to get frustrate. Focus on the bottle of water waiting for you on the other side. Ok, so I stand in this like about 30 minutes before they finally start checking people in. We’re going to play a game through this process called “How many times do they check my passport and boarding pass.” After checking in, I have to go through passport control, so that is obviously time #1 that they check my “credentials” as we’ll call them. From there, it’s the 2nd security check. This time we did have to take our shoes off, but thankfully the only thing I had to take out of the bag was my tablet. All my other electronics could stay in the bag. There were two different people at this process that checked my credentials, so here’s time #2 and #3. I gather up all my stuff, and IMMEDIATELY search for water. I find a place to buy a bottle of water…where they check my credentials for a 4th time. Kid you not, before I could pay, I had to show my passport and boarding pass. I JUST WANT WATER! So, finally having achieved getting water, I down this bottle in about 2.7 seconds. In front of the store clerk. I think he may have been a bit concerned. But, I did not care, and was now a bit better since I was no longer dying of thirst. Alright, off to explore the airport.

There are like 8 gates, one shop (that I bought the water at) which really only had duty free alcohol, and 3 restaurants. Hmmm….ok….it’s 7:pm at this point…..4 more hours. I eat at the Hardee’s and have a burger that is not full of bones or gristly meat. Hallelujah. It’s likely going to be a shock to my system and make me ill, but it would have been worth it (It didn’t make me ill thankfully, and I was surprised). Also, interesting note, the manager of this Hardee’s was dressed in a 3 piece suit. Not exactly what I’m used to for fast food managers, but he was doing an excellent job and was sharply dressed. Good for him. I did not have to show my credentials here, but I believe this was an accident as there was a sign saying I would have to show them. But I was glad I didn’t.

Alright, even though our flight didn’t leave until 11:00, the boarding time was listed at 8:00. I did not adhere to that. I was not sitting on a plane for 3 extra hours. Not when it’s a 15 hour flight. They crazy. So, I did find a bathroom to change clothes, and killed some more time in the food court area. About 10:00 I headed to the gate. Alas…..security check #3. First stop, show the employee your boarding pass and passport (this makes check #5 for those of you playing along). Next stop, the conveyor belt and x-ray machine. The man in front of me literally had 3 laptops, his watch, his belt, his camera, his shoes, his jacket, and TWO bags. He took FOREVER to get his stuff loaded to go through the machine. Sheesh. Ok, now my turn—the only thing that had to come out of the bag was the tablet and I had to take off my shoes. I go through the x-ray scanner for the 2nd time today—-for those of you worried about dental x-rays, I assure you I just got more radiation in these 2 scans than I’ve had in a lifetime of dental x-rays. Now it’s time to pick up my stuff……except that for every laptop/tablet, they are taking a bandaid sized something and swiping it all over the device, case, etc. Multiple times. After I guess they decide it’s clear, they print off a little sticker and then stick it on your device. Alright, finally good to go. I start to proceed to the waiting area as the gate isn’t actually open yet, and I hear “MA’AM WE NEED YOUR PASS”. I’m like looking around trying to figure out who they’re talking to. It’s me. There’s someone at the end of the security screening conveyor belt checking passports and boarding passes! NOT 10 FEET FROM THE OTHER PERSON CHECKING THEM. Why, on God’s green earth, IS THIS NECESSARY?!?! I did not change identities in the last 10 feet. If I did, I wouldn’t use the name Shanetha. For the love of Pete. Ok, so credential check #6 complete, now time to board. Except we’re not boarding yet. It’s now 10:30. We’re in this incredibly tiny gate area where there is ZERO room between the rows of seats. I literally had to climb over people to get to an empty seat. Glad I didn’t get here at 8. At 10:45 we actually start boarding the plane. Praise goodness. Ok, they do one more credential check as you’re getting on the plane. Bringing our total to 7. 7 times they checked my boarding pass and passport.

The fight overall was uneventful. I had some medication that helped me get about 6 hours of sleep, so that was pretty good. I once again didn’t have anyone next to me as the person in the middle seat moved to an open seat once the plane doors were closed. The rest of the flight was spent watching movies. We get to JFK in NYC pretty much on time to snowy/foggy conditions. How they landed the plane is beyond me as I couldn’t even see runway lights out of the window. But they did, so props to them. Next up was clearing US customs. This was the part I was most worried about as I’d heard how much of a nightmare it can be at JFK. It took less than 2 mintues. Not even sure the first guy looked at my passport. Second guy briefly looked, said “Welcome back”, and sent me on. Ok then. Glad that went smoothly. I guess they figured since the people in Kenya checked it 7 times, they didn’t really need to look at it. Got my bags picked up, and then headed to find the American Airlines terminal to check in for my next flight. I finally figure out that I need to go to terminal 8, so I ride the airtram from terminal 4 to terminal 8, and find the AA check in kiosk. Alright, all checked in, and bags tagged, just need to drop them off. I have to say, the lady taking the bags was one of the most unpleasant people I’ve encountered in an airport. And I’ve been in a lot of airports with unpleasant people. She was literally yelling at people. For reasons unknown. No one was out of line, everyone had their documents ready, bags were already tagged. She was just…ugh. Alright, moving on to security. Where we find people even more unpleasant than bag check lady. I get it….it’s early, your job is not that exciting, it’s tedious, and yeah, people don’t listen. But every single one of them was horrible. I’m now back in the states where anything with an on/off switch has to come out of your bag (really? We somehow don’t have advanced enough equipment to scan this stuff in a bag? And why electronics? They tried to smuggle out dinosaur DNA in a Barbasol can in Jurassic Park. Just sayin’). Now, I have a tablet, my cell phone, chargers, my MP3 player, my camera, and my loupes with a LiON battery. ALL of this must be in a bin UNCOVERED. I have 4 bins. So, I’m standing there, and the TSA guy pushing the buckets looks at my loupes box and says “IS that a drone?” “No, sir, it’s my dental loupes which are magnified glasses for doing dentistry. It has a headlight with a battery”. He apparently thinks this is a BS answer and says “Ma’am I need you to open the case.” Alright, no problem—-I open the case. He looks at them for a good minute. Then he says “If I’d known it was that large of a battery, I’d have told you to put it in a separate container.”. This battery is the size of a pager. I didn’t even respond. I just looked at him, and then got in line to be full body scanned for the 3rd time in like 26 hours. So, after all that mess, I am now in the terminal at JFK ready for flight #2……in 4 hours.

I clearly immediately found a Dr. Pepper and some breakfast. Then actually used the rest of the time prior to trip from NYC to DFW to write most of this blog post. It comes time to board the plane….but there is no plane. Yeah, our plane was about 30 minutes late getting to JFK, so we were about an hour behind schedule. It’s fine…whats 32 hours in an airport/on an airplane instead of just 31. And of course, once we start boarding, one of life’s greatest mysteries occurs. Why, when there are set boarding groups, does EVERYONE immediately jump up and create a huge mass right in front of the boarding line? Why? This creates an impossible crowd to navigate and creates confusion as to whether or not you’re actually in the current boarding group. Just stay seated until they call your group. This is not rocket science. But alas, that would be too easy. So, after a giant fiasco of boarding and running late, we finally get in the air. The flight was actually quite turbulent, but I still managed to sleep some. We get into DFW, and of course everyone on the plane starts complaining about how they need off RIGHT NOW to catch a connecting flight. I get it, it’s worrisome, frustrating, and a hassle. But complaining loudly to everyone will not make the process faster. Nor will getting RIGHT UP ON the person in front of you. So, to avoid that, I just stayed put until all the “HURRY HURRY HURRY” people got off the plane. It then took another 40 minutes to get my luggage. Which ended up being fine as Mom and Dad got caught up in traffic due to an accident and weren’t quite to the airport yet. I, enjoyed the 40 degree weather while waiting. It was nice to see them, and we enjoyed good conversation on the way home along with a stop at Jason’s Deli to get me a much desired turkey sandwich. Oh, and another Dr. Pepper. We finally made it home about 7:45 ish (approx 4:45 am Kenya time). Unpacking will be waiting until tomorrow. My dogs were extremely excited to see me….once they figured out I was home! It was good to see them too.

Ok, so that concludes the narrative part of this entry. I’m going to close with some reflective type thoughts. I’ll try to keep them concise as I know this is already a long entry.

First, this trip was bucket list item for me. I have been wanting to do a volunteer trip to this clinic since I first learned about it in 2014. It only took a little over 4 years for it to happen, but I made it happen. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents who have so graciously kept my dogs over this last month, and who honestly never uttered one word of doubt or discouragement from the moment I said “I want to go to Africa” back almost 1 year ago. I’m sure that’s not the easiest thing to allow your child to do, but I am grateful for my parents who have alwasy been supportive of my goals and dreams. So thanks to you two, because I could never have done this without you. To everyone else who has a bucket list….you can make it happen. It took me a solid year of planning, mostly financially, to be able to do this, but, I WANTED to do this, and therefore made it happen. You can too….don’t wait until it’s too late.

Second, this trip has involved many things that make me proud. I’m proud that I just traveled to a foreign country on a separate continent, halfway around the world….BY MYSELF. I know there are many people who wouldn’t even think of doing that, so I am extremely proud of myself for doing it. I knew I could, as those of you who know me know I’m incredibly independent and do things by myself all the time, but this was obviously on a whole other level. And I as nervous about it, as anyone would be. But again, I am proud I did not let my anxiety keep me from it. I am proud to have experienced a culture so very different from the one that I am used to. New food, new people, new experiences. Most of them out of my comfort zone for sure. It may not seem like it, but I am very much a creature of habit, and stepping out of my comfort zone is not something I’m keen on doing. So, I’m proud of myself for realizing the value of the opportunities this experience provided me, and not letting that comfort zone control me. I’m proud of seeing 200+ patients over 19 days. I did way more dentistry in this month than I even thought possible, and I’m proud I stuck with it despite the heat and difficult extractions (and lets not talk about the root canals). I’m proud of myself for not having a SINGLE sunburn the entire time I was there (this is the true accomplishment really). Again, I’m proud of myself for just the whole venture, and it’s something I can talk about with great joy.

Third, if you’ve never seen a developing/third world country, you need to. Everyone needs to. Because there is no other way to describe it besides humbling. I have clean water anytime I want it. I have kitchen appliances that allow me to cook without traveling for miles to collect firewood. I have electricity to power those appliances. I have access to any medical, dental, vision, health care I could possibly need. I have more than 3 outfits of clothing. I have more than 1 pair of shoes. I have food everyday, and I can have a variety of food anytime I want it. I have a washing machine and a dryer. I don’t have to do manual labor in excruciating heat. I have a car that allows me to get places. I don’t have to sleep on the ground. I don’t have to walk through miles of manure everyday from all the livestock around. I don’t have to worry about dangerous wild animals. I have everything I NEED, and way more that I don’t. I have a very blessed life, and there’s nothing like a trip to a third world country to REALLY burn that in your brain.

Fourth, it’s going to be hard to make this point without sounding like it’s about me. But it’s not. It’s been great being able to use my skills to give back to a community who so desperately needs it. I hope that some of my dental friends consider volunteering at this clinic, as they truly do depend on great volunteers. I am so glad I could provide care to help alleviate the pain of of lots of Maasai people. And while culturally they don’t really say thanks, it was still awesome to know they’re better off than they were when they came in. I didn’t do it for the recognition, and I don’t talk about it for the recognition. I’d do it again in secret if that were possible.

Fifth, HUGE HUGE HUGE thanks to all of you who have prayed, sent words of encouragement, commented on posts, expressed enthusiasm, and just supported me in whatever way you did. Doing something like this was made 10x easier by knowing I had a MASSIVE support group back home. I am truly honored, blessed, and so so grateful for all of you. This adventure has been just as much yours as it has been mine. Words will never been enough to express my gratitude.

This was what most people would consider a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I would agree. I am so glad I did it, and I know it’s an experience that will be with me the rest of my life. I also hope to maybe be able to do it again in the future, if God’s willing. First though I should probably focus on becoming employed and eventually moving out of my parent’s house…..

In closing:

I will not miss rice everyday. I will not miss sweating profusely while trying to work (or really just sweating profusely constantly). I will not miss food being drenched in oil. I will not miss the horrible roads. I will not miss hand washing my laundry. I will not miss having to really focus on where my drinking water is coming from and whether or not my food has been adequately prepared. I will not miss having absurd amounts of food given to me at each meal. I will not miss the difficulties in communicating due to language barriers. I will not miss being 9 hours away from family and friends.

I will miss going on safari (I could do that everyday I’m convinced). I will miss the laid back pace of the day. I will miss having hours to read everyday. I will miss sitting on the porch and listening to the animals. I will miss being able to do dentistry without having to worry about the financial side of things. I will miss having an adventure story to share everyday. I will miss having access to so many new cultural experiences. Mostly thought, I will REALLY miss the people. They have been the best part of this entire adventure.

And even though I will miss the people in Africa, I am so very excited and grateful to be home. I hope to be able to share stories in person with as many of you as possible. Thank you again for joining me in the endeavor! I am officially back in Durant…..and in desperate need of a shower. And my toothbrush.

For the last time, Kwaheri and Olisseri!

Here is what one looks like after 32 hours of travel…with approx 2 more to go at this point.
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