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Hope is the Spark that Changes Lives

“Ma’am, I must tell you that you missed your connecting flight to Entebbe, so make sure you make arrangements to spend the night in Addis Ababa when you arrive, ok? Don’t worry, your bag will go straight to Entebbe.”, says the beautiful stewardess when asked if she thought my bag would make it all the way to Entebbe, even though I have a short connection time. Ugh. I must arrive in Uganda tonight because I have a 5-hour drive tomorrow to a city called Fortportal, from where we’ll visit a couple hospitals AFCA supports.

She pushes up the sleeve of her shirt and I take in a deep, but silent sharp breath. She shows us what looks to be a specialized cancer that HIV+ people sometimes get and my heart breaks. Her baby needs to nurse, so she rolls her sleeve down and puts the baby to her breast, where the little one feeds hungrily.  My head can’t stop the thoughts – is the baby ok?  Is mom taking her medicine to keep her viral load low, hopefully suppressing the passage of the virus to her baby?  As I try to think as positively as I can, I know I am fooling myself and that really, adherence to the medicine has been poor.  Otherwise, why is this cancer ravishing her body?  I can tell she has a fever and offer Tylenol I have in my bag, which she readily takes. I look at the nurse and she shakes her head sadly.  She later tells me, “you’ve seen the dead walking.  She won’t live long.”

Mombasa. Just the word brings such memories to mind, as I’ve been coming to this city for 11 years now. Mombasa, Kenya – a city of contrasts: dust, dirt, poverty, wealth, loud music, the historic old town, horrible and smelly slums, malls, and humidity. Mombasa, I am sure, has great hotels, but right now, I am in one of the not-so-great ones. It is safe and clean, so I am not complaining. I am merely explaining the situation here: loud music fills my ears as well as the call to prayer from some nearby mosque. The fan above my head moves slowly, unable to penetrate the mosquito net above my bed which means tonight is going to be a hot, humid sleep. Unfortunately, that same mosquito net is also thick enough to stop light, so I am reading sitting straight up on an unforgivingly hard chair. The bathroom is attached to the room and one glance confirms that when I shower in the morning, the entire room will be wet, as the shower head is practically above the toilet (not quite, but just off) and the sink, with no curtain to stop water from soaking everything. It takes three flushes of the toilet to make paper go down, but since there is no garbage can in sight, I can’t do anything else with the paper.

13 security checks. Thirteen!! The Nigerians take their security seriously for people boarding planes, but not so seriously that a single person actually goes through my bags. Thirteen different people confirm that I am who my passport says I am. They actually say, “Weaver Tanya – is that you?” and I refrain from laughing as I confirm that indeed, I am Weaver Tanya. If I had a fake passport, I sure wouldn’t take this moment to reveal it!

I face a crowd of 250+ K-5th grade children at the American International School of Abuja and explain how they, through a run/walk they take a part of, have helped children by giving them livestock, school supplies, and medicine.  I can’t help but smile when I see their little faces showing excitement and wonder and I can almost see them planning how they’d do more during their next walk/run.  To finish the celebration, the children’s choir dances and sings “Living Your Dream”, inciting clapping and dancing from the crowd as we watch on. Super cool!

10 hours is a long time to kill, especially when you killed 9 hours only 1.5 hours ago.  But that is exactly what I am doing – reading, walking, reading, walking, stretching, eating, reading, walking. I knew Heathrow Airport rather well from my visits to Africa and now, I know it EXTREMELY well.  I know where every bathroom is located and I know which food I prefer.  I know which areas are always crowded and which have extra seats for nomads like myself.  I park my body and backpack in a quiet area and finish another book.  I watch people and am amazed by the variety, the colors, the textures, the expressions, the joys, the sorrows, the angst, the happiness, the hugs, the pushes, the smiles, and the excitements.

Bazillion hours later, as 9:30pm approaches, my gate is on the board and I start making my way to another terminal in search of my flight to Abuja.  Abuja…a city I’ve never visited, but which has ties to AFCA for 5 years now. Abuja is where the American International School of Abuja is located and it is where I am headed, to say thank you to the children of that school for supporting AFCA’s work. 

The train ride to Philadelphia is uneventful. I read and think and think some more.  I let my mind go blank and I breathe deeply.  Before the ride, we ate breakfast with my parents and celebrated Juju’s birthday a little early.  It was beautiful to see her light up when she received all the books she’d been wanting and I as I sit on the train, I imagine her reading to Aiden about the Land of Fang.  I can see his eyes gleaming, listening and asking questions from time to time, absorbing all she reads to him.

indy500Have you ever wondered how some nonprofits get represented in a big way, like on the Jumbotron at the Super Bowl or between races at the Indy500? AFCA will be featured in the 100th running of the Indy500 at the end of May! We received a call from the company that coordinates the Jumbotron saying that they had extra slots available specifically to nonprofits. From a marketing perspective, it was a little challenging to weigh whether this was the right event for a nonprofit that benefits children with AIDS in Africa, but when we considered the demographic that attends an Indy race and value of the spots, we realized that advertising on the Jumbotron could be a lot of fun for AFCA. 

What makes us do what we do?  What makes us value the life of a person we’ve never met and might never meet?  What is the difference between those who value the lives of others and those who don’t really bother to even think of others, but rather, focus on themselves?

We ask these questions as we watch clips of Martin Shkreli and hear about his antics on TV and social media.  How does a person become so self-absorbed to the point where they feel no problem raising the price of an important medicine from $13.50 to $750 per pill? We see Mr. Shkreli smiling when asked questions about what he has done, not caring about how his actions affect anyone other than himself.

Hello! It has been a while, so I'm finally getting around to finalizing my story of Kilimanjaro. This part won't have many pictures, for reasons you'll soon understand. So you're left to my description of it, and I'll do my best.

I left off last time just as we were to "sleep" all afternoon, then be awoken at 11pm for a meal and a midnight hike. As I explained, I was nervous. I had been working toward this for over a year. I raised over $8000, bought and organized gear, got quite a few shots, selected plane tickets, broke in gear, trained...It was an odd feeling. Never in my life have I worked SO hard for something with such a culminating, focused ending that I didn't already know! College, sure, but I knew I'd graduate. Having Audrey, of course, but that was "only" 9 months, and I was confident in her arrival. But this? Failure was possible. But alas, there I was.

Start of Day 5.

Morning at Karanga Camp, 13,100'.
Morning at Karanga Camp, 13,100'.

At this point, every morning felt a bit the same. Drink a perfect cup of coffee from John, crawl into some clothes, some or all of which may be clean if I was lucky. We would often announce things like, "Hey everyone, I have clean socks/pants/shirt/bra!" if it was such a day. Fiddle with my blister, which although hadn't improved after four days of hiking, also hadn't worsened. Stumble out of the tent, gasp and the view, fight with hair, enjoy the hot bowl of water outside my tent to wash with, then roll in to the dining tent with empty camelback and water bottles for breakfast.

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