Lynne has been traveling throughout Africa since mid-February visiting the nations of Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia.
A few musings about my month spent in four African countries:
Traffic: Compared to North America, the general African public has a serene obliviousness to traffic. Vehicles, not pedestrians, have right of way. Even women carrying babies aren’t given preferential treatment; they have to wait for a lull in traffic to cross a street. Transport trucks, buses, motorcycles, men driving carts pulled by donkeys, bicycles, pedestrians (including schoolchildren) plus chickens and goats in the rural regions all share the road in an endless stream. In the major cities, there are huge traffic circles. In Nairobi, they are meant to be three lanes, but at least five lanes of vehicles go around at all times. No one signals; you might get one quick tap of the horn if you are in someone’s way, but really it is remarkably controlled chaos with no observable road rage.
Road travel: Distances in Africa are vast, and in some of the rural areas, the roads are abysmal. I have spent too many painful hours bumping and rattling along roads that have potholes three or four metres in diameter, and large ruts and rocks besides. In many cases, drivers veer off the “roads” onto the packed clay on the sides. Vehicles take a pounding under such conditions, of course, and our Operation Eyesight vehicles, which travel to remote areas much of the time, are no exception. Mostly hardy Toyota Hilux 4×4 trucks, even they have a life expectancy of only three or four years on such roads. When one of our Kenya drivers told me this, I asked how old was the vehicle we were currently in. He smiled. “Four years old.” Great.
Cell phone mania: Africa is connected. Even very poor people have cell phones attached to their ears like exotic earrings. Since many homes in rural areas don’t have electricity, there are cell phone charging stations every few kilometres down every highway, even in remote villages.
Education: Schooling is vitally important. There are flocks of school children, usually in colourful uniforms, and schools everywhere, from cities and towns to “the middle of nowhere” in the rural areas. Schools are obviously a central point for the communities.
Religion: Christian churches are equally vital in all communities I was in, at least, and praises to God are given in a public manner unaccustomed in mainstream North American culture. While in Accra, Ghana, on one street alone I saw: God is Great Plumbing, Blessed Prayer Hardware, My Saviour Lives Beauty Shop, God’s Good Name Chemical Store, and Time of the Redeemer Tire Shop. Lusaka, Zambia has a line of small buses called God is Great. Around Nairobi, Kenya, there are big trucks that have “God Bless Kenya” emblazoned across the back. Indeed.
People: Without exception, I’ve received extraordinary kindness and helpfulness from people I’ve met in all four countries. They translate for me when they can, and we resort to sign language when no translator is near. The children are great fun. I’ve played “peek a boo” with babies and toddlers and exchanged smiles with schoolchildren in each place. Only once, in a remote village near Narasoora, Kenya, did I make a toddler cry – she had never seen a “mzungu” (white person) before, and was clearly frightened of me.
Operation Eyesight’s people: And finally, a big bouquet for all the Operation Eyesight staff and partners I met over the past month. I have great admiration for the people who choose to work for Operation Eyesight here in Africa (and I’m certain the same applies to our India staff). From ophthalmologists to drivers to nurses, from optometrists to clinical officers to cataract surgeons, their outreach work is physically demanding and mentally exhausting. Almost invariably, they could find higher paying, less demanding jobs elsewhere. Yet everyone I talked to took great pride in their work, and has no intentions of slowing down. They know women, men and children need their help, and they are making great progress in preventing blindness in Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and Zambia.
Work that is meaningful and rewarding: there can be no greater gratification!