And now I am back in Kenya – but just for 30 hours on the way to Bangladesh. Thursday afternoon and night, I flew the 3300+ miles from Liberia back across the continent and tomorrow afternoon, I will fly another 4500+ miles to Dhaka, Bangladesh and then few hundred miles beyond that to Cox’s Bazaar in the south of the country. I will arrive there late afternoon on Sunday.
This has been an odd week in which I kept pretty busy – but was never quite sure what I was accomplishing. I was involved Monday through Wednesday with the West African College of Surgery general meeting. Dr. Yakoubou Sanoussi (right) from our about-to-be-opened program in the SIM Galmi Hospital of Niger arrived Sunday night and I enjoyed his company throughout the week. He was to be inducted as a full Fellow on Friday morning after I had to leave.
Post-war Liberia is much better now than the first time I visited several years ago, but it still struggles. Even finding facilities to hold such a conference for 1500 people was difficult for the local organizing committee and the venues kept changing until the last minute. As late as Sunday night, we got an SMS telling us where the next morning’s meeting would be held. The one really nice thing is that one of the local cellular phone companies gave free SIM cards to all the attendees along with enough time to call home. With those numbers in hand, they were able to use mass SMS messages to coordinate things a bit.
Monday was the day of ceremony. Scheduled to start at 8:30, it began at 10:30 and went until 2:30. All the officials were there (including the Minister of Health, Dr. Walter Gwenigale and Her Excellency, President Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel laureate), all protocol was observed to great lengths and little was said. The best thing the morning held was the opportunity to reacquaint myself with many friends. Professor Mbonu and Chris Bode (my brother by a different mother) were there and we took a picture together (below). It is compared to the one we took when they inspected all our sites in 2007 on behalf of the West African College of Surgeons. I also saw Bill Martin (who I knew from the Liberian Ministry of Health and the Mercy Ship), Professor Archampong (one of two editors of the main WACS textbook), Professor Christopher Samkange (President of both COSECSA and the Pan African Association of Surgeons – PAAS), Professor JK Ladipo (who had helped us with PAACS oral exams in Cameroon a few years ago) and several others I had met when observing and participating in the WACS oral examination process a few years ago.
The main reason I came to this meeting (besides paying my dues) was to meet with the Executive Committee. On Tuesday afternoon, February 28, Yakoubou Sanoussi and I represented PAACS in a meeting with West African College of Surgery officials held during the Annual General Meeting of WACS in Monrovia, Liberia. Back in December when I met her at the COSECSA meeting in Zambia, the WACS President, Dr. Bomi Ogedengbe, had asked for the meeting in an effort to bring the two organizations closer together. The WACS administrative team, consisting of the President, the Secretary-General Dr. Clement Nwawolo, the Second Vice-president Dr. Akinyinka Omigbodun and the chairman of the surgical faculty Dr. King David Terna Yawe, were unanimous in their desire to make it work. Full reciprocity was felt not to be possible (much to my disappointment) but the SG was instructed to provide to us the information necessary to help PAACS arrange its rotation structure in such a way that the PAACS evaluation process would be considered equivalent if WACS surgeons participated in the process. Other stipulations were made but concessions were also made in such a way as to make it more PAACS-friendly. The PAACS administration and Commission will be considering the options open to it once the full information is received. We have moved off the starting mark a bit again, but it will take a lot of work to meet the requirements. However, with the Galmi program beginning in Niger, it is now much more important that we do so.
The flight Thursday was “interesting” (as in the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”). As I walked up to the line, the man in front of me was none other than Professor Yawe who I had met on Tuesday. We had a long time to talk as we waited and then sat next together on the plane from Accra, Ghana to Lagos, Nigeria. He would then bail me out in Lagos airport – but I am getting ahead of myself. As we talked, I found that he is the son of a pastor, a born-again Baptist and friends with Professor Wole Adebo, a Nigerian brother in the Lord whom I respect very much.
We were flying Air Nigeria to Lagos. They refused to check my luggage through to Nairobi (they were doing it all by hand including the writing of tags, so maybe that was part of it). I would have to go through immigration in Nigeria (without a visa), get my bag, wait in line at the Kenya Airways counter to get a boarding pass and check my bag, then go through immigration and security again (without a visa) and then get on the plane. You can imagine my lack of enthusiasm, even with a three-hour layover as a cushion.
The plane arrived 20 minutes later than our scheduled departure time. After 30 minutes, they loaded us on the shuttle bus, drove us to the distant plane parked on the tarmac and then refused to let us off. They took us back, made us disembark from the bus and then treated us like mushrooms (keeping us in the dark and feeding us manure). Finally, two hours after the scheduled departure time, they loaded us up again and let us on. They called this an “operational delay”. The truth was that Air Nigeria had to find money to pay their landing fees at the airport before they would service the plane and let it leave.
The flight to Accra was unremarkable and while on the ground, I tried to find out my options for the next flight after my scheduled one. I got hold of Micky by SMS and e-mail, and she checked with the agent. There was a flight at 11:30 the next morning but she couldn’t change the ticket without generating a charge. I decided to gamble.
We flew to Lagos and arrived with about an hour and 15 minutes remaining. It would be none too long. The immigration line was at least 20 people deep, but Professor Yawe talked to an immigration person, explaining the situation. Professor Yawe got me and bulldozed his way to the front of my line to talk to the man again. The immigration official held my passport (without stamping it) and let me go through to get my bag. The bag did not arrive until the third plane was unloaded and it seemed to take forever as I watched the minutes tick by. It was past 8:40 PM when the bag finally showed up. We found the immigration man holding my passport and I bid adieu (and many thanks) to the Professor. Dragging both bags, I followed behind the immigration official as we went through and around all sorts of checks and security checks, gaining dirty looks from those already in line. He cut through the crowd and since there wasn’t room between the people for my two bags I was pulling, I had to hustle to keep up with him, often carrying the heavy bags sideways rather than rolling them. We got to the Kenya Airways counter only to find it closed already! We found one man who “happened” to be walking by and who could help us. For unknown reasons, there was my boarding pass sitting on the counter. He gave it to us but said we would have to check the bag at the gate. So we went back through all the security again (this time putting both bags through the machines but fortunately they didn’t stop me since I was with the immigration officer). We hustled to the gate and got there about a few minutes after 9:30. Fortunately, the plane had been late in arriving and they were just disembarking. They took my bag, tagged it and I just stood there and sweated. I asked the immigration officer if I could show my appreciation without breaking any laws. He said it was okay (J), so I gave him a $20 tip – a bargain at any price. I really appreciated his kindness in doing that. I could have never made it any other way. I thanked God for making the plane, for the Professor and for the kind immigration man.
After an early morning arrival, Friday was a day of laundry, catching up on e-mail (still couldn’t get on the internet because some steamer dropped its anchor earlier this week on the fiberoptic cable off the coast) and catching up on the sleep I had missed on the plane. You can see from the pictures that it was a beautiful and restful place!
- Today, I fly to Dhaka, Bangladesh thru Qatar and then on to Cox’s Bazaar in the south of the country before driving back northward to Malumghat and the Christian Memorial Hospital there. Please pray for traveling safety, for some sleep as I adjust to another time zone and for my interactions there.
- Praise God that my father went through his urologic procedure without difficulty. They were able to do it under spinal anesthesia and he went home the same day. The cytology report from the bladder washings is still being read as suspicious; more biopsies and washings were taken yesterday.
- Please keep Micky and Sean in your prayers as we are apart. Please pray for my daughter Bethany, my father and my brother-in-law as they face various health issues.
- Pray for the PAACS team as we craft our response to the Loma Linda University report and as we begin to think about how to adapt to the WACS stipulations.
I will be heading home in three weeks from tomorrow. I am ready. But I thank God for His healing and His goodness. I also thank Him for all of you, for your prayer and financial support that makes this possible.
Bruce for Micky and Sean