Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Next Phase

It's possible that someday I will come back here and add more about our time in Gamba. I would like at some point to sum up what our experience was like - but I can't promise it will happen.

We moved to Sakhalin at the beginning of September, and I have finally managed to set up a new blog, More Miscellany. Now I just have to start posting something...

It is going to be about more than just life over here, but you can definitely check in on how we're doing.

As time goes on - the information on this blog will become more and more outdated, but from what I hear, some things never really change about Gamba. So if you will be going there soon - maybe this can still help you out!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Big Changes

So…big changes around here. We have found out our next assignment – Sakhalin Island in Russia. It is just north of Japan. In so many ways, this will be a big change. For the kids, this is the only place they have known as home. No more French, but we need to start learning Russian. And the weather. Not to mention the other things, like that we won’t have Lea anymore, we are leaving our friends here, and we will again be packing our stuff up and waiting for our container to arrive in the new location.

All in all – really big changes.

As for the blog – in theory I am going to blog about moving to Sakhalin as well. So you can all see the changes with us. 

For now, we are going through our things, seeing what we are going to sell and what we are going to take with us. It is weird too, to think that we have gone through our last elephant season – and we might not even see any more before we leave. There are so many things coming up that will be our last in Gabon. We’re trying to prepare the kids as much as we can without overwhelming them. It’s going to be a challenge!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Medical Care

Okay, I think I promised a post about medical care almost two years ago. Which is a bit ridiculous. But here it is.

Medical care here in camp is…just fine, for normal everyday living. There are a few doctors (I honestly don’t know the number, three or four I think) who are all on staff and share the duties of being on call over the nights and weekends. Right now (and since we got here) there is one expat doctor (first was Dutch, current is British) and the other doctors all speak English and are highly qualified as well. In fact, depending on what your issue is – sometimes it is much better to see a local doctor as they are very well versed in local skin issues and parasites and such.

If, however, you have something a bit more serious, things get tricky quickly.

It is not advised to have someone come here who has serious health issues. They recommend not having older parents visit if they are frail in any way. The biggest issue is just the remoteness. The clinic is capable of getting a patient stable (they can do IVs and have medication and supplies that you would expect for this kind of thing) – but it can take up to two days to arrange and execute a medical evacuation! If it is something more minor – you might get flown to Port Gentil or Libreville, either on a Shell flight or by helicopter (again depending on severity of issue and also the plane schedule!) – but for bigger issues they need to get you to either Europe or South Africa. You can imagine how this is not ideal in the case of say…a heart attack.
I personally have had two experiences with the limitation of care here, neither of which, thankfully, was very serious.

I had a strange growth above my right ear in my hair – had thought it was a psoriasis spot, but then when I changed my eating and the rest of the psoriasis cleared up, that spot didn’t. If anything, it seemed to have gotten a bit bigger. So I went into the clinic, expecting to be told it was nothing.  

Instead I was told…I’d like you to have that looked at within the next two weeks. The doctor didn’t really want to have it tested here, as there were potential issues with sample collection and transport – and then he wasn’t sure the testing facilities were what they should be either. He said it could be nothing, but we won’t know until it is looked at, so you might have to be gone for two to three weeks.

So Kaya and I hopped on a plane to Houston within a week, with the hope that we would be coming back in three weeks time.

It ended up being nothing - seborrheic keratosis – which, awesomely, is something you usually get when you are old!! So, while grateful that it wasn’t anything worse, I felt a little sad that my body is older than I think I am!

The other time was about two years ago. Long enough ago that it was the Dutch doctor who was here.  
I was pregnant, but hadn’t been feeling right for a few weeks. And then I started spotting. All prenatal care is done in Port Gentil, but I was going to wait and have my first appointment done in the states, since I was heading home for a vacation anyway. I was about eleven weeks.

I went into the clinic on a Thursday or Friday, knowing they did no prenatal, but figuring at eleven weeks, they should be able to tell if there was a heartbeat or not. They did an ultrasound, all the while saying, we don’t usually do these, so the results might not be as accurate…I said I understood all of that, I just wanted to know if there was a heartbeat. My gut was saying there wasn’t.

They did the ultrasound and asked how sure I was about my dates, as the fetus did not look eleven weeks. I knew that meant I was going to miscarry. Or rather, that I already had, but my body hadn’t caught up yet to the reality of what was going on. So they made an appointment for me in Port Gentil for the next Monday or Tuesday (the gynecologist only takes Gamba appointments on certain days) – telling me we don’t know, everything could be fine and the baby is just younger than you thought. But I knew. And at that point, I was okay with that. I hadn’t been feeling pregnant for a few weeks.

That weekend I started to miscarry.

Before we had left the states, my sister had miscarried in a scary way – hemorrhaging and ending up in the hospital. And that was definitely on my mind.

So when I went through four pads in an hour, I knew we needed to call someone. Especially since there wasn’t much they could do for me here in camp.

Oddly, no one picked up on the emergency number. This is never supposed to happen, but I am convinced it happened for a reason. We called our neighbor and friend who also happened to be not only trained in first aid, but an instructor of first aid courses. I figured she would be good to have around in case I passed out.
Once she got to our house she was able to immediately get through on the emergency number – as one would expect. The on duty doctor called us back, and that was when we figured out why she was there. The duty doctor on that day happened to only speak French. Did I mention she taught some of those first aid courses in French? 

Anyway, we made our way over to the clinic and Kathleen explained everything to the doctor. They arranged for me to be on the next Shell flight to Port Gentil. It happened to be right before a school holiday, so I got to ride, on a stretched on the plane with everyone heading out on their holidays. Which ended up being convenient, as the Dutch doctor was also booked on that flight, so he could accompany me to Port Gentil. Brant and Xander could not, as the flight was full.

By the time I got to Port Gentil everything was pretty much over. (In a not quite so funny mistranslation experience – the doctor there told me “You have had an abortion.” And while it’s true that spontaneous abortion is another name for a miscarriage, it’s hardly one that is used much in the US!) I didn’t need any blood or anything, though they did put me on an IV.

They kept me there for I think two nights – and Brant and Xander came out to see me and really, as far as medical emergencies go – it wasn’t one. But at the time it felt a bit scary. I have to admit to being paranoid about the thought of needing blood while in Africa. It definitely made me realize just how remote we really are. And just how little can be done in camp if something ever does go wrong. 

Anyway, shortly after I did get pregnant again and we had Kaya and we all came back here – because it really is a great place to live. Just sometimes you have to not think about what ifs. 

My cutie Kaya on her second birthday

Friday, January 24, 2014


I was rereading some of my old posts and noticed I need to put in a few updates!

First about kids night – there is now a new company who is in charge of all the facilities and food. You can no longer buy the tickets in sheets of ten – and they have raised the price for the adult tickets. But the food is usually ready earlier and has improved a bit in quality. And you no longer need a separate ticket for dessert, it’s all included in the price of dinner.

Second – about my eating – I now don’t eat animal products except occasionally fish. No more eggs or dairy. And no wheat. Bit of a long story – but basically I have psoriasis on my head and eating this way makes it go away. Started reading Joel Fuhrman and thought I would give his nutritarian concept a try – and then more specifically his autoimmune protocol (which is where the no wheat thing came in). It’s a bit tricky, though partially just socially as no one knows what to make for me!

Kids are still doing well – Kaya turned one in April and Xander turned four in November and they are definitely playing with each other now. It’s pretty cute. I’m sure there are a million other things, since I almost never update this blog, but there you go. That’s what I’ve got for today.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

One of the Great Things About Being Here (Food wise)

Okay, I wrote this ages ago. Like when Xander was still not getting juice and I cut up grapes for him. Now he tells me - I like to eat seeds. And I let him. Anyway, besides that, this is all still pretty valid.

Pretty much everything in the store here is from Europe.  And that means that it usually doesn’t have artificial dyes.  This is partially because a lot of the ones we use in the US are banned in Europe.  In addition, they rarely have genetically modified produce.

I haven’t fully decided what I think about genetically modified foods, because most of them haven’t been around long enough to have any information about them – good or bad.  When it’s the kind of modifications that have been being done for centuries – crossing this plant with that one to make it better, stronger, whatever – I am just fine with it.  It’s when it gets into the grayer areas that I’m not sure about. Pretty sure I don't think it's cool to modify them with pesticides and things like that...

But I can say this – the grapes here are fabulous.  At least this one type of small dark grape – at least in French, they are called black – but they are delicious.  Xander points to them when he sees them in the store and he can barely contain himself when he can see them on the counter and knows he’ll be getting some soon.  Brant as well loves them.  I’m slightly less enamored, but I don’t know that I’ve ever liked grapes as much as Brant has.

Brant is convinced now – that we sacrifice flavor when we get rid of seeds in grapes.  It’s true, these ones have seeds.  For me, I kind of like the convenience of seedless.  But I am willing to cut and de-seed grapes for my son, especially because I can see how happy they make him.  (Oddly, I am happy to do that for him – but give up time on email to play with him?  I do that begrudgingly sometimes…)

I’ve always been pretty convinced that we sacrifice flavor for size.  You know how in the US when you buy strawberries, whether fresh or frozen, they are gigantic?  But if you grow them yourself they are tiny?  I just opened a bag of frozen strawberries here – and they are tiny!  In fact, our bag of frozen raspberries has some berries that are bigger than the strawberries.  But man are they sweet strawberries.

So there are definite perks here.  In addition – Europeans are very good about labeling their allergens, which is only starting to pick up in the states.  Thankfully, this is not actually an issue for me, but having known a lot of people with food sensitivities and my sister’s recent discovery that she is gluten intolerant, I can definitely appreciate the labels.

So back to those food dyes…I am so glad that I don’t have to worry about them here!  Also usually the products here don't have the artificial preservatives. Like sodium benzoate. Despite being in just about everything in the US - it's not in things here. Not even the soda...which is made by the same companies of course...There has been research linking sodium benzoate to ADHD behaviors - and that if you remove it from the diet - it's about as effective as ritalin. So I'm all for not putting that in my kid. Or in me.

In addition, all of the juices that we can buy here are 100% juice.  They are pretty much all juice blends (even the orange juice and apple juice) but at least they are 100% juice.  We haven’t started giving Xander juice yet, but at least when we do – we don’t have to think about it.  Anything in the Economat will be 100% juice.

So, even though the selection here leaves something to be desired, and the freshness and quality are…well, lacking at times…there are still perks to being here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Accidental Vegetarian (or Pecetarian if you want to get technical)

A week before Kaya was born, my dad had a (non-fatal) heart attack. He was 62 and did not have cholesterol or blood pressure levels high enough to be on medication. He had a belly, but generally seemed pretty healthy. He exercised a bit and didn’t eat terribly. It was pretty much a huge shock to all of us.

As heart attacks go – it went amazingly well.

My mom says that Kaya was late in order to save my dad’s life. If she hadn’t been late, my dad never would have been in Houston. He’d have been in Los Alamos instead. In addition, my mom convinced my dad to drive down the night before he was planning to. Which means that he was in my apartment instead of driving on the road. On top of all that, he recognized early signs of a heart attack. He took some aspirin and had my mom drive him to the emergency room. They were there before he started to get chest pain.

The hospital I sent them to was maybe a bit further away than another one, but it was the first that came to mind. It happened to be Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, which houses the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute ( They have a whole floor dedicated to catheterization.

By the time they got my dad in – he had 100% blockage in his right coronary artery. (Apparently less dangerous than in the left.)  They were able to put in a stent and everything was done so quickly that he had very minimal damage to his heart. They told him it would probably be hard to see even.

So if you’re going to have a heart attack – do it that way.

Anyway, before my dad’s heart attack I had read The China Study. In it, Campbell argues that animal proteins cause pretty much all western diseases. I thought it had interesting information in it, but didn’t feel that his findings supported his argument to be vegan. He pretty much says that you can actually eat a little bit of animal protein, but it’s safer just to give it all up because otherwise you will underestimate how much you are eating and will still probably get sick. It had at least convinced me that I should eat less.

But I remembered he talked about some guy who had reversed heart disease by putting his patients on a vegan diet.

So I looked him up – and recommended my dad read Esselstyn and also Dean Ornish. I read them as well.

My dad’s numbers weight and health all improved. Prior to his heart attack, his total cholesterol was around 200 – with fairly low HDL (he doesn’t remember the specific numbers). About three months ago, his total was 98 – with an LDL of 54. His HDL is in the 30s, which is lower than they would like it to be, but he has already added back in things like nuts to his diet to help bring it up. His numbers were even lower when he was super strict about his fat intakes. He has also lost about 25 pounds.

My sister and I decided that genetics were not working in our favor. In addition to our dad’s heart attack, his brother had had a quintuple bypass and both of his sisters had been on medications for blood pressure and cholesterol.

I liked Ornish’s idea of all food being on a spectrum. He says that if you are going for prevention rather than reversal of heart disease you do not need to be as strict. Everyone should aim to eat on the healthiest end of the spectrum, but it’s not the end of the world if you eat from the less healthy categories here and there. (Unless you already have heart disease, in which case you pretty much have to stay on the healthiest side. However, my dad was told specifically by his cardiologist to add in more nuts, avocado, olives and other things that are not in Ornish’s healthiest category.)

I decided that I would go ahead and be vegetarian at home. I wouldn’t worry about it at other people’s houses. I had the goal of cutting out dairy as well, but so far that hasn’t happened. I would continue to eat seafood. I had been leaning in that direction anyway after reading The China Study and also Food Matters by Mark Bittman. (Bittman argues for less meat, but not for complete veganism. His argument is both for health and also for the environment.)

But as time went on…and it was longer and longer since I had eaten meat…it suddenly seemed really strange to do so. I do still eat seafood, and as I mentioned, I still eat dairy and the occasional egg. And so, it was a bit by accident, but I no longer eat meat. Since I do eat seafood, I am not a vegetarian, but sometimes it’s easier to explain it that way. Not many people really know the term pescetarian.

I have only recently started telling people about it, and it still feels weird.

Kids’ Night

One of the odder experiences when meeting new people here has been the response, “Oh! You’re the one who has the blog!” (or the slightly more embarrassing…”How come you haven’t been updating your blog?”) Definitely when I started this I assumed I’d be read just by my family and maybe a few curious friends.

But apparently – this blog is one of the only things you can find about life in Gamba in Yenzi Camp.

Initially, I had planned out all kinds of posts to give more information to my family about what everyday life is like here…and so now I’ll go ahead and write a few of them. If only to give some more information to folks who are planning on coming here.

So today we’ll talk about Kids’ Night. On Friday nights they have a club night for adults, but Wednesday is for the kids. One of the main advantages of Kids’ Night is that they actually start serving food at 5:45. On a normal night you are lucky if you can get food at 7. Which is way too late for my kids. The other advantage I didn’t really appreciate when Xander was younger.

We always went to kids’ night – but mostly just so I didn’t have to cook one night a week. It was always a bit chaotic – watching him, trying to eat quickly while feeding him, taking turns getting to finish dinner or walk around with him…

As Kids' Night begins, some folks are playing tennis and some play squash.

There is also a volleyball game on Wednesday nights.

On a hot day the pool is full before folks go to get food.

Now that Xander is older – it really is kind of an amazing night. We get there around 5 and Xander is off and running, playing with all the other kids. When we go get food – we hand him his ticket and he goes through the buffet and sits with other kids. Then he’s playing some more. The hardest part of the night is when we tell him it’s time to go home. 

Even the younger kids have fun.

Every time I tried to take pictures of all the kids playing...they disappeared!

This is where both my kids have learned how to climb ladders.

This is what Kaya does most at Kids' Night.

After eating - more playing.

Did I mention the kids sleep really well on Wednesday nights?
(Quick word about that ticket part in case you are actually moving here – you do need a ticket both for kids’ night and for the club night on Fridays. You buy the ticket in the bar – and for kids’ night it is possible to buy a sheet of ten – which is marginally cheaper than paying each time. You can also buy tickets for dessert, which is usually ice cream. We have managed to avoid that up until now, but now Xander has started asking for dessert, so we might have to start buying those in sheets soon too!)

Anyway, the food is often not that great. Though since they got a new chef recently, it has actually improved. When we first got here it was often mostly fries and chicken nuggets and pasta. There are still fries every week, but it has been months since I’ve seen a nugget. There are often sausages and chicken, fish, and always a vegetarian option, in addition to pasta, rice, and several sides like green beans, curried lentils or vegetables, carrots, pretty much anything. There are also a few salads, fruit and a selection of desserts. (They have cakes and such from the bakery – the only dessert you need a ticket for is the ice cream which they serve from a different location.) 

One of the friendly servers.

Fries, beans and carrots, cabbage and curried veggies.

Rice, meat, sausages

Chicken, shrimp skewers, pasta, marinara and carbonara sauce


Fruit and condiments

Dessert and juices

The line is just beginning

It really is a pretty nice night – the parents get a chance to sit and chat and the kids run around and get exhausted. Even with a toddler, it is still…hmmm, I was going to write fun, but I’m not sure it’s quite the right word. It is a bit chaotic, trying to eat and feed your kid before they lose interest and want to be running around after the big kids…but it’s not that much different from a normal night. So it’s still nice to not have to think about cooking and to have at least snatches of conversation with other adults. 

Still the early stages of dinner.

Folks eating and chatting - though we have definitely moved on to the chasing the kids around stage by now - actually by this time of night we are usually rounding up Xander to head home!