Rather than the light rains of the night before, it rained heavily all night such that we knew the drive would be very treacherous. Given that the roads would be questionable, I had Ema drive again and was very quickly justified in doing so as we were slipping and sliding our way to Upper Kitete. Driving an extended Land Cruiser which is more a less a tank along a slippery, rain soaked mud road with drainage ditches usually run on one if not both sides can be a bit nerve wracking to say the least. The good news was that the road past Kambi ya Simba has been recently improved and has a layer of ground up brick or cinder to improve traction. The improvement worked as planned and allowed us to finish our trek to the tiny village of Upper Kitete sitting on the high escarpment above the Rift Valley, but further to the north.
Where Kambi ya Simba has a very nice clinic or dispensary now, Upper Kitete is somewhat the opposite. There is a small government building that serves as the dispensary and there is a clinical officer and a nurse working there to provide the routine baby care primarily. We work in one office, which is where the nurse does medical work, and a second room that serves as the labor and delivery room with two beds in it. The office is also shared with a colony of bats that live in the attic and can often be heard through a large opening in the ceiling during the day. Their smell is clearly present, though, as there is the strong odor of bat urine in this room and, to a lesser degree, the the labor and delivery room next to it. I had been concerned for some time that I was exposing everyone to rabies by working in these rooms, but have since found out that African bats do not carry it like their North American counterparts do. At least that’s what Frank has told us and I’m pretty certain he wouldn’t joke about such a serious subject.
Often at Upper Kitete, our visit coincides with the well baby visits and it is always so reassuring to see all the beautiful and healthy babies here with their mothers getting weighed and checking in. Today, there were only a few of them coming for visits and Jess ran into one baby named Jessica and was so thrilled to have found someone here with her name. Each baby being weighed usually has it’s own little harness to attach to the scale hanging from the ceiling. It is a very cute process to observe and some of the babies are so calm and could not care less while other babies exercise their lungs until well after being taken down from the scale.
Our patients today at Upper Kitete were mainly headache patients and we didn’t have the normal number of patients we have seen here. We also didn’t have many of the return patients we had seen a year ago with epilepsy which is a bit concerning and I was hopeful they might come the following day or possibly have been coming to FAME to get their refills of medications which we’ll find out next week during our big clinic there. This has been the difficulty with following patients here in that we can make the diagnoses and treat the patients initially, but if they don’t follow up to refill their medications, all goes for naught. Jess and Jackie worked together after lunch as we had so few patients, but at least there were a some.
We finished quite early and decided to make a run to the overlook which is our favorite spot at Upper Kitete. It overlooks the entire Rift Valley from Lake Manyara on one side and far up the Lake Natron road on the other. There is so much history in this valley from pre-historic times to the present and there are many ancient cultures that lived here and long ago vanished. It is such a relaxing place for me as we watch the large birds of prey soaring on endless up drafts in search of prey. There are small dots of white on the valley floor 2000 feet below that are herds of cattle and goats as the Maasai graze their livestock and I can only imagine the huge herds of wild animals that use the roam this land. Some of them are still present as I have seen zebra, giraffe and some wildebeest along this valley when I have driven up to Lake Natron in the past, but we can’t spot them today from these heights. There are homes along the rift with perhaps one of the best views on this planet, but it is unclear is that is really appreciated here as it would be in the west. Prime real estate here has to do much more with fertile land for planting and away from any flooding. As we sit here on the edge of the world I think we are the luckiest people on the earth at this moment.
We left for home after the overlook and the road had dried significantly, but not completely. It was early so we were all looking forward to spending some downtime in the afternoon at FAME. I have spent my last three birthdays here in Africa and I had been very successful at maintaining a low profile with very few people realizing it. This year was not to be the case. When we arrived back to FAME I was told that I should be ready to go somewhere at 6:30pm so I obviously presumed that our little group was going somewhere for dinner to celebrate my birthday. That was not to be the case. As we arrived at the Highview Lodge nearby there was already a large number of friends including Pam, our previous volunteer coordinator form several years ago who I had not seen for some time. Frank and Susan, of course, Joyce, Verena, along with many of the staff from FAME. In the end, I think there were perhaps 30 people assembled and we sat outside having drinks at a very long table watching an amazing light show in the Ngorongoro Highlands with a lightening storm approaching.
After some time we went inside for dinner and all sat at a very long table and more people continued to show up as the evening went on. Dinner was a delicious buffet and I should have taken the hint when Jess continued to pass on desert. Suddenly, all the lights went out and we heard the entire kitchen staff singing and as they came through the dining area they were all dancing behind a birthday cake one of them was carrying over their head. It at first seemed like they not have known which table was celebrating, but it became quite clear that they were first dancing to every table before they set the cake down. They finally made it to our table and stopped in front of me but continued to sing and dance for some time before they put the cake down. It went on forever it seemed. I finally blew out the candles while they continued to sing and went on for some time more before they finally retired to the kitchen. It was quiet for only a brief time, though, and we heard them singing again and out they came, dancing through the tables and back in front of me. By this time I had begun to cut the cake and pass out pieces when Pam told me that it is tradition for me to feed each one of the dancers a small piece of cake with a toothpick. I cut up a bunch of small, bite-sized pieces of cake and proceeded to feed each one of them a piece of cake as they continued to sing and dance.
Besides the party, I also received a wonderful gift of a portrait painted by Denis who is one of the workers at the Lilac Cafe, the small cafe here at FAME. He does amazing work that is displayed and for sale in the cafe, but the portrait is really over the top. Most of his work is Tinga style, but this is real life and very accurate. It will have a place in my office or my apartment as soon as I’m home.
Apparently, the fun wasn’t over yet as they next urged me to come dance with them. Anyone who knows me well is quite aware of what it takes to get me to dance, but I wasn’t about to disappoint anyone, so I got out from behind the table and began to dance Charanga style with them. When I showed Leonard the photos later he began to laugh so hard he couldn’t stop and when he finally did, he said he was pretty impressed. As I said, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and certainly didn’t want to give anyone the impression I was a lightweight. It was a totally amazing night and a birthday I will never forget. It was so great to have so many people come out for my party and a real statement as to the family that FAME is here. Everyone is here because the want to be and everyone is here because of the good that comes from FAME. I couldn’t imagine anywhere I would have rather been that night.