A CANDLE OF HOPE Travel Journals - 2004 Democratic Republic of Congo

Tuesday, February 3, 2004: Karawa, Congo:The hospital at Loco had been built by the Belgians as a leprosy hospital, but it had never been finished or used.  Then in 1963 a Covenant Church doctor by the name of Dr. Carlson traveled to Congo and began working among the people.  He was shot to death by warring soldiers, and later the government honored the request that the facility be given to the Covenant Church as a permanent memorial to Dr. Carlson.  It was a fine facility as far as Congolese medical facilities would go, but oh my goodness, it needed everything!

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 In the late afternoon we once again bounced down the dirt runway and headed south to Karawa.  As we were trying to beat the darkness we ran into a horrific rainstorm above the jungle.  Sam, the MAF pilot, was flying our Cessna and for a while we completely lost all sight of the runway, the jungle, the sky, everything.  He almost had to pull up and out of the approach path because we could not see anything out the front or side windows.  Then suddenly there was a break in the fierceness of the burst, and Sam caught a glimpse of the runway and set the plane down in the layer of rain and mud.  We were back on the ground in Karawa.  It was dark as we walked from the landing strip area down the jungle pathway to Keith and Florence Gustafson’s house for candlelight dinner with the two MAF pilots. 
I felt great admiration for the missionary pilots.  They risked their lives on a daily basis to keep open the only available lifelines into those remote areas.  There were simply no roads available from Kinshasa to the health facilities in the north.  Part of our challenge at Project C.U.R.E. was to figure a way to transport the donated medical goods into northern Congo.  No one else had been willing to accept that challenge.  But after having been there I was convinced that we could get the goods delivered even if we needed to ship them into Douala, Cameroon, and transport them inland across central Africa and into northern Congo.  I believed God would help us figure out a way of delivery.
At about 10:30 p.m. our candles were burning low and our energy was burning even lower, so we stopped our discussion with the pilots and the Gustafsons and I went to a nearby guest facility in the old compound.  There was once again no electricity and no running water.  The only water was in a rusty, 50-gallon barrel, and there was just a plastic bucket to dip the water out and pour it over myself in the darkness of the Karawa compound.
Mosquitoes were on the lookout for soft, white, Scottish/Irish meat and blood, so I had to hurry right along and get in under the safety of my mosquito netting over my bed.
Over the years of Project C.U.R.E.’s existence God had been gently preparing me to adjust to really bad and awkward situations in the most remote places of the world.  I had slept in Kyrgyzstan in a log house in the middle of a severe winter storm with the snow blowing in through the spaces between the logs and onto my bed.
I had experienced thugs in India who wanted to rob me.  They tried to smoke me out of my hotel room in the middle of the night so they could attack me when I came out of the toxic smoke for air.
Living without electricity or running water had been my lot in places in India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Africa, and Central America.  Burma was a lot cleaner, but every bit as remote and primitive as anything I was putting up with in the Congo.  But God had allowed me to gently adjust and be able to cope over the past nearly 20 years without the feelings of panic and fear.  I had traveled around the world enough to know that it was already “tomorrow” somewhere in the world.  Instead of getting overwhelmed by the tough circumstances, God had allowed the candle of hope to burn just a little brighter as each tough circumstance occurred.
Wednesday, February 4
I was up at 5:30 a.m. and ready to meet for breakfast with all the medical doctors and hospital department heads.  It was good to also be traveling with the president of Congo’s Covenant Church and the medical director of all the northern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

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 Our touring part of the assessment took us until 12:20 p.m.  Following lunch I had group and individual meetings with the leaders of Karawa.
The Karawa Township had about 350,000 villagers tucked away down jungle pathways.  Plus, people traveled on foot for many days to get to the Karawa hospital for help.  There were five doctors stationed at the facility along with 35 nurses.  Only about 50% of all the patients could pay fees for their help.  Some patients' families stayed at the hospital to work to pay off their medical bills.  The Congolese government paid nothing to support the hospital or the 48 rural health clinics that fed patients into the hospital.  In fact, the government would send its soldiers to Covenant Church clinics and hospitals in expectation that the church would cover all their expenses. 

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The Karawa hospital was the largest of the hospitals I visited but was totally pathetic.  Again, as with the hospitals in Loco and Wasolo, they were trying to make their own IV solutions out of poorly filtered water that was in no way sterile.  They desperately needed a new 20-kw, electric generator to cover their “current” needs. 

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They needed almost everything for their surgery room and there was not an EKG machine, ultrasound, defibrillator, sterilizer monitor, ventilator, centrifuge, cauterizer, working x-ray machine, lead apron or gloves or good microscope anywhere in sight.  They were washing all the surgery gowns and contaminated surgical drapes and sheets by hand in an open tub.  I thought, as I viewed, “my God, we have so much excess and these people have absolutely nothing!”
But I knew down deep inside me that God loved those village people as much as he loved my successful sons and it was imperative to help them in their need. They had an old autoclave someone had given to them.  But it had not worked.  So, the maintenance people had stripped everything from the outside of the autoclave down to the pressure tank, then adapted it so that they could set it in a pit of hot charcoal to get it hot enough to steam.  It did not thoroughly sterilize even the operating room instruments.
When I had walked the halls and different wards I noticed a four-year-old boy whose shirt had been ignited by an open cooking fire. 

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The shirt had stayed on him and burned him.  He was sitting upright in an old dirty bed with no sheets underneath a makeshift mosquito net.  His mother was sitting close by trying to comfort him but the hospital had absolutely nothing to treat a burned child.  He would probably die in a few days from infection.  The mosquito netting would certainly not be enough.
Another teenage boy was in a filthy bed.  They threw back the covering over his lower leg.  He had a tumor below the knee.  His lower leg was as big as his thorax and almost impossible to move.  “He is not strong enough for us to try any kind of surgery so it just keeps getting larger,” said the doctor who was with me.
At one time the Karawa compound had been a thriving community.  Then wars came and even people like the Gustafsons and many of the medical staff had to leave the country.  Now they were returning, including Keith and Florence Gustafson, to try to help strengthen the needed facility.  That was why Project C.U.R.E. was there.
As I returned to my mosquito-net-enshrined cot and my rusty water and plastic dipper, I reflected on my experiences at the three different Congo hospitals.  Nowhere else in my 17 years of Project C.U.R.E. had I seen hospital beds so disgustingly filthy, or walls, floors, and ceilings that so desperately needed paint to cover the dirt.

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There had not been one working monitor in all of northern Congo.  All doctors, nurses, and medical staff personnel were indigenous workers who were discouraged to the bone.  The only defibrillator I had seen was a monstrous contraption that looked like an electric execution machine out of a Cambodian torture prison (fortunately the thing did not work).
At my final meeting with the doctors and head nurses, I made them promise that if I sent them pieces of medical equipment for their hospital they would be trustworthy in throwing out all the old “prehistoric” pieces of equipment that had not and did not work.  Together we would start on an adventure of hope and pride and together we would push for excellence and significance at the Karawa Hospital.  They loved it!  The president of the Covenant Church of Congo, Rev. Luyada, the medical director of the zone, Dr. Mbena Renze, and the hospital chaplain all appreciated it immensely!
Thursday, February 5
I was up at 4:30 a.m.   Sam and Rod, our MAF pilots, would be ready after breakfast to take us on our long airplane ride back to Kinshasa.  Keith Gustafson stayed at Karawa so our first flight segment back to Gemena was to drop off Rev. Luyada.  At Gemena we picked up two paying passengers who needed to get back to Kinshasa.  They were two US embassy workers who had been out to Gemena studying the possibility of placing some grants and loans for development in the area.
We flew another seven hours in our cramped Cessna 206 jungle flying machine, stopping once to refuel at a MAF base.
At the Kinshasa airport I met up with another MAF pilot who had helped me on my previous trip to Congo.  After hanging around with the pilots while they refueled their planes and tied them down, just outside Kinshasa’s main terminal, the three of them took me back to their headquarters office.  It was in the same building where Larry Sthreshley had his office.  As we drove up Larry came out to greet me.  He had insisted that I spend the night with his family before going on to Cameroon.
However, Rev. Mossi and Mr. Ndimbo, my official Covenant Church hosts, said that Martin had stayed home from her law school classes all day to prepare dinner for me.  So, it was agreed that I would go to Rev. Mossi’s house for dinner then they would take me to Larry’s home to stay the night.
The Sthreshleys and I stayed up into the night discussing my previous visits with them in Denver, in Younde, Cameroon, and Douala, as well as Kinshasa.
I can’t tell you how nice it was to sleep in a house with some cool air, clean sheets on a regular bed, and real lights and nice warm water from a pipe in the clean shower stall.  It all felt so good.
Next Week: Shipping into Northern Congo   


Sunday, February 1, 2004: Kenshasa, Congo: I awoke at 6:00 Sunday morning so I would be ready when the old yellow Trooper arrived to take me back across town.  I rolled out from under my tent thankful that my new accommodations had some air conditioning.  At the guesthouse where I had stayed on my previous trip to Kinshasa there had been no air conditioning and I had really struggled.
The faithful driver delivered me back to Pastor Mossi and Martin’s house next door to the Evangelical Covenant Church.  Martin had prepared eggs, bread, and tea for me for breakfast.  The couple had three sweet little kids ages seven, five, and two.  I was the first white man that the little two-year-old girl had ever seen.  She may never get over it.  Mr. Ndimbo joined us as we prepared for the church services. Pastor Mossi had been a pastor for nine years.  He and Martin met while singing together in a choir.
Over 300 of the faithful gathered in the small church building for the service.  But, they all got their monies worth.  The service lasted for over three and a half hours.  I was asked to speak, but my two minutes were not what constituted that length of time.  They had lots of good African, spirited clapping and swaying music, a one-hour sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, full communion, lots of announcements, and introductions and prayers.  But what I considered unique was the collecting of the offering.
The deacon in charge of the offering brought out large plastic laundry baskets.  Two women marched to the front of the church and each held a basket and faced the congregation.  Amid hot guitar music, African drum pounding, hand clapping and group singing, the offering was gathered. 

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 The church was easily sectioned off into groups by way of the facility’s physical layout.  So each group marched to the front of the church and passed by the two ladies with the waiting laundry baskets.
The baskets were changed after each group had passed by and dropped in their offering.  Those filled baskets were then rushed out and the contents counted immediately.  It took quite a time for all 300 people to march by and drop in their money.  But by the time the march was over and the singing of one last chorus finished, a tally had been made, disclosing how much each section had given.  The offering deacon then hilariously announced, amid a lot of excited cheers, trills and hooting, which section had won the giving contest.  Each basket had a total and then they added all the basket totals up.  The announcement of the grand total then sparked a lot more praising and clapping and drum beating and singing.  I would imagine that close to 100% of the people in the congregation had given something.  And as I understood, that process would take place each week.  It may have been the first time I had ever witnessed such “joyful giving.” 

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 Following the morning service we walked back to the pastor’s house where Martin had prepared fried fish, rice, casaba roots, and boiled chard for us.
I was delivered back across town to the missionary guesthouse.  Upon arriving I was met by two young Caucasian men who told me they were from Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF).  They were there to check if there really was a Dr. Jackson who would be going with them Monday morning in their airplane to the hospitals in Loco, Wasolo, Karawa, and Gemena in the northern part of Congo.  They also asked me to show them how much luggage I would be taking with me.  However much space I didn’t take up in the plane they would fill with cargo to deliver to the north.
The MAF personnel coming to my door certainly gave me the assurance that there was a plan for me for the next four days.  I told them that I had flown with MAF over the years in other parts of the world:  Brazil, Zimbabwe, and even in Congo the last time I was there.
I was sort of waiting for the ugly yellow van to come and pick me up for a bite of food when dinnertime rolled around.  But dinnertime came and went and about 9:25 p.m. Pastor Mossi and his family came by to talk about my trip to the north and then said they thought it was too late to take me to dinner.  For such a time as that I was glad I had a granola bar in my bag.
Monday, February 2
At 4:45 a.m., I moved the mosquito tent off me and went down the hallway to share the bathroom with a legion of cockroaches and spiders.
At 6 a.m., a white van arrived with two MAF pilots.  After a brief stop at their headquarters building we honked our way through the Kinshasa morning traffic zoo to the municipal airport.  Even though I was flying with a private carrier, I nonetheless had to go into the terminal and proceed through passport control and all the security functions.
Sam and Rod would be my pilots for the next four days.  Sam was from Sweden and Rod originally was from America.  They had both joined MAF as flight missionaries and had been assigned to Congo.  MAF provided a most valuable service to the missionary communities throughout developing countries by enabling them to fly to points within a country otherwise unreachable due to inaccessibility or time restraints.
There was no place to get any breakfast Monday morning, and my stomach growled a reminder to me that we hadn’t had dinner the night before either.
General Joseph Kabila, the new president of Congo, passed us on the road to the airport with his entourage of motorcycles, mounted 70mm canons perched atop pickup trucks, black limos, 4x4 Suburbans, and lots of flashing lights and sirens at break-neck speeds.  Just for passing by the airport, officials there would shut down the entire airport for a half hour after he passed.  So we sat at the entrance and waited and watched our scheduled flight time get pushed back from 8 to 8:30 a.m.
MAF kept three of their airplanes at the main airport at Kinshasa.  The plane we would be using was a single-engine Cessna 206 with five seats and some luggage space, a capable little plane to be getting out of valleys in the heart of the Congolese jungle on mud and grass runways.
Our flight path took us north and a bit east.  We flew for about an hour and a half, and then landed to refuel in the small village, Suliaim, where MAF kept a spare airplane. Our next leg of flight took us on north for nearly four hours to the old insurgency city of Gemena where we took on an extra passenger, Rev. Luyada, the president of the Covenant Church of Congo. 

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 Another takeoff and another nearly one-hour flight took us to the landing strip of Karawa, a Congo town of about 350,000 people.  Keith Gustafson, our main Covenant Church contact in the north and the medical director for the whole Wasolo medical zone, and Mbena Renze joined us on our little plane as we once again took off and flew to the town of Wasolo.  There, scores of village people came to meet our airplane on the dirt and grass runway another hour and a half later.
It had been a full day with over seven hours of flight time to get us from Kinshasa to Wasolo in our small Cessna craft.  It was getting dark as we walked from the landing strip to the compound where we would be staying.  Since there was no regular electricity there we decided to eat first and then hold our introductory meeting with the medical and church leaders outside around the lanterns.
Keith Gustafson and I shared a small room together.  Candlelight was our source of lighting, and water was dipped from a bucket.  The people were kind enough to give us mosquito nets to go over our beds.  We were in a “high malaria” area.
The Belgian colonizers were greatly influenced by the Catholic Church when the Covenant Church made their request for some ground to build a medical center and church in the old Belgian Congo.  The Covenant Church was given a “worthless” piece of ground almost inaccessible from any of the main roads.  Over the years it had been improved to a lovely campus of rolling hills and beautiful jungle trees and flowers.  The remoteness actually worked to an advantage over the years because during the many wars and atrocities in the Congo, the different armies tended to leave the compound alone because it just took too much effort to go there and burn and kill.
Tuesday, February 3
Tuesday morning I met with all the doctors and staff people of Wasolo Hospital at 7 a.m.  Wasolo was an area of about 50,000 villagers, and the Wasolo Hospital had 11 different outlying health centers feeding into the main hospital.  There was no water system for the area or for the hospital, but a public well was close by.  The hospital, over the years, had earned a strong and positive reputation and drew from a much larger catchment area than just the main town.  I discovered that throughout Congo a lot of the surgeries such as caesarean births and appendectomies were performed not by doctors but by the attending nurses.  Nowhere did I see a functioning anesthesia machine. Surgeries were performed with local injection or nothing at all. Dental services at Congolese clinics or hospitals consisted only of extraction procedures.  Deadening was used occasionally if available. The illnesses that most often affected the villagers were malaria, acute respiratory diseases, meningitis, diarrheal diseases, sleeping sickness, TB, HIV/AIDS, anemia, whooping cough, measles, and many varieties of intestinal parasites.
Following our tour of and assessment procedure at the hospital, the doctors and healthcare staff all met with me back at the chapel for some very informative discussions.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the MAF plane met us at the grassy runway and whisked us off over the jungle floor to bounce us into the medical zone of the Loco hospital.  Once again we were met by scores of common villagers wanting to welcome us to their area.
We knew we were under time pressure because we needed to finish our work quickly so that we could utilize the final daylight to fly on to Karawa before it got dark.
As we made our way in the back end of a pickup truck to the Loco hospital from the landing strip, I really struggled with how in the world those remote jungle hospitals could even continue to exist.  There were 14 health centers or rural clinics that fed into the Loco hospital, but it had been ten years without the use of even the most simple x-ray machine.  They had no dental facilities, almost nothing in their surgery room.  They had never known an EKG machine, a defibrillator, suction pumps, or an anesthesia machine.  They were even trying to make their own sterile IV solutions out of a simple series of fabric filters.
One of the nurses told me they knew if they had not done a good enough job on filtering the IV solutions because the children would get the “jerks” while receiving them.
There was no such thing as a continual electricity supply.  Patients simply waited throughout the night and a small generator was used if there was a “drastic emergency” for the operating room but the high cost of diesel fuel prohibited much use of even the small generators.
Just our “showing up” brought great encouragement and hope to the tired doctors and nurses.  You could just feel the surge of excitement and enthusiasm pulse through the hospital as we walked the halls and talked to the patients, the department heads and nurses.  No other groups had come alongside those remote jungle hospitals.  Hardly anyone else knew them.  Hardly anyone else came.  The desire to help those needy people burned a hole right into me, and I could hardly wait until they received the first shipments of Project C.U.R.E. donations.
Next Week: A Candle of Hope  


Friday, January 30, 2004: Kinshasa, Congo, Africa: The operative word that characterized my life with Project C.U.R.E. was “flexible.”  I had been expected to change directions faster than the alternating colors on a traffic light at the busiest intersection in town.
I had returned home from Kigali, Rwanda, just in time for Christmas.  I was scheduled to go right back to Africa in early January.  Organizations in Angola, Congo, and Cameroon were anxious for me to perform needs assessment studies in those countries so they could start receiving donated goods from Project C.U.R.E.
I continued to travel with two valid US passports, which, admittedly, was highly unusual.  But while on one trip using my first passport I would have a visa service in San Francisco or Washington, D.C., that could hand-carry my second passport to the different embassies and obtain visas from those countries where I would be traveling next.  When I returned home I would simply swap passports and the process would start all over again.
The passport service company had received my one passport even before I returned from Rwanda.  However, it had been held up in the Angola consulate because the application was not accompanied by a satisfactory letter of invitation into that country that.  Eventually, we got the necessary paperwork and Angola placed the desired visa into my passport.  But the process over the holidays had burned up a lot of days.
The week before I was to leave, the visa service company informed me that they now had Angola’s visa and only needed to walk through the process to obtain the proper visa from Congo.  Previously they had procured my visa for Cameroon.
Based on their assurance that there would be no problem with the process at the Congolese embassy, and that they would retrieve the passport and immediately put it in the overnight FedEx delivery, Anna Marie and I went to our travel agency to pick up and pay for the non-refundable airline tickets for the Africa trip.
Behold, behold, a problem arose out of nowhere.  As the embassy officer looked at the letter of invitation for me to visit their country he noticed that it did not match up with his country.  “Are you not aware that there are two “Congo” countries and they sit side by side in Africa?”  The visa service had delivered the paperwork to the offices of “Republic of the Congo” rather than what used to be “Zaire,” which is now called, “Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  An easy mistake.
By the time the problem was ironed out and I was able to get my precious passport back into my eager hands, our departure dates for the airline tickets had come and gone. It was a very costly series of errors, indeed.
Within the time frame left there were not enough days to visit all three countries, so, since it had been the folks in Angola that had caused the greatest delay, we had to notify them that we would need to reschedule our visit with them in March.  We agreed at that time that Project C.U.R.E. would also grant their request to assess some of their additional hospitals located in the country of Liberia.
Friday, January 30
Anna Marie took me to Denver International Airport on Friday morning where I boarded United flight #1100 to Washington, D.C.  After a brief layover, I continued on United #958 overnight to Brussels arriving at 7:10 a.m. on Saturday.  We had not scheduled any overnight layovers for the trip so I at once continued on from Brussels to Kinshasa, Congo, with some intermittent stops, and finally arrived at 8:40 p.m. Saturday night with ten additional hours of time change from Denver.
On the flight segment from Denver to Washington, D.C., I began to reflect back on the recent success and excitement at Project C.U.R.E. and thanked God once again for his faithfulness.  I was in total awe when I realized what God had done through the simple little operation called Project C.U.R.E. in the last 17 years.  We were now shipping into over 95 different countries around the world.  That was a lot of countries! Project C.U.R.E. was now becoming known as the largest supplier of donated medical supplies and pieces of equipment in the world.
One thing that had helped me immensely was having Anna Marie now working side-by-side with me full time.  Since she closed her school, Academy for Excellence, she had now taken the new position of coordinating all the needs assessment operations around the world.
Our recent audited financial statements showed that we had been able to run our operation worldwide and keep our overhead expenses to an incredible low amount of less than 2%.  It was nothing short of a miracle!  Most humanitarian organizations would burn up 60% to 85% in overhead alone, which left only a small amount that actually went to the projected needy.
Most of our people, including Anna Marie and myself, would never take a penny for salaries.  It was a volunteer-driven effort and we believed we were making God smile.
As you could well imagine, it was just a privilege to be a small part of the historic miracle.  Thousands of lives were being saved, and honor and glory was being brought to God.
The only thing I had not totally adjusted to in the recent process was the absence of my mom.  She was fully in love with what God was doing through Project C.U.R.E.  She prayed daily for my protection and for God’s blessing on Project C.U.R.E.  I would barely walk in the door from a long trip and she would call just to see how everything went.  She knew exactly where I was traveling all the time and prayed for me continually.  She rejoiced in every good thing that happened to Project C.U.R.E.
It had been about 90 days since God had agreed that she had better come on home to heaven.  Quite frankly, I missed her.  I missed her prayers and I missed telling her all about the good people being helped around the world.  But I did get a sense that she was in a plush box seat in the grandstands cheering us on as we continued to run our race.
Saturday, January 31
Upon arriving in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, at about 8:45 in the evening, Rev. Mossi Nzimba, the overseeing Evangelical Covenant Church pastor, met me along with one of his churchmen, Mr. Sido Ndimbo.  Mr. Ndimbo would interpret from French to English for me.  We loaded into a dilapidated yellow Trooper and the official church driver worked his way across the city to the Kasa Vubu district of Kinshasa.  Pastor Mossi’s wife, “Martin,” was waiting on us for dinner. She had prepared whole-fried fish, casaba, boiled eggs, and some chicken pieces for us, along with fried plantain. 

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The meal tasted good and I was appreciative, but it was 11 p.m. when we were served our bananas for dessert. By 11:30 p.m. I was bumping back across Kinshasa in the beat-up van to a missionary guesthouse where I was scheduled to stay the next two nights.  The place was dark when I arrived but the little African guard opened the gates and let us in.
My hosts sort of handed me my bags and told me they would pick me up at 7:30 on Sunday morning.  I asked if I was to take breakfast at the guesthouse in the morning, but they didn’t know.  I asked if I would be returning to the guesthouse after I had traveled to the hospitals in Congo’s northern country and they didn’t know.
Through the dark hallway I was shown to my cot. Fortunate for me it did have a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling over the cot.  I can’t express how tired I was having traveled straight through from Denver to Washington, D.C., to Brussels and on to Congo without lying down.  I didn’t even have enough energy to think about my nice bed at home in cool Colorado.
I had noticed, however, that there was a general tolerance in Africa for filth, or, rather an expectation.  It wouldn’t take much with labor, as available and cheap as it was, to just wash things.  Just keep things clean.  If you were going to wash towels or sheets you might as well wash them clean.
The towels had at least been exposed to water; otherwise they would not have been as stiff as a board when dry.  I didn’t really need a towel rack because I could just stand the towel up in the corner.  However, once I put additional water to the towel it would collapse.  But a towel in the Congo was definitely not a fuzzy, warm experience against which you would place your body.
If there was mold or scum in the shower it might as well have been scrubbed out.  If the black piece of construction plastic was all you had for a shower door, at least wash it down with some regularity.  At home I would wash and squeegee down my shower every single time I used it.  It was a wonderful and simple habit to get into.  Oh well, I was tired and at least I did have a drizzle of water that came out of the overhead pipe in my new Congolese guesthouse.
I crawled in under my mosquito tent about 12:30 a.m. and died.

Nest Week: Three Hour Church and Grass Runways


My journeys around the world the past thirty years have profoundly convinced me that if you plan to travel from success to significance in this lifetime, you will do so over the road of compassion. Your true measure of greatness will always be determined by your care for others, not the accumulation for yourself. I know that it sounds a bit revolutionary, but the pulsating motivation behind your drive for accumulation should be the recognized opportunities for making other people better off.

Our medical team had traveled to the fascinating, but terribly needy, country of Tanzania with our free medical clinics. The doctors and nurses on that trip were mostly from the Vanderbilt University community, and we had looked forward to what could be accomplished within the borders of the Serengeti. The night before we were to pack up and leave the Serengeti, we had all gathered to relax with tea and biscuits around an open pit fire at our rustic campsite. Our team had been overwhelmed the previous days by the raw-edged medical needs of desperate people.

I knew that would be the last night I would spend under the starlit sky of the majestic Serengeti for a while. My mind had gone back to the words of Dr. Albert Einstein, “A person first starts to live when he can live outside himself.” Our medical team was totally spent physically but was bursting with joy and satisfaction. They had outperformed their own expectations. They had lived to the limit outside themselves.

We had all been privileged to share the experience of a lifetime by taking the talents God had given to us and unselfishly using those talents to ease the pains of terribly hurting people halfway around the world. There were scores of kids who needed immediate attention for malaria, serious skin problems, or even tetanus. Others suffered with severe respiratory problems, chicken pox, or tuberculosis.

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Two days before, we had all witnessed a dramatic episode where our talented medical team had been able to give life back to a young girl who had been in a deep coma and had been carried to the medical site by her grieving mother. David White had leaned over the limp body of the girl as she lay on the makeshift examination table, with IV tubes in her that dangled from the rafters of the dirty building. He spoke softly into her ear, “Little girl, Jesus loves you; we love you. Your mother is here. Open your eyes, sweetie.” She not only opened her eyes, but the next day she walked with her mother back across the Serengeti to their home!

On the last day of our clinic, a middle-aged mother had been brought to us. She had accidentally tripped and fallen into an open cooking fire the afternoon before. She had not only received terrible facial burns, but the fire had also destroyed one of her eyes, removing it from the socket. Nowhere else on the Serengeti could she have received emergency help or medications to relieve the excruciating pain. Our team cleansed and treated the wounds, packed the burned eye socket, and left ample medical supplies and instructions with family members for taking care of the injured mother in the weeks ahead.

The medical-team members experienced true joy that last night, because during the past week, they had been reminded of one of life’s great secrets. If we are to live fulfilled and satisfied lives, we must move outside the tightening circle of our own personal concerns and start investing in the lives of others. There is something miraculous and wonderful about not only giving away your riches but also giving yourself away! In the process of giving yourself away, you will discover the surprise package of true reward and eternal fulfillment. What I hoard, I lose; what I try to keep will be left and fought over by others. But what I give to God and others will continue to return forever. It’s no wonder Einstein’s comment “A person first starts to live when he can live outside himself” makes so much sense! Come to think of it, he was a pretty smart guy!  


Monday, February 26, 2001: Hargeisa, Somalia: I woke up this morning still trying to figure out why ex-president Siad Barre felt it necessary to inflict so much pain and death on innocent civilians—old people, moms, children, and babies. And even animals! What kind of a man would have his soldiers sneak in and poison village watering holes? What kind of a man would allow his soldiers to rape and kill innocent civilians and refugees and then hang their bodies from trees along the roadways? What kind of a man would take his American-made jet airplanes and use donated bullets to shoot and kill fleeing refugees on the roads to Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia? Whether in Africa, Iraq, Cuba, Serbia, or the United States of America, the cult-personality is an awesome, unpredictable, and evil phenomenon. 

The balance of the day was devoted to tending to political matters. At 1:30 p.m., His Excellency, the minister of information, summoned us to visit him again at his home. He is doing a great job of letting the people of Somaliland know that Project C.U.R.E. traveled to Hargeisa to help the country. While at the minister’s home, I was introduced to the “watchdog” lioness.

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Ali Waranade had captured the lion as a cub and brought her home with him. At nine months of age, the lioness is already showing her independence and a playfully ornery streak. As I was taking some photos, she decided to see what I was made of. She chomped down on my pant leg and hung on. I was real glad that my leg wasn’t caught between her teeth and my pants. Ali finally got her attention, and she reluctantly let go of me. I decided then and there that His Excellency will probably experience some kind of alarming trauma with the cat before he realizes that lions are wild beasts with a nature all their own, not pets or guard animals. 

At 7:00 this evening, Mohamed and I were invited to pay another evening visit at the home of Hargeisa’s mayor, Awl Elmi Abdalla. The mayor expressed that he would like Somaliland’s president to meet with me. I assured him that I would definitely be honored to meet with the president, but if it isn’t convenient during this trip, we’ll make plans for such a meeting in the future. 

As you may know, the reason I want to meet with as many high government officials in a country as possible is to more completely guarantee the safe and simple passage of our precious medical goods into the country and ensure successful delivery of those goods to the targeted recipients. If Somaliland’s president, his cabinet, and customs officials are all on the Project C.U.R.E. team, then it will be difficult for some junior power broker to mess up the system. God has been faithful to Project C.U.R.E. throughout the past fourteen years and has gone ahead of us to the various countries preparing the way and opening the doors for our effectiveness. 

I’ve only been in Somaliland a very short time, and I’ve already met with the minister of industry, the minister of health, the minister of information, the mayor of Hargeisa, the mayor of Berbera, the mayor of Burao, and the top medical leaders of the country. That amazes me and keeps me consistently aware that I’m certainly not the one arranging the opportunities or opening any of the strategic doors of influence. God is doing it all. My part of the deal is just to show up.

Tuesday, February 27

This was to be the day of my departure from Hargeisa, but it ended up being one of the busiest days of my stay. The mayor wanted to say good-bye, so once again, Mohamed and I paid a visit to his office. Next, Mohamed and I visited Parliament, and I was able to meet a number of the country’s influential elders and was even invited to sit in the Speaker’s chair.

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Mohamed established his Somali Aid domestic offices on the downtown perimeter of Hargeisa and moved into a lovely, new office building surrounded by a high security wall. The facility includes a number of offices and meeting rooms and has adequate space to set up small classrooms with computers, where Mohamed plans to teach English and begin a nurses’ training center. He received all the official approvals necessary and is an officially recognized NGO in the country.

Mohamed had asked me to do the honors of officially cutting the ribbon to open the complex. I was more than happy to comply. There were about forty dignitaries on hand for the ceremony. The minister of information kept his word, arranging for a radio station, a television station, and two newspapers to cover the event.

I delivered a very brief statement just before cutting the ribbon. Then we all moved into the building, where Mohamed’s people had prepared lovely snacks at a sit-down reception. There I was asked to deliver a fifteen-to-twenty-minute speech to close out the celebration.

I spoke of the common tragedy the people of Somaliland experienced, and the sad results that have affected their families over the past fifteen years. I told them that it seemed the entire outside world had abandoned them when they most needed their help. Then I bragged on them for what I had seen in their efforts to rebuild Somaliland:

“I see the bleakness of the flat desert sand. We all can see that. But I also see a miracle happening before our eyes. A desert flower is pushing its way up through the difficult surface. It is to be the eventual blooming of a new and delightfully beautiful desert flower, growing in the north of historic Somali country. I congratulate you and encourage you to let the beauty and fragrance of the blooming flower influence all those who pass your way.”

I then tied Mohamed’s efforts through Somali Aid to the goodness that will permeate Hargeisa and spread to the rest of the country. It had probably been a long time since anyone had bragged on them or applauded their efforts.

From the ceremony, we had to move quickly to the airport so I wouldn’t miss my fancy Russian flight out of Somalia. But as we were leaving the new office, I spotted a scene that demanded a photo. In a large, vacant lot nearby, people had gathered to buy and sell sheep, cattle, goats, and, of all things, camels.         

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There were no less than thirty-five camels for sale individually. I grabbed my camera, ran quickly to the location, and began snapping pictures. How could I travel halfway around the world and miss what was going on in Camelot? 

I was surprised when I arrived at the airport and realized that all the people who had been at the ceremony had piled into cars and had followed us to see me off. Mohamed is going to stay in Somaliland for another week to spend time with his extended family. I was flying to the country of Djibouti, where I would change Russian planes before continuing on to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Another surprise awaited me at the airport. The minister of foreign affairs, the minister of the interior, and the previous minister of mines and minerals were there to greet me. I think that pretty much rounded out the president’s entire cabinet.  

MAKE SURE YOUR DRIVER IS NOT ON "QAT"! Travel Journal - 2001 Somalia

Sunday February 25, 2001: Berbera, Somalia: Mohamed and I had to make special arrangements with the hotel’s chef to get some porridge and bread for breakfast at 5:00 a.m. By 6:00 a.m., we were on the road traveling to two additional cities—Berbera and Burao. Outside the hotel the fog was so dense that it left all the plants and soil very wet. I wondered if that was the way God used to water that part of the world in prediluvian times. We aren’t really all that far from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and that amount of dew on a daily basis could certainly keep a desert in bloom.

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As we drove out of Hargeisa, I noticed compelling reminders of the devastating war everywhere I looked. And yet the people are returning to Hargeisa and rebuilding as best they can. The geographic placement of the city no doubt played a significant part in Hargeisa becoming a great city in the past. Those same elements and characteristics made it a natural trade center, which has created a demand for rebuilding the city.

It took us almost three hours to drive from Hargeisa to the port city of Berbera. On Friday, it had taken us about thirty minutes to fly the distance in the old Russian puddle-jumper airplane. En route, we had a close call with disaster. We were traveling in a Toyota Land Cruiser, and I was reading and writing notes as we drove. The road was full of potholes, and our driver was traveling at quite a pace. The steering wheel was on the right side of the car, and I was sitting in the front passenger seat on the left. To miss all the rough places in the road, the driver was dodging all over the roadway. I really didn’t think too much about it because we were about the only car traveling on the road. 

When I looked up from my reading, I realized that we were traveling on the wrong side of the highway at a high rate of speed. But I noticed there weren’t any potholes in the road for the driver to dodge. As quick as lightning, the Land Cruiser veered off the shoulder with both left wheels in the gravel. I looked at the driver and immediately realized he was sound asleep. I leaned over and grabbed the steering wheel with both hands to try to ease the vehicle back onto the road. The driver’s foot was still on the gas pedal when he woke up with a start. His first reaction was to jerk the steering wheel. Had I not providentially been holding on to the wheel with both hands, the force of that jerk would have caused us, at that speed, to swerve and roll the vehicle. As it was, the driver almost pulled the wheel out of my hands. Rocks were flying, and everyone was bouncing around in the Land Cruiser.

I told the driver to stop immediately. The whites of his eyes were totally bloodshot. I suspected right away that he had been chewing qat, the narcotic from the green leaves and twigs. I explained kindly to Mohamed that I didn’t travel all the way to Somalia to be in an automobile accident. The driver was supposed to be a professional driver, but he obviously didn’t realize the extreme danger he had just placed all of us in. I insisted that the driver get in the backseat and that someone else resume the driving for as long as I was in the vehicle.

Upon arriving at Berbera, we drove immediately to the government compound where the mayor’s office is located. In the building adjacent to the mayor’s office, court was being held for a suspected criminal. The courtroom was open on two sides, and the town’s citizens were jammed solidly around the court building to observe the proceedings. Mohamed told me that the people had been without justice so long under Siad Barre’s regime that they all show up now to watch, and they enjoy the new justice system and the rule of law.

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Berbera is a main port city in Somaliland. In spite of the distance from Siad Barre’s headquarters in the south, he used the port during his tenure. So even though Barre bombed and shelled the city, Berbera wasn’t as severely damaged as Hargeisa and other northern cities.

Both the minister of health and my new friend, the mayor of Hargeisa, had called the mayor of Berbera to announce our visit, and he was waiting for us. After we had talked for a while, he invited us to visit the port facilities to be assured that his people could adequately handle our forty-foot Project C.U.R.E. containers. We did go to the port, and I was favorably impressed. During the late 1980s, the United States constructed a very efficient port facility that will more than adequately meet Project C.U.R.E.’s shipping needs.

Our appointment with the director of the Berbera hospital was set for 10:00 a.m. Like the hospital in Hargeisa, the British built the Berbera facility at about the same time, but the difference in the condition of the two hospitals was most unbelievable. The hospital at Berbera was nicely painted white and meticulously trimmed in pale blue. The windows were washed, the cement floor had been mopped, and the staff was smiling.

Dr. Abdi Abdihahi Ali serves as the hospital director. The 175-bed facility is the top referral institution for the region of Berbera. Someone had given the hospital a new computer and taught the staff how to use it. The hospital administration really came alive under Dr. Abdi’s direction. They use the computer to print out financial programs, and they know, for example, that their highest revenues come from the radiology and surgery departments. They design and print patient admission and processing materials, and they told me that if they had additional computers, they would store and print patient records and prescriptions and track department needs and personnel records. I was really impressed.

Dr. Abdi shared with me that a hospital in Italy had come alongside and helped them. Everything changed since that day. The Berbera hospital doesn’t have much more in the way of hospital equipment or supplies, but Dr. Abdi and his staff have hope. That hope flows from the fact that someone believed in them enough to not only give them a computer and show them how it worked but occasionally sends individuals to train and encourage them.

The Berbera hospital, compared to the Hargeisa hospital, is a classic example of the adage “What’cha gonna do with what’cha got?” Attitude and creativity sparked by hope is transforming this hospital. Anything Project C.U.R.E. sends to Berbera, Somaliland, will be blessed and multiplied in the future.

The hospital staff asked for books for their medical library, lab equipment and training, reagents, blood-pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, and any and all medical supplies. They desperately need baby incubators, oxygen supplies, surgical and OB-GYN instruments, and a microscope that works.

For lunch Mohamed and I were taken to the shore of the gulf port, where the restaurant personnel caught fresh fish, split them open, rubbed rock salt into the meat, propped them up by the open fire, and cooked them for us. They were delicious! The freshly cooked fish reminded me of the way fish are caught out of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Basra, Iraq, propped up with sticks, and cooked on an open fire. The Iraqis also use the method of rubbing rock salt into the meat before cooking it.

Mohamed and I had committed to drive another four hours to the city of Burao, where we would complete a needs assessment at the regional hospital there before turning around and retracing our steps to Hargeisa tonight. 

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The hospital in Burao was as pitiful and discouraging as the hospital in Berbera had been positive and uplifting. Dr. Faud Yusato Ismail is the director, and I don’t think he had recovered from the trauma of the war. His countenance was stormy and his behavior angry. Years of frustration had no doubt taken their toll. To sum up the condition of the Burao regional hospital, I’ll simply say it was terrible, awful, and worse than you can imagine. They had none of the basic supplies or equipment needed to run a hospital—no IV solution, no gauze or medicines, no functioning X-ray machine, no lab equipment or reagents, and no alternative lab to which they could send tests. In the operating room, there was no anesthesia machine, the suction machine didn’t work, and there were no basic supplies. There was also no working autoclave in sight.

What the hospital did have was sick and injured patients housed in old, dilapidated and unsanitary facilities.

I asked to view the journal where all the procedures are recorded by hand. Many patients were there because of auto accidents, malaria, gastrointestinal parasites, and tuberculosis. I smiled as I read through the list and saw that several patients had been admitted for “stap” wounds by knife. And a surprising number were there because of gunshot wounds. There is still tribal unrest even in the peaceful north.

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The thing about the Burao hospital that made tears come to my eyes was the pediatrics ward, where I saw children who had lost arms or legs over the past few days because they accidentally detonated old, hidden land mines. Siad Barre’s war on his own people not only killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians prior to 1991, but it left the survivors with a horrible legacy: children acting as little human land-mine sweepers.

As I stood by the bed of a cute little seven- or eight-year-old boy who had just had his left leg amputated below the knee, I wondered why the ex-president of Somalia, who perpetrated such atrocities on his own people, had been allowed to strut off to Zimbabwe, where he continues to live a life of privilege under the protection of President Robert Mugabe, never to be hauled before the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague and made to pay for his horrific crimes.

It was a long trip back to Hargeisa tonight, but I was too exhausted to worry about traveling unprotected across the mountains and deserts of Somaliland. Not only was my body exhausted from the punishing journey, but I was emotionally wrung out from what I’ve seen and experienced during my time in Somalia.

Maybe, I thought, fourteen years of being in the worst hot spots of the world is enough. Maybe folks younger and tougher than I might be able to accomplish the frontline tasks and not internalize the sadness and hopelessness quite as much. But by the time I got some hot supper and had arrived back at the hotel in Hargeisa, I had recovered my equilibrium. I’ll be ready for another day.

Next Week: Leaving Camelot   


Saturday February 24, 2001: Hargeisa, Somalia: As I was getting ready to leave my room this morning, I was almost overwhelmed by what I had read about and seen in Somalia. Even as I slept, my mind continued to process the experience. During my private devotions last night, I specifically asked God to give me wisdom and favor for the hours I spend in Somaliland. I haven’t traveled to many other places with so much historical grief and apparent need. I somehow feel that if handled wisely, Somalia could be an incredible example of what Project C.U.R.E. can do for a hurting nation by the grace of God.

At 8:30 a.m., I was in the office of the minister of information. His people then covered my meeting at the office of Hargeisa’s mayor at 9:30 and began broadcasting the information about the arrival of Project C.U.R.E. on national radio and television. By that time I was becoming well-acquainted with both the mayor of Hargeisa and the minister of information.

The minister of health, Dr. Abdi Aw Dahir Ali, arranged for us to meet in his office building at 10:30 a.m. There I explained exactly what Project C.U.R.E. wanted to achieve during the hours of the visit and told him that I needed his wise counsel and the cooperation of his hospital directors and staff. I explained my needs assessment, and he briefed me on the condition and organization of the health-care system in Somaliland.

By 11:15 a.m., our entourage had moved down the street to the Hargeisa regional hospital. The director of the hospital, Dr. Deq Jama, was extremely embarrassed about the condition of his hospital and was afraid that I had come to Hargeisa to ridicule the hospital and his efforts. Eventually we worked through the barriers, and he opened up about his needs and concerns.

The hospital facility was erected during the British colonial period and is laid out in a campus style with each department, ward, and service in a separate building. The complex looks pretty good from a distance (say about ten miles). All the buildings are brownstone and are surrounded by a high compound wall.

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The real shock came as we entered the buildings. Everything was destroyed or stolen during the war years. And in the ensuing years, the hospital had neither money nor friends to help rebuild and restock it. It’s the primary referral hospital in the region, which means that any cases that can’t be handled in the outlying areas are referred there. The only problem is that, in theory, they handle all treatments and specialties as the ultimate end provider.

In the administration section, I never spotted even one typewriter or business machine. All patient files, billings, correspondence, and other documents are written out by hand on random scraps of paper. Some of the personnel know how to type; they just don’t have any equipment. 

As we visited the examination, trauma, and emergency departments, I was told they don’t even have suture materials or proper wound dressings. Examinations are performed on old wooden tables, and the staff members desperately need lights and the most simple instruments. I kept thinking, This is the best hospital available here for a population of about six hundred thousand people. How do they cope?

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Two ancient X-ray machines were in the radiology department in dismantled pieces on the floor. One prisoner in chains was having his ankle X-rayed by the only machine in the region. It was an old, old portable Japanese machine about the size of a shoe box. I doubt it was more than 25 to 50 milliamperes (mA) and hardly strong enough to view a bone.

Sometimes in the old Soviet Union, the hospital directors tried to sandbag me. That is, they would show me their worst operating room, which was mainly dysfunctional, and then tell me that was the best they had. They hoped that by impressing me, Project C.U.R.E. would give them all new equipment. But I don’t sandbag too easily! 

When Dr. Jama showed me his operating theater, I was tempted to think that he was sandbagging me. I wanted to probe the situation until he showed me the functional theater. But in Hargeisa, no sandbagging was going on. There was no anesthesia machine anywhere. There were no overhead lights; no ventilator, respirator, or defibrillator; no monitor; no bright, shiny instruments—nothing but an antique operating table, an empty cabinet where supplies used to be stored, a broken suction machine, and an old pressure cooker placed over an open fire to sterilize their old surgical instruments. 

The laboratory was equally shocking. Their microscope had been shattered, and they were all out of reagent, so even the most simple blood or urine tests couldn’t be performed.

“For diagnosis,” Dr. Jama told me, “we are forced to guess a lot.”

As we toured the hospital compound, we walked past a building with a sign that read Rehabilitation and Therapy. I asked if they were doing any kind of physical therapy for people who were still losing legs and arms from exploding land mines left over from the war.

“Oh no” was the answer. “Those buildings are full of people who have gone crazy because of the terrible war.”

Families whose loved ones had been murdered right in front of them by scores of savage soldiers are still traumatized ten years later. Military men whose commanding officers had forced them to commit heinous crimes, and people who had witnessed their own government destroy hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens simply hadn’t been able to handle it mentally. Most died during the years following the war, but the delayed stress and post-traumatic complications left many incapable of living on their own.

Ninety percent of the pregnant mothers in Somaliland deliver their babies in their own homes with the aid of friends acting as midwives. They only go to the hospital if there is a drastic complication. So a very high percentage of those who do go to the hospital end up dying or at least losing their newborn babies.

Since so many mothers and babies have died at the hospital, it has a bad reputation, and the mothers say, “Why would I want to go to a hospital to have a baby? People who go to the hospital die there.” 

Four mothers died recently at the hospital. One died simply because she hemorrhaged, and the doctor had no suture materials or emergency blood supplies. In Project C.U.R.E.’s warehouse, we have lots of suture material and plenty of blood-transfusion supplies.

When I said good-bye to Dr. Jama and left the hospital, I physically felt as if someone had put me in a huge vise and squeezed all the oxygen and energy from me. One thought kept racing through my mind: Those people had nothing … nothing. How can they continue each day knowing that the supplies exist somewhere, but they just can’t get access? I know Project C.U.R.E. can make a revolutionary difference in Hargeisa if we can begin delivering donated medical goods to their hospitals.

I’m becoming quite good friends with some of the government leaders in Somaliland. This evening I was invited to visit the home of Mayor Awl Elmi Abdalla for a friendly chat and some tea and biscuits. From the mayor’s home, Mohamed and I drove to the home of His Excellency, the minister of information, for a quick social call. His Excellency has a unique home and some unusual pets, one of which is a young lioness that was chained close to the front entry as a “guard dog.”

Next Week: Make Sure Your Driver is not on “Quat”!


Friday February 23, 2001: Hargeisa, Somalia: To my surprise, when we landed in Hargeisa, I really got the VIP treatment. Apparently, Mohamed had called ahead and alerted the mayor’s office and some of the other officials. The mayor even sent a car and driver to deliver us to the Maan-Soor Hotel on the edge of the city. 

The drive through the city was pretty sad. Ten years ago, this city of well over half a million people was obliterated. Ninety-five percent of Hargeisa was hopelessly destroyed. Tanks and troops had systematically bombed, sacked, and burned the city inch by inch. In the aftermath, Hargeisa was a ghost town. It had been their own President, Siad Barre, that had taken donated military planes, tanks and armament placed in Somalia by both the USA and Russia and turned the murderous blitz against their own people as punishment for not completely supporting Siad Barre. It had been a heinous chapter in the annuls of African cruelty.

I was glad I had read up a bit on the history of the war, or the sights would have been even more of a shock. But the northern part of Somalia is coming back to life. People are moving back to the city and using the rubble from the bombed-out buildings to rebuild. Certainly the phoenix is rising from the ashes.

The Maan-Soor Hotel is an adequate twenty-four-room hotel and seems to be the center of the entire region’s political business. After Mohamed and I checked in, I went to my room, took about a two-hour nap, showered, and then started in on the agenda of meetings Mohamed had set up for me.

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At the hotel I met with the area’s United Nations coordinator, but even more important, the mayor of Hargeisa came to welcome me to Somaliland. I was quite impressed. The civilized world has pretty much ignored the existence of Somalia since 1991. Bill Clinton readily retreated in embarrassment and under political pressure for mishandling the Somali incident. Like so many of his other ill-conceived foreign involvements, he engaged the United States in Somalia’s conflict, but without the conviction or determination to go all out.

The United Nations’ involvement in Somalia is also a textbook case of mess-ups and disgrace. The more I’ve traveled and observed the hot spots of the political world, the less respect and tolerance I have for the United Nations and its leadership. I’ve concluded from my biased and simplistic global observation that the whole bunch of them should be severely reprimanded, dismissed, sent back to their individual countries, and forced to find honest and noble occupations. Some of them should be tossed into jail for their thievery, dishonesty, and low-life antics.

I don’t want to get too sidetracked here, but let me give you a typical example of what billions of US taxpayer dollars buy for our investment in the United Nations. During my trip to Somalia, it was discovered that United Nations employees in charge of filling certain refugee quotas to countries like Great Britain, Canada, and the United States have been charging the refugees anywhere from $3,500 in US cash to in excess of $5,000 to process their applications and place them. That money has gone straight into the pockets of the UN employees. They also make penniless refugees pay fifty shillings just to talk to a UN employee.

The refugees don’t stand a chance against the competition unless they have sponsors somewhere in the free world who will send them the “front money” to pay bribes or engage in criminal activities to secure the required bribe money.

It was also discovered that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UN Refugee Agency, actually sells false documentation, phony identification papers, and bogus case histories to people who aren’t even refugees so that they will be eligible to resettle in the United States.

One man went to the UN office every day for three years in an effort to get an interview. The UN officials determined he could never come up with the bribe money, so for three years the man wasn’t allowed to even secure an interview. While I’ve been in Somalia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees admitted that four staff members were suspected of soliciting money from the displaced persons they were paid handsomely to assist.

The UN officials came to the defense of their workers by building the case that they were really the “victims” in the situation. The UN had been informed of the employees’ scam over the past two years but claimed that the employees were in very difficult and stressful positions, and that outside people just couldn’t understand the unbearable temptations they had been subjected to when nearly a quarter of a million refugees were seeking placement in developed countries but only eight thousand to eleven thousand spots were available.

Finally the United Nations directors gave their workers new assignments elsewhere, where the pressure wouldn’t be so unbearable. But they made that decision only when some refugees—who had paid the five thousand dollars but were never selected to go to the United States—threatened to kill the extortionists. The UN then had to protect their poor victimized representatives. As of yet, no one has been brought to task or punished for the bribery scam.

Incidents like this are only a small part of the reason why I’ve concluded that the UN is totally out of control and is directed by people who in no way have any of the United States’ interests at heart. But the world demands that the US continue to supply billions of dollars per year to promote the organization.

After that short detour, let’s return to my meeting with the UN representative in Somalia. Edward Johns Jr. was a likable-enough fellow. His official title is Office of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, United Nations Coordination Unit, UN Focal Point for Somaliland. It must be quite a job just to carry around that title! Actually, Edward and I hit it off quite well on a personal basis. He really appreciated Project C.U.R.E.’s willingness to consider becoming involved in Somaliland. He took time to explain who the major players are in the area, which people I need to avoid, and whose friendship I need to curry. He also supplied me with a bit of sound advice about travel in Somalia.

“It’s just not worth going to Mogadishu unless you absolutely have to. When I go, we always travel with at least two vehicles, we wear flak jackets, and we take bodyguards who are well armed.”

I quickly made an executive decision as to where I won’t go.

Before my day was finished, I had meetings with four representatives of Hope Worldwide, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) trying to do some local humanitarian work in Hargeisa. They were very eager to pursue a relationship with Project C.U.R.E., and they told me about the severe medical situations they had witnessed.

On the heels of that meeting, Ali Waranade, the minister of information for the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland, came to the Maan-Soor Hotel to meet and welcome me. He arranged for an official driver to take us around the city tonight so we could see the marketplace and how the people are operating their economy and free-market opportunities with kerosene and gas lanterns and some electric lights powered by small generators. He wanted to show me how safe it is for people to be out doing business at night in his country.

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Additionally His Excellency arranged for Mohamed and me to visit the small TV station in the city. It is somewhat involved in downloading television programming from available satellites. The national radio broadcasting station is located in the well-guarded TV station as well.

Next Week: Make Sure Your Driver is not on “Qat”!

WHO IS LEFT TO HELP SOMALIA? Travel Journal - 2001 (Part 1)

Note to Readers: I am including here another episode directly from my Project C.U.R.E. Travel Journals. Somalia is definitely not a destination vacation spot. You probably shouldn’t even think about going there. It is a very dangerous country, but “Oh, so very needy.” Project C.U.R.E. was actually able to deliver help and hope to Somalia in a wonderful way. JWJ

Somalia: February, 2001: As I worked on the priority list of countries requesting us to come and help them with their health care needs, I was overwhelmed with telephone calls from members of the Somali community in Denver. They were urging me – no, -- begging me to consider traveling to Somalia in East Africa. The callers described the medical conditions there and told me that no one else was helping to meet the needs in that war-torn country. I tried to explain to the callers that I probably wouldn’t be able to travel to Somalia until the next year or even 2003. But they didn’t want to wait that long to get on my list.

Early this month, Anna Marie and I were invited to a dinner meeting with the members of Somali Aid in Aurora, Colorado. We were served authentic Somali food and learned a lot more about the conditions in Somalia and the work of the organizing group, which originated in Denver five years ago.

Before we left that Saturday night, I promised our hosts that we will carefully consider their request and perhaps be able to work their needs-assessment trip into a time slot this year should a previously scheduled trip be canceled or postponed.

To my amazement, it became necessary to reschedule a trip I’d planned to take to Brazil between February 22 and March 5. I called Mohamed Egal, the spokesman for Somali Aid, and asked if the timing would be too soon for his organization to plan a trip for the two of us to Somalia on those newly opened dates. He said their organization would grab the dates gladly and make all the necessary arrangements for the needs-assessment trip.

After I agreed to travel with Mohamed to Somalia, I checked my information sources at the US Department of State in Washington, D.C., and this seemed to be the warning:

The State Department cautioned US citizens against all travel to Somalia in view of multiple threats including kidnapping and murder. Without a US “diplomatic presence” in Somalia, travelers would have no recourse in an emergency, and the Somalia government clearly stated that it could offer no police protection. There is no US embassy or other diplomatic presence in Somalia.

That State Department message triggered mental replays of TV newscasts in the United States during the early 1990s when the Somali civil war totally devastated Mogadishu, the capital city, and many other cities and communities in the country. I also had vivid memories of TV coverage of the rebel Somali soldiers driving an old pickup truck down the streets of Mogadishu and dragging the flapping body of a dead US marine in the dust behind the truck.

The State Department went on to warn that non-Somalis shouldn’t even sail close to the shores of Somalia because of the extremely high risk that Somali troops could seize the ships, crews, and passengers in an effort to extract ransom money for their release.

The rest of Somali is still unsettled and very dangerous. As I prepare for my trip to the area, everything is still uncertain. There truly is no agreement in Somalia, nor is there a central government, infrastructure, civilized politics, or security. But tragic need is certainly everywhere, exaggerated by years of exploitation, hatred, and strife.

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Somalia desperately needs Project C.U.R.E., and the help we could give could make a very dramatic impact in this war-torn country. I wouldn’t be exaggerating in the least to say that Project C.U.R.E. could significantly alter the health-care system of Somalia and thereby greatly influence the everyday life of its people for many years to come.

Wednesday, February 21–Friday, February 23

Wednesday morning I asked Anna Marie to drive me to the Project C.U.R.E. office instead of dropping me off at Denver International Airport for the first leg of my trip to Somalia. Otherwise, she would have had to deliver me to the airport about five to twelve hours before my flight so she could head back to Evergreen and open her school before her students arrived. This way, I was able to finish a few more tasks at the office before departing.

At 10:30 a.m., I checked in at the airport for United flight 252 to Chicago. At the airport I met up with Mohamed Egal from Somali Aid, who would travel with me all the way to Somalia. From Chicago we changed planes and flew United 928 to Heathrow Airport in London, arriving Thursday morning just after 7:00.

Our routing required us to switch airlines in London and fly British Airways from London to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Monotonous international travel is usually punctuated by irritating layovers, flight delays, and airline-staff incompetence. We tolerated all those frustrations trying to get to Somalia. It was nearly midnight Thursday before we landed in Dubai. Because of one delay or another, we spent the night walking and sitting in the Dubai airport waiting on delayed flights.

Because of the escalated US bombing in Iraq just days before this trip, I was a little apprehensive about encountering anti-American hostilities as Mohamed Egal and I traveled through the Arab countries neighboring Iraq. But everything on the political front went well, and our flight finally left Dubai Friday morning at around 5:00, headed for northern Somalia.

No one in the political world diplomatically recognizes Somalia. The only way we can get in and out of Somalia is to either charter a private airplane or fly on Daallo Airlines. No respected international carrier will accept the risks or try to work through all the entanglements and chaos of servicing this troublesome country. However, some enterprising Soviets decided to seize the opportunity to make some quick rubles and agreed to set up Daallo Airlines to service Somalia. They stole, hijacked, or by some other means procured five airplanes. Those five airplanes are the only way Mohamed and I can commercially fly to and from Somalia, or within the country. Only one of the planes is a jet; the others are propeller driven.

All of the flight crews on Daallo Airlines are Soviets. The airline employs a couple of Somalis on each flight to instruct and control the passengers, since, quite obviously, none of the Soviets want to learn the Somali language. I made friends with one of the pilots, who was from Tajikistan and spoke some English. When I told him that Project C.U.R.E. sent about a million dollars’ worth of medical supplies and equipment to his country as a gift to help his people, and that I had traveled extensively throughout that part of the world, he really became friendly. I figured that if anything went wrong on the flight, I would like for him to be watching out for me.

When we boarded the airplane in Dubai, I spotted lots of things that could go wrong with the flight. We were going to fly in the only jet in their fleet, which was an ancient Russian-built plane with a configuration of three jet engines on the tail. The last old jet of that kind that I had flown in from Beijing, China, to Pyongyang, North Korea, had Air Koryo painted on its fuselage.

In the front of the plane were fold-down, wooden table trays for reading or serving food. Torn fabric on the plane’s interior had been repaired with glued-on canvas patches. Many of the passenger seats didn’t match the rest, so some airplane cannibalism must have taken place somewhere along the line.

I could only shudder when I thought about whom and where—or if—anyone maintained the equipment. There was no aircraft hangar or maintenance facility to be seen. Pictures immediately replayed in my mind of the old Russian helicopters that the general in Nagorno-Karabakh had used to fly Baroness Caroline Cox and me over the no-man’s-land between Yerevan, Armenia, and Stepanakert. The engine oil from the radial helicopter engines had actually been leaking profusely from the bearings and running over the cowling just below the rotor blades. The old Russian choppers had safely ferried us to where we needed to go that day, and I was praying like crazy that this old Russian museum-piece jet was up to taking Mohamed and me safely across the long stretch of gulf waters from Dubai to the northern coast of Somalia.

Surprisingly the flight was quite smooth and quiet. My Soviet pilot friend left the cockpit and came back a couple of times to chat with me. He had placed me in one of the front seats, where I could have some leg room. Serendipitously, seated next to me on the flight was the Somali minister of industry. We had lots to talk about before we landed in Berbera, the main port city of Somaliland.

The airport facilities weren’t much to brag about in Berbera. Ten years ago, when the United States was involved in Somalia, our military had operated a base out of Berbera, so after the US departure, the Somalis inherited a nice long runway paved to our government’s specifications.

All of our luggage was unloaded from the Russian jet, and those of us traveling on to Hargeisa watched as our bags were thrown into the cabin of the next plane we would board for our destination.

I wandered into the dirty, crumbling air-terminal building and found a dusty, old wooden bench to plop down on. I had been traveling three days and two nights without sleep, shower, or change of clothes. But only one short segment of travel remained to reach our final destination of Hargeisa, Somaliland. While sitting on my wooden bench, I was fascinated by the scenes around me. Many of the men were sitting in clusters breaking off green leaves and twigs from small plants cut to about twelve inches in length. Mohamed told me they were chewing qat, a mild narcotic that can become quite addictive. He explained that it was a cultural tradition, but it has become a big financial commodity now. I shook my head and wondered where in the world a country so racked by abject poverty might come up with any money at all to purchase narcotics.

Another interesting observation made me smile. Conservative Muslim women who live in Arab-influenced countries cover up almost their entire bodies. Usually only their eyes and the bridges of their noses are exposed. And depending upon the style of footwear, a portion of their feet might be visible. But for Muslim women, the hands and arms just a few inches above the wrist are the prime areas for displaying status and style. Over the years henna has become very popular. I’ve seen henna art displayed on women from Pakistan to Palestine.

Henna is a dark natural ink that is used to draw intricate and delicate designs on the skin. The colors usually include dark browns, dark greens, and black. The artwork looks like a tattoo, but the ink isn’t injected into the skin, so it isn’t permanent. Eventually it wears off. Instead of polishing the fingernails, the women ink the tips of their fingers. To top off the display of status and style, they accent their fingers and wrists with as much gold as their positions in life can afford.

Mohamed Egal told me that the only way many families survived the Somali wars and famine of the previous decade was by the parceling out and selling hidden gold rings, bracelets, and neck chains, since there were no banks or other financial institutions where they could store their wealth.

The Russian plane assigned to fly us to Hargeisa was something I would have expected to see in a windblown, airplane-salvage graveyard in Arizona. It was a twin-engine, propeller-driven craft set up with forty-four hodgepodge, old seats. All the luggage was stacked inside the passenger compartment toward the front of the aircraft, without any tie-downs, nets, or constraints. It was just stacked loosely and piled to the ceiling. It reminded me of the time I flew across Uzbekistan in a Russian Yak-20, in which two rows of seats in the passenger cabin had been removed to accommodate a full pallet of sacks of grain. On both occasions I had grabbed a seat as close to the back of the plane as possible. In case we encountered turbulence, I didn’t want to be crushed by a renegade piece of cargo.

Just as we were boarding the old Russian plane, I noticed the tires on the landing gear. They weren’t just bald; four of the six plies beneath the tread had worn through. That bothered me. I had Mohamed jump out and take a picture of the tires. I figured that photo would be good for memories somewhere down the road.

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Also good for later memories was an incident that happened midflight. A common old cockroach crawled out of the covering of the seat I was occupying, quickly ran over my shoulder and across my chest, and then jumped and disappeared somewhere in a dark crack. That was a first. I had never seen a cockroach on an airplane before. Besides the six-legged stowaway, I looked around and counted fifty human passengers. I knew I had correctly counted forty-four seats. Some of the passengers were standing, and some were sitting on the stacked luggage toward the front of the cabin. I really didn’t want to know how many had fastened their seat belts—if they had seat belts that worked. Even the aisle was crammed with luggage, buckets, and packages.

Next Week: Encountering Problems in Somalia – Including the U.N.


I must admit that I’m sick and tired of being made afraid. Throughout history, several lethal arrows have been drawn from the quiver of control and used quite effectively to paralyze hearts and minds. But none has been more lethal or used more often than the arrow of fear. In fact, it’s the one essential arrow in a politician’s quiver that virtually guarantees success. If a politician can get into the heads and hearts of his constituents and establish a spirit of fear, he can, at the same instant, establish a spirit of dependency. Abdication welcomes control . . . all in the name of protection and peace of mind.

Many times when I was traveling in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe would dispatch his military and police units in the middle of the night to race through the streets and strike fear into the hearts of his sleepy citizens. The frightened citizens would awaken to sirens blaring, lights flashing, and horns honking and think, Oh, it’s awful and scary and dangerous out there! I do hope that our president will take care of us.

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Hitler’s confidant Hermann Göring claimed,

Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. . . . Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

I recall my very first awareness in the 1950s and 1960s of a leader using fear to control the masses. Newsreels showed President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt sounding the alarms in Cairo, rousing all the people out of their beds in the middle of the night and into the streets for defense drills, saying the British and French were coming to kill them because he had taken control of the Suez Canal. The next night he would order the people out of beds again and into their defensive positions because Prime Minister Qasim of Iraq or the troops from Saudi Arabia or North Yemen were on their way to kill them. Nasser kept the people of Egypt in a continual state of fear and confusion. Yet they loved and supported him because they believed that he was the only one who could protect and take care of them. Ironically, to quell any opposition and gain their confidence, he promised them universal health care, subsidized housing, construction of vocational schools, and minimum wages. Nasser came closer to unifying the Arab world than anyone in recent history, and fear was his sharpest arrow.

On any given day, media reports can swamp us with myriad fears, including

  • a loss of individual net worth through increased taxation

  • looming hyperinflation

  • a loss of religious and civil liberties, including freedom to use the Internet

  • nuclear attacks from Iran or North Korea

  • the government’s inability to continue paying for Social Security, military pensions, or Medicare

  • death panels for those over seventy-five

  • epidemics, killer diseases, and natural or man-made disasters

  • a systemic failure of our banks and monetary system

  • a loss of our electrical and communication grids

  • foreign intrusion on US soil or radical domestic upheavals

And the list goes on.

Most fears are based on some percentage of truth, so at best we deal with half truths. The problem with our species is that we usually glom onto the wrong half. And once we begin to let fear terrify us, the quality of our personal lives diminishes. The ancient Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Where fear is, happiness is not.” If we allow our minds to become focused on fear—no matter who creates it—fear will choose our destiny, because fear is the enemy of logic and effectively robs the mind of all its powers of reason and action.

So what’s to be done? If you have a legitimate concern, and you can do something about it, then do it. If you need to vote, then vote. If you need to protest, then protest. But don’t let the fear possess you. Let go of the fear. You need not be made afraid anymore. Dale Carnegie used to say, “Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a positive correlation between the amount of fear that possesses me and how unusually concerned I am about myself. I find that I am less apt to be made afraid if I can get my thoughts off myself and start concentrating on helping someone else become better off. That just may be one reason why our twenty thousand volunteers at Project C.U.R.E. are such a happy lot. They’ve discovered that as you focus your attention on helping other people become better off, even if they’re on the other side of the world, the superimposed fears that were once yours seem to lose their grip on you.

I don’t want to be made afraid anymore! Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed, and I no longer need to be a part of that picture!