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Africa Wrap Up – Botswana

As Internet access in Botswana and Swaziland was spotty at best, I am only now writing about my experience of both countries and the excellent work that BIPAI is doing in them. These posts don’t begin to describe the full experience but hopefully hit the high points.

I won’t miss those tiny little pieces of paper with 14-digit login codes! The service was called “Always On” but it was not always on! In fact, it was rarely on for long. Remember when we didn’t crave a connection to the world wide web?

The following posts don’t begin to describe the full experience of these countries and their programs, but hopefully provide a good snapshot or reflection of my involvement with them.

Botswana
October 18th: We drove from the airport in Gaborone, Botswana to our hotel at night and as I looked around I wondered if we might be in Sugarland, Texas until I saw a lean-looking cow walking along the side of road nonchalantly. You don’t see that too often in Sugarland. Of the three countries my team visited, Botswana is the richest. Malawi is the poorest and Swaziland runs a close second to that status.

We traveled with members of the Texas Children’s Cancer Center to Botswana. They were set to sign a memorandum of understanding but that got postponed. They came in spite of that to have meetings and to keep the process going.

Once we arrived at the hotel, the Cresta Lodge, we were greeted by friendly folks who revealed a table that was waiting for us to arrive and pick up our room keys and welcome notes. These guys were super organized! I appreciated that as we were truly tired and hungry. We dragged our suitcases towards what we thought were the elevators but realized there were no elevators. We trudged up the stairs with our belongings and settled in.

The next morning, we arrived at the Botswana Baylor Children’s Clinical Center of Excellence for meetings and were rewarded for our early morning arrival with morning song – rich in depth of sound and beautiful harmonies. That was a great blessing and a special highlight of this trip for me. It was clear that the folks gathered were supporting one another through health issues and difficulty. Their songs united them and me and my team in that special morning ritual.

Botswana Baylor was the second COE established in the BIPAI network and has made an enormous impact on reducing the transmission of HIV from mother to child.

Coming from Malawi, our tour of the Botswana COE and its partner hospital, the Princess Marina, was strikingly different from what we had seen in Malawi. Malawi had a conjoined hospital but while it was lovingly staffed and patients received compassionate care, it was obvious that there was a great need for more physicians, more beds, more space and more nurses – more everything. The COEs themselves were very similar but with little differences reflecting the unique nature of each country. The Princess Marina was larger and had more staff. Both Malawi and Botswana are offering cancer treatment.

We got to meet a phenomenal young person (aged 20) who was receiving cancer treatment from Texas Children’s cancer specialists in Botswana. She had been diagnosed in the United States while attending a prestigious educational institution. TCH doctors offered to give her top notch care at the Princess Marina so that she could be closer to her family and have her care paid for by her country. Once a month she makes a 10- to 11-hour bus trip to receive her treatment at the hospital. She makes this trip alone but made no complaint about this. She was definitely on a mission to get on with her very promising life. Thankfully, her prognosis is excellent.

We visited with her and were hugely impressed with her intelligence, maturity, bravery, and positive nature. She should become President of Botswana one day! I firmly believe that whatever she puts her intelligence and energy on, her efforts will make the world a better place.

Two of my colleagues asked her if it would be alright with her to grab a brief interview and she consented. I listened to her tale of bravery and to her plans for after finishing treatment. It was truly inspirational.

My mates and I made a complete tour of the cancer treatment areas of the the Princess Marina and finished up back at the COE for more meetings.

An outing was arranged for us later that day, so that we could experience more of natural Africa. We went on a two-hour photo safari at Mokolodi Nature Preserve (http://www.mokolodi.com/ ) that ended at a lodge where were treated to tasty meal and an awesome bon fire. Yes, there was an attempt to sing a rousing kumbaya! The ride through the Preserve was amazing and energizing. I will post more photos after I get home when I have a bit more time to reflect on this and other experiences in Africa. We all slept well that night.

Next up Swaziland….

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