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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tokomonana*

So it’s travel time again, tomorrow morning around 10 o’clock my plane takes off and in the early evening I’ll arrive in Congo. The next day I take another plane – although it probably won’t deserve that description. Congolese airway companies are notorious for their unreliability. I’ll be sure to buy a parachute before I leave and a roll of duct tape to secure any parts that come loose during the flight, such as the engines or the wings.

On Sunday we take to the road, paved road at first but unpaved mud baths later on. From then on snails will have a good chance of overtaking us as we plough through the jungle to visit the medical centres that we’re going to evaluate.

Given the often primitive surroundings, internet access will not always be easy – or feasible at all. But long time visitors will remember that I’ll try to keep you posted in the comments of this message, as my blogging system doesn’t allow my to update from anywhere else but my own computer.

*goodbye in Lingala

Posted by Bart at 8:48 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Old Zeeland

My mother invited us all for a weekend in Zeeland, to celebrate her coming 60th birthday. Not the new Zeeland with those fat blokes that shout and stick out their tongues at rugby games and the kiwis and the dubious sexual practices involving several sheep, but the old one in Holland with the dikes and the canals and the windmills.

We all took a day off on Friday, and in the afternoon the whole family got together in a bungalow in Port Zélande, a Center Parcs holiday resort. It was a nice place, although not so chique that it merited a French name. But such are the Dutch, they think they speak every European language fluently by nature.

Our bungalow was bright pink, for some reason, but it was close to the harbour so we had some nice views. We spent our time drinking nice drinks and eating great food. Both were imported (from Belgium of course) because it’s hard to find either in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They produce some of the world’s finest foodstuffs. It’s just that they generally fail to turn it into anything but absolutely disgusting preparations and extremely odd combinations.

There was, however, a tropical swimming paradise that was absolutely great. We spent hours soaking in hot bubble baths, racing down the water slides, bobbing up and down in the wave pool and leaning into powerful water jets that massage every inch of your body. Lovely!

Wolf had a blast in the baby pool, which looked surprisingly pee-free despite the number of babies and toddlers splashing around in it. He had never seen a bath this big before, and he loved to play with the toys, especially with the little watering can. He loved the feel of the water raining down on his hands and tummy, but he wasn’t very pleased when he got splashed on the head because of some rambunctious four-year-olds racing by.

The weather was fine too, we had a lot of sunshine and virtually no wind. Despite that, it was very cold on the beach so we didn’t go very far. But still, our little guy was very impressed by all the sand and that even greater bath tub full with water. In fact, the holiday centre was located between two large bodies of water: the North Sea in the west, and the Grevelingenmeer (a lake) to the north, east and south. It used to be an island in the delta of the rivers Maas and Schelde, but now its linked to two larger islands in the delta by means of a dike. All that water gave some nice opportunities for pictures (sun setting in the sea!), but they’ll have to wait until I return from Congo.

Posted by Bart at 9:32 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Monday, November 12, 2007

Where’s My Mommy?

Saturday was the big day for Julia and her filly. Now that little Hearty was doing better, it was time to separate her from her mother. A horse riding centre is not the best place for a foal to grow up. Standing in a box all day is no good, they have to be able to run around and play. And that is exactly what she’ll do at the place we brought here this weekend. She’ll have plenty of friends to play with, and big meadows to run around.

Separating a foal from its mother is not that easy. Last time Julia thought we were taking her baby girl away from her, she nearly climb over the 2-meter-high metal fence of her box. We both transported them in a van to Hearty’s new address, near Brussels. Then mother and daughter were led to an empty stable. So far so good, they were very pleased with the premises once they discovered the fodder and fresh hay we’d put in there to bribe them.

Then came the difficult part.

We took Julia out of the stable and shut the door right behind her to trap the filly. Mrs.B quickly led her back to the van. Julia got more and more worried, she kept calling her daughter. She stepped in the van all right, but then she started to move back. With all the available man and woman power – I was unable to help because I was holding Wolf – Julia was pushed into the van again and the loading ramp was quickly closed behind her. The jeep drove off immediately, while Julia did her best to break down the sides, kick out the ramp or blow off the roof of the van. Luckily, she did calm down after a short while.

We would follow with our car, but Mrs.B had to feed Wolf first. This also gave us the opportunity to check on Hearty before we left. She was doing all right, the owner of the horse centre had put a pony in her stable so she wouldn’t feel alone. They became friends instantly, although it’s not sure the friendship will last because Hearty insisted on trying to drink milk from her new – male – friend. She’s been gradually eating more and more solid food over the last couple of weeks. She’ll miss her mother’s milk during the next few days, but then she’ll be ok with a diet of hay, straw and horse fodder.

When we arrived in the horse riding centre, Julia had already arrived and she was standing in her box again. She still was calling for her daughter, and when Mrs.B approached she got very excited. So we left her there to calm down. In a couple of days she’ll be ok, and then Mrs.B can finally start riding again.

Posted by Bart at 9:11 PM
Categories: Animal Farm

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Cold November Rain

A chilly polar wind has brought the first sting of winter to the Kingdom of Belgium (both halves of it). As if the freezing wind wasn’t chilling enough, it also brings continuous ice-water showers that jump on anyone foolish enough to forget their umbrellas.

Time to leave the country and head for warmer places then. In two weeks time, I’ll fly to more tropical regions, to Congo to be precise. It will be warm, but also humid as the rainy season begins around this time of year.

It will be an interesting trip, at least in the beginning. Contrary to my previous voyages to Congo, I won’t stay in the capital Kinshasa. I will fly to the West-Kasai province (South-West of Congo) to visit a number of medical centres that my organisation has been rebuilding since the start of the peace process. It’ll be a road trip of some 600 km that will take me a whole week, since the roads are basically crap. Don’t think paved roads, but of a continuous mud strip that has been cleared in the tropical forest.

The second week will be less amusing, with four days of strategic meetings with our local partners. I’ll spare you further details.

This will be the first time that I leave baby Wolf behind. Mrs.B will have to take care of him all alone. I wonder how long it will take to become homesick this time. Before I met my future wife, I was never homesick. After the marriage, I noticed that I really, really missed her after three weeks. Now I hope I make it as far as the airport before I start to cry for my wife and baby.

Posted by Bart at 10:00 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tearing Me Apart

It was a cold morning, so I was glad to get on a warm bus. I found a place next to a young lady, and while I fumbled to get my rucksack off so I could sit down, the bus pulled up.

I think it was doing 30 kph when suddenly an idiot in a white van cut right in front of the bus, crossed the bus lane and took a right into the little street that we were about to cross.

In a reflex he bus driver slammed on the breaks.

The sudden jolt made me shoot forward like a bullet from a gun. Luckily I held on to a support when the whole thing happened, but the fingers of my left hand couldn’t hold me. My back slammed into a steel rail. My right hand clutched onto another support while the rest of my continued the flight to the front of the bus. A vivid image of me splattering in blood against the front windshield flashed before my eyes. But I managed to cling on this time, although the kinetic energy jerked through my whole body when I finally came to a standstill.

I was too stunned to shout protests or insults.

Two days later, my arms still ache as if I’ve been stretched on a torture rack.

Posted by Bart at 9:43 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wolfy-the-Poo

Yet again, it was time to mow the tropical rainforest on my head, as cries of jungle beasts kept my out of my sleep. So Mrs.B made an appointment with the hairdressers and last Saturday we hurried into the car. Despite the rush, we didn’t forget the baby. But we did forget the many mandatory maintenance products that should always accompany a baby. Such as spare diapers, and a spare set of clothes. And mobile changing room.

We’re still such amateurs.

The hairdresser’s agenda was crammed to the roof and she was late-late-late. So we had to wait-wait-wait. Luckily, Wolf was a good boy. He waited patiently on my lap. He looked around in the many big mirrors. He seduced every lady in the house. He gurgled and burbled and laughed. And he produced such a humongous load of poo that his nappy couldn’t hold it anymore. It burst at the seams and endless flows of baby waste streamed into his trousers.

I was unaware of all this until I felt something wet seep trough my trousers.

I informed Mrs.B and asked for a spare nappy. Mrs.B informed me that we didn’t have a spare nappy, or spare clothes for that matter. Luckily there was a small supermarket nearby, so Mrs.B rushed over there, while I stayed behind with the little culprit, pretending my trousers weren’t soaking up pee and poo.

The hairdresser was so nice to provide us with a separate room to clean up the mess. From a safety point of view this wasn’t a bad idea, because the fumes might have exploded with all those hairdryers. And the stench might have discoloured some of the ladies’ new permanents.

After many minutes of wiping, Wolf was happily playing in his mother’s arms, not caring at all that he was wearing nothing but his new diaper while everyone was looking at him. The hairdresser cut my hair first, and I pretended not to have wet, smelly pee-stained trousers on.

I guess we won’t forget to take spare nappies and clothes for Wolf the next time we leave the house. Ever.

Posted by Bart at 8:21 PM
Categories: Next Generation

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Near Death Experience

You might gather from the title that the diarrhoea got out of hand, but this time it wasn't mommy, daddy or little Wolf that got a nasty bug. This time it was Hearty, Julia's foal, that got into serious trouble.

Yesterday morning, the owner of the horse stables were Julia and Hearty are staying, called us up to say that the little filly had a severe case of horse colic. Now colic is no laughing matter for a horse, in fact it is one of the most common causes of death. Horses are beautiful creatures, but under the bonnet their design is not all that great. Their intestines are quite delicate, and it doesn't take them much to get in trouble.

Mrs.B drove over to Heartie and Julia, while I stayed behind and tried to stuff mashed potatoes in Wolf's mouth. K, the owner of the stables, had already called in a vet. He couldn't locate the obstruction, it's much more difficult with young horses. To make things more difficult, Hearty rolled about in pain and kicked with her four hooves to anything in range.

In the end, the vet gave her medication that should work within two hours. If it didn't, Hearty'd be in big trouble and the only option would be to drive her to the horse clinic for emergency surgery. But even with surgery, her future would look bleak.

Filly Hearty and mother Julia

So two hours later, we drove back to the stables. Unfortunately, Hearty was not feeling better. In fact, she looked dreadful, lying on her back, rolling over and over in pain. Her eyes were bulging, she was covered in sweat and dirt. This foal was staring death right in the face.

It took us a lot of time and effort to find someone with a trailer to drive her to the horse clinic. Then it took four strong men and a strong lass to Hearty out of the stable and through the paddock to the waiting trailer on the road. Meanwhile, I tried to calm down the frenzied mother and succeeded in pursuading her not to leave her stable over the – six feet high – door. Once she was near her filly again she allowed the team to carry Hearty out.

We managed to cram mother and daughter into the horse trailer, Hearty even stayed on her four feet – more or less. An even bigger surprise awaited us when we arrived and we opened the loading door. She was not only standing up, but she'd also managed to turn around in the trailer. She even managed to wobble inside on her own power.

But any optimism was too soon. The vet did an endoscopy and said that the blockage in her intestines was severe. We had two options: let her undergo major surgery with a very hefty price tag and uncertain outcome, or just let her have a drip with medication to ease the pain and hope for the best. We didn't have the money for the surgery, and we knew that her chances would be very very slim with only the medication to help her.

We had no choice, we left her in the capable hands of the staff of the horse clinic who gave her the medication drip. They'd call us if things took a turn for the worse again, and in that case they'd have to put Hearty down.

When we arrived back home, the call hadn't come. An hour later, the phone did ring, but it was a friend asking how the horses were. Then another friend called, but by the end of the evening no word from the clinic. We took the phone up to the bedroom, but all remained quiet until the next morning.

Then Mrs.B called and she got the good news that Hearty was better. She was up and running around as if nothing ever happened. But we were not out of the danger zone yet. She hadn't eaten yet, and when she did we'd have to wait to see whether she really was ok. There was a very real danger that she had permanent damage to her lower intestines, because they'd been cut off for so long.

But again our little sturdy filly proved her worth and strength. So she's all healty now. Tomorrow we can go and get her at the clinic. She won't return to her old stable, instead she'll go to a breeding centre were young horses can grow up in groups of other foals of their own age. She'll leave her mother and learn how a horse should behave from other horses. It's like a primary school for foals. Julia will move back to her old horse riding centre, where they have an indoor paddock so Mrs.B doesn't freeze in the winter. It is a bit sad though that we have to leave the good people of the stables were they stayed for the last couple of weeks in such a way. They really did a tremendous job helping us out and saving Hearty. I must drive by one of these days and drop a couple of bottles of wine or something.

Posted by Bart at 8:44 PM
Categories: Animal Farm


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