Month Five



I catch myself fantasizing about the cherry blossoms now blooming in New Haven's Wooster Square, about the music I wish I could download to my broken beyond repair ipod, and about a certain pair of sexy heels collecting dust in my a cardboard box in my parents' basement.  I can almost hear the seagulls crying out over Provincetown's seaweedy, squishy tidal flats.  A pioneering spirit and geographic ADD notwithstanding, I'm running out of steam for this globe-trotting nursing gig. 

These feelings are accompanied by guilt.  My Tanzanian nursing colleagues aren't here on short-term contracts.  They aren't counting down the days until their next mochaccino and dreaming about thin-crust pizza with fresh mozzarella.  They greet the tropical triumvirate of unforgiving heat, equally unforgiving rains, and malaria with shoulder-shrugging acceptance.  And HIV/AIDS?  Well, that's certainly not going anywhere anytime soon.  It's their professional bread and butter.  It's the extra children crowding their houses.  It's the neighbors who beg for drugs on the sly, unable to accept the fact that their sunken faces and skin infections outed their HIV status long ago.

I live a double life in Tanzania.  Weekly, I'm a worker bee at the clinic, a slightly bumbling white woman, smiling and sympathetic.  As my Kiswahili improves at an imperceptible rate and my presence becomes less interesting, I am allowed to step behind the curtain of we'll-tell-you-what-you-want-to-hear politeness.  After work, I drink cold Tusker beers with my fellow nurses.  We eat roasted bananas and grisly hunks of meat and we talk about the things women talk about; boyfriends, babies, sex, money, and clothes.  Once we've wiped our greasy plates clean, we return to our separate homes.  My home, a rather liberal use of the word, is the close quarters of a Spartan hotel room, part penitentiary and part haven. 

In my second life, on the weekends, I'm an ex-patriot empress.  I sail at the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club.  Unflinchingly, I hand over 16 dollars for eight hours of wireless internet at a five star hotel that serves chocolate croissants and fresh fruit smoothies.  WHO clinical staging, the management of opportunitistic infections, and the percentage of HIV exposed infants who contract the virus via breastmilk are deposited at golden doors held open by gracious, uniformed men in jaunty "native" hats.  I hang out with other ex-pats, mostly Americans, whose paychecks are hefty and whose gorgeous, gardened homes are well-staffed and well-guarded. 

A couple of weeks ago, comfortably ensconced in this second life, I found myself included in a group of 12 enjoying a decadent brunch at the Kempinski Hotel, the luxurious lodgings selected by President Bush and his staff for their recent visit to Tanzania.  We engaged in the usual get-to-know-each-other chit-chat, trading information about home states and alma maters.  I mentioned my attachment to the artistic and open-minded Cape Cod town I consider home.  Another guest, a confident woman who heads up the Tanzanian office of an American non-governmental organization chimed in.  "My family used to go to Provincetown, too, although there was a period of time during the eighties when my parents refused to take us.  AIDS had hit it hard." She stopped for a minute before adding, tentatively, "The irony is that now my brother is HIV-positive." 

We all have our reasons for being here, for releasing our personal and nearly invisible drops into the bucket of overwhelming need.  But I have to admit that I'm tired of my dingy hotel room and that living a double life is getting to me.  It's just about time to go home.  And it's just about time to start dreaming about my inevitable return. 


Copyright 2008- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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