Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We’re off to the USA!

The taxi is here and we’re leaving for the airport in just a few minutes! We are so excited the time has finally come to head back to visit with so many people we have missed this past year. We love you and can’t wait to see as many of you as possible very soon! Please pray for safe and smooth travels – and for sleepy boys! :)
The matatu (taxi) just arrived so we snapped a quick shot of the travelers! USA here we come!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Follow-up on Buhdro

We thought we should follow up our last post with some of what has happened since the waterslide incident on the 1st. First of all, we want to thank you all for the outpouring of love and support and nice words that have been sent our way by comments on the blog and emails. Thank you all so much for your kind and encouraging words - it was so nice to have the support and prayers of so many of you as we worked through the whole ordeal. But I also wanted to share some of what we've done since then to help ourselves work through our feelings and also to hopefully help out a little.
On the Sunday after it happened, we decided to have 'home church' so we could talk through it with the boys. They had a lot of questions to discuss. Jonah had a hard time, after seeing Buhdro's dead body, reconciling the idea that his soul was still alive and now was in Heaven (I can understand where he's coming from, as the idea that this person's soul is still alive just moments after their physical body has died is difficult to imagine when you're looking at the body mere seconds after it died). After we read some bible verses about heaven and the coming life we get to spend with Jesus, we all drew a picture of what Buhdro was doing in heaven.
Graysen's drawing of Buhdro in Heaven (Alisha wrote down Graysen's interpretation of his picture)
Jonah drew Buhdro in Heaven riding a skateboard with birds flying in the sky
This past weekend, Alisha and I wrote up some things that we felt could be done at the park to help prevent such an accident from occurring again. While we are obviously not experts on the subject, if you saw the conditions there I think most anyone could come up with a number of ideas. Since we have been to many waterslide parks with the boys back in the States we could easily see the glaring differences in safety precautions and procedures. So on Saturday, we stopped by Didi's World and Alisha delivered the document to the manager whom we had dealt with on the day of the incident. She was most gracious and said she would take a very serious look at our suggestions and see what they could do.
Brodie's picture of Buhdro playing basketball in Heaven
On her way out of the park, Alisha went by the slides and found Michael working again. She invited him to attend a First Aid class with us that we had learned about 2 days after the incident, and told him we would sponsor his fees for the class. He was very thankful for the opportunity, and this past Tuesday he was there waiting out front when we arrived for the class. It will be a 4 week session for 2 1/2 hours each Tuesday morning at 10am. We will only be able to make the first two sessions due to our trip home, but Michael will attend all four classes, and at the end will receive his certification.
Dani's picture of Buhdro meeting with God and Jesus before entering through the door into Heaven - his family and friends await him through the window
The first class was very good, and after telling the instructor our story she agreed to cover CPR and drowning in the second class so we can be there. The class will be offered again in a few months, so at that time we'll catch the other 2 classes.
Alisha's picture of Buhdro playing soccer next to a stream in Heaven
But we were so glad that Michael showed up as he said he would. Getting this certification could really help him in his career - he apparently has worked at Didi's World for 8 years, since it opened. But more importantly, he will now be a resource for the whole amusement park should something happen on any of the rides. He could even get moved over to the 'First Aid' stand since he'll actually be trained in First Aid (imagine that, a First Aid worker actually having First Aid training! :) ). We also found out that he has two young boys of his own at home.
Anyway, all of these little things have really helped us let go of some of the frustrations and sadness of the whole situation. And, our hope is that Buhdro's sad death that day will end up saving the lives of other children.
My picture of Buhdro eating a hamburger while surfing with a pink mohawk in Heaven (yes, that's a Manchester United jersey he's wearing! :) )

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I have no idea what title to give this post

I don’t know if it’s too soon to be writing about this, but maybe it will help us work through some of what we experienced yesterday (New Year’s Day) – as our day culminated in us frantically, but sadly, unsuccessfully trying to save a 5 year old Ugandan boy’s life. This is what happened.
Yesterday morning, we had decided to take the boys to Didi’s World (the local amusement park) later in the day when the water slides opened at 1pm, but until then we’d take what’s become our usual trip to go swimming at the ARA (American Recreation Association) since it’s so hot this time of year. As 2:30pm rolled around at the pool, we almost decided to skip the waterslides since we knew it would probably be busy and we were having a nice time at the pool.
But the boys had their hearts set and we had promised as long as the weather held out, which it did.
When we arrived, we paused at the ticket gate because we could see that the waterslide ‘pool’ was packed, the water was a disgusting gray color that was completely opaque, and only one waterslide was operating. Still, the boys were giddy with excitement so we decided to go, even if for just a little while. As we approached the pool, the only muzungu (white) woman there approached us with the warning that it was a crazy scene, with the small (maybe 20 feet square) pool full of 20-25 rambunctious kids of all ages (5-15) and another 25 or more coming down the slide, many times in groups of 6 or 8 and all landing on each other after the 4 foot drop into the 3 foot deep pool. She pointed out her 7-year old son at that moment coming out the slide with a group of 6 kids that landed in a ball of more flesh than water.
Alisha was disgusted with the appearance of the water, so I said I’d go up with the kids and she’d watch out from the bottom. Jonah took off up the stairs with a token glance back and quick shout to his parents, “Mom, I’m heading up!” Brodie was soon to follow, so I quickly got down to just my trunks and started up with Graysen – by that time Jonah was crashing into the pool already. When we got to the top of the 50-foot structure, there was no attendant so it was kind of a free for all. I stepped in the water, holding Graysen, and gave him a shove while blocking off the slide from anyone. I waited 10 seconds or so and then took off after him, only to come to a screeching halt about 30 feet later – the slope of the slide was too gradual for the low water flow, so I began to ‘scoot’ myself (it was clear to me then why the kids were coming out in ‘clumps’). Just as I reached Graysen (who had also stopped), I became a logjam for half a dozen Ugandan kids piling into the back of me. Graysen was scared and started crying because he didn’t want to get run over – I was glad I was between him and the group to prevent that, so I picked him up and we scooted the rest of the way down. When we got to the bottom I just threw him clear of the ‘drop zone’ towards the side.
When we got out of the pool, Graysen was crying because he was scared. But, we have a policy in our household – whenever possible, don’t end on a bad note. That is, I didn’t want Graysen to be afraid of waterslides forevermore, so I encouraged him to come up again with me one last time and that this time I’d hold him the whole way down. After a little resistance Alisha and I convinced him it would be ok – and it was, though I had to basically push us down the entire way. When we got to the pool, I threw him again, and was relieved to see him smiling and saying ‘that was fun’. Alisha was right there as well so we were both laughing at the 180-degree turn around he’d made after one ride. It was right at that moment that I noticed something alarming.
A young Ugandan boy of maybe 15 was holding up at the waist a prostrate, small child who was floating face down in the pool, partially submerged. All you could see of the small body was a small section of his waist as the gray water hid the rest. My first reaction was panic, but that was just for an instant as I quickly realized that they must be playing a joke since no once was reacting. But my eyes never broke the gaze of the 15 year old boy, as his face was almost void of expression except for his mouth hanging open. He very slow lifted the child out of the water, and I quickly realized that this was no joke. Still, the remarkable lack of a response from anyone nearby kept a lingering question in my mind – is this for real? Maybe 5 seconds had passed, but as he brought the young boy to the pool’s edge, I quickly began giving orders to him to turn him on his side and see if he’d cough up water. A small amount of liquid and white bile came out in a gurgling cough-like sound, so I thought this boy had a chance.
As a crowd formed, still no one came forward to do anything – no parent, no doctor, no park employee. So I shouted for Alisha (who hadn’t noticed what was going on yet) to come and do CPR since no one else was doing anything (I don’t know CPR, but I knew Alisha did). I shouted for a doctor but got blank stares. Alisha was shaking and half crying as she quickly moved into action, first untying her cloth wrap and wiping the boy’s face clear of the bile . I grabbed the waterslide attendant (we later learned his name was Michael) and told him to call security or first aid, but he came with me instead and began doing the mouth to mouth portion of the CPR while Alisha beat on his heart. He didn’t know CPR, so Alisha told him what to do.
Meanwhile, as about 15-20 seconds had passed, my attention turned to my kids. They were right there, front and center watching this all unfold, but starting to get blocked from my vision by the ever growing crowd. I immediately thought of the book ‘the Shack’ – where in a father’s haste to help in one disaster (his two older kids were in a capsized canoe on a lake), he inadvertently allows another one to occur as his younger daughter is abducted by an opportunistic predator. So I grabbed all three boys and sat them on a nearby bench. The muzungu woman who had greeted us when we came was right there joined now by her husband and their two kids, and offered to watch the boys for us. I didn’t know the woman, but the fact that it was a family and the only other white people in the park for some reason made me feel like it was OK (not because they were white, but because I knew I could find them easily).
So I shouted to Alisha, “Anything yet?” and her frantic, half crying shout back “No!” was disappointing – I thought that initial ‘cough’ had been a great sound and I was fully expecting him to come to after that.
I sprinted off, barefoot, to the nearby front gate and quietly told the person there that there had been an accident and he needed to call the police or an ambulance (I later regretted running barefoot since the park was littered with broken glass bottles no doubt from the night before – sure enough, I realized about 2 hours later that I’d sliced my foot a bit and had a piece glass stuck in it). He said ok, but the puzzled look on his face gave me no reassurance that he would. So I ran back to check, pushing my way to the front of the 100+ person crowd now gathered around – still ‘no signs of life’ according to Alisha, and after briefly asking around, no sign of any of the child’s family either.
I then ran to the main front gate which was quite a ways away, joined by an older Indian man who was the just the 4th person to get involved in some way, outside of Alisha, myself and Michael (Alisha later commented how she noticed as she looked up once for help how expressionless everyone’s face was in the crowd). We reached the front gate and I repeated my cry for help to the attendant. He pulled out his phone and asked, “Now who do you want me to call?” I said, “The police? Paramedics? Someone – a little boy is dying right now and might already be dead!” A nicely dressed woman nearby in a green business suit said, “You need the first aid place, I’ll show you.” And then she started walking down the ramp, the Indian man and I followed for about 2 seconds, before turning into a jog to hurry her along. When she kept walking, I just ditched both of them and sprinted back down into the park and just kept asking park attendants where first aid was until I saw it – which was maybe just 100 feet from the slide. When I got there though, I could see that the ambulance was there, so I went back over.
I arrived just in time to see the boy being carried into the ‘ambulance’ – a white minivan with a red cross on it but with nothing more inside to distinguish it from any other empty cargo minivan than an old, green gurney to load a patient onto in back. He was joined now by another young boy – his brother – (maybe 9) and an older girl in a dress – his cousin – (probably 16-18). A woman who appeared connected to the park asked me, “Where is CPR? You show me.” (Ugandan English for asking for the person who was performing CPR). Alisha looked at me and said, “No one has any idea what they are doing – you have to go with them.” I told her I too had no idea what I was doing, and that she should go and continue the CPR. I told her I’d get the kids and find her. I asked the driver where he was going and he said ‘Mulago’ – the biggest hospital here but also a 30-minute drive from the park. I told him there was no time for that, and that he should go to IHK (Internation Hospital of Kampala) which was only 7-10 minutes away. He said, ‘OK’, but as they pulled away I heard his assistant in the passenger’s seat say ‘Mulago’. So I chased it down and yelled at him, “Don’t go to Mulago – the boy will die. I’ll meet you at IHK.” He said he “didn’t know the place”, but Alisha chimed in from the back “I’ll direct you there” as her and Michael, who had jumped in, continued to work on the boy.
I went back and found our boys right where I’d left them with the couple, quickly thanked them, and the 4 of us headed for the car. On the 7-minute car ride to the hospital the boys were full of questions, and I could actually feel this as a defining moment of my parenthood. When they are 25, they’ll probably remember this day and what they were feeling and thinking. Brodie seemed the most impacted by the events, but they all wanted to know if the boy would be ok. This was a moment as a father that I felt totally ill-equipped to handle. I don’t know how you actually become equipped to handle it, but I just prayed that God would help me not botch this occasion too badly.
First, I decided to be honest and not sugar coat the situation. They’d see right through that if the worst case happened. Second, I tried to not have all the answers - again, they’d figure that out. Thirdly, I wanted to try to offer some measure of reassurance that they were safe, but fourthly, I wanted them to learn something too – even if only that life is both precious and fragile, and that at any instant it can be taken away from any one of us without warning. I explained to them that their Mom was a hero in this situation, and that though this little boy probably was going to die, Mom had done everything possible for him.
I have no idea if I botched my ‘moment’, but I tried my best. I prayed out loud, and when Brodie asked if the little boy had Jesus in his heart I told him that God will welcome all little children into heaven until they’re old enough to decide for themselves if they want to be there. I also told them that this situation is why their mom and I go to such great effort to keep them safe, that we never want to be in the position where one of them is in an ambulance fighting for life. I told them that this is why it is important to listen to mom and dad when we’re warning them, whether it’s crossing the street or at the swimming pool. Accidents happen, but there’s a huge element of preparedness and caution that enters in that can help prevent them.
Inside, I thought to myself if we’d been irresponsible to allow them on the waterslides that day, given the chaos. I thought about why one of my kids wasn’t the one in the ambulance – part of me recognized that it was due in part to our ‘preparedness’ of me going down the slides with them and Alisha watching at the bottom – but even though we increased our odds for safety, the bottom line is it still might’ve happened to us if just the wrong scenario had played out. That is scary.
We arrived at the hospital 2 minutes after the ambulance to find the brother and cousin crying in the waiting room. I passed an exhausted and stunned looking Michael as I went into the ER room and found 2 nurses and a doctor working on the boy, with Alisha bending over him nearby, crying. It was still way too calm for an emergency situation, but this was a common theme among the reaction we saw from the Ugandans involved. I went outside and hugged the little brother and prayed with him, and returned inside to find that they’d given up and Alisha was now consoling the cousin. The boys were sitting across the room from them and asked me if the little boy was ok. I told them no, that he had died. Jonah seemed especially surprised by that, he kept saying, “you mean he’s not going to live?” That night during our bedtime prayers, he even prayed that the little boy would come back to life. We didn’t say anything – who are we to question a little boy’s optimism, especially when it has to do with God and His miracles?
There’s no way to sum up what we’re feeling. To be so close to death is not something you can really describe, and I think it will take us a long time to really sort through what we’re thinking and feeling. Especially Alisha, who was the single person in charge in the whole affair – even at the hospital, the doctor and nurses seemed very unhurried (in their defense, the first thing they asked was how long ago it had happened, and when Alisha said maybe 20 minutes the looks on their faces showed that they had little hope of saving him). Alisha and I were the ones who told the brother and cousin that their loved one had died.
But what of the reaction we saw from the Ugandan people? Do they just not care about life as much as Americans? Why was there no reaction of panic when the little boy was discovered? Why was everyone seemingly reluctant to help? Why did the crowd of people seem to be waiting for the inevitable, with no hope or desire to try to do something about it. Or, are these all just our misperceptions of a culture that we just don’t understand? Why was this incident not treated as a bigger deal than it was – when we drove Clara (the cousin) and her brother back to the park to wait for the rest of their family to come pick them up, we noticed eerily that the waterslide was still operating the same as before, as if nothing had happened. In fact, the park had gotten much more crowded). We met briefly with the park director, who thanked us for helping. Alisha made a point of highlighting Michael’s help in the whole affair to hopefully help keep him from being the target of blame. As we were leaving, she asked me to ‘advise’ her whether or not I thought she should wait for the family there in the office or go meet them at the gate. She also asked Alisha to pray for her as this had ‘never happened before’ and she hoped to be able to ‘settle this’ with the family. Again, her concern for the family seemed to be somewhat second-tier to her concern about the park taking the blame? I guess I can understand that somewhat – losing your job here can end up being a matter of life and death for not only you but also your family.
I don’t mean to sound cynical about this - that is not my point at all. We are just trying to figure out all of the emotions we’re feeling. I recognize that the value of a life here in the minds of the people is not the same as it is for most Americans – that’s a sad fact. But honestly, there is a reason for that too. The mortality rate is so high here and the life expectancy is so low that someone dying, even a child, is not that uncommon. I don’t mean to imply that the family isn’t totally grieved just like we would be in their shoes – they’ve since called to thank us. But I think the public reaction was what it was because tragedy is a way of life here – everyone experiences it fairly regularly, so when you see someone else experience it it’s not such a big deal. It’s almost like at some level it’s expected, so when it happens no one panics and most people default to the belief that there’s nothing that can be done. It’s all a part of why developing countries need assistance, not just for the day to day needs, but more importantly, on a grander scale, to change the systems that are in place, to help prevent tragedies and create a culture where the highest possible value is placed on life. One of the things I told the boys during ‘the moment’ that clearly God put on my mind was this (as best as I can remember it): “You guys, this is the reason why we are here in Uganda - to help this country and these people. Back home, if this had happened, within seconds, a system would have been in place to immediately help that little boy. Paramedics from the first aid station would’ve been radioed and would’ve arrived in a minute or two. A doctor probably would have been within earshot in the crowd to come take over before they arrived. A fully-equipped ambulance would’ve taken the boy in and might have been able to save his life before he ever arrived to the hospital. You see, even though eMi just helps people build safer buildings, that’s the kind of help countries like Uganda need if they are ever going to be able to improve. But they don't just need engineers, they need doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, dentists and all sorts of people who have an expertise to come and help them develop so that the people here can have a better life.”
As I write this, I hear my 3 boys playing with their mom out in the yard with the hose. I know Alisha is still keenly aware of what she went through yesterday – it’s had a big impact on her – but the laughter and playful voices of the boys is just a stark contrast to the dark images and thoughts flashing in and out of my mind. I am happy that they seem to be Ok after witnessing at close-range such a traumatic event, but I can’t help thinking of little Buhdro (‘Boo-dro’), the 5 year old boy who lost his life right under our noses less than 24 hours ago. Doesn’t Buhdro deserve to grow up in a country where if his life is in danger, people will do whatever it takes to help him? Because the life expectancy is lower here, does that mean his death is any less tragic? I wish there was something more we could’ve done for him – specifically me, as Alisha did everything possible. She really was a hero. She doesn’t feel like it, questioning everything she did (‘Did I pump his heart the right number of times?’) and wondering if she should have done something else. I’ve reassured her that Buhdro was probably dead when he came out of the water (we have no idea how long he was underwater, and other than the initial regurgitation – which was probably gravity induced – he never made any movement, though food and bile continued to come out of his mouth and nose as they pumped his chest). If there was any chance of him surviving it would have happened only because she was right there doing everything possible for him. She wonders why God even wanted her there that day if He wasn’t going to use her to save that little boy. I don’t have an answer for that, but I hope Buhdro can look down from heaven and see that even though he died, he had an angel standing over him, trying to help him and caring and praying for him during his last few moments here on Earth.