Friday, December 26, 2014

Grandma's Green Bean Casserole for Christmas

Hard to believe, but this is our fifth Christmas in Uganda. Some of our traditions we have been able to keep intact, but others had to go by the wayside. For instance, we still get new pajamas to wear on Christmas eve. While this has been a challenge, we have been able to continue this. The other thing that continues is fun filled Christmas stockings for whoever spends the night with us and of course reading the Christmas story before opening any gifts. One of the things that is difficult to replicate though? Food. Just things that seemed so simple in the states to get (ingredients) are either non-existent or difficult to find. For this reason, the green bean casserole that I always made from my grandma's recipe rarely graces our table for Christmas. But this year was different. A couple months ago, I was surprised to find canned water chestnuts of all things! I bought a can "just because I could" even though I had serious doubts that it would make any difference. The other ingredients would not be around. Then about a month ago, I was amazed to discover canned French-cut green beans in Jinja! I couldn't believe it!!! I bought three cans "just because I could." Then sat them on the shelf in the pantry. I would make them at Thanksgiving and use the chestnuts. I knew it still wouldn't taste right, but at least I could get "closer" to the original. Thanksgiving grew closer and it was apparent that we wouldn't even be around for that celebration because Bob and I needed to head to Nairobi Hospital to take care of his heart problem (atrial fibrillation). The green bean casserole would just have to wait. That wasn't very disappointing since I wouldn't have the other proper ingredients anyhow. After Bob's heart got fixed, we had to wait an extra day or so in order for the doctor to have a follow up appointment and confirm that his heart was going to stay in good rhythm before releasing us to go back to Uganda. What else is one to do while waiting in Nairobi? Hit the shopping mall, of course! At one of the supermarkets, I was super excited to discover Campbell's cream of mushroom soup! Campbell's for real!!! I bought two cans "just because I could!" I even found Nestle's chocolate chips and Skittles in four different flavors! I had to pinch myself to remind myself that I hadn't just tele-ported to America somehow ... When we got home to Uganda, I realized that I had almost all of the ingredients now that would make my grandma's green bean casserole! I only lacked French's French-fried onions! No problem. Andy and Karina Smith had asked many times if there was anything else I needed them to bring back ... and Dufur Christian Church had already purchased a footlocker which wasn't full yet just for us that the Smiths would be bringing the middle of December. I couldn't believe it. It was possible that if I just ordered some French-fried onions in time for the Smiths to stick them in our footlocker that we could actually have Grandma's Green Bean Casserole?!! Now you might think that green bean casserole is better than candy to me or, at the very least, it is my all-time favorite dish ever. I certainly seem to be consumed with figuring out how to have it! But, you know what? It really isn't. I enjoy it. I like it. I even miss it, at least at Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I find it at a potluck, I am excited to try it. But it never satisfies. It isn't the same recipe. Even if it was, the ingredients here don't quite taste the same. Last year I even tried cutting green beans (called French beans here) the French-style cut way and it took me an hour to do so. Then I made the recipe but to my disappointment. The mushroom soup I made just didn't taste "right." This year, I did make the correct recipe and it was good. I enjoyed it. But it really wasn't the green bean casserole that satisfied. It was the tradition of having Grandma's recipe on the table. It was like a taste of home, a way to be closer to family somehow. Being on the other side of the planet from family is hard at times and certainly the holidays are no exception. If nothing else though, it was a good reminder of what is truly important during the holidays. Green bean casserole or no, tradition or no, things cannot satisfy our hearts the way our precious Lord and Savior can. And no matter where in the world we are, He will always be with us! I can always, always take comfort in that!!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thanksgiving at Nairobi Hospital

It started after a morning of teaching. I sat down for some lunch and as I sat there, I could feel something unusual going on with my heart. I could feel it pounding in my chest. I checked my pulse and not only was it going faster than usual, it was also skipping beats. “Bummer”, I thought, “not again!” I had experienced heart arrhythmia four times before (actually, atrial fibrillation). Once it had gone back into rhythm on its own, the other times I had needed to be inverted (heart stopped and then started again with an electric shock). The heart didn’t seem to be skipping around as much this time as it had before. It just seemed to be skipping some beats. I thought, “Maybe if I just rest, it will calm down.” I knew it was probably wishful thinking, but last time had involved a month and a half of incapacity along with a memorable but highly unsatisfactory stay in a Ugandan hospital highlighted by an unsuccessful cardiovertion attempt, part of which I was concious for. All of this was followed by being life-flighted down to South Africa to be cardioverted again, this time successfully. So now you know where the “Bummer, not again,” comes from and why I was hoping things would correct themselves. But by morning it was clear that the heart was not going to fix itself. The pulse had slowed down to closer to normal but it was still skipping beats. I wasn’t feeling as bad as I had in the past but I knew I would need some help. I called my cardiologist who was in Nairobi. I had been followed by him ever since the last episode two years earlier. The receptionist would not let me talk to the doctor but told me I would need to make an appointment and come in. I tried to explain that I lived in a different country and it would take me hours of travel to get there. I wanted to know if there were something I should be doing now. She told me I need to make an appointment. So I made an appointment. The next day was earliest appointment I could get, which was just as well as it would take me that long to get there anyway. The choice was between flying and taking the bus. We had tried driving twice and our van had broken down both times, so driving was out. It is just not reliable for longhaul trips or anything with hills and mountains. The flight itself would only be about an hour and a half, but it would take at least four hours to get to the airport, then there would be standing in line getting tickets, going through security and customs and travel from the airport in Kenya. All-told it would take somewhere around nine hours of travel to fly with a lot of activity and stress. The bus would take about 12 hours but most of that I would just be sitting. Plus the bus would be ten times cheaper, so the bus it was. My wonderful wife lined up for our boys to stay at some friends and arranged for bus tickets on the night bus for us, along with a lot of last-minute details. Some Ugandan friends dropped us off at the bus station where we were told the bus would be there any minute. Our bus station consisted of two waiting room type chairs placed at the side of the road. We had a lot of stares at the two white people sitting at night by the side of the road in these nice chairs. We sat there for about an hour waiting for the bus, which was okay, until it started to rain. But eventually the bus did make it and we got going. My seat was fairly roomy and not too uncomfortable but Michelle was stuck by a fellow with a lot of bags that were stuck where her feet was supposed to be. The back of the seat in front of her kept bagging into her knees and her seat back was broke so if she leaned back on it, it would fall back into the lap of the fellow behind. Fortunately it was just a short bus ride, 12 hours or so. So off we went, bumping along. We were both able to get some sleep even if only intermittently. At first I hadn’t been feeling that bad, but by the time we were getting close to Nairobi, my chest was beginning to feel very tight and the pain was increasing. It was morning when we got off the bus in the middle of bustling Nairobi. Michelle grabbed the bags (Did I mention I had a wonderful wife) and we found a taxi. We went and got some food then to a guest house where we could get about an hour of rest before it was time for the doctor's appointment. The rest helped, so I was able to make it up the stairs to the doctor’s office by taking it slow. The doctor looked me over and told me sure enough I had a problem. He told me they could cardiovert me but first they would need to know there were no blood clots in my heart or it could kill me. He gave me two options. I could take some drugs and wait a month. Or they could do a procedure of putting some kind of scope down my throat to see if there were any clots and if not, go ahead and cardiovert me then. Last time, under the care of a doctor in Uganda, I had only had option A, and it had left me virtually bed ridden for more than a month, so this time I jumped at option B. The procedure was lined up for the next day, Thanksgiving. While we had been looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with friends, all the excitement had been put out of my mind. So the next morning as they were preparing me for the procedure (sliding a tube with a scope on it down my throat), I was surprised when the doctor wished me a “Happy Thanksgiving.” I thought, “This isn’t what I had envisioned putting down my throat on Thanksgiving, but oh well.” I was concious for the first part of them putting the tube down my throat (for some reason they needed me awake), but while I felt a little panicky at first it wasn’t too bad. And I don’t really remember much beyond feeling the start of it going down. I woke up in a different bed and was told that there had been no clots so they would now do the cardioversion. The doctor told me to count backwards from 100. I can remember getting to 28, and then I was waking up again and my heart was back to beating as before. A few hours later I was able to leave the hospital. During this time I was able to just rest, but Michelle was kept busy with a lot of running around. We had brought our credit card and debit card and had even called the credit card company in advance. But because of credit card fraud that had been going on in Kenya, they would not authorize the card. To get out of the hospital, we would have to pay our bill in full so Michelle was forced to find a way to get the money transferred from our bank in Uganda over to Kenya. Fortunately, a good friend back in Uganda was willing to give up part of his Thanksgiving to help us out. After a lot of stress and headache, Michelle was able to get it taken care of so I could leave the hospital. (Did I mention I have a wonderful wife?) We got out and stayed again at a guest house and were able the next day to catch a ride up to the school where Janae and Josh attended. As it turned out, they were just heading into Christmas break and were preparing to catch a bus ride back to Uganda the next morning. We were able to get a ride on the same bus. This bus ride took 15 hours but finally we were back home. Getting back to normal would still take about a week, but all-in-all, I was very thankful for so many things.