Saturday, July 26, 2014


Operation Smile - back from Rawanda  2013
    After the Congo I was asked to go to Rawanda for another mission to repair cleft lips and cleft palates in that country.  I learned as much as I could about the country, from its beauty to its turbulent past.  The recent genocide gave me pause to go there, but once I got into the country I was amazed at the progress this little country in the middle of Africa has bounced back to be more of a model of tolerance, and gaining slowly in prosperity.
   I flew a long, long way and a long, long time to get to the capital called Kigali.  I flew west from Hawaii with a long lay-over in Seoul, Korea, and on Qatar Air to Qatar then Uganda and finally Rawanda.  The 40 member team from various countries gathered the first night in Kigali, then took vans a few hours west to the town of Ruhengeri.
    We were three to a room, with one on a mattress on the floor.  We spent a week there, walking back and forth to the hospital,  except on nights in the pouring rain, when we could get rides. There was a nice center where people with clefts could come as families and stay for the screening and surgery.
    The first day there we screened all the kids and people can came requesting surgery.  Some were too sick or too malnourished to have an operation, and will be seen on another mission, maybe next year.
    I helped set up the operating rooms in the hospital, all our equipment and instrumentation coming from shipments from Operation HQ in Virginia.
    A group of guys from England, like a boy band, came to lend their support and help publicize the mission.   The local volunteers and the children and parents were so wonderful.  They were happy to see us and even happier after the surgeries.
    I worked in the Operating Room.  One room had two operating tables and the other room had three.  It was quite crowded and very busy, but we did over a hundred cases in the 4 1/2  days of surgery.
   Interestingly a man came into the hospital's ER and then to their OR. He had stepped on a hand gernade or land mine that had been buried in the mud around a lake since the genocide.  It blew his lower leg off.  Our operation smile doctors helped the local staff to stop the bleeding and clean up the stump so he could be transported to Kigali for further treatment and a major hospital.    Times like this is when reality really hits home.  This country has suffered tremendously.
    I will add pictures of the mission later.
     After the mission I went on my own, but with a couple other people that stayed over, and we went up the nearby Volcanoes National Park to see the Mountain Gorillas... as in the movie of Diane Fossey "Gorillas in the Mist".  This was the place!  The first day we went to see the Golden Monkeys in their home of the bamboo forests, it was really fun to watch them and take lots of pictures.  The next morning, praying that the rain would hold off, we met at the Park and were assigned into groups of eight.  We had requested to view a gorilla group that would take us on only a moderately strenuous hike.   There are about 12 gorilla groups that are habituated to humans watching them.  There are other groups that can be visited across the border in Uganda.  But the gorillas that are on the other border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo are in danger still, because they are not protected, and can still be poached.
   We drove to a small village where the trail to our gorilla group called "Bewandi" were.  Trackers had followed them the night before and knew the location where they'd "nested" and went back up in the morning to continue tracking them until we arrived.  We had a guide and I hired a porter to carry my backpack and help me up the tricky and steep mountain path.  Hiring the local men is helpful to the village and a deterant to poaching.  The hike took almost two hours and I was usually in the rear, with four physically fit Aussies setting the pace in the lead.   We had a couple park rangers meet us at the stone wall that surrounds much of the park.  Then we all walked up to meet the trackers and put our bags down ready for the one-hour adventure with the gorillas.  
     It was amazing to see two Silverback Mountain Gorillas in the group with other members of various ages.  One female had a one month baby gorilla which she carried closely in her arm.  We were very close to all of them, and had many rules to follow during the encounter.  Basically the gorillas had no concern about our presence and more just intent on eating the bamboo and other plants and leaves that they found find.  We all got many photos and videos of the visit, and were grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime experience we had, even if it was just for one hour.   The rain held off until we were back in Ruhengeri.
     After that we went to the big lake near Goma, the border crossing to DCR. be continued

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Operation Smile - return from Africa

I recently returned from 10 days in the Congo (DRC) in the capitol city of Kinshasa, the old Leopoldville in the old country of Zaire (and the Belgium Congo, before that).
I was fortunate enough to go as a volunteer Operating Room nurse with Operation Smile, a volunteer organization which surgically repairs cleft palates and cleft lips in children, primarily.
   Our group of 40 was composed of Plastic Surgeons (4), Anesthesiologists (5), OR Nurses (4) and several recovery and pediatric nurses, and other integral members of a" traveling hospital."  We were able to occupy two operating rooms in a local hospital for the 5 days of surgery.  The other days involved screening hundreds of surgical candidates and setting up the areas of operation.  About 17 members of the team were from the USA and the others were from several other countries including Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Ghana, Italy, England and Ireland.
Waiting to hear if their child has been accepted for surgery
   About 126 kids and older patients were operated on to instantly change their lives to make a small change in their faces, yet to impact their social acceptance and self esteem in a big way.  The kids and parents were great.  I enjoyed working with the many hospital employees, nursing and medical students, and interns who aided us, and also learned from us.  On the other hand, we learned about the parents love for their children, their generosity and patience, and their eagerness to learn new things.

Donna and a child with cleft lip - before surgery
      I'd never been in Africa before, except for one day in Dakar, Senagal, on a tour in 1968.  I didn't know what to expect in Kinshasa.  We arrived at night so I couldn't see the lay of the land, and never saw the nearby famous, Congo River.  Our van ride to the hotel was ill-fated.  We broke down on the highway in the fast lane.  After tinkering with stuff under the van (while we sat without lights and everyone honking and barely missing us), the driver and assistant rolled the van backward down the hill until he could "pop the clutch" (I think).  We tried rolling back three times, each time I envisioned a horrible rear-end collision.  Finally it caught and we were on our way, only to have it happen again...loss of power.  This time we got off the road and they called a smaller van to start ferrying us on to the city.  That's about as scary as it got.  But we were warned of crime and the need for security measures while there.  We stayed in groups both to the hospital and to the restaurant for our evening meal, and back to the hotel.  We were warned never to take a taxi.  So everything went well.
Two operations going on at once
   The hospital days were very busy, very tiring, yet very rewarding. We had wonderful volunteer translators who spoke the local Lingala and French and made it possible to talk to the people.   It's heart-warming to see so many children have this transformational surgery. The children were so sweet and the parents so grateful for the help provided to their children.
     In the days of screening we saw people who had conditions of many years, that we couldn't treat, including burns from acid thrown at them, and a woman with her fingers hacked off by her husband.  Several had disfiguring tumors, and we were able to help one or two with smaller facial tumors.  I heard there is an International Charity with a ship that can offer help to those larger cases we couldn't do.  The organization is "Mercy Ships" of Texas, and the current ship is called  Africa Mercy.  It may dock at Pointe-Noire next year across the Congo river on the Atlantic, west of Brazzaville .  That's about all I know of that, but hopefully many in the Congo can get help there.
    Our days in Kinshasa were followed the tight routine of Work, Eat, Sleep.  But on the last day while waiting for our flights home at 8 pm,  we were able to rent a van to take us to the Bonobo Sanctuary.

 It's called the "Lola ya Bonobo" (Paradise for Bonobos in Lingala).  Bonobos are a separate species from Chimpanzees and are identified as our "closest" genetic cousin.  Indeed, the nursery at the sanctuary gave us a glimpse of orphans hugging and playing with their surrogate human mothers who devote time with them until they get older and can be released in the "teenage" area.
Surrogate mother with her bonobo babies

Surrogate mother with her "teen" kids
     In the teenage area one particular little guy had a wonderful time jumping onto the top of a pipe and balancing on one foot.  In addition he scooped water from a pool with his hollowed out orange, and drank water from the makeshift "cup".


 All the areas in the sanctuary are fenced off from humans and provide as wild of an environment as possible to live.  As I understand it, Bonobos were discovered in about 1928 and are only found in the DCR Congo.  Their habitat is surrounded by rivers, and it's said they can't swim well so evolved separately from Chimpanzees on the other sides of the rivers.  Now that lumbering is destroying their habitat and adults killed for bushmeat, the babies are sold as pets or abandoned.  This sanctuary seeks to provide a sanctuary for the homeless Bonobo, now endangered I think.  At any rate, this glimpse of Africa, out of the city, was never to be forgotten. 
    I returned to Hawaii after about 36 hours of air travel, including about 27 hours in airplane seats.  The trip seemed to help my herniated disc and sciatica pain, for what reason, I don't understand.  But after a week of jet-lag, I am looking forward to another trip to Africa.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fearless Females - Aunt Pearl - best baseball scorer 1910

Pearl Victoria Blanding was a fearless female, and during Women's History Month I thought I’d write about her: my great Aunt.  Pearl was not a straight-laced Victorian lady, despite her middle name.  She was born 22 Mar 1892, but that never stopped her from getting younger through the years.  At one point, on her Catholic conversion baptism certificate, she crossed out her birth year of 1892 and wrote in "1900."  Her age was also eight years reduced on her ID as an office worker at Santa Anita Race Track in 1936.  She figured it helped her be employable, and she never acted her age anyhow.  

     Pearl was born at Madison Lake, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, but didn't stay there long.  Her Blanding family and some cousins migrated to Dooley County Georgia about 1900, supposedly to avoid the snow and raise peaches.  But after an epidemic of diptheria killed her little cousin, the Squier family returned north.  Pearl's father then took them to Palm Beach, Florida, where he was a carpenter for the Breaker's Hotel.  But California called, and the family took the train ending in Los Angeles in 1903 where she grew up in her family's boarding houses on Staunton Ave and also on 21st Street.
Who can resist girls boxing?  Pearl on right - Los Angeles
      When Pearl was 17 she was feeling her oats and became interested in the national past-time, baseball.  After all, that's where the guys were, and she dated them frequently  She received post cards from them from all over the west and Mexico.  I knew Aunt Pearl always loved the Dodgers when they came to Los Angeles in 1958, but I never knew the background of her fascination with the sport.   

  The postcard from Long Beach, above, says in typical jargon:  "Oh! you kid. Do you think you could outshine this kid in a bathing suit.  I am rooming with Baldwin, a big league p. (pitcher?) certainly tells me a lot of dope, pretty good fellow too.  Jess"

From the California Digital Newspaper Collection I learned that at age 17 Pearl was an avid baseball league scorer as written in the Los Angeles Herald newspaper: 
  " Play Fast Ball in City League" Dec 13, 1909.  "Shonley struck out ten men and was effective at all Stages of the game."  "Miss Pearl Blanding, who did the Scoring, has the reputation of knowing as much about The national game as either McGraw or Chance."  [Art Shonley and Pearl's sister Fern Blanding, were married briefly in 1911].   

Then on Feb 14, 1910: " Winter Baseball"  "The National Lumber company team has the distinction of having the only woman scorer in Southern California in Miss P. Blanding.  Miss Blanding is an expert in following the game and could give the male members who make an attempt at score-keeping cards and spades."
  She was always up for a party, or a song.  She became Catholic to marry her Irish baseball player love, Dan Critchley, and she fit right in to the culture, celebrating St. Patrick's Day with the zeal of a leprechaun, seemingly every day of the year.  Pearl fit right in, holding her own with a drink, a joke, or a song. 
Dan Critchley, 3rd from left, back row
    Aunt Pearl was not known in the family for being practical or conservative in her living or spending habits.  She was a bit of a free spirit.  After she married her third husband I knew that she loved dinner parties and card parties.  When I was a teenager she gave me a negligee that had belonged to her party friend, Auggie, (Augustine Cole), I believe she was the governess of  Francesca, the granddaughter of actor Edward G. Robinson and his wife Gladys.  Aunt Pearl often mentioned Francesca.  I suspect the negligee came as "no longer wanted" following Edward and Gladys' 1956 divorce.
Pearl with third husband, Pat Hunt, and perhaps Francesca 
   Aunt Pearl may have been considered a bit of a gray sheep by the family, but she outlived her sisters, despite her cocktails and lack of compliance with diabetes.  She also kept some of  the family history papers together (in her own way) and passed them down to me.  


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An update from Donna

I've been busy after getting back from Colorado after Christmas.  The weather in Hawaii has been wet and windy, but still happy to be here than under the snow and storms some of the mainland has received.
   The greater Rees family of Wales has had a sad week with the passing, March 10th, of Tony Lythe (Anthony Frederick Arthur Lythe), husband of Cristabel (John) Lythe, my 3rd cousin once removed.  Cris' great-grandmother and my great-grandmother were sisters in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, daughters of patriarch Elias Rees born 1811 in Carmarthenshire.  Tony was a Welshman through and through, born in Breconshire, and always proud of his heritage.  A wonderful person, he will be missed.
Tony Lythe
   Better news on the Welsh side, is that another descendant of the same great-grandmother's sister, Janet (Rees) Davies is coming to Hawaii to visit me.  The visitor is Helen Medlock, a part of triplets, who all visited me when they were 13 years old with their mother, Judith.  Now Helen is grown up and has been traveling on her own.  I am looking forward to seeing here again, and showing her more of the sights of Oahu.
Helen Medlock and her brothers in 2001

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent Calendar -Christmas Memories - Santa Claus

YIKES!  Could you love this face?
We  enjoyed our visits to the department store Santa Claus every year growing up in Los Angeles.  I think we would find him at the Broadway or May Company stores.  But it was when Santa came to our house Christmas Eve to pass out some presents that really was the best.  I don’t know why I wasn’t terrified by the Santa who came to our house, as you can tell by the photos, the mask was a bit scary.  I started getting suspicious of who that Santa really was when I noticed he wore the same type of dress shoes that my father wore, and that he even had an identical Masonic ring.  And where was my father every time Santa arrived???  The last time Santa came, my Uncle Wally Hague and his kids were visiting.  Uncle Wally said he had to run to the store and disappeared, then Santa arrived and this Santa sounded exactly like Uncle Wally.  But it was great fun, and the littlest kids were in awe.  And who could doubt any of it when you would get that special gift – from Santa!

 1946   I was only a year old, and maybe sleeping?  Santa was wearing Dad's robe.

A great Christmas - Santa brought me a doll and baby buggy
1950 - Looks like Santa brought be something great in the box
 that he took from his bag (a mailbag).

 Yes, it was a doll, a "Toni" doll, I believe.  My favorite. 
On Christmas morning our routine was to get up early to see if Santa had returned to come down the chimney and fill our stockings that were hung on the mantel.  Before going to bed on Christmas Eve we would leave a tray with cookies and milk for Santa (always gone in the morning) and a carrot for Rudolph (a big bite removed).  
   At one point I remember asking my grandmother, Minnie Wallace Hague, if Santa Clause was real.  I remember she said, "His spirit is real and he lives in your heart" - I don't think I quite understood that answer, but I thought it was nice that she didn't say "No."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas Memories - Outdoor Decorations

  I remember that at some point we had outdoor lights on the edge of the roof of our house.  Nothing extravagant, but once the neighbors did it we all had to do it, I guess.  I climbed the ladder to the roof and would help my Dad put up the lights.  I recall being quite small when climbing up to the roof.  What was my Dad thinking!!  Well, I did whatever he thought I could do.  I remember jumping out of a tree once, with his encouragement,  and he caught me when I was five in Idaho.  And then there was the time I got the courage to jump off a diving board and he was in the swimming pool to rescue me if needed (Long Beach, Calif).
   Anyway, I'm not sure of the year we started putting up outdoor lights, but this is a photo of our house on Cimarron Street in SW Los Angeles in 1961.
  Below are two neighbors across the street from us that year.  We loved seeing the lights along our street.  In the past we'd drive to the Coliseum in Los Angeles and see the lights outside of it.
My Neighbors' houses --- this is the way we did it in 1961 in Los Angeles, California

 Below is a photo for our Christmas card in 1959 as we might be ideally pictured putting up decorations on our porch.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Memories - Christmas Cards

 Christmas Cards were special from our house.  Even before I was born my father (Alfred Vincent Hague) sent out photo Christmas cards that he created, including the processing and printing.  When I got older I helped my father (along with my brother and mother) in the dark room built inside our garage in Los Angeles.  Inside the darkroom a red light enabled us to see the pans of developing chemicals for dipping each card through, after exposing it to the original negative with light.  Once that was done the cards had to be washed of all the chemicals.  We did this in the bathtub in the house.  Rinsing, rinsing rinsing.  Then each had to be dried.  Finally they were stacked and put in "press" or wooden box with a screw down top to flatten them out just before they were totally dry.  From there my mom addressed each envelope and they were finally mailed to our family and friends.
   Follow my brother, Richard, and me throughout the years in the cards below: