Since joining STEPS in Jan 2013, I have been lucky to visit some of our neighbouring countries. In June 2013, STEPS organised the first Ponseti training in Botswana, and it was my first visit to Gaborone.
Packing for my first training experience was interesting. Delegates get to practice casting with plaster of Paris using rubber models of babies’ feet and legs that fit onto a stand. Delegates also each have a foot bone model to practice the manipulation of the foot used in the technique. So we travel with about forty of each model. One can imagine how odd this must look, a suitcase full of human legs and feet, and we had a good giggle about what the person manning the baggage x-ray machine must think. Luckily that time we made it through, no questions asked.
In November 2014, STEPS organised the first Ponseti training in Namibia. It was also my first time visiting Windhoek. Yet again our suitcases filled with rubber human leg and plastic bone models accompanied us. Making it into Windhoek was fine, although the Tanzanian doctor was questioned rather earnestly about his visit, but that is a story for another time and it has a happy ending. However, leaving Windhoek was a different story.
The bag full of the foot skeleton models was checked in with my name on it and as we were casually lining up to board, exhausted from the week’s goings on, we were approached by an armed guard asking who “Gabrielle Rademeyer” was. Immediately my stomach sank to my knees with the worst going through my mind, not even considering it could be the models. Karen realised instantly and rummaged through her papers for the letter from the Ministry of Health whilst I was escorted to a restricted area.
I was taken to where the baggage is scanned before going on to the plane and here I was surrounded by even more armed guards and ordered to open the suitcase. I had by then cottoned on to what was happening and on opening the bag I breathed a sigh of relief only to look up and see expressions of horror all around. I slowly lifted a model out whilst explaining what we do and ended up doing a full demonstration to show how we use the models and that they are made of rubber and plastic.
Karen cajoled her way through the security control and came hustling around the corner with her paperwork. After a loud rebuking from a towering and very angry airport security official, STEPS was absolved of any suspicious activity relating to the trafficking of body parts and we were free to fly home. What a way to end a successful training adventure!