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Zanya Bulungi Uganda!

June 14, 2011

( Play Nice Uganda!)      

          Over the last three weeks I have truly understood the meaning of “going with the flow.” I have learned how to doge piglets running in front of me on my way home and how to tell people DEKA (leave me alone). My confidence has increased dramatically and I feel that I’m slowly starting to get the hang of this country. The small encounters with people, mainly in specific villages, are what keep me enamored with the culture. This past week I worked with the home based care department of my organization again and was lucky enough to meet dozens of patients. Over the week I visited a local clinic, the government hospital, patient’s homes and parishes that work as meeting venues for villagers to meet and receive monthly medication refills.      

             My favorite day was visiting a sub-county about 30 minutes past Nyendo, where around 100  HIV/AIDS and  cancer patients met our truck to consult with the nurses and get their monthly prescriptions. Being the fancy new Muzungu in town I had a line of about 7 women waiting to speak with me at the hood of the car. I explained, through a translator, that I was not a doctor. They responded by telling me that they trusted me and piled up their charts in a neat stack in front of me. I went through each individually, just explaining what their CD4 counts meant and what menopause was, something totally unknown among this community. Mostly I just told them to talk to a real medical professional but still they insisted on paying me in the form of hard-boiled eggs, bananas and sugar cane. Of course I refused, but it was just shocking to see how my nationality convinces these women that I have the knowledge to help (good thing they don’t get copies of my chemistry grades!).  This particular day ended working out of the back of our truck filling bags with prescriptions. I had about four children from the nearby school playing about my legs the whole time asking for sweets. Finally, the doctor I was working with and I just handed them all two vitamin C tablets, worked like a charm! One boy followed me the entire day to the point where he started crying and screaming “MUZUNGU! MUZUNGU!” as we drove away, priceless. I will never forget him, for some reason he really has stuck with me.

               This past Thursday was a Hero’s Day, a national holiday in Uganda. The President came to Masaka and was joined by a large portion of the army to protect him. I was woken up at about 7:00am by my host mom telling me to come meet my aunt, my host father’s sister. I came out of my room to find a tall woman, mid 60’s, in full uniform starring at me in my pajamas and half opened eyes. We hugged and she explained that she is a Major in the Ugandan army and wanted to come visit the family. She proceeded to sit me and my two host sisters down outside and lecture us about how “the world is a small village” and “pain is my lover” and that she believes  this African generation is wasted because their parents work hard to send them to school, but the government doesn’t help them get jobs afterward, making the years of work useless. She said that traveling is the most important way to learn. She had visited Germany, New York and London. She was very harsh and laid her opinions right out there. She explained that women need to take over the world and be the head of households, referencing her 6 children, all of which don’t have living fathers. I was completely entertained by this woman but realized my host mom kept walking behind her rolling her eyes. I found out later that she had traveled around the world working as a prostitute, that she had five husbands who had all died of AIDS and that she apparently was completely drunk when she visited. Huh.

            Over the weekend we all traveled to the Queen Elizabeth national park about 5 hours away from town. It was just the break we needed from Masaka. We stayed in a nice hostel and saw lions, elephants, hippos, and baboons! We even splurged and went chimpanzee tracking. We saw a hippo  and 6 chimps and followed one family for about an hour an a half, it was so amazing!!!! We were right next to them! I loved the break, but it was nice to get back to Masaka in the end, especially after truly experiencing Ugandan public transportation.

           As for work, I have been getting more and more frustrated with my project, or lack there of. I can’t seem to find something that I am passionate about or one that my facilitator is okay with. I had a small breakdown with my host sister and mom the other day. Both my sister and I were upset sitting on the floor venting. My host mom comes running in and forced us to stand up. She said “I ONLY RAISE STRONG WOMEN! BE STRONG WOMEN!!!” Then we danced in a circle chanting, “we are strong women!” for about 10 minutes. It really helped!!!  I am trying to stay positive and just focus on a handful of small projects instead of trying to save the world. Today I went with the orphans department where they have created a four-year program for high school dropouts. They meet weekly and are taught different organic farming techniques that they apply and then teach to other groups in other parishes. It is a well-organized and truly successful even among extreme poverty. I met a boy names Chaz who is my age at one of the community meetings and he invited me to see how he has implemented the lessons on his small plot of land. It was FASCINATING! He had created such a sustainable and profitable farm from a tiny plot. His efforts were acknowledged by the group of 25 members who bought him enough cement to make a pigpen to further grow his farm as a kind of reward. He was truly an inspiration.

            As you can see it’s been quite an event filled last week, sorry for the word vomit! I know I am lacking some academic thoughts, but really it’s the experiences with individual men, women and children that have made this experience valuable. I have found that here, in Uganda, what you learn in a classroom about poverty and health in nowhere near reality. These people are really trying to change their lives even with all odds against them and are in turn changing all of ours! Knowing this, I don’t feel adding some blurb about the role of government in poverty is necessary; what’s important is how actual people in these situations are taking a stand and looking for progress. Sounds preachy I know!! Miss you all and again thank you SO SO much for the e-mails of encouragement!!

– Margot (Or Grace in Uganda, my name is apparently impossible to pronounce here J )         

PICTURES:

1. Decorating blown up medical gloves for some local kids in my neighborhood

2. My best friend from the medical truck (speedway shirt, so CUTE).

3. My front door.

4. The back of the medical truck where I refill patient prescriptions

5. Chimps as Queen Elizabeth!

6. Chaz and his coffee beans/house!

 

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