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One Month

June 19, 2011
I made it one month without getting sick. Today, I sat in Masaka Town Byansi Clinic with an IV in my arm and antibiotics a flowin. You can’t win them all right? Let us take a moment to sit and remember the days when Mike’s stomach was happy, youthful and naïve…Good. Today my stomach is cheerless, irritated and full of bacteria. The source is a mystery, but clues into a theme that I am coincidentally working very hard on in Uganda. Clean water. It is one of those things you don’t appreciate until you don’t have it anymore. And it is part of a growing global crisis in our world today.

For tons of families, it is the women who travel far distances to get to water sources. Some 1 billion people do not have access to clean water sources. And the 7th leading cause of death in low- and middle- income countries is diarrheal disease. The Heston Experience is not only about observing some of these problems, but like a true anthropologist, by being a direct participant observer. As close as I did come to full out dehydration today, I was still lucky enough to have enough money to get a nice old IV stuck in me and hours later I was good to hop right back on the boda home. Unfortunately, that is not the case for others.

Most women see water as a priority but their income as an even higher priority. When I focused on my two groups in Kikijjabweme and Kinoni this week, but groups thought that water was important but less important than some pigs that could turn them a quick profit. Not wanting to interject, I discussed options with the groups on what they thought would be a good project. They really seemed to be down just to work with animal husbandry or tailoring. Who could blame this group? They said that is all they know. One the greatest opponent to poverty is education. I think countless businesses and professions here are the product of the poor seeing opportunity, but lack of access to education. When I ask peers what they would do if they fell upon money, they explain to me that they would open a supermarket, buy a taxi, or sell cell phone products. Here’s the catch, they all exist hundreds of times over. The streets of Masaka are filled with an ocean of MTN, Orange and Uganda mobile advertised supermarkets selling the same foods, matching cloths and identical supplies (catch the drift yet?). These businesses are what are available, nothing new. Still, they’re not going to change the Ugandan economy in two months (even though the government somehow thinks they will in soon time). However, what the Kikijjabweme group didn’t realize was their simple potential as an organizing body and what they had already accomplished just by meeting. After a little more Luganda chat, I called the meeting over and told them I would get back to them.

The next group I saw was not as pleasant of an experience. The next day, the Landcruiser full of TASO staff shipped over to Kinoni, a village about forty minutes from Masaka in Lwengo district. We met in a, what seemed to be abandoned, rural health clinic center. After waiting an hour for everyone to assemble, we began a carbon copy discussion of the previous day. Though, this time intern from Kampala translated for me instead of the TASO counselor. He thought it was good exposure for her and also decided he wasn’t the best translator. In actuality, he probably didn’t feel like translating and gave the poor university student the honor of connecting the concerned villagers of Kinoni and this white boy. Five minutes in there was standing and arguing in the meeting. The counselor stepped in and decided that his decision wasn’t the wisest. The after explaining some of the project ideas, the villagers had thought I was a donor. (Very common) They wanted direct reimbursement for their cattle that had fallen ill from a different TASO program. I tried to further explain my role as an intern and the concept of the community acting as a consultant. They were pretty fixed on direct aid.

Finally, we got past the misunderstanding and started to talk about safe water. My original and still forming work plan was to build rainwater tanks in the community to help save costs and provide clean water access. Kinoni was not jiving. After grilling me with questions, the meeting ended and they showed me around to past projects that had completely failed. This worried me at first, but after seeing the tanks it seems that these projects were not carried out properly. I was frustrated and even a little angry at the group. But after years of false promises, who could blame these people for being edgy? If I was struggling with a disease, had limited income and a feeling of neglect from a seedy government and countless promising NGOs, I would be pissed too. My screaming fit thirteen years ago after my mother refused to give me arcade quarters seems pretty insignificant now. But, let’s try to be objective. I didn’t blame these people for the mini quarrel that may have occurred. These people want the full buffet just like everyone; they want what she’s having. We do it all the time, we see the rich and famous and dream that someday a person will come to our doorstop with that big ass check (literally, one of those big guys that people receive in sweepstakes and golf tournaments) to alleviate all the financial burdens (or any other burdens) we carry. Realistically, that is not how this game works, so we work and try our hardest to make our lives happier and meaningful. My real frustration didn’t come out though until after the meeting when a sassy Kenyan intern on placement came up to me and said, “So you’re really going to dig a bore hole with the community?” Reassuringly I said, “Yes. You don’t think I can do it?” Before the fire grew in my eyes she commented, “No, I don’t. Your people always try to do this type of thing and it never helps. That’s why they just want your money”. Those words stuck with me. Everyone else in the car was surprised by the girl’s strikingly rude comments, to which she eventually apologized once she saw the look in my eyes. I know now that my only option is to continue to work and show that development will empower this community and desensitize them to that type of negative thinking. 

Okay, so this was quite the rant. But, one more thing happened that day that kind of rocked me hard. It was one of those days that seemed to last a week. After leaving the village we had gotten a call from a person in town who saw our van. They said that one of the TASO clients in the area was not doing well and we should go check up on them. I warn you now that this part of the story is not “Mike’s Wonderful Adventures in Africa and Look at How Awesome the World is” part to the blog. Still equally important, I will remember this part of the day forever. Entering the brick and clay home furnished with a few chairs, I walked into her bedroom. She was frail, ribs and spine fully visible, scared and frankly, dying. Agnes had progressed into full blown AIDS at the age of seventeen after being raped by her uncle at a young age. The ARV treatment she had been receiving was making her anemic and ghastly sick. One week earlier, she had been dismissed from ministry hospital by a doctor who demanded a bribe for a blood transfusion that couldn’t be paid. We’ll we left, a bit torn. An hour later back at the TASO clinic, a few of us decided that we needed to get her back to the hospital. After surging the HR supervisor and explaining the story, he gave us some money and a transport permit to go back and get her. A bumpy and a few hours later, we had her admitted back into the hospital and made sure she received a blood transplant. When we got Agnes into the bed, she looked at me glaring into my eyes and perked a small smile and a wave. It was a small victory, but a dauntingly common in this area. How’s that for Tuesday? It was one of those days you don’t forget. I’ll end there. By the time I have finished this post it’s Father’s day. You’re the best Dad! Miss you!



Mike Altman


P.S. Thanks to Anti-Biotics and such, I am feeling much better. No worries Mom!

**Picture Attached was found in a health clinic. Some friendly Ministry of Health advice for some of my friends back home**



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