25 August 2008


Not so much my thing...I mean, there's something to be said for be well rounded when one is in health care, but I think I'm far too sarcastic/pessimistic to be a labor & delivery nurse...Sister Claris and I spent a few hours after lunch touring the maternity wards of various kinds, and one of the midwives said what I've heard a million times before..."I was a nurse and then became a midwife and never went back to nursing because as a nurse I put a lot of work and effort in and people still died, people were very sick, and here, you take care of the mother and then the baby and then you send everyone home happy." Yep, definitely not my thing. See, the strange thing is, everybody talks about how happy it is and then no one is actually enjoying their job it seemed...there was this almost palpable distaste or distrust or condescension or something that oozed out of the staff in these wards, it was like a different world down there...and they were all standing around gawking at the white girl, which annoyed me thoroughly and so I started staring back and then they looked the other way...that's what I thought. hrumphf. can you tell I'm in a bit of a mood? Anyways, the tour included, "here's the blue bucket, and then here's the green bucket, and here's the telephone and here's the beds where women rest after delivery...." very boring. Here's the other thing...I've never done any maternity care in my own country even, my only maternity experience was in Israel, which was interesting, but I wasn't really even very good at it there...I have a vivid memory of one of the midwives who was one of our teachers repetitively telling me to stop crossing my arms, that it came off the wrong way and made me seem unapproachable or disinterested or something...yep, definitely not my cup of tea. But the cool thing is, it kind of solidified my enjoyment of what I do have experience in in the field of nursing, the things that are my cup of tea.

22 August 2008


Friday, beautiful friday.  I've never really had a fondness quite like this for fridays in my post-college life...Every third weekend for pretty much 7 years, I spent most of the daylight hours in the hospital, which meant that those fridays I spent enjoying free time, the calm before the storm of "my weekend" on.  I have way more routine here in Africa than I ever had in the States...

Anyways, I currently find myself at Java's.  This is a very interesting place, I've never been to such a place anywhere else in the world...it's a coffee shop/cafe (complete with a variety of pastries in the glass display counter/cabinet next to the cash register)/gas station convenience store/wireless internet location located on Bombo Road here in Kampala...which pretty much is the heart of the city...so I'm sitting outside at a table under the roof overhang, with a fence with fake shrubs between me and the roar of the traffic rushing past, just across the gas station lot from a Firestone-like tire place called City Tyre...I had a diet coke to start while I spent a half hour downloading the week's emails (65 I think there were), then when dinner time rolled around I got 2 beef samosas and a kick butt mocha milkshake.  After I'm finished here in a few minutes I'll get a few groceries in the convenience store, and find a way home...not quite sure what that way home will be quite yet but it's nice to postpone the inevitable stress of finding safe/reasonably priced transport around here.

I'll spare you the back and forth details of this week's nursing station  conversations, but it's been an interesting mix of really interesting cultural discussions and painful, guilt-inducing conversations re. how I should take all of them back to the States with me because the US Embassy won't give them visas to go on their own, and so on and so forth.  I've learned a lot here in Kampala, and only a small portion of it has been related to nursing.

Interesting perceptions/beliefs about America/Americans:
-HIV is not in America
-Americans are only allowed to have one child
-Americans don't really get sick and die of things
-America doesn't want Africans in our country
-Americans like being called Muzungu
-Americans can all provide well for all of the children they bring into the world
etc. etc. etc.

This week I saw an LP done successfully on a 3 mo baby using a 23 guage needle included in the package with a disposable syringe instead of a spinal needle.  The oxygen for the majority of the peds medical ward is supplied by a single concentrator at the nurses station with a whole bunch of pieces of tubing y'd together and snaked across the hall into the room where each kid gets their own branch of the same common tubing (therefore everyone has to be on the same amount of oxygen).  The names of the 5-6 bed rooms on the peds medical ward include: Jumpy, Speedy, Beetle, Flipper, Rainbow and a few others..."Where's the chart for Flipper 3?"  "Jumpy 5 is being discharged today"

Okay, time to head home.

18 August 2008

Church Angst

Sunday 17 August

I can't even go to church here without a philosophical crisis...it's rediculous. This sunday I went to a church that was really comfortable for me. Too comfortable it seemed. We sang "Praise to the Lord the Almighty" and "It is Well With My Soul", we did responsive readings, a couple chatechism questions for the kids, communion...all in English. So what's the problem, you ask? It was so much like my church at home, that's why it was so comfortable. The pastor was Ugandan but educated at a reformed seminary in the US. He used Africa appropriate examples in his sermons, but otherwise the service could have been in St. Louis. Keyboard and electronic drum set, a smallish congregation. Is this what happens when African pastors are educated in the west or by people from the west? You end up with western churches in Africa...this doesn't seem good.

Maybe it's because I have a naive idea that churches in Africa should be somehow African...the music, the style of worship, the instruments, etc...Maybe this is the way they want to worship? Or maybe they worship this way because they've been taught this way by westerners...I don't know. I mean, the elements of our worship at G&P aren't American, we probably borrowed them from Europe, but somehow it seems out of place for them to be here in Africa...there's a lot of people reading this who could blow my knowledge of church history and missiology out of the water, but I'm just telling you what was going on in my mind on Sunday and since. I don't know what's right or wrong or if there is a right or wrong, but I couldn't totally relax on Sunday even though I longed to, because I felt like surely this is too easy...this is too comfortable...this is too American...I don't know what I think an "African" worship service should look and sound like but it seems that everything else is so unique here, worship should be too. But for now, I've found a place that is a place to worship and feel at home.

But I spent the rest of the day, and evening really, until about 10pm, hanging out with my Navigators staff friends Brendan and Joanna and a guy Brendan had met this week from England named Paul. Paul had us to lunch at his house on the campus of African Bible University where he's the librarian and has been since the campus started 3 years ago. We spent the rest of the day and evening eating and drinking and snacking and chatting and laughing and discussing and talking about our experiences of this country and our work and our previous lives, etc. It was really fun and a great time to kick back and just hang out. I don't do that much here.

"This is MY room!"

Saturday 16 August

So, I have gotten into the apparently bad habit of not locking the door to my room at night. It's just a pain to have to find the key when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and I haven't really met any creepy people staying at the Center so, I've gotten lazy. No longer...

Sometime during the night saturday night, I heard the toilet flush in the bathroom which is next to my room. I woke up and rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but then as I'm lying there, my door opens and a man with a towel wrapped around his waist or in his boxers or something of the sort walks into my room, and I've begun shouting, "excuse me! excuse me!" When he closed the door I yelled "excuse me, this is MY room!" it's what came out of my mouth in my sleepy stupor and he finally in a daze realized what he was doing and stumbled over his words and said "ah, oh, sorry...aiy yi" and hurried out as fast as a man apparently half asleep can hurry....When I woke up Sunday morning I thought to myself, was that a dream? No, I think that was real, I'm pretty sure a man came into my room! Clearly I'll be locking my door from now on.

Shh. Don't tell my mom.

More Burns

Friday 15 August

This last week I’ve been on St. Agnes, the pediatric surgical ward. At least one full room of kids are all burn patients. One of the nurses told me that she thinks it’s mainly due to congestion. I thought she meant like nasal congestion, but clearly that’s not what she meant. She went on to explain that there are many people living in small spaces. So there are boiling pots of water and oil and the like with toddlers running around all in the same space. Naturally burns occur frequently.

These kids are troopers. They don’t get any pre-meds and we scrub on their little bodies and open flesh with iodine and cotton and gauze and the like. Ouchie. Needless to say, it’s a bit difficult to dress wounds on some of these small ones…they’re wriggling and fighting and kicking and screaming. But some of them stay really quiet, it’s quite amazing really. This week I got to dress some of their burns and I really enjoyed doing it. I mean, to most of you who aren’t nurses, that probably sounds really cruel, maybe even to some of you who are nurses. But seeing the daily progressing and healing of the wounds is really amazing, and being able to do something with my hands to help these kids get better is really great. Looking to find the parts that needing sloughing a bit more and which parts were dirty and needing a bit more cleaning, the art of reapplying the Vaseline gauze in just the right way so that it will last until the next day, but not waste too much…I’m really fascinated by the process and glad to be a part.

One girl who was hit by a taxi or a car a week or so ago, had her foot crushed. In surgery they took off what seemed like about the top ½ of her foot. When I was in the room while she was getting her dressing changed one day, she yelled “Mama muzungu….mama muzungu…” and that was after she called out to Allah and said the Hail Mary I think…she was appealing to anyone who might help get her out of there. Her 20 minutes in the treatment room is her least favorite 20 minutes of the day I’m pretty sure. I don't blame her.

Tone of Voice

Friday 15 August

It was Friday that I almost lost it in the burn room…not lost it crying, but lost it screaming.

Tone of voice is big in my family. Maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but the only time I was ever almost grounded was for the tone of voice I used with one of my parents. Equally as important as what you say is how you say it. This proves hard when interacting with people who don’t share the same value…Uganda is no exception. Instead of asking you to do something, or asking you for something, orders are given. Commands that you do something or give something or any number of things. “You give me your money” or “you go get me more gauze” or “you do it this way”…and the tone of voice is one of commands, not an inquisitive tone of inflexion…it drives me bonkers. I almost flew off the handle in the burn room on Friday after one too many orders/commands thrown my way…I wanted to scream “Don’t talk to me like that!” and instantly images of my parents saying the same to me came rushing back…instead of yelling I took a few deep breaths and managed to keep my cool…it was close though…

Talk at the Nurses Station

Friday 15 August

So the trend on most wards at Rubaga is that everything gets done in the morning and nothing really happens in the afternoon unless an admission comes. Nursing here is really task oriented. There’s not really much assessment going on, certainly no checking iv’s or fluids every 2 hours. Meds get given once during the day, dressings get done once/day. If you’ve done all of the things that the doctor has ordered (or at least most of them) then you sit and twiddle your thumbs until your time is up, or you go and wander the halls of the hospital and chat with friends (even if there’s no other staff on the ward). It takes a bit of getting used to, and I’m not sure I want to get used to it.

Friday afternoon, Sister Claris had gone off to talk to someone on another unit so it was me and a handful of nursing students from a variety of schools. One of the guys says to me “so muzungu, where are you from?” I took a deep breath and smiled and chuckled and said “my NAME is Heidi.” Everyone laughed and he repeated my name. Then he tries again, “but really, muzungu, where are you from?” “Really, my name is Heidi. How about if I asked you ‘baganda, how are you?” He repeats my name. “There you go. Now what was it that you asked?”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from America.”
“Ah, America. Now, do you have these tropical diseases in America?”
We discussed that no, we don’t have malaria in America but we do have infectious diseases. They were surprised to hear that we have TB and HIV “in our place.”
“Now, do you have this malnutrition?”
“We don’t have it like you have it here. We don’t have malnutrition from lack of food, but we do have it in people that choose not to eat because they want to be thin.”
They kind of laughed and then said, “we have some of that too.”

Then we moved to politics…the same student asked, “Have you rebuilt that building that Saddam Hussein bombed?”…I smiled and said, “well, no, no we haven’t. I think there are plans for a new building but I’m not sure if they have started building it.” I didn’t really want to get into the minor details that it was planes not a bomb and that it wasn’t really Saddam Hussein. We moved on to something else not nearly as interesting.

Earlier in the afternoon, one of the nurses asked me what clan I was…
“You mean here in Uganda?”
“No, in your place.”
“In America, we don’t really have clans like you do here.”
“So you eat everything?”
“Um, there isn’t anything I’m not allowed to eat really…” slightly confused I replied.
“Here, if you’re the clan of the goat, you don’t eat goat.” She informed me. I’d never heard anything like this before. Since I’ve wondered if she was just pulling my leg.
“So, what clan are you?” I asked.
“Small monkey” she replied.
“So you and your clan don’t eat small monkeys?”
She shook her head no. Then the phone rang and she actually answered it.

Kampala life pictures

my laundry - round #1
Namirembe Cathedral - Church of Uganda (Anglican) - this is my kinda cathedral, probably my favorite above all of those I've seen in Europe...love the simplicity of this one.

you can see the hard work put into each piece of wood and each brick....not slick and smooth and polished like those in Europe.
Kaddafi's mosque here in Kampala as viewed from Namirembe Hill

Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross's Namugongo Convent

13 August 2008

A few thoughts

Wednesday 13 August

In-need-of-haircut update: One of the nurses yesterday looked at my hair and pushed it behind my ear and said, “ah! your hair is looking so smart.” I can never tell if they’re poking fun or not but I responded by saying “thank you but I really need to get it cut.” She tried to talk me out of it and I told her of my hesitancy to get my hair cut here. She told me that Sister Janet (the only other muzungu working at the hospital who is a nun from Ohio who has been at Rubaga for 14 years) gets her hair cut at the “Divine Saloon” just down the road. I asked Sr. Janet today where she gets her hair cut and she says “there’s a guy down in the bushes down there” and motions in the direction with her arm. I chuckled and she said, “no, really, it’s true.” So my options at the moment are Sparkles at the mall and the guy down in the bushes…the prospects aren’t looking so great.

Laundry: So, I’ve been in desperate need of washing my street clothes and lacking in a good place to wash and hang it, but yesterday after work I broke down and started with my pants. Larissa brought me some twine to construct a clothesline with and so I rigged something up in my room involving the handles of the closet doors on both sides of the room and the handle to the door of the room. It only has so much room on it, so I’ll have to do it all in stages, but at least it’s in process.

Namugongo: I forgot to mention that I had guava and sugar cane for the first time during my trip over the weekend with Sr. Claris. Also an interesting small oily chewy pancake like sweet from India (the name has escaped me).

"That's strange, nah. Isn't it?"

Wednesday 13 August

So, this last Saturday, Sr. Claris and I before heading to Namugongo, attended the Ordination of 18 Priests and 15 Deacons in the Kampala Diocese which was held here at the Rubaga Cathedral. A short while after I sat down I told Sister that the Cathedral was decorated as if someone was getting married. “Mm. It’s a commitment. Isn’t it?” She responded. I agreed.

I told her I was going to be missing the wedding of a dear friend at home in America later in the day. I brought this up again as we were sitting in the front seat of a matatu (minivan/minibus type taxi packed with people) headed to the taxi park. And then she asked me without skipping a beat, “when is your day?”
“Sorry?” I responded not really understanding what she meant, thinking she couldn’t be asking when I was getting married.
“When-is-your-day?” She said enunciating and speaking very slowly.
“You mean my day to get married?” I asked.
“Mm” she nodded and responded affirmatively.
“I don’t have one.” I told her in a “what kind of a question is that” tone of voice. “I don’t have someone to be married to” I added.
“That’s strange, nah. Isn’t it?” She stated and asked.
If only I could have seen my facial expressions at that moment in a mirror.
“You mean it’s strange that I’m 29 and not married?”
“Mm” she said again. “Usually, they have someone all of the time, isn’t it?”
“Well, I guess it is kind of different. But not everyone has someone all of the time.”
“You’re unusual, exceptional, nah?”
“I guess so.”

While we’re on the subject:

- Ugandans here in Kampala (the phenomenon doesn’t so much exist in Bundibugyo) describe themselves as “single and searching.” You don’t ever really hear anyone just leave it at “single,” the two terms go hand in hand.
- I wear a simple wide silver band on the middle finger of my left hand. It’s not really of any significance, I just like the simplicity of the way it looks. Several nurses at the hospital have pointed to it and asked me, “are you booked?” The first time someone asked me this, my face must have shown my confusion because the nurse clarified her question for me and said “are you to be married?” Ah, I see. “No.” I replied. “Then what does that ring mean?” “Nothing. It means nothing, I just like the way it looks.” “Here we where a ring a bit different than that on that finger when we are booked” the nurse explained. “Then when you are married you wear a ring on the next finger.” So, needless to say, I’ve made the executive decision to keep wearing the ring on that finger despite what it means to Kampalans as it might ward off creeps.


Tuesday 12 August

I think this is more descriptive than the traditional term “homesickness” in describing the stage of adjustment I’m finding myself in right now. I’m a nurse so naturally I’m going to pick this word apart a bit more than any other person might. I’m not quite to the point of being “sick,” but rather a bit “achey.” You know the kind of achey that you feel when you’ve been on your feet, running around here there and everywhere, for a 12 hour shift, and just not feeling yourself to begin with – you can feel “sick” coming on, but you’re not quite there yet. Your muscles are just kind of whining “we’re tired”, your back and neck and knees and arms and feet in unison. You just can’t wait until you can crash on the couch at home, put your feet up and eat some good food and veg for a while? You find your mind wandering every few minutes to what might be on tv, what movie you have from Netflix, or what delectable meal you might be able to pull together quickly or pick up on the way home or order delivery…Well, that’s how I feel on a global level. My muscles feel fine, I haven’t worked a 12 hour shift since Nov. 15, 2007 (holy cow, I can’t believe it’s been that long…) I don’t have a tv or Netflix or the option of ordering food delivery, but lemme try to explain how it’s the same…

There’s a level of achey-ness one feels when living apart from all the things/places/language/custom that’s familiar and those people that are known and close and loved. For the first several months your mind and heart are pretty taken up with everything there is to learn and do and see and hear and smell, but as several months go by less of your minute to minute energy and presence of mind is occupied with these things and more of the familiar starts to seep back in. Your “cultural adjustment muscles” (which really do involve all of your physical senses and are often in operation 12 hours/day – and not just 3 days a week), start to whine “I’m tired” because you are beginning to remember what it’s like to not operate in such a way. You’re beginning to remember and find your mind wandering to tv and all of it’s wonderful mind-numbing capabilities, you’re beginning to remember the existence of food of any ethnic variety readily available, you’re beginning to remember what it’s like to have your own transportation and not to have to plan every trip to anywhere based on whether it might be dark or how much stuff you might have to be carrying with you or how much you’ve already spent that day/week. You’re remembering the comfort of familiarity and history in relationships and not just in general but the particular comforts of certain relationships and roles and communities…people who make you laugh, people who give really great hugs even when you’re not particularly a huggy person, people who tell it to you straight up regardless of whether you wanna hear it, people to get dinner or a movie with last minute, people to sit around doing nothing with, the familiarity of the people you go to church with, the people you work with, the people who are behind the counter serving you at your local ice cream place. And probably the crowning moment in my case being, you fully realize the implication of the decision you made 3 months ago not to go home for a dear friend’s wedding.

When I said goodbye to Larissa this last Thursday as she took off for the States, this reality sank in. She was going to be flying into Chicago at 6pm Friday evening…Chicago’s only 5 hours from St. Louis, I could have easily been back home by midnight, in plenty of time to join in the celebration of Leslie and Kevin’s marriage the next day...clearly there was no ticket for me to join Larissa in her trip back, but I wanted to go with her sooooo badly…I even briefly contemplated whether or not I could survive in a trunk for the duration of her flights home then snapped back into reality.
Plus, I’m here in Kampala by myself with more time on my hands to ponder these things, more times for my mind to wander to the familiar. But it’s been very clear to me that this is just where God wants me right now, here in Kampala at Rubaga Hospital for 8 weeks, and not just any 8 weeks but in these particular 8 weeks. So, I’m just trying to see what He has for me in it all and go with the flow, one day at a time. That’s not to say I’m not counting down the number of days I have left in the hospital, 18 to be exact.

11 August 2008

Olympics Junkie

Thursday 7 August

Well, tomorrow is August 8, which means that tomorrow marks the beginning of the Summer Olympics in Beijing. 17 days of pure delight for me, usually. I LOVE the Olympics, Summer and Winter Games both, but I think Summer might win out in a competition for my favorite if I had to pick. I usually camp out in front of the television, happy as a clam, for as long as I can manage, as often as I can manage when the Games are going on.

What is it that I love about them? Almost everything…the incredible athleticism displayed by people from all over the world, the best of the best in their sport come together in one place for the sake of friendly competition (well, until drugs entered the picture). I love it when a country makes their first appearance at a Games, with a lone athlete representing them but with their whole country behind them, routing for them at every step, because he/she is their countryman, their representative. It’s priceless. I love the “human interest” stories the broadcasters tell of nobodies who have becomes somebodies, the athletes who have overcome incredible odds to be at the Games, or to be the best in their country at their sport. I love the suspense in watching round after round of runners/swimmers wondering if someone is going to beat the best time. I love that there’s one place where countries who are at odds for almost every reason shake hands after a match. I love the opening ceremonies and the excitement they bring, the parade of nations and the face shots you get on tv of the athletes who are honored to be representing their country amongst such company, the athletes who are happy and excited and nervous and enjoying the chance to take a break from training for a few hours.

1996 marked a particularly incredible Games. My friend Sylwinn and I (15 and 17 at the time?), took a Greyhound bus down to Atlanta, where her grandparents live (the bus ride was an experience in and of itself). Their church was hosting a group of folks from France who had come to do outreach during the Games using their church in downtown Atlanta as a home base. There were games and performances and food preparations planned by the church for the duration of the Games. They decked out their parking lot with stages and tents and had high expectations for the crowds their central location would bring by. Little did they know that the people traffic was unusually low for an Olympic Games location that year. In the end we heard that most Atlantans got the heck out of town because traffic horror stories were being told in the media – none of the horrors ended up being true. But this also meant that the church was pretty disappointed and didn’t get the foot traffic they were expecting. This was the first time I recall encountering Chick-Fil-A. They had a kiosk in the church’s parking lot. Little did I know one day I’d be craving it in Africa.

So, there are lots of great stories from this trip. One of which has nothing to do with the Olympics really, but was for sure a cross cultural experience, so it relates. This group from France of course brought a chef with them. So Sylwinn and my jobs were to help said chef in the kitchen, preparing the dinner meals he cooked for whatever people the team brought back to the church. Now, I know zero French (Sylwinn speaks some because her mom grew up in France), and said chef knows zero English, and it’s just the three of us in the kitchen. Nice kitchen for a church kitchen from what I can remember; big with lots of windows. We did lots of body language and demonstrations in order to communicate, the chef would call my name and then demonstrate what he wanted me to do, while explaining in French, and then I would repeat the demonstration from what I gathered from his teaching explaining it back to him in English. Then he would nod or shake his head in disbelief and in the case of the latter the process started over again until we understood each other. This was the first time I cut eggplant. Vertically sliced and paper thin to be exact. And I must have sliced 100 eggplants, or at least that’s what it seemed like. And I didn’t even like eggplant at the time (I have grown to like it since you’ll be happy to know). I have no recollection of what dish was to be the final product of this madness but I’m sure it was delicious. This French chef would also sing hymns in French while he cooked and I didn’t know the words but some of the tunes were the same as hymns I knew in English, so he would sing in French and I would sing the same song but in English and I don’t recall which language Sylwinn chose as she had the luxury of being in a position of being able to choose.

Anyways, Sylwinn and I spent the days in the church kitchen with the chef and then the evenings were ours back at her grandparents’ house camped out infront of the tv watching every sport imaginable. Her grandparents let me drive their extra car (my first time driving a VW and I’ve been a sucker ever since), as a 17 year old in a brand new city, which was the focus of the world for 2 ½ weeks. Sylwinn and I have marveled at their bravery ever since we were old enough to realize that was a big deal! Now that Sylwinn’s a mom twice over I would imagine her marvel at the situation has only heightened! We got to go to a Track and Field event, a Field Hockey game, and the crowning glory of the trip was the women’s soccer tickets that we splurged on, not knowing anything about the world of women’s soccer internationally. Lo and behold we found ourselves seated in a stadium for what turned out to be the game that the U.S. women’s team won the Gold medal in a game against China…it was amazing, absolutely incredible! One of those, “I’ll never forget this” moments you have in your life every once in a while.

Okay, so now that I’ve bored you to tears, if you’re still reading you understand that I am fond of the Olympics, and that they start tomorrow. You might also remember that I’m living alone in an African capital city. Where in the world am I gonna get my Olympics fix?! I did read today that DSTV the cable equivalent here in Uganda is in fact doing 24 hour coverage of the Beijing Games…which just makes me want to watch them even more…knowing the coverage is there makes not having ready access to it that much more frustrating! So, those of you who pray, please pray that in God’s loving kindness He might see it good for me to have the opportunity to watch some of the Olympics.

For washing or bathing?

Thursday 7 August

Today my Kampala mother, Maria, stopped by my room. She came to see if I was around and then brought back something she needed to give me and a light purple box. She opened the box and said “I need to ask you something. These muzungu that were here a short time ago, they gave this to me. They are soaps but I don’t know, are they for washing or for bathing?” She hands me the fragrant jasmine scented box of soaps, 4 square bars with flowers etched in the soaps. It took me a minute to think of the difference between washing and bathing…when I got my linguistic bearings I realized clearly she meant for washing clothes or for bathing. I told her they were for bathing, not for washing her clothes and then she asked “they won’t spoil my skin?” I smiled and said, “no…I mean I can’t promise anything but have you had a reaction to soap before?” She told me she had allergies but had not ever had any problems with soaps. Glad to be of some cultural relevance/assistance around here.


So, it's monday evening here. I'm sitting outside at the Speke Hotel using their *free* wireless internet (for the cost of a Coke Light - definitely worth it!). It's a bea-u-ti-ful evening, and I'm taking advantage of every minute of it. The hospital was super boring today, spent about 3 hours drawing lines in various record keeping books with a ruler. I'm getting pretty good at it actually. Too bad it's not much of a marketable skill except here in Uganda. People really like using rulers here. It's kind of an odd cultural phenomenon to me. But, whatever floats your boat, you know?

Anyways, the more interesting update is that I spent the weekend in Namugongo. It's culturally and historically significant because it's where 25 Christian martyrs were executed in 1886. 1/2 were Catholic and 1/2 Protestant. Sister Claris, her order has a convent there, so I went with her to visit for the weekend. I went to both the Catholic and Prostestant shrines on Sat...it's quite a story, google it if you're interested in more about it. I'm still kinda fuzzy on all of the details, not surprising since they differ from source to source. The funny thing about it all (there's not really anything else at all funny about it actually) is that I've never really thought about the word "protestant" before...but the sisters said "pro-TEST-ant" as in "one who protests", and I put a few things together and realized it's more than just a matter of cultural pronunciation differences.

It was a good weekend. The sisters treated me royally and I even got to watch a few short snippets of my beloved Olympics. However, Sr. Claris wanted to come back this morning instead of last night, to her it's like being at home, with family, you know, so she likes to make it last as long as she can. That meant me setting my alarm for 5:15am to get on the road at 6am...a couple of matatu rides later I got back to my room at the Center at 7:30 with just enough time for a shower.

06 August 2008

Traffic cops

Tonight on our way home from a wonderful dinner at Khana Kazana, Larissa and I had a great conversation with our cab driver Mitchell. Now, this isn't your "yellow cab" type taxi (although believe it or not they do have those here in Kampala), but rather a nondescript small white Toyota of some sort (everybody who's anybody drives a 'yota of some sort in this country).

So enough about the nondescript car, back to the great conversation. We were stopped at an intersection for a while, an intersection with a traffic light - imagine that! - and not just any traffic light but one that was actually working - imagine that! But there were still at least 2 traffic cops with reflective vests standing in the middle of the intersection waving their arms and shoving their palms emphatically in the direction of certain lanes of traffic, and blowing their whistles. It's a bit scary to cross these intersections INSIDE of a vehicle (think large amount of metal protecting your body from the rest of the crazy/reckless large amounts of metal careening across the intersection), let alone be standing just you and your little self in the middle of all of the craziness trying to tell who to go where when clearly no one wants to be told what to do. So, this prompted my question to the cab driver "do traffic police get hit often?" Mitchell assured me it doesn't happen often but "sometimes disasters, they happen."

He went on to give us this riotous description of the job of the traffic cop. Larissa and I were cracking up in the back seat. Most importantly he pointed out that in fact the intersection we were stopped at had an opperational traffic light, "but they like to blow their whistle. They think they do better." The traffic cops stand in the middle of absolutely crazy intersections with perfectly functional traffic lights and insist on putting their lives at risk and blowing their whistles and waving their arms just because "they think they do better."

Mitchell also told us that at one point in 2004 they constructed kiosks to stick in the middle of the intersections for the above mentioned traffic cops to stand in, but instead of hitting the cops the cars hit the kiosks. So, they all came down. He said that the word on the street was that due to corruption each kiosk cost the country 24million shillings, when they should only cost 600,000....craziness.

I told Mitchell about the traffic cop who stood (or maybe still stands) at the intersection at 36th and Walnut in West Philly on Penn's campus. I was always glad to see him in action as I passed on my to or from class, he was really entertaining, but I don't think he was very functional. At 36th and Walnut there is also a functional traffic light, but this guy every once in a while would stand and blow his whistle and wave his arms emphatically often drawing a crowd (or at least me) to watch him do his stuff. Maybe it was one of Penn's ploys to draw prospective students (ie. $) to campus, I mean really, who can beat a real live traffic cop? Even in Uganda they provide a good amount of entertainment (or at least they did tonight).

04 August 2008

Ruby Thewes

Have you ever seen the movie Cold Mountain? I watched it last night and was reminded of what a great job Renee Zellwegger (sp?) does in the role of Ruby Thewes…totally steals the show as far as I’m concerned. She’s hilarious, practical, creative, passionate, intense, and really insightful all at the same time…I love it. Here are her thoughts on the Civil War…

“Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They call this war ‘a cloud over the land’ but they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say, ‘shit, it’s rainin’!”

Sounds of the Cathedral

Saturday 2 August 2008

I’ve realized that part of the reason that I can a bit of everything that goes on at the Cathedral from the hospital and my room at the Center is that the Cathedral is mic’d and there are speakers broadcasting the events both at the hospital and the Center. I’m really thankful for it though. It’s one of God’s kindnesses to me here, the speakers aren’t super loud and the choir music I get to hear is a blessing…in most parts of Kampala it would be loud Afro-pop music pumping from the local shops or clubs until all hours of the night, but here on Rubaga hill, it’s the sounds of the Cathedral choir. A couple times now I’ve heard the familiar chorus of “This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior, all the day long” echoing through my window. It’s not always so pleasant, however. This afternoon was the second Saturday in a row I’ve heard the “Here comes the bride” music (and I could have sworn it had words last week…), and the only thing worse than “here comes the bride” is a really bad rendition of “here comes the bride.” This week there were a few brass instruments struggling to connect in rhythm and melody/harmony, but I guess they got the job done, at least I could tell what the song was supposed to be…On Sundays and during Mass at other times during the week I can hear the organ accompanying the usually acapella voices…I mean really, choral and organ music drifting through my window in urban Africa? Who woulda thunk it?!

She keeps getting better everyday!

Saturday 2 August 2008

So Friday I found out a few more reasons I like Sister Claris so much…she was the Sister who drove the Ambulance at the hospital where she worked in India, she got in a really bad accident once riding a SCOOTER!, she’s a sports fan and loves watching the Olympics, AND she plays the harmonium. Not that I know what a harmonium is, but after listening to her describe it, I think I’d like to find out for myself sometime. I’ve had requests for a photo of this spunky new friend of mine, and I fully intend for that to happen at some point in the 8 weeks, but I don’t have one as of yet.

She's not perfect, even though she is a nun. She's the one who convinced me it's okay to take an extra 1/2 hour on my lunch break, and she asks me at least once a week what the spots are on my face as she points to each one of them. I've explained several times that it's acne, but she doesn't seem convinced...obviously.

Random thought: I need a haircut bigtime, but I’m a bit nervous about going to get it cut here…the only thing worse than a bad haircut when you have long hair is a bad haircut when you have short hair…could be really bad, but maybe I just need to take the risk…teammates have gone to a place in the Mall called Sparkles Salon…really now, “sparkles”?! I’m a little hesitant…

Random thought #2: I’m really glad Joanna called about dinner tonight seeing as the tents started going up here at the Center yesterday in preparation for a wedding reception tonight…maybe we’ll be out really late and it won’t matter.

Laundry Procrastination and my "sister"/patient

Saturday 2 August 2008

It’s Saturday afternoon, my uniforms are washed and I ran out of space in my room to hang the wet things to dry, so that gave me a good excuse for stopping after the whites. It’s a rainy afternoon in Kampala, and I’m hoping it stops by 5. Joanna called last night to ask if I wanted to join her and Brendan for dinner tonight. Who is Joanna, you say? I thought you’d never ask.

Monday afternoon, I’d just returned to the ward after my lunch break and was reading charts to learn a bit about the patients on the ward. The phone rings and the theatre assistant answers it and looks at me and says, “is your name, ‘hide’?” Well, it never had been until Uganda, but I answer to almost anything that starts with an ‘H’ or the long ‘I’ sound. “Yes.” She motions with her head to the phone. It was for me. I was more than just a bit perplexed but answered the phone and on the other end was the doc with the dry sense of humor that I’d worked with some up on the Medical ward. “Please come…” and the phone connection dropped…shoot, he’s gonna think I hung up on him…but he called back after a bit and thankfully he kept it simple “please come and meet me in OPD room 8” I repeated it back and confirmed that’s what he was asking and hung up. Had I been in the States I would have asked why and tried to find a little bit more out about what was ahead of me, but I have a hard enough time understanding Ugandans speaking English in person let alone over the phone, so I keep it short and sweet, ask questions later. The theatre assistant had to walk me to OPD 8 (one of the outpatient department exam rooms) and on the way I told her I had no idea why he wanted me in OPD. She was shocked that I didn’t know why I was going, “ah, this is terrible” she said. “Maybe you stay to make sure everything is okay?” I asked, and she agreed. She showed me to OPD 8, I knocked and opened the door to find 2 muzungus sitting there with the doc (whose name is John Bosco of all things). I immediately realized what this was about…one of the white people was sick and because I am also white, clearly we must be “sisters” and the doc thought that I’d make them more comfortable and that I could help them through the process at Rubaga, getting blood drawn, getting injections, paying the cashier at each step along the process, etc. I find out quickly that Brendan and Joanna are Americans on staff in Uganda with Navigators, and Joanna was sick so her coworker Brendan brought her to Rubaga. I was wondering how I was going to occupy my time until 5pm and I was glad for the opportunity to meet new people so I was happy to oblige dr. john bosco and help my “sister and brother” J It turned out that I spent the rest of the evening with them trying to get to the bottom of Joanna’s illness, seeing doctors and getting xrays done, etc. Turns out that Brendan is from Nebraska and friends with Keith Robinson who is a friend of my St. Louis roommate Mynda and a Memorial-ite…craziness. Joanna, she’s from Ohio evidently but I have yet to find out exactly where, she wasn’t much for conversation at the time. They were thankful for my help and healthcare recommendations and suggestions, and I was thankful for their company, as random as it was. I answered their cell phones as Brendan was driving and Joanna wasn’t really up to it, and in exchange they introduced me to Java’s (super snazzy gas station convenience store/cafĂ©/wireless internet location combo). All in all it was a pretty fair exchange I think J

Anyways, that’s the story of Joanna and Brendan. Several nurses and doctors asked me how “my patient” was this week and I assured them she was improving as far as I knew.