Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Things We Thought We’d Never Do.

I think most of the team would agree that the past week has been the craziest week we’ve had yet here in Uganda. We managed to do 4 outreaches in one week. So I feel quite heavily the weight of recounting how the past week unfolded, but I will do my best.

I would say that this week could be summarized by saying that we all did things that we never thought we’d get to, or have to, do. So here goes:

Observe surgery from the Operating Room: On Tuesday and Wednesday, the team headed to two different clinics to hold eye screenings and surgeries for nearby communities. We facilitated the event while local eye doctors and nurses screened 119 men, women, and children and performed 12 surgeries. In addition to our more simple tasks of recording patients’ information, pointing to letters on the eye chart, and leading patients to various rooms, we had the opportunity to actually look in on the cataract surgeries. On Wednesday, we were able to screen 209 and operate on 6 patients. The patients received new pairs of glasses, prescriptions, and their surgeries free of charge! They were so grateful, and we were grateful to be participating. Though lunch was no where to be found, the team rocked it with patience.

Sing the National Anthem at a Sporting Event: On Thursday, we had an HIV/AIDS outreach in a community called Kiyindi. We ran an all-day football tournament for 6 primary and 2 secondary schools and invited teachers, parents, and local leaders to attend as well as the schools. It was so much fun—we had over 1500 people play in football gaes with trainings on business and financial planning in between. We also had an HIV/AIDS screening station set up and were able to screen close to 100 adults. Additionally, some of the school choirs performed about the horrors that result from AIDS. At the request of CCCWA, our partner, the HELP girl volunteers performed a “American dance number” to Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” (I don’t think the adults knew what to think about that because they just gave us blank stares as we danced.) At the end of the tournament, we had a final football game between the HELP International team members and the CCWA team. The kids (and adults) thought it was hilarious and we got them all to cheer for the muzungus. In the end, we tied 1-1. Congrats to Nicole and Rob and all those who worked so hard on this event!

Hold (Down) Screaming Children While They Receive Anesthesia: On Friday, we partnered with another NGO to hold dental screenings at Nagalama Primary School. First, the dentists screened them for decaying teeth that needed extraction. They then sent them into be numbed, and lastly, to have their teeth extracted. The day started out quite joyfully with an assembly where the children welcomed us with songs and dances. Eventually though, the children started to realize that the arrival of Muzungus did not mean all fun and games. The students were screened in order of grade so we started with the Baby Class, which is like 3 to 5 year olds. They were so happy to open up their mouths to let the dentists examine and receive the white extraction slips that sent them to receive anesthesia. Then the screams started. As the children heard their peers crying out, they became more and more distraught at receiving the white slips of paper. The volunteers were spread out—some were writing those slips of death, others were holding down children to keep them from slapping away the syringes of Lidokaine, others were sanitizing the needles, and others were holding down those in the extraction room. I got to experience the anesthesia room for the afternoon portion, and it was heartbreaking to feel the small bodies tense up, shout out in pain, and strain to escape the long needle being pushed into their gums. But we knew we were doing good, and we were able to have about 200 tooth extractions out of the 900 screened. It was quite an emotionally exhausting day. Congrats to Megan on both the dental and eye outreaches! That was quite a task!

This week, we sadly lose two valued members of our team. Jessica and Nicole are heading back to our homeland, and, oh, how we will miss them!

Lastly, we have now upped the number of people crammed into our taxi up to 21. (Legally, they are allowed to carry 14.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Legs, Legs, Legs

This may seem like an odd way to start a blog post; however, it is a topic that has been on the minds of everyone here. Legs are in fact one of the most alarming things we have had to deal with while in Uganda. Many have expressed the wish that they did not have legs. Here are all the reasons legs are problematic.

1) When riding a boda and slipping between two trucks, knees simply get in the way. It is very trying for the boda driver to have to concentrate on slipping between 20 inch gaps and have to avoid banging your knee against the truck. In fact, it’s really quite unreasonable to expect them to avoid hitting your knees against stationary vehicles all the time, accidents happen.

2) Legs are really inconvenient when it comes to rafting. Our poor thighs rarely see the light of day with all the knee-length shorts (work those cargos Jessica) and mid-calf skirts we wear. Of course they are going to burn. Just because you put a combined level of SPF 456 on them why should you expect them to not be one of the primary colors when the trip is over?

3) Legs are not helpful in the kitchen. When one is making oatmeal it is really annoying to have to worry about the loose pan not dumping water everywhere. Without legs the water could just splash wherever it pleased and not land on someone’s leg turning it yellow and purple. Oatmeal is more important the leg should have known to get out of the way or done something useful like open the oatmeal packet.

4) Back to bodas. Did you know they could harm you without moving? Yes, in fact they can. Legs are not properly designed for avoiding exhaust tubes. Exhaust tubes are made of metal. They turn really hot after the Evil Kneival of boda drivers you found has roared up and down Kayunga road. If your poorly engineered leg brushes up against it you will have a burn that turns red, followed by a lovely deadish gray color, followed by a cheery pink and brown. That will be 700 shillings.

5) If you didn’t have legs you would not trip on the lovely “paved” sidewalks of Uganda and scrape your leg. End of story. Blythe, it’s your own body’s fault you fell-stop trying to blame the gravel/steep edge/on-coming boda/marriage proposal from the taxi conductor.

6) Legs are really rude. They disrupt the nests of bed bugs that reside at the “nice” hotel in Gulu. The bed bugs have been happily nesting in said bed since the last group of HELP volunteers stayed there-approximately three weeks ago. The hotel doesn’t get a lot of visitors. Your selfish legs smashed their nice home and your mosquito net then trapped them so they couldn’t escape the Godzilla-ish monster that is your leg. It’s like putting a wall around Tokyo during Godzilla 4. You really shouldn’t be surprised that you now have 53 bug bites on your legs. I am sorry they are oozing though.

An Eating tour of Mukono—how to feed 20 muzungus

If you really want to know what life is like, just watch how people eat. We Bazungu are not quite the Ugandan norm, but our eating habits definitely reflect a world far different than the one we were raised in.

The day begins with breakfast. Those of us who followed the advice of our predecessors and brought more granola bars than clothes have a nearly endless supply of Chewy, Nature Valley, and Cliff bars. These, combined with instant oatmeal, local fruit, and Yogurt, make a delicious meal. Our team keeps a huge pile of fruit on the back porch, mostly bananas, pineapple, mango, and oranges, which all make excellent breakfast food. Angie makes a grain porridge which no one else is brave enough to taste. School children eat a variant of this porridge for breakfast, but theirs involves corn flour and nothing else, which is about as nutritionally week as it is filling.

If you choose to go out for breakfast, your first decision is to turn left or right at the gate. Our immediate neighbor to the right is a pork joint—not the most appealing for breakfast, and it certainly doesn’t compare to our neighbor to the left, which is a shanty shack that contains big vats of beans, rice, and matoke. If you are not in the mood for beans, continue past the shanty shack and the outdoor pool hall to the corner chapatti stand. There, you can purchase Rolex, which is an egg and veggie omelet rolled inside a piece of fry bread. The district health inspector tells us it is OK to eat Rolex despite the lack of hygiene standards because “the food is sold hot, so no one gets sick”. Excellent.

Past the pork joint to the right is a sort of commercial center, where there are clothing shops and corner stores for all of your household needs. There are also stands with fruits of all kinds. And then there is our friend the Rolex man. Since the Bazungu moved into his neighborhood, his rolex stand has been re-surfaced, he built a storage box, and added an umbrella. We hypothesize that our group gives him more collective business in a day than he usually gets in three. He speaks passable English and talks to us while frying eggs and bread. Right next to him across a dirt patch is a woman selling deep fried delicacies—roasted chickpeas wrapped in a bread shell, deep fried. Boiled eggs wrapped in mashed sweet potatoes, deep fried. Sweet bread, deep fried. Each of these treats cost between 10 and 20 cents.

Continue down the road to the taxi park. This region is lined with small shaded shops offering more chapatti and beans, yogurt, rice, and ground beef. Most restaurants sell approximately the same thing. But in the Taxi park there are young boys selling other foods—various chicken parts roasted on sticks, meat popsicles with fatty beef, packaged cookies, and a local delicacy, fried grasshopper.

In the evenings, the streets come alive with vendors roasting bananas, meat, and corn over charcoal fires. We aren’t usually out at night because Edith, our chef extraordinaire, cooks amazing meals at our house. Roasted veggies, fried rice, spaghetti, squash, mango chutney, chapatti, you name it. Our favorite has been termed “Ugandan CafĂ© Rio”, which involves chapatti, rice, ground beef, and mango chutney all rolled together. It is amazing.
On Sunday, Edith gets a day off and the team cooks together, which gives us a chance to bond over a charcoal stove and dull vegetable knives without handles. The Sunday dinner Gestapo, as our chore chart has lovingly christened them, gain a better appreciation of just how awesome Edith is. They also gain practical skills in starting fires using wax matches and plastic bags, which will certainly come in handy later in life.

Bottom line, we eat well. We are even getting used to matoke, the steamed plantains that are a local favorite.

(photos forthcoming)