Uganda Love This

Amy Scheel

Month: April 2015

That’s a wrap

 

I am currently writing this post from London Heathrow Airport at the same coffee shop that I sat in hours before my flight to Uganda. It’s crazy to think that this was almost 3 months ago. So much has happened during this time yet I feel like it was just yesterday.

Tuesday, my final day in Gulu, was stressful, heartwarming and extremely sad all at the same time.

Stressful-As I mentioned previously, organizing the shipment of our blood samples was a bit of a challenge and things continued to fall apart throughout the week. Without getting in to too many details there was essentially a communication meltdown with the company we were working with. This meant that they would not be able to pick the samples up until Wednesday afternoon, after I had already left. After our team put so much work into this project I just really wanted to see everything through and ensure that it was packaged correctly so that I can sleep at night-I honestly think I may have a heart condition after this week. Good news is I received confirmation upon arrival in London that the samples were successfully picked up and are en route-now I just have to have faith in the system (easier said than done)

Heartwarming-On Tuesday night I had the entire project team over to my guesthouse for a thank you dinner. Every single one of our volunteers worked so hard over the past 2 ½ months and the project simply would not have been possible without them. As I thanked them, each of them stood up and made a little speech. They addressed me with some of the kindest words I have ever received and even presented me with my first ever Katenge (the local fabric) dress as a gift! I know that money is very tight but they put so much thought in to it and had even been trying to pick up on what my favorite colors were over the past couple of weeks. I think with everything that was happening with the blood samples I lost sight of how fortunate I was to get to know these people and this dinner really put that into perspective for me. Unfortunately my camera died before we took pictures but here is a picture of my lovely Katenge dress. They said I can “wear it everyday in the US”-I’ll let you know about that.

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Extremely Sad– After dinner on Tuesday, Sarah, Ieasha, Helen and Sophie had plans to come over so that we could say goodbye (and they could eat the left over Iron Donkey cake from my team dinner). Unfortunately after our team dinner Twalib and I realized that we needed to go back to the hospital to get some last minute forms. I did not get back to my place until around 10:30-11 but all of them were waiting for me when I returned. We shared some cake, glasses of red wine and laughed like nothing was about to change. I simply can’t express how lucky I was to make the friends that I did. Living in a foreign country, especially one that is so drastically different than your own can be extremely challenging. When there are people going through the exact same thing as you it makes the transition that much easier. There is no doubt in my mind that I will see Sarah and Ieasha again however driving back up to Gulu will be extremely tough knowing they are not going to be there. Luckily I will have two more weeks with Sophie when I get back.

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THE cake. Oh yea…ofoyo=apwoyo…oops

On Wednesday morning Twalib and I left Gulu around 8 in the morning. After a 7-hour trek we arrived at his house, which is right outside of Kampala. I spent the afternoon with his wife and 4 children until heading to the airport at 7pm. His kids, 5, 1 ½ and 3 months old (twins) are probably some of the cutest kids on earth. We played and enjoyed some dinner and finally said our goodbyes. Twalib took me to the airport and after sitting in 3 hours of traffic we finally arrived. I hugged Twalib goodbye knowing that I will see him in May when he comes to DC and made my way into the airport. Once inside I proceeded to be individually screened at every security checkpoint and drilled with questions about what was inside my bag. After THREE checkpoints and no one finding anything…London security found a KNIFE on the first try. I guess it had been sitting in the bottom of my bag from our picnic at Chobe-never a dull moment.

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Twalib’s son Timmy and I

As I finish this post in Paris, anxiously awaiting my parent’s arrival, I can’t help but reflect back on my time in Uganda. Although there are images I wish I could forget, I will never stop thinking about the people there-how loving and welcoming they were even through their daily hardships. I am truly blessed to have had this experience and so lucky that I get to return. Uganda-its not goodbye, its see you later.

Final countdown

 

With my departure less than 72 hours away (but who’s counting?) this will probably be one of my last posts for this trip. Truly is a shame since after 2 ½ months my mom has finally figured out how to leave a comment on my blog.

I had the best last weekend I could have asked for and got to spend it with some of the people that have made this trip so unforgettable. On Friday night a huge group of us went to Absinna, the Ethiopian restaurant, and ended up having a 3-hour dinner full of laughs (PS Ethiopian food is growing on me). Matt and Sinead, who work at Lacor Hospital, brought some of their co-workers who are also volunteers. They were a lot (A LOT) older than the rest of us and I couldn’t help but laugh because they reminded me so much of my grandparents. Barbara, one of the older volunteers, kept asking Iesha if she was Acholi and how long it takes for her to do her hair…..If you’ve met my family you know my grandfather can make some inappropriate remarks so even though Ieasha, who is so obviously a westerner, was less than amused, I couldn’t help but laugh.

On Saturday I had plans to go to yoga but accidentally slept through it. I didn’t set an alarm because in my whole time here I have never slept past 9:30. Oh well. In the afternoon I went shopping to find a vest for my murder mystery outfit , which was an amusing experience to say the least. Here they will try to make a sale no matter what. So even though I was buying a vest from the “men’s dress store” (aka a couple of dress shirts and coats hanging under a wood overhang) she kept telling me how great it looked and that I should buy more. FYI- I looked like an idiot. In the afternoon I went to a cultural fair that they were hosting at an organization called TAKS. They had different Ugandan dances and a few crafts. Unfortunately after being there for only 15 minutes it started to pour. We had to wait about an hour for it to let up before leaving. As we walked out they had “the rappers” come on stage and some were even rapping with Eminem in the background. …

On Saturday night I went to a Murder Mystery Party that was hosted by the girls I met that work for 31 bits. It was held at Combonis, the good pizza place, and we all had such a good time. It was essentially every single volunteer that is in this area (plus a few visitors) and it was such a good way to meet people. As Casey Saber the sword swallower, I took an Aladdin approach. Everyones costumes looked so good and you could tell that people put a lot of thought and effort into their outfits. I was even able to make a sword out of a cardboard box (after I removed the mouse that was chilling in it…) and was lucky enough that the Iron Donkey gave me some aluminum foil. I found a couple toy guns in the market but was not able to find a sword. If I had wanted a machete though I could have bought one for $2…horrifying. I was probably one of the worst actors at the party but that didn’t surprise me. I definitely enjoyed the social aspect more than trying to figure out who the murderer was. I do have to say that the way these parties are planned and how all of the characters are intertwined is pretty impressive.

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What can I say-I’m an artist

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On Sunday I went back to Chobe with Sophie, Helen, Matt and Frankie. This is definitely one of my favorites spots and we got so lucky with the weather we had- I was actually able to get some color. We spent most of the day just laying by pool and then went and sat by the Nile to eat the picnic lunch that we had brought. Halfway through our lunch we were greeted by a pack of 6 elephants! We got to eat the rest of our lunch watching them play in the water- probably the best lunch view I’ve ever had. After getting too much sun we decided to call it a day around 5 and headed back to Gulu. On our way out of the gamepark we turned a corner and were greeted by a lone bull elephant…..it turned and lifted its trunk as if it were going to advance and then stopped once it saw us backing up…one of those moments where no one could speak for about 10 minutes after since we all just saw our lives flash before us. Matts small rav-4 would have been no match for the 12-ton elephant. Still freaks me out just thinking about it.

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Elephants joining us for lunch

I spent this morning trying to get everything in order for our blood samples to be shipped to the States. In true Ugandan fashion I think everything that could possibly go wrong has been going wrong. I’m praying that everything goes smoothly in the next 2 days and that they arrive safely-obviously there is a lot riding on this. Pretty sure my heart rate is 20 beats faster than it should be at the moment.

Matt and Frankie are having a bunch of us over for dinner tonight and it will probably be the last time that I get to see a lot of my friends before I go-definitely bittersweet. Super excited to see my family and friends but I will  miss these people so much and its even sadder knowing most of them won’t be here when I return. The friendships I’ve made are definitely what I will miss most (with fresh bananas and avocados as a close second).

See you all soon!

 

Count your blessings

 

Picture this- You’re 15 and about to have your first child with a man that is 18 years older than you, but that’s the norm. You have a beautiful baby girl and you’re very happy. This man then fools around and becomes HIV+ and unbeknownst to him, transmits it to you. Flash forward 18 years and 4 additional children. You lose your husband to HIV, your two year-old passes away and no doctor will tell you why, and your 16 year old drowns in a nearby creek. It’s hard to imagine experiencing anything like this in your life, especially the loss of a child. It’s even harder to understand how someone who is 33 years old has already been through that…twice. Unfortunately this nightmare was a reality for one of the family members that we screened this week.

As I get more and more excited to return to the states, dreaming of tap water and ice cubes, experiences like this really bring me back to reality and remind me why I am here. I know that it will be easy to fall back into my daily routine but I know that I will constantly be thinking about the people that I will be leaving behind and looking forward to my return in June.

Today I had the opportunity to shadow one of the Canadian doctors that is here for a month. We spent the morning rounding on the male medical ward and once again, it was such an eye-opening yet heartbreaking experience. Of the 10 patients that we saw, 9 are HIV positive and 5 have suspected TB (yes mom I was wearing a mask). One of the patients was a 28-year-old -male who has Kaposi Sarcoma all over his body due to HIV infection. He ignored his HIV symptoms and finally came to the clinic this week when he could barely walk. From my understanding if someone has KS then they fall into the AIDS category. It seems to be a common theme here that people ignore health symptoms hoping that they will go away. This is even more unfortunate because with the ARV’s that are available today, even here, if you stick to your treatment the prognosis is usually pretty good. Another one of our patients was suffering from TB/HIV. He could not move and probably weighed around 75lbs. His daughter kept asking if they could go home so that he could die there and she could move on with her life. Here, if you want to be fed or looked after at the hospital you need an “attendant” which is usually one of your family members. They usually end up staying at the hospital, sleeping wherever they can find space. If no one in your family can stay with you, you pray that someone else’s family will share with you or you simply don’t eat. Just another example of how lucky we are to live where we do.

In other news, rainy season seems to be in full swing. Yes, I will be returning to the States paler than when I came since the sun seems to have disappeared for good. My clothes are covered in brick red mud and I honestly can’t wait to have a washer and dryer. Seriously, God bless whoever has to sit next me on the plane……Its really funny to me that it rains 75% of the year here yet everyone is deathly afraid to be caught in it. When I left the hospital the other day it started to drizzle. Everyone else was waiting under an overhang hoping it would stop (even though it always gets worse) and they said to me “ why are you walking? Aren’t you scared of the rain?” Machete attacks, getting hit by a boda, and malaria-these are things that I’m “scared of” in Gulu. Rain? Probably dead last on my list.

As for this weekend a group of us plan on going to the Ethiopian restaurant tonight (3rd times a charm?) and to then see where the night takes us. Tomorrow night the girls from 31 bits are hosting a “murder mystery party” and I have been given the part of Sword Thrower…They say that every year there are 2 categories of people; the ones that get really into it and those that socialize and forget they should be acting. Pretty sure we all know which category I will fall into. I also don’t think walking to their party with “a sword” is the type of attention I want to draw to myself soooo I’ll let you know what my costume ends up being.

The countdown is very real right now. I am leaving Gulu in 5 days and this time next week, I will be in Paris! Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Easter birthday and everything in between

 

I simply cannot believe how fast my time here has flown by. It seems like just yesterday I was waking up to make the trip to Gulu for the very first time. I guess its true what they say-time flies when you’re having fun.

On Saturday I spent most of the day at you guessed it-the Iron Donkey. Since the hard copies of all of the forms we used for the study will be staying in Gulu, I have to make sure that everything is uploaded correctly before I leave. This task is by no means hard it can just be very time consuming, especially since some of the families we enrolled were composed of 10+ members. In the evening, a bunch of us headed over to Sophie’s (where I will hopefully be living when I return!) to enjoy some pizza and beer. We had intentions of watching a movie but we ended up chatting for hours instead-something we could probably do for days. We all have such different schedules and different experiences during the week and its nice to tell stories at the end. (Sophie and Helen are doctors so I may enjoy their stories more than the rest of my friends..)

Easter Sunday happened to be Sarah’s birthday so I spent a majority of the day celebrating with her. I had full intentions of attending mass in the morning but I could not find anyone to go with me and with current events, being a westerner in a church was not exactly where I wanted to be. Once again hoping that the big man will forgive me. At around noon a bunch of us met at Iron Donkey for brunch. If you think I’m a regular, Sarah gets the gold star. She has been in Gulu since the fall and it’s definitely her favorite spot (rightfully so). They don’t normally do brunch but since it was their favorite customers birthday, they made an exception. And let me tell you- it was absolutely delicious. They served us scrambled eggs, sausage and pancakes (see mom-mom I’m having no trouble eating here….) We spent the afternoon just hanging out and not doing much else. It rained the whole weekend, which brings the number of activities to do in Gulu down to about zero.

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The crew at brunch

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The birthday girl

In the evening I headed out to Sarah’s house where a group of us had dinner, cake and some birthday cocktails. Unlike in the US where many places are closed on Easter it is the exact opposite here. At night we went to Signature, a local bar, expecting it to be fairly empty-WRONG. You would have thought that it was New Years Eve. The bar (or “nightclub” as they like to call it) was jam-packed. Apparently since most people take off work for Easter Monday, Easter Day is one of the biggest party days of the year. We spent about an hour at Signature and then headed to BJ’s, which is an outdoor bar/restaurant (the one which hosts trivia). This is known for being the “Mzungu” hangout and since so many people were out I was able to meet a lot of volunteers I had never talked to before. There really are a lot of volunteers here; you just have to find them. Even 2 weeks ago I met a girl from North Carolina named Jessamy who is my age. Turns out she’s good friends with someone in my sorority-small world!

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Honestly don’t know what I would have done without these two

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Monday was really uneventful. I went over to Sarah and Iesha’s place and we watched “Unbroken” in the afternoon. Honestly, we all thought that it was going to be much better than it was. Thanks for letting us down Angelina. On my way home from their place the sky turned black and it looked like a hurricane was about to hit. I still haven’t gotten use to how fast it goes from sunny to stormy here (even though I experience it everyday). Good news is I found out that its not really rainy season…its more like rainy year. The “season” goes until about the end of November and apparently in August, the roads are just closed because you can’t move. As my European friends would say, “lovely, just lovely.”

As for this week, I am tying up lose ends and helping the nurses get organized. Since Twalib is leaving 2 days after me and will not be returning until June, we have been making a list of duties to keep them busy while he is away.

This morning was the monthly injection clinic so I helped the nurses in anyway that I could. Even 2 months later it still shocks me how these kids come and wait in line for up to 2 hours and do not complain. There were even some Outpatients who came from very far to see Dr. Aliku. Unfortunately he will not be in Gulu until tomorrow so they are just going to “spend the night” at the hospital on whatever floor or empty bed that they can find.

One week from today I will be leaving Uganda and heading to France to see my wonderful parents and I could not be more excited! Although my time here passed with a blink of an eye it definitely feels like it has been 10 months since I have seen them.

Lastly, I want to give a huge shout out to Anne, one of my best friends from high school. She is the reason behind why I was given the opportunity to have an article published for the online journal “America Within”- check it out here.

That’s all I’ve got. Happy hump day.

 

Done Done Done

 

I know I know, it’s been awhile. I honestly have no excuse other than I’ve been exhausted. I have a lot to fill you guys in on so I’ll start where I left off.

On Tuesday we continued to enroll families into the study and were able to see 10 more. For some reason this week did not go as smoothly as the previous weeks. It had nothing to do with the actual images we obtained or the blood collection, everything just wasn’t as fluid and it took a lot more time than usual. I think everyone was still recovering from the previous week where we saw 30 families and in reality, so was I. In the afternoon I headed to Gulu Prison for my last school visit/recruitment for controls with one of our nurses, Rose. As we exited the hospital we knew that we had about 5 minutes to get to the school before getting absolutely drenched. I’m new to the whole “wet season” thing but what I’m learning is that the storms come on fast and they come on strong. About 1 minute after entering the main office it proceeded to downpour and did not let up for the next 50 minutes. We gathered 7 kids under a tin overhang and attempted to explain the study. As most kids would be, they were more concerned with the rain and the potential to play in it rather than what we had to say. We must have somehow gotten through since 6/7 of them showed up the following day!

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Aftermath of the rain

We waited for the rain to lighten up and ended up leaving around 5. I live about 20 minutes walk from the school and decided to walk home since it was only drizzling. What I hadn’t experienced up to this point was the complete lack of a drainage system here. The main road that I needed to walk on was completely flooded and getting home proved to be more of a challenge than I expected. Luckily I was wearing my super waterproof Sperry’s…yes 3 days later they are still soaked and yes a bunch of school children laughed at me when I stepped in a puddle. I haven’t decided if I like the rainy season more than dry season or not. I think it’s probably a lose-lose situation. I do like that it is a lot cooler and that I am even comfortable in a long sleeve shirt (some people have whipped out their scarves and hats for the 60 degree weather…). I was however getting pretty good at hiding how dirty my clothes actually were BUT you cant really do that when they are covered in mud.

Wednesday was our last busy day for enrolling families and we saw around 8. Once again it wasn’t as smooth as normal but I think everyone was just excited about the prospect of finishing. In the evening Twalib came over so that I could help him fill out his online visa application for India, which was rather comical. Obviously when applying for a visa they want every piece of information. They kept asking for addresses but they simply do not have house numbers here. His application currently says that he lives at the hospital (which is “technically” true) and even that doesn’t have a true address. After applying for his visa we continued our Wednesday night movie tradition and watched Slumdog Millionare, which neither of us had seen before. Because Twalib will be going to India for 2 months, which was up in the air when I made my original plans, I will now be home for a month and a half and wont return to Uganda until June. Super excited that I get extra time with family and friends.

Now for the exciting part—On Thursday we officially hit our target and ended the study with a total of 125 families! It feels amazing to not only have finished but to have finished with a week to spare. This now gives me time to first breathe and to second upload all of the data without being rushed before I go back to the States. Can’t believe that I will be leaving Uganda in 12 days-time flies!

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The team and I on our last day of enrollment

As for this weekend, Easter here is a huge affair. They even celebrate Easter Monday and “Easter Tuesday”. I plan on not doing much tomorrow which I honestly could not be more excited about. Sarah’s birthday is on Sunday so I will be spending it with my small Gulu family, cooking dinner and doing whatever else she would like to do. I will definitely miss being with family this weekend but I know that I will be reunited with them soon. Did you hear that Mom-mom?-I will be home safe and sound in 17 days!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Easter with family and friends!

 

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