Uganda Love This

Amy Scheel

Month: February 2016

Amy 24 years, Museveni 30 years (in power)

Hey everyone-

I think everything is finally settling down after the elections and I must say, witnessing them firsthand was eye-opening to say the least. If I had to describe what I’ve witnessed over the last few days I think the only word that truly fits is sad. While I certainly do not know everything there is to know about Ugandan politics, what I do know is that their government, which they claim is a democracy, is anything but that. In short, the current President (Museveni) who has been in power for 30 years was running for his 5th term, after casually changing the previous “3-term limit” law. His main competitor was Kizza Besiyge, who was running against Museveni for the 4th time. Besiyge was clearly the favorite amongst the Ugandan people. To put it in perspective, I’ve asked 40 Ugandans from all over the country who they voted for and every single person but ONE said Besiyge. (Side-note: I knew all of these people prior to elections. I wasn’t just polling random strangers). On election day I watched as voting materials arrived at polling stations up to 6 hours late or not at all. Oh and by the way, their “voting stations” look like a glorified middle school student council election. Each “station” consisted of an area taped off with what appeared to be streamers and each person voted on a piece of paper and placed it in a plastic bin which was completely tamper proof with a few pieces of duck tape….I watched as multiple bins were found with pre-ticked ballots for Museveni, votes from certain areas outnumbered the number of registered voters, and boxes of votes from areas heavily favoring Besiyge “disappeared”. To make matters worse, Museveni shut down all forms of social media to keep people from saying “dishonest” things about him, including “Mobile Money” which is vital to many business operations in Uganda. The cherry on top to all of this is that throughout the process he had Besiyge arrested 4 times. Up until the “final announcement” Besiyge had been leading in almost every single district but Museveni’s home district. When it was announced that Museveni had won with over 60% I watched as people stared in disbelief. The unfortunate side to this is that most people have accepted the fact that there is no way to have a free and fair election here. They know that if they protest, they will be killed. They have given up completely responding with “maybe in 5 years we’ll have better luck”. To add to the corruption I’ve witnessed over the past few days, Besiyge is still in custody, where he will “coincidentally” remain until after the 10-day period granted to candidates to appeal the elections has passed. I know I’m not Ugandan and this isn’t my country, however it is disheartening to witness people who have become my family so frustrated over an election where they were supposed to be given a voice and they weren’t. 

 

On Monday I worked with the nurses in the morning and then headed home to get everything ready for my trip with Paul. On Monday night my entire Gulu family surprised me with a dinner party to celebrate my 24th birthday. I could not be more thankful for the friends that I have made here and for how special each and every one of them made me feel. We had a Mexican feast complete with margaritas, played games and just enjoyed each other’s company. My 2nd African birthday was definitely one to remember! Bring on 24!

I love you people

I love you people

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What birthday is complete without a party hat and people who make you laugh?

Yesterday morning I headed down to the ITW office in Kampala. I will be visiting the ITW pregnancy project sites with Dr. Okello this week before Paul’s arrival on Friday night. I can’t wait to have him here and I am so ready for him to see what my life has been like for the last year. See you soon Paul!

 

The return of Emmy

Hey everyone!

Last week was a really productive and re-energizing week. After the extremely heartbreaking week prior, I must admit, it was much needed. Most of my week was spent in the clinic organizing Registry patients for follow up as well as organizing everything for the 2nd support group. In addition, one of our nurses from Lira was up in Gulu for training so the two of us spent a lot of time using the Vscans to work on our echo skills.

The second support group honestly couldn’t have gone any better and I’m really excited about how everything is playing out. On Saturday my friend Eric dropped a few boxes of supplies at the school at 9:00am and called to tell me that there were already kids waiting. When I arrived at 10:00am over half of the children were already there! All of these children have been out of school since the last week of November and won’t be restarting until after the elections, which are this Thursday. In addition to the super awesome support group I had planned…I think these kids are simply excited about the ability to learn and play with other children their age. After all-isn’t that what being a kid is all about? Over 90% of the participants from the first group attended the second group. In addition we had 4 new children attend, bringing the total up to 50! Never in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated such a positive and receptive response from these children and I am so excited that they love being apart of this group. I am truly inspired by their desire to learn and their thought provoking questions. Let me tell you-these kids are intelligent!

Support group 2!

Support group 2!

 

While the kids definitely walked away with new information about their disease, I think one of the most informative parts of the day came after everyone left and I was waiting for Eric to come help me bring the boxes home. Two of the teachers from Gulu Public (the school where the group is held) came into the classroom I was in and I started telling them all about the support group program. They then asked me my name and I responded with “Amy.” Their response-“Emmy? You’re a boy?” Why I haven’t started making names up is beyond me. Both of these teachers then sat down and watched me as I proceeded to spell out Amy vs Emmy on the blackboard and explain that Amy is in fact a girl’s name in the US. It’s times like these that I wish my parents had actually gone through with naming me Michelle. I’ll blame my Dad for thinking that I would have a Lisp and not wanting me to be the subject of teasing as I struggled to pronounce Michelle Scheel…

Most important lesson of the day..

Most important lesson of the day..

 

On Saturday night my house hosted a Valentine’s Day party, which more or less looked like a Halloween party. A few days before the party we all drew names and were partnered with someone at random. We then had to come up with a partner costume for the party. Arthur and I ended up being Clinton and Trump and I have to say I think we did a pretty great job. In true character, I insulted him all night while he returned the favor. It doesn’t get more realistic than that. I’m not sure how we forgot to take a picture but take my word for it-our costumes were on point.

 

On Sunday John, Brandon and I set out on a day trip to Aruu Falls, a local water fall about an hour away from Gulu. Now if you recall, it was us 3 who were together when we had bike issues on the way to Fort Patico and this trip was no exception. Brandon and I made it about halfway there when his dirt bike decided to die. After waiting under a tree for an hour hoping it would start, we left it at a local shop and called a mechanic from Gulu to come fix it. Determined to make it to the waterfall, we hired two guys in the town of Paicho (where we broke down) to take us the rest of the way. About 5 minutes into that ride, the bike that Brandon was on died so we once again had to wait until we could find him another ride. Finally 3.5 hours after departure from Gulu we arrived at the falls and let me tell you-it was worth the hassle! We spent the entire afternoon swimming and climbing up and down the falls. I couldn’t help but think of Alex throughout the day, as the last time I hiked up a waterfall was with him and Vanessa in Ecuador. It was such a wonderful way to reflect back on his life and all of the memories that we were fortunate enough to share. As a lover of all things outdoors, I know he would have loved it.

Van, me and Alex in Misahuali

Van, me and Alex in Misahuali

After leaving the falls at around 4:30, we arrived in Paicho to find Brandon’s bike fixed (or so we thought). We made it about 5 miles when his bike died again. This time we were nowhere near a town and ended up calling his mechanic, Emmy (oh the irony), from Gulu. We spent the next 1.5 hours on the side of the road talking about life and watching the most amazing sunset. It’s moments like these that you just have to laugh at your misfortune and enjoy the company that you are with. Emmy finally arrived and got the bike to start after 20 minutes. We made it ½ mile down the road when it died again. At this point we were all just laughing because let’s face it, what else can you do? Emmy gave us his bike to drive back and spent what would end up being two hours trying to get Brandon’s bike back to Gulu. He ended up piling it in a cattle truck…..not going to lie, kind of bummed we missed that. After an 11-hour adventure, the 3 of us made it back to Gulu safe and sound.

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John, Brandon and I at Aruu

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Professional roadside sitters

This upcoming week will be a little different than most as the presidential elections will be held on Thursday. Most organizations have mandated that their volunteers not leave their compounds from Thurs-Saturday, so I will be staying at Brandon’s for the end of the week for a very large sleepover with everyone. I wish I could say what I thought was going to happen during these elections but the truth is, I honestly have no idea. I’ll be sure to update you as things begin to unfold.

 

I hope everyone has a great week!

 

Rest easy my friends

Hey everyone-

I’m sure I’m beginning to sound like a broken record BUT sorry for the delay. Since I officially left for Uganda a little over a year ago (what!?), my one-year blog subscription expired and it took some time to get it up again. So much has happened over the last week and a half so I’ll jump right in.

On Saturday the 23rd we had our first support group and I couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out. I arrived at 10am (group starts at noon) to find 8 children already there. EIGHT! And here I was worried that children wouldn’t show up. The children started by checking in and making their nametags, which was a huge hit. Most of their nametags have so many stickers on them that you can’t actually read their names but hey they enjoyed it so that’s all that matters. We officially started the group off with a little “aerobics” taught by my friend Eric and then broke the kids into 3 groups. The first group started by filling out baseline data forms, the second group took a quiz about rheumatic heart disease and then took part in an educational workshop, and the third group performed an obstacle course. The kids rotated through each station over 3 hours. Overall we had 46 kids total attend the first group, all of which seemed eager to return this month. The next group is a week from Saturday so I am already busy trying to solidify all of the details for group 2!

 

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Katie was the final stop of the Obstacle course. The kids had to high-five her puppet monkey to complete the course!

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Obstacle course fun

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The whole gang!

On Saturday afternoon, after the support group, 8 of us headed out to Fort Patico to do a sunset hike. After 2 hours and 2 flat tires later….I finally made it. Brandon, who I had originally been riding with however, did not. He had to ride on his flat tire all the way back to Gulu while our friend John who was on the way picked me up. We made it just in time for sunset and it was such a perfect ending to such a long, amazing and work filled week.

 

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The whole gang at Patico

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Missing you Robbie

On Sunday 15 of us headed to Chobe lodge in Murchison falls to spend the day at the pool for our final day with Robbie before he headed back to the states. Robbie arrived in Gulu the same week I did last year and we have really gotten to know each other over the past couple of months. He is such a kind and genuine person and was always down for an adventure. There is no doubt in my mind that our paths will cross again but right now the entire Gulu community is definitely missing him (no matter how weird or quirky he could be at times).

On Tuesday I headed down to the ITW house in Kampala to prepare for my visit to Nawanyago on Wednesday and Kasambya on Thursday and Friday. Dr. Okello and I left for Nawanyago early Wednesday morning and spent the day with Henriator, our main research nurse there. We addressed a few minor problems but overall I think everything is going extremely well. On Wednesday night I headed to Mubende where I slept before traveling to Kasambya clinic the following morning. I spent the day with Hakim and Olivia and was super impressed with their work ethic and echo skills. They are more than determined to make sure that we get the numbers we need for this study! On Friday I headed back up to Kasambya with Dr. Okello but we had to cut our day short due to the impending arrival of Mbabazi, a presidential candidate for the current election. While I’m sure things would have been fine, none of us were trying to stick around for the crowds and chaos that would immediately follow his arrival.

Carolina, Arthur and Daron ended up coming down from Gulu to Kampala on Friday evening so we enjoyed some good food and drinks over the weekend before heading back on Sunday. With the upcoming elections, most of us will be staying put in Gulu until the results are out. We don’t anticipate anything going wrong but its definitely much safer where we are than in the capital.

In contrast to last week, this week has just been one of those weeks where everything seems to go wrong and each subsequent event is sadder than the previous one. As they say “when it rains, it pours”. On Wednesday morning I walked into the children’s ward to find Regan, one of our RHD patients who was frequently admitted, covered with a sheet. I didn’t have to ask. I knew what that meant but at the same time I couldn’t, and honestly still can’t, process it. I loved that kid and truly thought that we were going to have the chance to get him the life-saving surgery that he needed. He had been stable the day before and even ate his afternoon lollipop with me, a tradition we started back in December. He has been admitted multiple times however he always pulled through. Why was this time different? I’ve experienced this so many times now and I think I fooled myself into thinking it would get easier. Shortly after Regan’s death we were informed that another one of our RHD patients (Barbara who I have written about previously) passed away in December. We had assumed the worst since we had not seen her since her admittance in November but there was still a small chance that we were wrong. After weeks of trying we finally got through to her mother who said she passed away in the village around Christmas time. As if our day hadn’t been devastating enough, our last patient of the day was a 5-year old-boy with newly diagnosed HIV and TB. Like I said, when it rains it pours.

This morning I woke up ready for a new start when I received the worst, most bone chilling news. Alex, my co-worker during my time with Alma Sana, and more importantly friend, passed away this week at the young age of 25. He was without a doubt one of the most impressive and vibrant young people I have ever been around and his desire to change the world through global health interventions was inspiring. He has truly touched the lives of many people, including my own, and the world will not be the same without him. During my time in South America, Alex hosted Vanessa and I for a week and a half in Ecuador, taking us on the trip of a lifetime. I will cherish those memories forever and always remember our long talks about global health and our dreams of changing the world. In my opinion though, he was already doing that. My heart goes out to all of Alex’s friends and family. Rest easy my friend. Te extrañamos mucho.

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Alex, Vanessa and I rafting down the Rio Napo in Ecuador

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