Monday, June 28, 2010

Life-Changing Week

**Disclaimer***I am at a loss of words with how to begin this blog. Not gonna lie I have somewhat been putting it off, because this entire week has been full of continual life-changing experiences that only solidifies why I am here, what I am grateful for, and what I want to continually do in the future. I am writing this post out of pure humility for all that I have experienced over the previous week. This blog is super long and I completely understand if you don’t read it all the way through. A large part of why I am keeping a blog is for myself. I want to remember the experiences I am having and the emotions I have with them. I keep a journal, but there’s a difference from that and sitting down for a couple hours and just typing my thoughts away. With that being said, let’s begin…
On Monday I went to a primary school and taught a health lesson to over 100 students about the health benefits of hand washing and general hygiene. I had a blast teaching and the students seemed to really enjoy it—probably because two random muzungus were interactively teaching their class instead of the mundane lecture style teaching they’re used to. The schools here are exactly like the ones you see on American Idol Gives Back or something cheesy like that. There are rooms full of rows of benches with around 100 students per class. Most of the students can’t afford notebooks and all their school uniforms are torn and a lot do not own shoes. A lot of students can’t afford to pay for lunch and they don’t come with breakfast, so most of the students don’t eat anything all day or at least till supper. With how depressing this all sounds, the students are truly SO happy; they have permanent grins. They sing to us, clap when we walk in, stand when they answer a question, and call me Madam Megan. They are so cute and I secretly want to hide one of them in my suitcase, but remembering what happened in Haiti…I guess I’ll leave them here for now. L
Tuesday and Wednesday were beyond hectic days for me. I was the project lead of an Eye Camp. We held it at the Kojja Health Center IV in a rural village. Throughout the two days we screened 330 people, gave out 125 pairs of spectacles, and did 18 cataract surgeries. At one point I was even able to scrub in to assist with some of the operations! As stressful as the entire project was, it was completely worth it when I was able to be there when the patients who had the cataract surgery were able to take off their bandages and were given the gift of sight back. That moment made it completely worth it. Some of the people were completely blind for years, and all of a sudden they were able to see. A lot of the patients and their families started crying because they were so grateful that we would give this back to them. One of the ladies who had to be in her 80’s started dancing in her bed (smiling with a mouth full of missing teeth), one lady told me that she felt like she was in a whole new world because it had been so long since she was able to see anything, a lot of people were so grateful because they were going to be able to read their bible again. When the surgeon came in, I told the people that he was the one responsible for giving their sight back and involuntarily every one of the patience started clapping for him. It was beyond touching, I am pretty sure that there wasn’t a single person in that room that wasn’t tearing up, I am just grateful that I was able to be involved in such an experience. Even just giving people glasses and seeing their reaction was priceless, one lady started crying when she was able to put her new pair of glasses on. I will never forget how I felt throughout this entire experience and the gratitude on the faces that we were able to help.
Thursday we held a massive HIV and Aids Football (soccer) Festival in Kiyindi where we focused on joining together to fight Aids. We had 8 different schools, and about 1500 students, parents and political leaders—as a side note, we were only expecting 600 people total. We had all the schools play in the tournament and then we held trainings that focused on the social impact of HIV/AIDS, future planning, leadership skills, good sportsmanship, and responsible behaviors. Though the purpose of this outreach was to focus on the trainings concerning HIV/AIDS and not the football matches, the tournament was an excellent way to gather a community together in a fun and interactive environment. The games were a blast; I would stand on the sidelines with the school that was playing and get them cheering for their teams. The students were beyond excited, they would cheer in Ugandan songs and storm the field every chance they got. At the Festival we also screened a couple hundred people for HIV. The girls and I on my team performed a dance to “Baby” by Justin Beiber, I think it was the first time that they had seen Americans dance so we got about 1000 blank stares at the end—totally hilarious and oh so worth it. To end the day, my team played in a huge soccer match against the CCWA-the woman’s organization we partnered with. Due to my conjunctivitis (self-diagnosed, not really though) that day, I sat the game out and held the job of getting all the kids to chant “let’s go Muzungus, let’s go.” Afterwards we gave each of the participating schools a football because they usually play with wadded up banana leaves because they cannot afford actual balls. We all had a great time, but we were exhausted after the day was over!
This now leads me to the emotionally exhausting day of Friday. I was the project lead for a Dental Outreach; we went to a local school called St. Josephs Naggalama Primary School. To begin, the doctors showed up 2.5 hours late so I had to improvise by teaching 900 students “Popcorn Popping on the Jackfruit Tree” and singing the National Anthem. The doctors finally showed and we were able to screen over 1000 students/parents and extracted teeth of over 200 people. The students would first be screened by a dental assistant for any obvious cavities and then sent to a waiting room to get anesthetics to numb the mouth. The students would then have to sit and wait and listen to the heart-yanking shrills of their peers getting the shot. It was HORRIFIC, screams that you only hear on horror films were spilling out of the mouths of these little children. The students waiting in line were bawling because they knew it would be their turn at some point. I had some of the volunteers sit with the children and hold them literally down while the doctors injected them and other volunteers sing and dance to Shakira to entertain those students waiting in total horror. The children would then have to go to another room where they had their teeth extracted. We had one kid who had to get up to 6 teeth pulled. This process was just as emotional for me as was the anesthetic room. As I continually witnessed this throughout the day, I would find myself tearing up because I felt so bad. We didn’t make too many friends that day. If when I was a child a random group of people who were completely foreign to me came into my school and did this to me and my friends I would probably…utterly despise them! These kids have never had their teeth worked on or even seen a dentist, so everything was completely foreign to them. As hard as it was to witness the children going through this, I kept reminding myself that it was completely for their benefit. Some of them could hardly even eat because their teeth were so rotten. I was able to look at a few teeth that had a complete black hole going all the way through to the root. Overall, it was a huge success I believe and definitely a neat thing to be a part of.
Friday night…oh Friday night…I went to a goat roast, which I do have to admit was the ultimate African experience. So random, but so fun! A local school that a few volunteers work at invited us to join them in their festivities of dancing around a fire and singing tribal songs. It was a blast and the goat was surprisingly really good-quite chewy though. The kids were stroking my skin and playing with my hair and telling me how beautiful I was…white people fascinate them. I believe that anyone who has self-esteem issues needs to come to Africa because you can be completely horrendous looking and they would still love you and tell you look like an angel.
Saturday I held a meeting with the head doctors that we worked with for the eye and dental outreaches and the head person of Nakasero Hospital. To put this in perspective, Nakasero Hospital is the wealthiest and most advanced hospital in Uganda; it is where President Museveni and all the political leaders go. One of the doctors is actually the son of a former President of Uganda. So to be sitting with these men like we were friends was a remarkable thing for me. They are such good, genuine men and just truly want to help those that desperately need medical care. That is what they said as their reasoning for doing these outreaches. They told me that they asked themselves, how to pay back to the ‘small’ people who made them want to be doctors in the first place? They can accomplish this through such outreaches. I just keep thinking, in the States, I would never had that kind of opportunity to meet and hold a meeting with such influential people,
This now leads me to the last and final day of the week, Sunday. I understand this is probably the longest blog post ever, and I really do apologize for it. But I congratulate your for getting thus far, and I promise it will be over soon. Sunday, I went with our cook/dear friend to visit her family in the village Musaka where she grew up in. I am constantly astounded by the hospitality of the people here in Uganda. The family was so kind to us. It was such a relaxing day that consisted of sitting on mats in the shade of a gorgeous day eating delicious fruit and chatting about their hopes and aspirations and day-to-day living. The family had been living on their land for generations back; they even have their own cemetery going all the way back to their great-great grandfather. Edith was so pleased to see her family and to actually bring gifts home for her family. The Ugandan culture is so based on family unity that I wish America were more like it. When an extended family member dies, their children go to your family willingly. So they have ‘brothers and sisters’ that are technically their cousins. On our way home, we stopped at the equator. I was so excited to see it, but to be honest it was slightly anticlimatic. Our way home then followed with a stressful 6 hour ride on a taxi.
It has been an unforgettable week that I will cherish the memories from it forever. Like I said at the beginning, this week solidified why I am here, what all I am grateful for, and my desire to do this in the future. I have fallen to love the people of Uganda and their culture. Thank you back at home for all the support, I miss everyone so much. It is crazy to think that I am about to hit my half way mark. Love you all.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Random Photos

The Case of the Numb Bum

I should start off with the definition of ‘Numb Bum’. Numb Bum is when a person’s buttocks turns to a state of numbness and tingling to the point of unenjoyment and utter pain. Reasons that may cause numb bum may be: taxi rides, boda-boda rides, church, rafts, and foam mattresses.

Now that we are all on the same page, I will now go through and explain each of my cases of the Numb Bum. Coming to Africa I had 3 things on my ‘To Do’ list. 1) Safari, 2) Equator, 3) Float the Nile. The other Saturday I had the grand experience of floating the White Nile River. It was a blast to say the least, even though I did see what seemed to be my life flash before my eyes quite a few times. The rafting company we went with came and picked us up in Mukono and drove us to where we put in. We began with the most delicious meal I have ever had (I mean that in the nicest way mom). I do believe it was because for the first time that I have been here: all you can eat and food that didn’t consist of rice, beans, or posho. After breakfast we put into the water. I was on a raft of 7 girls and our rafting guide Tabani—I felt sorry for him, I’m sure he had to work harder than usual. The first rapid we encountered we were, not going to lie, somewhat pansies about it. Afterwards we asked what size rapid it was and he told us a class II. At that point we freaked because we were later going to be going through class V rapids. Anyway, things turned up and it was so fun (thank you adrenaline). Before each rapid we would scream as our war cry, “TABANI, TABANI, TABANI!!!” There was a rapid when we actually went down a waterfall! On one wave Tabani, in his explanation of the next rapid, explained that the rapid was going to be “disturbing”—real reassuring Tabani! On another rapid, there was a split that we got stuck on a rock in-between the two and we were wedged LITERALLY vertical in the air. All of us girls were screaming for our lives, when…dun, dun, dun…Tabani saved the day and yelled to us “DO...NOT...MOVE.” We then proceeded to go down the rapid backwards. Despite all the drama, we were highly talented rafters and only managed to flip once (all the other rafts flipped more than that). During our flip, I somehow lost my watch. My theory is that a massive, life-threatening crock bit it off my wrist. However, due to my underwater skills he was only able to get away with just my watch! Not today Mr. Crock, not today. On the water they fed us pineapple and cookies. The worst part about the experience was a long strip of no rapids where we had to row for like 40 min. This was when my Numb Bum came into action. The last rapid was the best to end on. It was so large, that we had to actually get out of our rafts and trek through the African jungle barefoot to get to an easier portion of the rapid. After we were done floating the Nile, the rafting company prepared for us a scrumptious barbecue, great way to end the day! Overall, my experience was incredible; I am pleased that I am able to check it off my list even though I probably came out of it with 50 parasites as my souvenirs.

Another way to get Numb Bum is on taxis. This last week I went to Kampala three times! Each time we were packed with about 20 other people going over speed bumps and horrible dips in the roads. It was all worth it, because I was able to, get this…AMERICAN FOOD!! This entails pizza, chicken sandwiches, fries, milkshakes, red velvet cake, frozen yogurt, and even a cinnamon roll. Now this may actually seem disgusting to you, but be aware that this is over a matter of three days and rice/beans/egg plant/posho/matoke everyday for the past month…American food was well needed and much deserved in my mind! In Kampala I also went to an artisans market and the Ugandan Museum. The market was way fun, I will be returning later on in the summer, but sad to say the museum was somewhat a joke — needs some TLC.

We are putting on an Eye Camp June 22-23! Ah I am so excited about it; things are actually getting past the planning stage and happening soon. We are partnering up with Nakasero Hospital in Kampala to do free eye screenings, cataract surgeries, and other eye services. We are having it in the Kojja Health Center IV and are encouraging all people in the local villages to come. The last two days I have had the most severe case of Numb Bum ever! Despite the pain, it was a great experience because I was on a boda going through the sub-Saharan African Jungle for two entire days dropping off fliers to all the sub counties and their health centers! C’mon that is pretty cool, right? I even got to go down to Lake Victoria and see where they bring the fish in to sell. The most common fish here is Tilapia, but there were massive catfish too. For lunch, I ate a legit chicken wing off a stick--skin and leftover feathers as well. I also had a barbecued banana, odd huh? It was pretty good…

Another thing causes Numb Bum here are the beds. Haha. The mattresses here are like 2 inch foam pads…no tempurpedic! At first it wasn’t all that bad, but now it is starting to get flat and I practically sleep on the wood boards of the bed so that I wake up with an aching back and a case of the Numb Bum. I can’t wait for my first night back at home in my comfy bed, (I should add that to my list of blessings from the previous blogpost). Speaking of sleeping, so we got a goat BUT one goat was clearly not enough so we got a SECOND goat…yeahhh…not. As much as I didn’t really care for this decision, it was much needed. Our first night with Aberforth Wilberforce (our goat), she would not shut up…it was the worst night of my life. We later found out that goats need partners to be quiet, so this now leads me to introduce our second goat-Wendy Peffercorn.

Well now you know all about the average day in Africa—Numb Bum!! No but on a serious note, things are going great here. I can’t believe that I have been in Uganda for over a month now, less than three months left! Time is going so fast. As much as I miss home, family, and friends; I am forming great relationships with some of the people here. I have had the opportunity to work in the health clinics with people who are HIV+ and planning logistics for hand washing stations in schools. We are working with local schools and setting up peer mentoring programs. We are putting on festivals at primary schools where we are teaching 5 lessons. I am in charge of teaching the health lesson including sanitation and hygiene. We are going to a different school every week for about 4 hours and the students are going to transition between the 5 centers. I am also doing a lot of research on setting up a recycling program here in the Mukono area where we can do‘cash for scraps’ kind of incentive program. Lots and lots are being done, so I am constantly busy. Thank you for those who read about my adventures here and who have stayed in contact while I am away. I appreciate and love you all! Bella Bulungi.


Thursday, June 3, 2010


Hello, hello!! Besides the development work I am doing here in Uganda, there are of few items on my "To Do" list while I am here. One of these items is to float the Nile River. As of Saturday I can check this one off my list. I believe I can officially die a happy person.

Well the last time I wrote I said that I was going to float the Nile River