Monday, October 17, 2011

Fevers, Fevers, Go Away!

Nam is still in the hospital, so every couple days I’m there on a morning, afternoon or night shift. She’s been stitched up again and seems to be doing well, so hopefully she’ll be home in a couple days. Along with that, we’re still dealing with constant fevers as all of the kids have had it once and a few of them are on their second bout. Checking temperatures a couple times a day has become habit and I’ve been dishing out children’s Tylenol like it’s going out of style. It’s been very frustrating and draining and I pray that soon, these fevers will finally be over and done with.
The other night, I realized just to what degree the things with Nam, Selina and the kids have affected me. I was out in the living room waiting for Fred to arrive to pick up some things on his boda and bring them to the hospital for us when Emily H came in rather swiftly and said, in a way that I interpreted as distressed, that she had just received a text from Emily W. My heart dropped and instantly I was prepared for some horrible news. It was only a moment later that she informed me that Emily was just texting to say that Fred would not be coming due to the rain, but by the time she said that I was already on the verge of panic. I laughed, relieved, and told her, through my nervous laughter, that she’d nearly given me a heart attack. It was a good 15 minutes before I was able to unwind and no longer feel like I could just sit down and cry. I hadn’t realized until then how on edge this place had made me. I suppose I’ll get used to it eventually but for now it seems that after 29 years of living in a place where people don’t just pass away on you, it’s not easy to adjust to a place where they do.
I have been somewhat expecting to get sick here at some point due to the fact that I got really sick in Haiti, as it’s just something that seems to happen when you travel to a third world country. So, I suppose I should be glad that I had a whole month and a half before it hit me. On Saturday night, we went to this guy Bryce’s house from Bible study for a bonfire and some social time, which was great, but I wasn’t feeling all that well. Long story short, that night I slept on the couch with a bowl nearby so I didn’t kill myself climbing in and out of my top bunk and no one had to hear me throwing up every hour or so. Not fun, for sure, but it was pretty much over by morning and I spent most of Sunday sleeping. I know it’ll take a couple days to get my energy back, but besides that I’m good to go.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My House, My Town

Welcome To My Home

Welcome To Jinja!

Here are some of my favorite spots to eat and hang out...

Biasara Market
(where I do most of my grocery shopping)

Ozzie's Cafe

The Source

The Keep


The "courtyard" behind Flavours

Church, in the pastor's yard

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

The title of this post is based upon that fact that I was not fully prepared for the stress that would go along with truly becoming part of the family here. Taking on ownership and responsibility for the kids - being depended on – has its difficulties; especially with the week that we’ve had.

Around the time of Selina passing, some of our kids started getting fevers. At first we thought malaria, but that was disproved after we had CBC’s done on all of them. One particular night we were discussing the possibilities and checking symptoms with the help of Google…bad idea; we all went to bed feeling a little nauseous with words like typhoid and yellow fever going through our heads. Fortunately, with the light of day, a little logic and typhoid being ruled out due to one of our sicker kids getting tested at Al-Shafa, we were assured it was most likely a nasty bug and a run of antibiotics would do the trick. As a side note, we believe this may have been what ultimately caused Selina’s death as her little body was just too weak and stressed to deal with it. In the midst of our yellow fever fears, earlier this week, Nam (who’s been staying in the living room with baby with one of us on the couch to keep an eye on them) spiked a particularly high fever. It was during the time of day when all the kids had had their baths and were playing in the living room and while the Emily’s were checking her out, she became slightly delusional from her fever and illness and started flipping out. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, as we were rushing the kids out of the room, Mweru (our exceptionally spirited, 9 year old, autistic boy) stepped on baby Grace as he slept in his basinet. It was one of those, “really?...really?...what next?” moments. Well, to answer that question, one of the mommas came up to me and said, “Aunty Stacy, aunty Stacy, we need you!”. I rushed behind her into the girls’ bathroom to find it flooded and a large amount of water spewing from the pipe behind the toilet. Naturally, I grabbed the knob and started turning it off, only to realize why the momma’s hadn’t done it themselves…I received a rather large jolt of electricity through my hand and up my arm. Momma Christine chose just that moment after to inform me of that particular problem. I grabbed a towel, turned it completely off and left them to soak up the mess soon after realizing that my help was not needed.

Nam eventually calmed down and agreed to go to the hospital and Jessica and DeAnna brought Grace to the hospital just to be certain. Grace was fine, Nam is not. She came home that night with the antibiotics needed to treat the infection she’s developed from her incision. The last couple days have been busy, a good portion of my day taking the temperatures of each of our kids every few hours and divvying out children’s Tylenol as every single one of them has had a fever of 101° – 104° sometime in the last few days. Although, gratefully, for the most part the bug has not included vomiting and diarrhea, there was one day that I returned to the house after helping feed the youngest and most needy kids with pee on one pant leg and vomit on the other; the joys of cloth diapers and sensitive stomachs.

Things were truly looking up until last night; Nam’s incision started bleeding. The Emily’s rushed her to Al-Shafa yet again to discover that she had developed sepsis and that her infection had gotten much worse and that she will need to be in the hospital for up to 7 days. I had the morning shift today and had the pleasure of standing over her as the doctor came in to clean her incision. They had to reopen the incision, creating a giant gaping wound, to clean out the infection and stuff her abdomen with gauze soaked in iodine. I stood with my hand on her arm while the doctor pulled out the old nasty gauze, cleaned her incision by digging her fingers past an inch of fat into Nam’s belly and stuffed it with fresh gauze before replacing the dressing. Surprisingly, I wasn’t at all grossed out by all this; it was just one more thing that left me wondering, am I really seeing this?

I apologize for these long posts, but there is one more thing I need to share. There is a Ugandan woman, named Angela, whom I met in town the first week that I was here after wandering into the curio shop she works at. After a brief conversation (and the purchase of an adorable set of book ends) I discovered that she was an acquaintance of Emily W. She was incredibly sweet and incredibly pregnant and I suppose we established a connection that day because we have since exchanged cell numbers and I’ve made a habit of stopping in on her almost every time I’m in town. Last week she called me to say that she’d had pain in her stomach but I went to see her a couple days later and she told me the doctor had just given her some pain medication and sent her home. Then a couple days ago I received a text to say that she was having labour pains and to please pray. Yesterday I received a call…an emotional Angela informed me “I’ve lost my baby, Stacy, I’ve lost my baby.” She should have been given a C-section, but they left things too long and a half hour after they could no longer find the heartbeat, she delivered a lifeless baby girl. She asked me to come see her, which of course I agreed to, so this afternoon she sent her young sister on a boda to come meet me at a popular cafĂ© across the street from her shop and bring me back to her home. After an initial emotional greeting, I was introduced to her three sisters (Joy, Peace and Sharon), her mother and her niece, treasure. We sat together for over an hour while she shared a small picture album and spoke of her life and her family. They were incredibly kind and gracious, insisting that I chose a soda to drink and refused payment despite their modest living, even though it had to be purchased at a small stand just down the road from where they live; they would have fed me too had I not just had lunch in town and declined, respectfully. Her baby, as yet unnamed (though I suggested she name her), has gone with her boyfriend to his family’s village to be buried and they are planning to have a memorial in a month or so when Angela returns from her own mother’s village for some respite. Her boyfriend’s village is a far distance away, but I have assured her I would like to be there for her so I will likely be joining the two of them in a taxi early in November for that little adventure. It was an incredible blessing to be welcomed to her home, though, and I am sure that I will be there again in the future and our friendship will only grow deeper as time goes by.

I could not help but be aware of the fact that the two main parts of my day, though astounding to most, seemed like the most normal things in the world. First, this morning getting up before 7 just as the sun is rising, having a quick bite to eat, making my way through the heavy metal gate, hopping on a boda with a strange man laden with my computer, my bag of things and another bag with Nam’s request of a papaya and a thermos of hot water and riding into town to relieve Jessica from her night shift at Al-Shafa. Then, getting picked up by a young girl on a boda, having no idea where I was going and being welcomed into the home and life of this wonderful Ugandan woman whom I literally met on the street.

What a day.

Angela and her home; just the far right portion of the house.

Some randoms...

Chocolate cake from "The Keep", where we went for lunch. Before...



Wednesday, October 05, 2011

You Know

I know two posts in two days is a little much, but I couldn't help myself. Selina and Shamim’s memorial was beautiful; Pastor Terry (from the missionary church we go to) led with prayer, verses, words of encouragement and we listened to a few songs that Emily had chosen before planting the two trees, giving anyone who wanted the opportunity to place a handful of dirt back into the ground where the trees were planted. It was the perfect way to celebrate their short lives.

A bit before the we started, I got an email from a friend of my family who had read a poem that I’d written a couple weeks back during the more difficult portion of my stay here; my dad had shown it to her. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment how very relevant it was given all that happened so I asked Emily if she wouldn’t mind me sharing it at the memorial. She looked over it and immediately replied with tears in her eyes, “You have to read this.” So, through tears of my own, I did.

You Know

What trials be the best for me,

What weakness shows in vain defeat,

What feelings, strong, my heart does keep

And all the fears that cripple me,

You know.

When hardship veils a deeper reason,

When sorrow finds me for a season.

When all I crave is understanding;

A sense of purpose to define me.

You know.

What pain is found in life, in death;

The loss of love, a final breath.

What sorrow felt in all this passing,

When grief seems long and everlasting,

You know.

When grace is shown where non-deserving,

Where love is shown in humble serving.

When sight is found where once was blindness,

When light is found, and warmth in kindness,

You know.

What mercy do you hold for me,

What awesome love, what sweet relief;

What peace you give when one gives pause

To glorify your name because

You know.

A morning walk just outside the gate.

George and I went to Bujagali Falls this morning as apparently, as of tomorrow, given the new dam they’ve just built, they will be “no more” and she wanted to see it before that happened. Given the rather regular thunder and rain storms we’ve been having almost every afternoon and the fact that we’d be taking bodas, we thought it best not to wait until nap time and instead left at about 10am. The falls were beautiful and we had a lovely lunch at The Black Lantern overlooking the river before hopping back on a couple bodas…we got home just 15 minutes before this…

The restaurant we took shelter in the last time I was there.

George and I

The Black Lantern

Part of the boda ride home.

I love bodas!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

He Gives and Takes Away

I would like to preface this blog post with this: This is not just another travel experience, like my first boda ride or a trip to the falls; this is a story of life and death and I share it not only that you might be aware of what I have been experiencing here in Africa, but that you might have a greater appreciation for the fragility of life and what the girls here are up against. Though written as a story, it was as real and heart-breaking as anyone might imagine and something that will stick with me for as long as I live…

Thursday evening, shortly before yet another power outage, Nam went into labour and was rushed to the local hospital while the volunteers eagerly awaited word back home. Early Friday morning she had not yet had her baby, but I rolled out of bed and stepped outside our room to find Emily H leaning over 6 year old, 15lb Selina ( as she lay in the arms of one of the mommas, They had found her that morning looking horribly unwell and given how malnourished she was, the issues we’ve had with her g-tube and the few scares she’s given us since I’ve been here, she had Emily and the mommas very concerned. As the local hospitals are dodgy and have been very unhelpful with her in the past and a trip to Kampala was out of the question due to the length of time it would take to get there, Emily decided it was best to take her instead to their friend, Renee’s. She has been in Jinja full time for the last few years running a malnutrition rehabilitation centre just 20 minutes from our home (10 when you drive as though a child’s life depends on it) and is much more capable and equipped to handle such a situation. I offered to accompany Emily, threw on some jeans and was out the door with Selina in my arms before I’d wiped the sleep out of my eyes. The whole way, I had my hand on her neck feeling what I could of her pulse and watched her stomach rise and fall, praying that this little girl would not stop breathing in my arms. We arrived at Renee’s, abandoned the car at the gate, rushed in through a small metal door just beside the gate and into the house where Renee was waiting and immediately assessed her; she was nearly hypothermic with a temperature of 93° and severely dehydrated. After several failed attempts at an IV due to the scarceness of her veins (both feet, her hands, her head…) Renee was successful and after an hour or so of a steady flow of nutrient rich fluids to hydrate her and the help of a few water bottles to bring up her temperature, she was looking a 100% better and had perked up enough to start moving around enough that the oxygen tube had to be taped to her bald little head. We were feeling immensely relieved and optimistic.

At this same time, we were getting regular updates from Emily W from the hospital regarding Nam. She wasn’t progressing fast enough for the doctors and after about 17 hours of contractions, was still only 2 cm dilated; so around the time of Selina’s improvement, we got word that the doctors were beginning to consider a C-section.

Once Selina had received the amount of fluids she could handle at one time and her temperature was up to a much safer 97°, we decided to take her home. We packed up some supplies, listened to a few instructions from Renee and bundled her up for the drive but it was no more then 2 minutes from the house when I stopped Emily as Selina’s breathing had suddenly become strange and laboured. We rushed her back to a rather startled Renee who called in the nurse that she employs and the two of them took over, standing over her administering oxygen and then bagging her while Emily and I stood a few feet back not knowing what was actually going on and not knowing what to do besides pray. It wasn’t 5 minutes later when Renee turned around and said simply, “She’s gone, I’m sorry.” I thought I heard her wrong at first but as they put away the oxygen and supplies and backed away, I began to fully understand what had just happened. I just stood there shocked as emotion began to take over but I did everything I could to keep myself from breaking down as I felt that all there was for me to do then was be there for Emily. As she stood over Selina, I made the call to the girls at the hospital with Nam and told them the news they least wanted to hear and came back to find Emily cradling Selina in her arms, rocking and kissing her forehead…such a pillar of strength. It was when she went out to begin making some arrangements that I went and stood over Selina’s body trying to process what had I had just witnessed. I held her hand, stroked her leg and kissed her forehead all the while trying to make myself understand that this was just her flesh; that she was at that moment at home in the arms of Jesus; something that has been immensely comforting to all of us as well as the fact that for the last 6 months of her life, Selina was in a home where she was cuddled and loved and cared for to the best of everyone’s ability.

We needed to take her home but felt that it would be too distressing for the mommas and everyone involved to simply carry her body into the house so Renee made the call to have a casket delivered to her home. About an hour and a half later, during which time we received news that Nam was going in for an emergency C-section, the boda driver and a pastor-friend of theirs arrived carrying a freshly lacquered wooden casket built to her size with a simple wooden cross hammered onto the lid. I think the most heartbreaking and horribly morbid part of that whole morning was watching Emily and the pastor lift her body, place it in the casket with her Dora blanket and close the lid. After a quick prayer, they lifted the casket, I gathered our things, and we placed her in the back of the SUV and headed home; now praying no longer for Selina but for the safety of Nam and her baby.

Arriving home, we were expected, and arrangements were made to place her on the patio so the mommas had a chance to pay their respects. Instructions were given that the kids were to remain in their rooms once they’d awakened from their naps and the mommas would take their turns coming out. Most of them already knew but it was the time of day where the shift changes and there were some that arrived in that moment not knowing what had happened until they stepped onto the patio faced with the open casket and a small crowd of crying women. It broke my heart to see them fall to the ground in a sweep of emotion and it touched me deeply to witness the love and the compassion that these amazing women have for the children they care for.

Not even an hour after we returned home, we received word that Nam had delivered a healthy baby boy.

After everyone had a chance to say goodbye and the mommas had taken the time to wash and prepare her body, her casket was put back in the vehicle and the Emily’s made a quick stop at the hospital to meet baby before carrying on to the village where Selina was born to deliver her there, as is customary, and make arrangements to return the following day for her burial. While they were away, I received a call from Emily asking if I would be willing to take the first night shift at the hospital to monitor Nam and baby with another volunteer and one of the mommas, which of course I agreed to. So that evening, we packed up some things and got a ride to Al-Shafa Medical Center and settled in for the long night ahead.

This was a day I will never forget as long as I live. Whereas my morning was overwhelmed with the reality of death, my night was spent holding in my arms a baby that had been in this world for less than a day, still smelling of birth; the ultimate representation of new life.

The memorial the following day didn’t feel real. The village was a 40 minute precarious drive a bit off the main road and the scene was oppressive, due not only to the weather, but the surroundings, the wailing and grieving of the women…Jessica said it right when she said it felt like we were in a movie. Only the men are allowed around the grave when they actually bury a body, but as they began to recede back towards us, we took the opportunity to circle around the freshly dug mound of dirt to have a small service of our own. The pastor prayed, the four of us girls (The Emily’s, Jessica and I) huddled together and prayed and a bit of time was spent connecting with Selina’s biological family unearthing some hidden truths before a sudden downpour forced us back into our vehicles for the drive home.

To be honest, I think I am still trying to make sense of everything that has happened. As horrible as it was, it did not make me want to leave Africa; on the contrary. It may have contributed significantly towards how settled I’ve been feeling lately due to the fact that I somehow feel tied to this place because of what I went through and somehow more bonded to those I went through it with. It’s as though in order to truly relate to those that have been here for a significant length of time, you have to experience something like this; you must have experienced something of Africa that leaves you choked by injustice, sad and angry. I still cry sometimes when I think about it and there are constant reminders that life here is never without it’s struggles (the skin and bones, extremely malnourished little girl with CP that has just come to stay with us for a while; the fact that there’s a malaria epidemic in our house right now), but the last few days have been filled with such joy also. The laughter between us, baby Grace and Nam coming home, a candlelit dinner we all prepared and ate together last night in celebration of the new stove that Jessica’s dad bought for us, a chocolate croissant from a bakery in Kampala.

We are having a small memorial at the house this afternoon for Selina and Shamim, the little girl that I never met, but passed away a day or so after I got here. There will be singing, there will be prayer, and we will be planting two trees in their honor…it will be a celebration of their lives. Maybe feeling at home in Africa isn’t about time, but simply happens when you reach a place where you can accept that there will be tragedy and hardship and in the midst of it appreciate life in a way you hadn’t quite done before. If that is the case, then I can say with certainty that, for now, Africa is my home.

Soon after meeting baby Grace

The room at Al-Shafa

Dear Selina, now in the arms of Jesus