Sunday, February 19, 2012

Crazy Kids And Other Adventures

The longer I’m here, the more a part of this place I feel. This is my home, these are my kids…Ekisa is my life. The longer I’ve been here, the more responsibility I’ve been given as well…and gladly received; I’m currently taking care of much of the accounting/administration parts of the operation and I’ve been involved in more and more of the medical stuff that goes on. Especially right now as Emily W is in America until mid-March, it’s been very evident how much trust they have in me; to the point that when Emily H is out of the house (especially when she was in the hospital in Kampala with Zuena), I am left responsible for anything that comes up. Generally, this is fairly easy with little to no trouble (a mama wanting a small advance, someone at the gate, etc…), but there have recently been some rather stressful situations.

Zak has been having seizures on a more regular basis, we think due to the fact that his dosage needs to be increased and compounded by how bloody hot it’s been these last few weeks. Usually, we’ll wait until he has a few relatively close together and then give him a Diazepam suppository. But if it gets really bad (one seizure right after the other), the plan of action is an IV drip of a really strong anti-seizure drug called Phenobarbital. Luckily, he’s been ok, but when Emily was in Kampala this would have been my responsibility. I have 3 successful IV’s under my belt plus a blood test done on one of the volunteers so I could bring it to the lab for a malaria test (and there are people I could have called if I was unable to get it), but I would have had to put in an IV and administer the drug myself.

The other standout situation was when Nam came knocking on the volunteer room door and led me out to the boy’s quarters. I knew something was wrong right away but I got really scared when she stopped outside of mama Seera’s door (she has since moved out, but she had been living there with her 3 kids). I entered the room to find Seera, two other mama’s and her 15 year old daughter, Zelika, writhing on her bed and breathing with really short laboured breaths. I’m programed to always test for malaria first (a quick pin prick on the finger, then placing the blood in a little hole in a plastic strip with the reactive agent) and given the fact that Aaron had the car, there wasn’t much else I could do so I ran inside and grabbed the supplies. I gave the test and as I was waiting for the results (with turned out negative), I started calling Aaron’s phone over and over as he wasn’t answering. During the 3rd or 4th attempt, I heard the gate open, ran out and said hardly more than “Aaron, key…now!” before grabbing George and loading Seera and Zelika into the car and proceeded to drive like a mad person to Al-Shafa hospital in town. Within minutes of our arrival, they gave her a shot of painkiller and she soon settled. She tested positive for typhoid but we have no trust in their testing equipment because it’s not the first time we’ve received a false positive and after calling Emily and explaining what happened, she informed me this has happened before and that the theory is that she gets really bad migraines. After hanging up with Emily, I asked Seera some more specific questions and found out that she’d had a headache earlier in the day and had been experiences spots…key signs of a migraine. She ended up staying the night and was treated for typhoid anyways. The first time this happened, the Emily’s reacted the same way I did. She stayed overnight then as well and was treated for malaria even though the test came back negative; a common occurrence here: Don’t know what’s wrong? Treat for malaria. Thankfully everything turned out fine and I learned that I can handle high-stress situations here with relative calm and a clear head, but it was still scary.   

We got a new child a couple weeks ago: Isaac. He was referred to us by another orphanage that wasn’t really suitable for him. The lady who runs that orphanage had been to his village many times and they had been hiding him from her. I’m not sure how it all went down, but she discovered him and it was very clear that he had been suffering some pretty significant abuse so he was taken from the home. He was a heart-breaking sight the day he came to us: clearly traumatized, disoriented, malnourished, had a badly broken arm that we now know had been broken for at least a couple weeks and had multiple sores and lacerations on his body. Those first few days, it was hard to keep him still; he was constantly trying to walk around in this very sad, trying to get out of his skin kind of a way but he was too weak to walk on his own for more than a few steps. The incredible thing about Isaac is his resilience and it will never cease to amaze me how quickly we see transformation from these kids once they’re in a loving, safe environment. Hardly more than a week after he arrived, a bunch of us were in the living room when one of the mamas rushed in to tell us that Isaac was dancing. We ran outside and found him smiling, shaking his little kabina to the song that the mamas were singing. It was enough to bring a tear to most everyone’s eyes. He has only continued to improve and it is not uncommon now to see him talking and laughing.      

Final notables: Annelise, a new volunteer, arrived recently. She’s from Vancouver and she’s kind of the reason I’m here in a really roundabout way (mutual friends, shared info and such). We got together once before I left to come here, so I’m super psyched that she’s here now. And to top it off, in less than two weeks, Cheryl (one of my best friends and a mutual friend of Annelise’s) will be arriving and staying with us for a week.

So maybe it was Kelsey’s (a volunteer) birthday and maybe she wanted a night with the girls eating naan bread and drinking a glass or two of wine…and maybe Emily, Annelise (a nurse) and I thought it was a good idea to practice IV’s during a power outage. The result? I have a huge bruise on the inside of my arm due to a blown vein; just a normal Saturday night in Jinja.

Aaron has come across a couple black mambos in the compound in the last few weeks. These are not the sort of snakes you want to come across as a bite can poison you in 10 minutes; not to be confused with the green mambo that will kill you in 5. Fortunately, they come out at night (that’s when Aaron found them), unfortunately…not exactly comforting.

Emily and I had to take Zuena to our friend Renee’s a few times while she was sick to take advantage of her mad IV skills. The first time happened without incident, but the second and third, not so much. This was the week of elections and it everyone in a bit of a stir. Groups of people were gathering, all wearing the color of their preferred candidate and it had the police on high alert as things can get pretty crazy when groups like that converge; an increase in police presence always makes us nervous as things escalate quickly here and tear gas is used frequently. So, the second time we went, there was a march going on down the already rough road that leads to Renee’s so we attempted to take a different route. This ended with me out of the car (Zuena reclined in the passenger seat), helping Emily navigate a 4 point turn in the midst of some major ruts and gutters as the road became impassible. Fortunately we worked it out and made our way up the usual road as the crowd had by that time cleared out. The third time was at night. I don’t know if it was to do with elections or just the fact that people in Masese like to party. Once we got to the main road, we had to drive through a huge crowd of rowdy people; all dancing and yelling and cheering, hitting the car, jumping on the back…it was intense. Once that started clearing, things got pretty creepy as the crowds opened up to reveal hundreds of kids just running down the road, chanting some song. It was really dusty and the way the headlights lit up the particles of dust, creating a glowing haze around them and accentuating the beams of light was really unnerving. The whole thing had a kind of Children of the Corn thing going on (despite the fact that I haven’t seen it) and we were extremely glad once we got through them all and were finally facing open road.    

Also to do with elections, last Sunday we heard two tear gas canisters get shot off during church. Usually we go into town for lunch but we had a bunch of kids with us so we went home first. Bridget then told us that she had been trying to call/text us because Aaron had called her to say that we should under no circumstances go into town. Riots: good times.

I had the most amazing experience a couple days ago…

Just a little painting activity gone bad...Me and my boy, Jojo

Mama her!

Josh (aged 1) & Jojo (aged 5)...can't get enough of these two...

Kelsey and I being generally juvenile at Ling Ling (the local Chinese restaurant) 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kampala, Kabale & Kigali (continued...)

I apologize for the delay, there has been some major internet issues lately; mostly due to no power.

Kampala, Kabale & Kigali Video - Part 1

Kampala, Kabale & Kigali Video - Part 2

It's a little dramatic and indulgent to be sure, but those that really know won't be at all surprised by that.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Kampala, Kabale & Kigali

The trip started on Wednesday with a 2 hour coach ride to Kampala. It was a familiar, uneventful drive that only got interesting upon our arrival into the heart of the city; crazy is the only possible word to describe the taxi park and the boda ride to our guesthouse wasn`t any less so. The purpose of staying in Kampala for the night was twofold; to have an early start on our bus ride to Kabale and to afford us the opportunity to visit La Petite Village for real cheese sandwiches and chocolate croissants. The guesthouse was nice enough; 4 beds in a room, a bathroom, a shower with hot water and a complimentary breakfast that we ate on a patio while the sun burned off the morning haze; no complaints here. We got up early on Thursday morning and were on bodas heading back to the taxi park by 8:30. Emily`s driver (she was leading our convoy) happened to pull up next to a large bus going directly to our destination, but unfortunately he also led us into a pack of wolves. People here can be very forceful about wanting your business and one of the gentlemen proceeded to grab Emily`s bag right off the boda before she could even react; not to steal it, just to get her attention. Another man tried to grab Ditte (Emily`s foster child) off the bike too and made her cry. It was all a ploy, of course, to gain our patronage. I would like to say that all their behavior gained was our animosity but due to time restraints and our desire to leave as soon as possible, we did board, though reluctantly.

The bus ride to Kabale (just above the border to Rwanda) was 7 1/2 hours, but beautiful. It wasn`t the most comfortable ride ever as the seats were hard and I had my backpack on my lap for all but an hour of the trip, but I had George beside me and was content to just chat and watch the scenery go by. There were some interesting parts to be sure, like how bouncy it was in the back of the bus over the rough spots, putting together sandwiches with the remaining bread and cheese from La Petite and a pee break that involved a handful of Ugandan women squatting in a humorously sparse forest within 20 feet from the bus; they looked like a bunch of large colorful hens roosting on the forest floor. Another interesting aspect of that drive was how much it reminded me of the drive to Osoyoos through the Okanagan; miles of green hills, fields and forests broken up by small towns and orchards and spotted with the odd dilapidated wooden barn. Except in this case it was fields of tea, orchards of banana trees, dilapidated brick and cement structures and instead of towns with establishments like Earl’s Hardware Store and Flo’s Café, there were long rows of identical cement storefronts painted in all different colors and selling anything from Mentos to mattresses. Other colors notwithstanding, but most predominantly the telltale red of Coke, MTN’s vibrant yellow and the bright blue of Uganda Telecom leading me to a most startling revelation - all across this planet, there are seemingly two things that we cannot live without: cellphones and Coca Cola.

Our arrival in Kabale was met by a whole new pack of wolves waiting to ambush us as we exited the bus but I was prepared and just pushed through them as George and Emily followed behind and with an edge in my voice asked that they all back off until I`d spoken to my friends. Luckily both George and I caught the eye of a kind looking older man through the bus window as we were pulling in who just smiled and waved his key, so when he showed up in front of me soon after, I said, ”Let`s go”. It was a 15 or so minute drive to the dock where we boarded a rather sketchy-looking canoe made from a hollowed out tree and another hour paddling across Lake Bunyonyi to the island that accommodates Byoona Amagara; the resort we stayed at. This was the perfect beginning as we were tired from the trip, but the lake was calm and quiet and the sun was setting, it`s muted rays causing the lake to sparkle like a disco ball. As we neared the island, George got it in her head to take a little swim. We weren’t sure which island it was so she asked the guy, “How much longer is it, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, half hour?” He replied, confidently, “5 minutes.” 15/20 minutes later, we arrived at the dock and an exhausted George waded onto shore. We arrived on the island with just enough light to have time to settle ourselves in our incredible ”Geodome”; a thatch dome with three beds, some shelves and tables with a large opening leading directly to our porch and affording us a glorious view of the lake.

The first night was unexpectedly cold and George and I both woke up early because of it; we later came to an agreement that if either of us woke up cold like that again, we were free to climb in bed with the other. As much as I liked the thought of waking up to the sun shining after a glorious uninterrupted sleep-in (something that is simply impossible at home), I admit to absolutely reveling in the complete and utter silence that was afforded until a little before 7 when the birds started with their morning symphony. Even though the extra clothes and extra blanket kept me warm during the subsequent nights, I still woke up early every morning and never once did I wish it any other way.

George and I had to be up early that first morning anyways to take a very chilly 8am boat ride to the mainland as this was the day of our trip down to Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda and the starting point of the 1994 genocide that took the lives of up to 300,000 people. I was hoping to be home as early as possible to get the most out of our time on the island, but the process of getting down ended up taking nearly twice the time I had anticipated. After we got to the mainland, we caught a boda to Kabale town then opted to grab a private hire as our hands and feet were frozen and it would have been another 30 minute or so boda ride to the border. The border was a bit time consuming, but interesting to say the least. We were bombarded by men wanting us to exchange money (which we did end up doing at a rather horrible exchange rate due to the fact that we needed money for the matatu), got a Ugandan exit stamp, walked 5 minutes through no man’s land to reach Rwandan customs and then went through a final security check before finally stepping foot past the gate into Rwanda. We had expected a long row of matatus lined up to take people into the country, namely Kigali, but ended walking for a good 15/20 minutes down the road before finding just two, parked and nearly full. We agreed on a price, squished into the backseat and sat for a bit listening to a mix of Ugandan and late 90’s worship music before heading off.

If it had been a straight shot, we may have made up on some time, but between having to stop and get out for a police inspection and stopping every 5 minutes to pick up or drop off other travellers, it was noon by the time we reached the city; 5 hours from when we left the island. The drive was incredibly beautiful though; especially the first hour or so as it was spent traveling along a windy road built into the hills that flank a valley flowing with tea bushes that went on for miles and miles. Our time in the city was short but sweet. We took a boda straight to the Genocide Memorial, spent just a couple hours there and grabbed lunch at the café before heading back to the taxi park. I won’t spend any time going into the memorial as it was everything you would expect - informative and devastating – but the city itself was pretty amazing; this strangely modern, industrial-feeling city surrounded by all the dust, simplicity and desperation you’d expect from most African landscapes. And the bodas, don’t get me started… They were more like street bikes then the ghetto hogs we have in Jinja. There are also more safety regulations in Kigali pertaining to bodas – single passenger only and helmet required – but they were made rather redundant by the fact that the helmets weren’t easy to tighten, therefore had to be held on, and the paved roads equaled much higher speeds; not that I’m complaining. J Just to make the ride even more interesting, George was proposed to and when told that she was already married (a lie), the driver inquired, “What about that one?”, in reference to me. How romantic.

We really wanted to get home before dark and it was looking like that might not be possible but upon returning to the taxi park, we started asking random people where we’d find a matatu to Gatuma (the border city) and were led to none other than the exact matatu we came down on. I most definitely said a wee little prayer of thanks as this led me to believe there were few matatus that take that trip and the fact that we took 2 of the last few seats left me even that much more grateful.

The trip home was, thankfully, much quicker as everyone with us was going to the same place therefore giving no reason to stop. Getting through the border was much quicker as well simply because we knew the process and we called the same driver who picked us up in Kabale to take us all the way back to the dock. Apart from making the unwise choice of walking a ways while we waited for Justice (our driver) to show up (we couldn’t have been stared at more if we were walking along the road buck naked), we made good time and got back to the island just as the sun was setting.

Initially we only had one full day to spend on the island, but midway through, after having a glorious morning eating crepes, going swimming (it’s the only lake in Uganda that’s safe to swim in) and reading Hunger Games on our little patio, I broached the subject of extending our trip just one more night because…well, why not? It was an easy choice and the only complication was that we had to move to a fabulous, quaint little cottage just a short staircase from the water’s edge. I am telling no lie when I say that this cottage made us all feel as though we’d entered into the Magical World of Disney; I swear I wouldn’t have been surprised had the 7 dwarves come wandering home from a day at the mines. Two days of relaxation on a gorgeous island surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve set my eyes on and nights hanging out with George and Emily talking, drinking white wine spritzers and reading our novels of choice, was just what the doctor ordered.

We got an early start Monday morning and the trip home went faster than expected and wasn’t horrible despite how unpleasant it sounds to spend 8 hours on a bus and 3 hours on a crowded matatu, given the dust and the propensity of Ugandans to drive as fast as physically possible which, even for me, can be pretty unnerving at times. On the bus, George and I had two seats raised above the main door which afforded us a much more open and spacious ride but when choosing, I did not account for how much traffic and activity there would be as people got on and off the bus. The view was just barely consolation for the amount of times I was hit in the head with an elbow or a piece of luggage. The matatu ride included a small fender bender in a crowded roundabout, George sick in the back row and a few near death experiences. It was definitely a long day, though, catching the boat at 8, getting a car to Kabale, taking the bus to Kampala, a matatu to Jinja and catching a boda straight to worship night to hang out with some friends (including the girls from the house that we left behind); basically every kind of transport available in Uganda, within a 12 hour period.

All in all, besides taking a rather pathetic, slow motion tumble down some stone steps that left me bruised, face down in the garden, it was a wonderful holiday full of great life experiences, rich conversation and just plain old good times with friends.

Next on the docket is a trip to Zanzibar, Tanzania at the end of March with my friend, Laura; she’s from Edmonton but we met in Haiti 2 ½ years ago. She left around the time I did and is currently teaching in Abu Dhabi so we’re meeting up to spend her spring break on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

I do apologize for the massive amounts of words without any visual aids, but I thought the best thing to do would be to put together a video which I will post a link to soon.