Adventure Africa Social Justice & Human Rights Travel Uganda

Uganda Journals Week 2: Village Life and Rafting Down the Nile River

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July 5th, 2013

So, a lot has happened since my last post but I will try to sum it all up. Saturday I went white water rafting on the Nile River on grade five rapids which was amazing! We flipped four times and the first time I was sure I was going to die when I was stuck under water for what felt like eternity, but eventually I surfaced and all was well. The rest of the day was exhilarating and surprisingly peaceful between rapids, I even saw an otter and a fish eagle (which looks a lot like the bald eagle).

Sunday I relaxed and got more acquainted with Jinja. I took my first boda ride by myself, which like most things in Uganda, was not worth being nervous about. I had a smoothie at a café with some of the volunteers and began to feel somewhat like a local. I also went to the local open air market and bought a pineapple for dinner, which was the first time I’ve ever cut one! Also our water stopped working for 24 hours or so which caused quite a nice pile up in the bathroom.

Monday we were supposed to leave for the village but we only got as far as the orphanage to pick up the interpreters when we heard about the nation wide Matatu strike.  Basically all the Matatu drivers in Uganda were on strike for lower taxes and better pay and therefore it was dangerous to travel in one regardless of the fact that ours is a private hire and not a public taxi. We decided not to risk it after we discovered that a Matatu was stopped and passengers were taken out and beaten. We also heard that police were using tear gas to diffuse the situation. Instead we stayed at the babies home for a bit and played with the kids.

We finally headed to the village on Tuesday and the journey was long. Not to mention that it was made much longer by the fact that our driver stopped several times to ask people if it was safe for Matatus to travel on the road, sometimes people even stopped us to yell at us, but we explained we were a private van and not a taxi. By the time we got to the village it was late and we were exhausted.

I taught my first English class with a lovely Norwegian volunteer named Maria where we worked on the proper use of pronouns with the 7 women that showed up. I spent most of the class holding one of the local women named Royi’s baby, and editing the sentences the women copied from the chalk board.

Then we had the HIV/ family planning session with the women where we discussed talking about your HIV status with your partner. Most of the women said that they already do discuss it with their husbands. Then we spent some time talking about family planning and the women told us that their husbands would leave them if they tried to use any form of contraceptives. After that discouraging discussion we switched gears and just tried to promote health day (which was Thursday). Then we sat around the fire and ate some corn from the corn fields in the village.

Finally, I spent about a half an hour taping holes in my mosquito net, but it was a success because I didn’t get any bites during my stay at the village!

Wednesday we spent the day mobilizing to spread awareness about health day, which consisted of walking from hut to hut around the village to tell the women about the services that will be provided and to make sure they attended the reopening of the Kamuli health center.

Wednesday night only Roy showed up for classes so we just went over pronouns again during English. During family planning we discussed her options and she decided she wanted to get an IUD despite her husbands warning. She also told us a lot about her past which really moved me and made me feel discouraged and hopeless at the same time. She told us that she had two other kids that her first husband took in addition to the two she has and takes care of now. She doesn’t have any contact with the oldest two and wishes she could know if they are okay and being taken care of. The youngest, Joyce (who I held for an hour and is adorable) she had with her second husband, whom she only married because she had no where to go or live. She tried to abort her with natural herbs but it didn’t work, so now she is trying to get an IUD. Her second youngest, who looks no older then two, has pneumonia. Despite all this hardship I was surprised to hear that Royi comes to classes every single week and she has proven to be the best student in English class. Her determination and bravery are beyond inspiring and I wish there was more I could do to help her!

Health Day (Thursday) was long and eventful. the Kamuli Health Department sponsored it along with STRIDES which is a program under USAID. The day revolved around National Malaria day and consisted of many services. Some of the services included were: HIV and malaria testing, HIV counselling for those who tested positive, malaria treatment, other vaccinations, some family planning and mosquito nets were provided. I spent most of the day passing out mosquito nets to pregnant women. This proved to be frustrating because the translator I was working with was not very efficient and I had to keep reminding her to explain what the nets were for to the women who didn’t know. I was discouraged by how many women didn’t know what they were, and I hope that they end up using them properly!  Oh, and at lunch time I saw a chicken getting its head chopped off, so that was something. The biggest let down was discovering that over 70% of the people tested had Malaria and there definitely wasn’t enough treatment for everyone!

On a more positive note, not too many people tested positive for HIV. Overall it felt like the biggest success of the day was the reopening of the health centre which will serve the surrounding areas including Kibuye Parish where Bandali village (where I’m working) is located. To conclude my Thursday I attempted to celebrate American Independence Day by buying the cheapest bottle of wine at the supermarket for myself and some of the volunteers, which was a bit of a let down, as to be expected when you buy a cheap Cabernet Sauvigon/Merlot in Uganda. At least I tried…

Today I spent some more time getting to know Jinja. I ate lunch at a quaint local restaurant inside the market by my place (which we found thanks to one of the volunteers who flirted with a local who sells pineapples) where it cost only $2,000 UGX ($.75 USD) for a giant plate of rice, beans, and a drink! After that I picked up a painting I had commissioned of an African sunset and some elephants and giraffes, which came out beautifully! Then we went to a travel agent to try to plan a trip to Murchison Falls National Park for a weekend safari trip, hopefully for July 18-20th.  Also, it looks like we will be going to Rwanda the weekend coming up, since we didn’t quite make it this weekend due to some visa complications.

Overall it was quite the week, and I’ve found myself very lost as far as what I have to offer in the career path I’m headed towards. I found village life or “echalo obulamu” to be hard but rather fulfilling. I think being here is testing me in ways I didn’t expect to be tested, and I’m not sure where I will stand when my time here is over. If I know anything though, it’s that I don’t think I’ll ever be done traveling. I want to see the whole world, and truly submerge myself in every culture I can.

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Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van or hiking to a waterfall.

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