….. an invitation to a celebration

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Last Friday, I was invited to be a guest at the Kibaale Vocational students graduation celebration. It was to start at 1 pm sharp…..

Friday was also a National holiday…. Eid al-Adha also called the Feast of the Sacrifice. It is a world wide Muslim holy day, a celebration to honour the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of submission to God. God intervened and a ram was provided as the sacrifice (Genesis chapter 22).

On Thursday afternoon, I had been asked to teach a leadership class for the Senior 5 and 6 girls at the Timothy Centre from 3:30 to 5:00. The purchase of medications for the clinic takes time and I did not think there would be enough time after class was over to run into town and shop….. So, I decided to leave first thing Friday morning and head down to Kibaale around 11:30

But this is Africa and things never go as you predict, hope or expect. Normally, I shop at one pharmacy; I check the prices, order the amounts, check the expiry dates and discuss price and manufactures of medications where there is more than one brand. From putting in the order to collecting the supplies packaged ready for travel can easily take up to 3 hours. On Friday it was raining, the downpour made me slow to start but I headed out…. The pharmacy did not have the everything I needed… one specific medication used in the treatment of Malaria called “Coartem”. I walked through the rain to a second pharmacy were I learned that they had increased the price almost 50%. Since I refused that price, I continued to wonder down the road stopping to purchase the other necessary items. I popped into another pharmacy and asked them their price for Coartem which resulted in discussion. The manager was willing to sell me as much as he had for a price I was willing to pay. Of course, this all took time…. What made everything take so much long was that even though many of the shops were closed those which were open were filled with smartly dressed Muslims…. young boys, and girls, men and women all out on the town to celebrate their special day……………………. and as a result I was going to be late. So, I called Kibaale to let them know I was on my way but was going to be late. coming….

The roads were wet and slippery especially the last 21 kilometers of dirt road into Kibaale but I finally made it…. it was 3:30. Before, I could stop the Land cruiser, one of the students was standing at my door ready to escort me into the celebration. I was given no time to change or fresh up…..

The students dinning hall which is a cement building with large open spaces for windows and doors was beautifully decorated. My escort directed me to a table at the front of the room. The MC announced my arrival and thanked me for coming.

The next 3 hours went quickly….. I arrived in time for the “food” which was typical Ugandan fair….. matoke, rice, beef, chicken with a lovely sauce accompanied by a soda. After the meal, there were many presentations including one which surprised me. The male students formed a line and in a slow rhythmic motion moved in time to the music around the floor ending up in front of specific teacher. As each student presented their gift, the male teacher would join the dance which brought cheers from the rest of the class…….

There were times in the celebration when the students were given the opportunity to get up and dance….. girls separately from the young men. As part of the activities, a piece of music was put on and those seated at the head table were expected to get up and dance…. YES, that included me. As I started to dance, there was a very loud cheer of appreciation for my willingness to be a participate in their celebration.

The last event of the ceremony was the presentation of awards to students who were outstanding in a certain area. when the Principal of the Vocation School announced the name…… if it was a male student who had won the award, he would slowly dance to the front of the hall to accept his gift whereas when a female student won an award, she would walk quickly to the front and race back to her seat.

There is so much pressure for students to complete the courses required to attend university…. and I think this is important. But there are those students who do not have the ability or desire to attend university. Kibaale Vocational school gives those students a trade… a future. There has been a sacrifice for each of these students to complete a two year vocational program….. Friday was their day to celebration…. Well done.


…… what is my name?

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A few weeks ago, the head of the primary classes in Kibaale Community Centre came and requested that each of her students be given medication for “worms”….a de-worming treatment. After speaking with our medical officer and the comprehensive nurse we all agreed that this was a great opportunity to talk to the students and teachers about hand washing as well.

The recommended medication was Albendazole… the treatment for worms is two Albendazole chew-able tablets to be taken at one time; no water or juice is necessary… they do not taste great but are very tolerable…… So, off I went to speak to each of the seven (7) classes about the importance of hand washing and then to give them the Albendazole tablets. The students would take the medication in my presence and the treatment for this term would be complete. The teachers informed me that in the past the students were de-wormed each semester. So, plans have been put in place for teaching on hand washing and a de-worming treatment to be done the second two or third week of each semester.

I brought back from Canada some teaching posters including one on a child washing her or his hands and one on the basic steps ….. 1. turn on the water; 2. wet hands; 3. soap up hands so bubbles are formed; 4. remove/ rinse off soap; 5. turn off water; 6. and dry hands.

It all seemed to be very simple and straight forward…. I had the head teacher or the class room teacher to translate, I had the posters, and the medication…..

In the first room as I stood up at the front looking out over the class, I saw a few familiar faces……..The teacher asked the class “Who is this person, what is her name?”…….immediately a young boy stood up and before the teacher could say anything declared in a very loud voice “Mzungu”…. and the class broke into laughter…….. finally after a few seconds which may have been a few minutes another student stood up and informed the class that I was Aunty Margo and I worked in the clinic.

This was the same in each and every class room…. the majority of the students thought my name was Mzungu and they did not know that my name was Aunty Margo….

The urban dictionary and Wikipedia have similar information….. Mzungu or muzungu (muh-zun-goooo) is a white man or white women usually a foreigner. In Uganda the plural is bazungu but in Kenya, Rwanda or Burundi the plural is wazunga The word stems from a Swahili phase which means a person who wanders aimlessly or without purpose. It is believed to original from the early explorers, traders and missionaries. The word mzungu is not a derogatory or negative term.

But I could not help but laugh as I thought back to each of the classes and how so many of the students thought my name was Mzungu… I have been told a number of times from various staff members in Kibaale as well as from the Timothy Centre that I should not be called ‘mzungu’ because I do not wonder without purpose but that I always have a place to go and a reason for going.

PS……… the Ugandans have great difficulty saying Margo. It is the “r” in the middle of the word which they cannot incorporate…. it sounds very strange to me and many times I do not recognize the fact they are speaking to me or calling out my name.

So…. what is my name?…. it does not matter if I am called me Mzungu…. because God knows my name, how many hairs are on my head and exactly who I am and he loves me.

……50 years old and getting better

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I am talking about the amazing country of Uganda….. Yes, on Oct 9, 2012, Uganda will be 50 years old….. 50 years of Independence. This small 236,000 square km landlocked country of 33 million people lies astride the equator has been described as the Pearl of Africa…bordered to the north by Sudan, the east by Kenya, the west by Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the southwest by Rwanda and the due south by Tanzania. Famous Lake Victoria lies in the southern part of the country is shared with Kenya and Tanzania…..

Uganda is the place where the East African savannah meets the West African jungle….a destination to see lions prowling the open plains, track chimpanzees through thick lush rain-forest, travel along tropical waterways like the Kazinga channel to see water buffalo and hippos or visit the majestic Rwenzori Mountains where half the world’s population of gorillas inhabit. This wide bio-diverse country is the home to more than 1,000 species of bird…. I truly understand why Lonely Planet declared Uganda as the Best Travel Destination for 2012…. Well done, Uganda.

For the past few weeks, the staff of the clinic have been discussion the growth and development of their country. It seems each person has an opinion of how good or how bad or what should be done or what could be done…. as much as this may be a time of reflection…. they each are excited to know that their African country is moving forward and slowly improving.

I am in Masaka, one of the top ten cities in Uganda…. and I am thrilled to be in Uganda during this special event…. There is only a few days left before the BIG DAY and there is an atmosphere of excitement in the air.. Everyone is in a joyful mood…. the shop keepers, the store clerks, the market vendors, the security guards, even the shoppers or customers….. everyone made it a point of giving me a blessing of thanks for 50 years of Independence….It is a time of celebration and plans are being made to enjoy the day with family and friends and of course good food. Some folks spoke about traveling long distances to spend the day with their loved ones….

I just hope that since Uganda is still a very young country the day will not be spoiled by riots and demonstrations causing the police to step in and become aggressive…… but that the people of Uganda will be able to see the amazing progress which has been accomplished in the past few years…. I have listened to many stories and learned what the country was like only a few years ago and can see such impressive improvements….. I have seen changes even over the past few months….. Uganda is a growing country and like all countries it will have changes which not everyone will agree with. BUT this is what comes with independence.

There is so much which could be said about Uganda…many know some bits of its history as well as some of its past leaders…. the country is still one of the poorest countries in the world where 40% of the population lives on less than $1.25 US per day and that 75 to 80% of the population live off the land in rural areas. BUT there is much more to Uganda…..there is its culture and cuisine along with the numerous “must see” points of interest for tourism….Uganda’s first 50 years may have been challenging but its resilient, hard working, entrepreneurial and friendly people are what is making the difference.

Kwa ajili ya Mungu na Nchi yangu…. is the motto for the country translated from Swahili means “For God and My Country”. If the people of Uganda continue to follow their country’s motto… their amazing country of Uganda will go far and do well…..

Congratulations for making it to 50 years!!!!!

…. the primary one class came to my home in Kibaale

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Today, all the primary one students…. all 61 of those little ones 6 years of age came to my home as part of their lesson on refrigeration. I have the only functioning fridge in all of Kibaale…. that is what the staff of the clinic told me. They thought that it was funny that there were a few fridges in Kibaale but the only functioning fridge was in my home.

The young girls were all wearing their school uniform of a blue gingham dress with dark blue collar and waistband…. the boys had on dark blue shorts and a blue gingham shirt. As my home is small we brought in a three groups of 20 students each. The student entered my home in a very orderly fashion and stood in a semi-circle to listen carefully to the teaching explaining the function on my fridge in Lugandan.The girls were all listening carefully while most of the boys were looking in every other direction but toward the fridge.

With the first group, I was outside counting off students and the teacher was inside giving guidance and directions to the students….. they made a perfect semi-circle around my stove and not around the fridge….. I did not have the heart to correct the teacher …. so let them know that I have two things in my house which would be new to them…. a cooker/stove and a fridge (pointing to the stove first and then the fridge) so we had to explain what a cooker or stove was…. I even light one of the burners to show them how it worked. Of course, some of students wanted to know if it would burn them like the fire at their house. A few of them had to put their hand right next to the flame and before I had a change to explain….the two students jumped back and made an exclamation of pain. Everyone erupted in laughter.

The teacher tried to explain the function of the fridge…. “it is to keep food good for more than one or two days”… so to prove this a kilo of meat, a litre of fresh milk and a small fresh catch fish were put in my fridge. On Friday morning, A few of the students and a teacher will come back to collect their various items…. and see if the meat is still fresh, the milk is O.K. to drink and the fish can still be cooked and eaten. Yesterday, Tuesday, I wrote my first draft and last night my fridge ran out of fuel and I spent most of this Wednesday morning getting the propane tank changed and the fire lite at the back of the fridge. Up until today, I have always left this responsibility to other but with all the problems finding staff to change the tank and light the fridge…. I have now learned and can instruct anyone how to do it.

The students looked very closely into what I had in my fridge…. they saw that I had eggs…. in fact I had two boiled eggs which I took out and let the students touch; to show them how cold the fridge not the freezer can get. It was like the old fashion game “passing the hot potato” … the egg got passed quickly between the various students and of course it was dropped numerous times with each group. They said it was “hot” … but then they do not really know the difference between hot and cold… other than they both can cause some discomfort or pain.

One little girl asked if I got shocks from the wiring to my fridge…. the teacher had to explain that my fridge work with fuel and not with electricity. Another little boy asked where I kept my milk…. of course, I do not drink fresh milk but use powder milk. The teacher translated as I talked about the use of powdered milk and I even had to show them the box. Another little girl asked if I eat makote and did I kept it in the fridge……..there was a discussion and translation on what I ate and this was demonstrated by what was in my fridge…….. eggs, tomatoes, carrots, green peppers and onions with bread in the freezer.

As each group left, they each thanked me….. but I was not sure what for… was it that they got to see a fridge, to see how a stove or cooker worked, or that they were allowed to enter the “white lady’s” home and see what it looked like or that they got to ask me a few questions.

After the students had departed, the teachers asked a few questions…… one thought that a fridge kept food indefinitely and that the coolness or cold killed all the bacteria, another wanted to know why I needed a fridge, and still another thought that it could work and keep food cold but did not understand how the fuel made the fridge work.

It was an exciting and quick hour…. I am not sure who learned the most… Me, the students or the teachers.

… the clinic has an autoclave or does it?

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For those individuals who do not know what an autoclave is….. it is a device used to sterilize medical and laboratory instruments by subjecting them to very high pressures with saturated steam above 212 degree Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius. It is like a pressure cooker but the one for the clinic is the size of a large old fashion microwave oven (2 feet by 2 feet by one foot)and it weights about 35 pounds.

In cleaning out the various store rooms for the clinic, I found this new, unused autoclave still surrounded by the manufacture’s bubble wrap. I could not believe my eyes…. I was wondering how to improve the sterilize process for the various pieces of equipment the staff use to clean wounds, change dressings or when we would need to suture a patient and then remove the stitches. I found a perfect spot for the autoclave but many of the staff had never seen an autoclave or one this small and so it was an opportunity for learning…

I read the manual to discover that not any tap water would do but a certain kind of de-mineralized water must be used. and not any wate…. so my search was on and I finally after a number of trips to Masaka I found a place where I could buy a 5 litre jug. Now, I could test the autoclave and see if it would work. The manual was passed around and various individuals who are responsible for the maintenance agreed that we could trial it….. but all that took time and the clinic was without its use. In the meantime, I ordered the special autoclave tape which indicates the process worked and had drapes or large wraps made from hospital standard material I had ordered from Kampala. I was not able to do a trial run before I left for Canada in August but immediately after my return, I was given permission to do a trial run… It was on a Market Monday when the autoclave was set up with water and a set of instruments to be sterilized. Within a few minutes, the device was off and I had over loaded the generator…… now. how do I or can I use the autoclave?…….. After a numerous of discussion, it was decided that we would attempt a second trial at lunchtime… between 1 and 2 pm. The generator would be turned off to the rest of the compound and the only power would be for the clinic. We had success… the process took just over 60 minutes and the autoclave functioned perfectly.

WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We were in business….. Joyce, one of the nurse’s spent the next week cleaning all the various forceps, scissors and cutting gauze making up 10 packages ready for sterilization.

The plans for this past week were to sterilize each afternoon until all 10 packages were through the process…. Tuesday, everything went well, Wednesday I noticed that the device turned off and had not completed the process…. in fact it had overloaded the generator or so that is what it looked like to me. The maintenance men arrived to discover that the wall socket had been blown. Thursday, the socket was replaced and on Friday we tried one more time… without success. It could be a number of things including the wiring to the clinic…..the wiring may not be able to handle the power surge. It is going to take some time before anyone knows for sure the cause…..

Some one in the past years gave a very expensive gift to the clinic. Something which is needed and can be used….. in the meantime…. there are more questions then answers.

BUT I AM STILL GOING TO TRY AND FIND AN ANSWER……. in the meantime, back to the old method of cleaning equipment.