…. what have I learned in my first year of living in Uganda.

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QE park june 2012 070>>>>>>> what have I learned in my first year living in Uganda……………..

I have learned that even though I live south of the equator, the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. But what I have discovered is the night sky is something very different…. I love to stand in the middle of the soccer field with no lights for miles around, and stare at the night sky full of brilliant diamonds which appear to be so close that I could reach out and grab one. The sky is covered with a new set of constellations to explore; comets and satellites to watch out for.

I have learned that I took many things for granted in Canada which do not exist in Kibaale. If I am going to do more than just survive…… I need to remember to pump water when the generator is on; remember there are no lights in my bathroom except when the generator comes on; and that sometimes the generator does not come on because there is no fuel. Therefore, I need to ensure that my solar panel flashlights, and lamps are always ready and charged.

I have learned that not everything in Canada is available in Uganda…….. like mushrooms, feta cheese, red wine vinegar, sour cream, cottage cheese, apple sauce for example… Some of these may be found in one of the grocery stores in Kampala, but then maybe not, or maybe not on the day you are there. I am still learning to live on what is available…. all recipes have to be adapted. Here is an example, I wanted to make some cookies. I went onto the internet in search of a recipe where I had most of the ingredients. I found a cookie recipe with a glace. The glace required one tablespoon of lemon juice. Well, I cannot buy a lemon in Kibaale; a might be able to buy one in Masaka and definitely I could purchase one in Kampala. What was I going to use?… I looked around my house and found one lonely passion fruit and decided to try it in this recipe. To my surprise the cookies taste great.

I have learned that even though the clinic is suppose to be open at 8 am … it may be after 9 before the clinic staff arrive and this is especially true when it rains during the night or in the early morning hours. If at 8 am, it is still raining then I am unlikely to see anyone clinic staff or patients until after the rains have stopped. Why you may ask…. it is because everyone has to walk to the clinic; no one owns a car, very few own a raincoat or jacket and only a few own an umbrella….. this is the way it is in Africa.

I have learned that sometimes you can barter over the price of bananas, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and anything else which is sold in the market place. I am fairly certain there is a mzungu (white man’s) price and an Ugandan price. The staff at the clinic get very upset and even angry when I am over charged. Therefore, to keep the peace and the staff happy I frequently ask them to purchase certain items for me….. It is not that I am lazy but it helps build relationships.

I have learned the folks in Kibaale town and on the compound frequently greet me with “good morning my mzungu.” The first time I heard it I was shocked, confused and even upset. I was not someone’s property. But I quickly learned from the staff that it is a term of endearment. They are giving me respect and acknowledgment for living and being part of Kibaale and Kibaale Community Centre. You need to understand that I am the only white person for at least 20 to 30 kilometers in any direction.

I have learned that Kibaale is an extremely beautiful place…. One of my favourite places to sit is on the porch at the entrance to the clinic where I can see for miles, the rolling hills, many types of trees and watch the various birds fly down the valley at eye level…. like the national bird of Uganda, the grey crested crane.

I have learned there is a big difference between how time is used and understood in Uganda…… Time has a different meaning for each person and in each new situation…. the Ugandan frequently use the word “now now” which we might translate as immediately. It can mean anytime within the next few hours to anytime in the next few days. They are not trying to be disrespectful but the exact opposite… they want to please and do the right thing and it may take some time.

I have learned even when I say what I mean and mean what I say…. it is almost always misunderstood… it seems that it has a different meaning for each person. I have worked hard to teach those who wish to travel with me that when I say I am leaving the gate at 12 o’clock I mean that I will be leaving at 12 o’clock. On Dec 22, I was going to be traveling to Masaka… and I told everyone that I would be leaving from the front gate at 8:30 am…. …… Six people asked for a ride…. I spoke to each of them, repeating the information and ensuring that each one of them understood the departure time………. And still on that day, I arrived at the front gate at 8:30 and no one was present. At 9:15 three people arrived and told me they were on time…. then 10 minutes later two more arrived and finally at 9:30 the last one called to say I could pick her up on route out of Kibaale. I would have normally left at 8:30 but this was a special day since everyone was trying to get ready and travel to his or her village for Christmas. I waited patiently.

I have learned the people of central southern Uganda are from the Baganda tribe….. Now, here is a story. It is the week before Christmas, I asked one of the nurses to check and let me know if there are vaccines available for our outreach the next day. He came back and stood in my office, I asked him if he needed anything but he said “No!”… nevertheless, he remain standing in my office. Finally, after a number of minutes, I asked him if he need some airtime to make the calls; he took a few minutes to respond with the answer “Yes!” I could not help myself, I had to ask him why he did not tell me immediately that he need airtime. He gave me this response….

“A friend will come to your house and he will sit down and talk with you. You will ask him if he is hungry and he will say “No.” He will continue to sit and wait. You will make some food and you will offer him some but he will say “No, thanks.” But you will ask him again and again if he would like some food. Finally, very reluctantly he will take some of your food and you will be very surprised at the amount of food he has eaten.”

This nurse leaves and I am totally confused…. It just so happens another nurse has been sitting in my office and she had heard the whole story.. I ask her for an translation or an interpretation………………… After a few minutes, she starts “The Baganda people like to play the game of pretense….. Of course, the person was hungry but he was not going to tell you the truth. It is part of how we are brought up… We have learned our lessons well from our mothers, and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmother and grandfathers. No one tells you the truth. It is especially worse with the cell phone (as she points to mine). I heard a person talking, telling the person on the phone that he was just about to arrive in Nairobi and was not sure if his phone would continue to function and then he rang off…He was not in Kenya but in Masaka, Uganda only a few minutes from his friends village.”

I would say I still have lots to learn but I think it has been a good beginning. I have spend the year working to build relationship with each member of the clinic staff and many in the school and in Kibaale town. I know that even a few months ago, neither one of the nurses would have helped me to understand their culture in such as interesting way. At least we are talking and I hope this helps us work together to move the clinic forward in the coming year……..as well as help me become the person I need to be to help support these changes.


….Queen Elizabeth Park, Uganda

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It is New Year’s Day and I am still trying to write this blog…. I have had one challenge after another. I wanted to write and post this blog from Queen Elizabeth National Park which is in the western section of Uganda about 4 to 5 hours drive from Kibaale but the network stopped working. Then it was time to travel back to Masaka; once again the network was not cooperating. Each time I start working on this blog…. I would get company. Now company is not bad; in fact it is good… but I truly wanted to complete this blog before the end of the year. Well, it has been a busy week, I have traveled to Lake Mburo and stayed a night in what you would think is a typical safari lodge… Each room was an independent thatched hut with a four poster bed and windows overlooking the savannah grasslands. It was an exciting adventure traveling across the wet grassland following an imaginary road to get to the lodge. Then there was the trip over good paved road to get to Kasese and visit Queen Elizabeth Park. Now, my vacation is over and I am back in Kibaale only to figure out that I had run out of airtime for my internet to work…. So off to downtown Kibaale I went to buy airtime. Of course, all this takes time….

So, what was so special that I had to blog….. I had this amazing trip to see the animals of Queen Elizabeth Park. The park is almost 2,000 square kilometers in size boasting 95 species of mammals and 612 species of birds. It is an awesome place…. you are right in the middle of a real life game reserve…. this is where the animals live; cape buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions, Ugandan Kobe, baboons and hippopotamuses to name of few.

On December 27 just before 6 pm we had arrived at one of the gates to the park….. after paying the entrance fee we asked the park rangers if they had heard any news about lion sightings…. Yes, four lions had killed an antelope that morning and the kill was close to the road. They explained exactly where to go.

The park opens at dawn and closes at dusk which is around 7 pm so we did not have a lot time to travel the dirt roads of the park to the exact location with great hope that one or more of the four lions were still in the area. An antelope is a good size kill and it is unlikely that the lions would be able to eat the whole animal in one “sitting”….

We were about half way to the location when we came upon an Ugandan riding on a motorcycle with a back flat tire. He was riding on the rim when he stopped. It was clear that he was not going to be able to ride it any further. When the park was established in 1954 there were 11 village within the newly created park boundaries. These villages continue. The village where this young man lives is about 10 to 15 minutes past the location of the kill…..So, what were we going to do? Could we leave him to fend for himself and push or walk through the park to his village? It was decided that we would lift his motorcycle into the back of the Toyota pick up and those who had seen a lion before would travel in the Toyota to the village whereas the visitors from Canada would squeeze into the Noah and try and see lions.

It did not take as long as expected to arrive at the young man’s village… even though the motorcycle almost slipped out of the back of the Toyota a couple of times… Once in the village, the young man had friends to help him unload his motorcycle. We waved goodbye and turned around and headed for the location of the lions. We had high hopes to see something before the sunset.

We arrived back at the last sighting of lions to be told nothing was happening… a lion was about 200 feet from the side of the road hidden by the tall grass. As we came parallel with the other vehicles, she became restless… she would stand up for a few seconds then lay down …. she was hardly up long enough for a photo….We stayed and watched her for at least 20 to 30 minutes and we were about to leave when we heard from some other folks that there were two or maybe three more lions hidden by the tall grasses less than 300 feet to the right of the first one…. We moved our vehicle passed the bushes and watched…. Sure enough I could see a head pop up at two different locations and the swishing of a long black tipped tail. It was exciting to see heads and tails of three lions in one location….

It was getting dark; too dark for photos… I was putting my camera away when suddenly the second lion stood up and with an amazing grace moved quickly towards a large thick clump of trees. I guessed that she was heading into the trees to get away from our prying eyes….. but that was not the case. The third lion was on the move… he or she was moving so gracefully that within seconds he or she was beside the second one. They were now active…. racing across the savannah, jumping and bounding with powerful ease….and out from behind the bushes came the first lion. It was time to play…. or that is what it looked like… the game was on…. and who was going to win the race as they vanished into the darkness….

It was dark and it was going to be at least 30 to 40 minutes before we were back at the lodge……..the safari for the day was over but what majestic beauty, what amazing power ….. my mind was memorized by these three lions…I did not want to leave. I wanted to somehow be able to stay and observe their activities even though I knew that it was not possible.

The road to the lodge is paved if you can call it that… there are potholes every few feet and some of them are so deep that a vehicle could be swallowed up…. We were still within the park when we came upon a very large snake on the road… It had to be somewhere between 6 and 8 feet long and at least the width of my upper arm in the middle…. It was moving fast and we had only seconds to see it. No one has been able to discover what kind of snake we saw…

I cannot help but think that the sighting of the snake reinforced the fact that we were in a park… and not at the zoo. Queen Elizabeth National Park of Uganda is a real life habitat for hundreds of wild animals, birds and reptiles. It is their home and we are the visitors…..

Now, you know why I had to write this blog…. what an amazing and exciting adventure!!!!!

…and now this is Christmas

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It is Christmas and I am in Masaka…..

Everything is different here. The sun was shining brightly, the birds are singing, it is a warm day with temperatures in the high 20… it is T-shirt weather. How can that be Christmas? Christmas is suppose to be cold and rainy with snow occasionally.

When I left Canada, the plan was for me to be gone one year so thoughts of bringing Christmas decorations did not cross my mind…. Therefore, I do have any Christmas decorations… I have no tree to put up, no decorations or ugly angels to put on the tree, no snow flakes for the windows, no poinsettias to enjoy. How can it be Christmas? I do have some Christmas Cards given to me my a few of the clinic staff, some teachers, and friends. I have taken these and made a display on my coffee table along with a small wooden African Nativity set. But these are in Kibaale….. I did not bring anything with me to Masaka. But some dear friends of mine came prepared and their house is decorated with a Christmas tree and lights, angels, stockings and presents under the tree. ……………….. But that is not the case for most of Uganda I am familiar with.

The stores in Kibaale have no decorations, no Christmas carols, no displays, no place where parents can have a picture of their child taken with Santa, no last minute sales, no folks running around trying to find the perfect gift for a certain someone, no traffic jams….. It looks like it could be any day of the year.

Some of the stores in Masaka have decorations but not all…. You may see a plastic or metal Christmas tree with a few miss-matched Christmas decorations at the entrance to one of the shops…. The trees look like they just came out of the box as if the person putting it up has never seen a Christmas tree. No one is greeting you with the familiar words “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”…………. There are no displays to check out…. things like Christmas cards, wrapping paper and ribbons are not out and easy to find. It just does not feel like Christmas.

No one I know owns a TV ……so, there is no count downs to Christmas, no Christmas specials to watch, no school Christmas concerts to attend since school has been out since the beginning of December….. Can it truly be Christmas?

A few days ago, I went to Kampala to do some shopping. I bought a few extra things like lamp chops, liver paste and sausage all of which are not available anywhere else in Uganda…. I bought a few presents for the five kids I will be spending Christmas with. Kampala was into Christmas… the big grocery store was filled with many big displays, people shopping, carols, and cashier greeting you with “Merry Christmas”…… In the mall was a small hut with a Santa sitting in the middle of it…. but there were no lines of small children or parents wanting their child to have a picture with Santa…. no one appeared to be interested. Could it be Christmas?

I have asked everyone from the clinic staff to many of the Kibaale teachers and students as well as the security guards in both Kibaale and in Masaka…….. how do you celebrate Christmas?

Without a question of a doubt, I received the same answer….. It is a time to celebrate. The day starts early in the morning with the preparation of the festival of food. It is the one day in the year when everyone will have meat to eat. After the preparations are completed; everyone goes to church. After the service is over, it is time to feast with family and friends. “It is the best day ever!!!!”….

It seems that if at all possible …. family members travel back to their home village to celebrate with parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. It maybe the only time in the whole year when everyone gets together.

This morning, I went to church and found this little church full of Ugandans men, women and children all dressed up in what looks like new clothes. The service was very simple but participatory from the youngest child to the oldest father. It was a loud, joyous, exciting, with amazing music ………we were all there for one purpose only and that was to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…. for his birth is the true reason for this celebratory season..

So….. I came to realize that Christmas in Uganda in many ways is the same as in Canada…..It is not so different after all.

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy and Prosperous New Year 2013.

…. a comedy of errors

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A few weeks ago, it was Sunday morning and I was still not feeling very well. I was not sick enough to stay in bed; and not sure if I wanted to get out of bed…. I was very tired with a lingering cough from a cold. As I was laying in my bed, I noticed that my daniadown quilt I brought from Canada has a few small holes and a large number of goose feathers had escaped. My little mosquito net tented bed was nicely decorated with small white feathers….. and I wonder if the reason I was not getting better was that I was breathing in some microscopic fibers from the feathers……

So, I made a plan to change the sheets, and air out the bed; repair the small holes then hang the daniadown quilt on the line outback and let the hot sunshine give it new life. As I was putting the quilt on the line, I noticed that the cleaning ladies had done a large load of washing and left the linens on the line. I decided to be kind and take the linens of the line when I took in my quilt…..

With some found energy, I made myself a good lunch of roasted chicken with rosemary and lemons, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes…. this is a real treat for me because it takes too much time and more often than not the various items are not available. Lunch was delicious……and as I was enjoying my meal, I was answering emails.

Suddenly and to my great surprise… I heard thunder and lightning and the gentle falling of rain on my tin roof…I ran out to collect the linens. I quickly decided since it appeared to be a gentle rain that I would leave my quilt on the line and it could be lightly rinsed. I got all the linens in when the rains came pouring down…..

For the next 2 hours, I watched from my open front door the thunder and lightning flashing across the sky; rain driving horizontal with such thickness the hedge in front of my house feet away became invisible…. it was truly a show of nature’s power……. and as the storm continued to rage, I watched the water level at my front door slowly raising with great possibility of my kitchen and living room also being flooded… I already had a light covering of water in my bathroom and bedroom….. and in all this I wondered about my quilt.

The storm ended, the rains stopped …..with the water level less than a half inch away from crossing the sill into my house. I waited and watched the water quickly disappearing wondering if my quilt had survived the storm and what was I going to find. I walked to the back of my house to find my quilt on the ground. I went to put it back on the line but did not see the large army of “red” ants or biting ants which had survived the storm under my quilt…. Within seconds they were climbing up my legs, on my arms and moving quickly over my body…

I ran as fast as possible over the wet soggy ground into my house were I stripped out of my floor length caftan…. I watched hundred of ants ran in all directions while I was pulling them off my neck and face and out of my hair and….. oops, they were also in my panties and bra.

I cautiously slogged through the 1/2 inch of water into my bathroom and quickly removed my underwear; turned on the tap to wash any remaining ants away………………but I had NO… NO…. NO water…

The only way I have water is to collect the rain water off my roof into a very large reservoir; then when the generator is on pump water up to a 50 gallon drum on the roof… this gives me running water.

With no running water and in desperation, I used the water off the floor to dislodge, wash away any of the remaining ants….

Now, all I could think about was having a hot shower… I felt dirty..

As I was thinking about the hot shower, I realized that for some reason the generator was on. I could pump water!!!!!!!!!! The switch for pumping is in the adjoining guest house. Very carefully, I stepped around the thick red mud and opened the door…. I may have taken 5 or 6 steps when I slipped and fell hitting my head and back on the tile floor. I slide crashing into the bathroom door with my right foot. As I lay on my back looking up at the ceiling, I realized that my screams would not be heard since school was out, and my next-door-neighbours were in Kampala for the weekend… So, I prayed and prayed. I was not willing to lay of this floor and have someone find me… It was not going to happen!!!!!……. Slowly, I tried to get up and on the third attempt I was successful.

With great care, I walked across the floor and flipped the water switch…. It normally takes 30 to 45 minutes to pump the 50 gallon drum full of water and i know it is full when the water starts to pour out of the pipe at the top of the barrel. I guess I was not counting the minutes because the next thing I know the water is streaming down on top of me… It was only a few seconds before I was out of the way moving cautiously to turn of the water.

A few minutes later, I was back in my house enjoying a hot shower. Normally, I am very careful not to use large amounts of water because I do not want to run out during the dry season BUT that Sunday, I did not care; I just wanted to be clean and warm. As I was enjoying the hot shower, I realized that my back, and toes did not hurt. I was absolutely sure that I had at least two broken toes…..but when I looked down I saw healthy pink toes with no swelling or bruising. The only thing I had was a slight headache.

Then I heard knocking at my door…… and a lovely voice calling out “Margo, are you home?”

Patricia, a teacher who has been talking to me about learning how to bake cakes in an oven had arrived. She was hoping that I had time to teach her how to bake a cake. She saw the mess my house was in due to the water on the floor and hundreds of ants scurrying about and she helped me clean up. After a refreshing cup of hot tea, we baked.

Later that night, I realized, I was not alone…. Father God was watching over me and keeping me safe…… Patricia stayed until dark, about 7 pm baking a cake, then banana muffins and finally caramel icing.

After Patricia left, I had two more visitors each coming to check and see how I had survived the storm…..

PS…. the quilt, my back, toes and head all have survived the comedy of errors….

…… applications for the first grade

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On Monday and Tuesday of this past week, the compound was full of screaming excited 5 and 6 year old boys and girls. The energy level was outrageous…. Kibaale Community School was accepting applications for the first grade… or for those in Uganda, Nursery 1. In Canada and in the USA the new school year starts in September but in Uganda the beginning of the next grade or the start of school is the last week in January.

At 8 am on both days, there was a line up at the gate to enter. All the mothers came dressed in their finest goma (an Ugandan dress)….. there was a bright array of colourful dresses covering the grassy lawn just outside the sponsorship office. Each mother had to speak with one of the office staff since many mothers do not read or write but know the importance of a good school…. Kibaale has a very fine reputation since many of the students are able to pass the various exams which allow a student to continue their education as far as university.

The reason why I am writing this blog is because after two days of craziness….the sponsorship office staff were able to complete over 500 applications. Yes, over 500 mothers wanted their little James, Janet, Joyce or Johnny to get one of the possible 45 seats available in Nursery 1 at Kibaale Community School….

The sponsorship staff will spend the month of January going over every application carefully; then going out into the community and seeing which ones of these 500 plus students are the most needy…. because the hope is that each one of these new students will find a sponsor who will help them with their education….

In this rural part of Uganda …. education of one child is very expensive for the average family…. and no family has just one child. Many families in this area have more than 4 children. Beside their own children, it is not unusual for a family to take in one or two or three children who have been left, abandoned for a variety of reasons: death of mother, father departed and left the mother with all the kids to care for, lack of family ability to support all the children and family members with AIDS, poor crops, and abuse to name a few…..

Education gives the child… the family…… and the community hope and the opportunity for everyone to move forward and grow. There are presently four members of the clinic staff who were born and raised in Kibaale area, completed their education in various cities across Uganda with financial support from sponsors and now have chosen to return to Kibaale and give back to their community….. I think it is amazing!!!!!!

….. December 1, 2012

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December 1 is World AIDS Day…..

A few weeks ago, in late November, Rakai District sent all clinics a notice that they were a little short of funds for the events plan for World AIDS Day. After much discussion with various people, we decided to help support the event….. as I was handing over the shillings to one of the coordinator, I was graciously invited to come and see what was happening…. I had not thought about going until that moment.

The theme for this year is “Re-awakening leadership against AIDS”. Rakai District was going to have there celebration at Kasensero (Ca-sense-ee-row). Now, I have never been to this village but was told it was a very small fishing village on Lake Victoria near the Tanzanian boarder and the trip from Kibaale to Kasensero would take anything from 2 to 4 hours… This would all depend on the road and security. I understood that most of the trip would be on a single lane dirt road… what I mean is that only one vehicle can travel on the road at a time. The first vehicle has to move over and hang off the side of the road to let a second vehicle pass. What I did not understand was security….. everyone believed that the President of Uganda was coming to this event. I could understand why anyone was going to travel to the far end of Uganda to this place in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, I was interested in finding out what was happening with AIDS in Uganda. The clinic has the ability to test for AIDS and we counsel every patient who has been tested…. but we do not have or prescribe antiviral medications this is done at a government clinic.

The clinic was closed and seven of us left Dec 1 at 8:30 for Kasensero. We got as far as Ssanje (sand-gee) which is on the main road leading to Tanzania. We stopped for a few minutes which turned out to be many as one large white vehicle with black lettering stating UN passed us by. After the UN convoy passed by, I moved in behind the last truck and headed off down the road…. but by the time we reached the turn off… they were long gone. I was surprised at the speed they were traveling down this rugged, narrow dirt road.

Less than 30 minutes later, a dark blue police jeep pulled up behind me with sirens on… I pulled over to let at least 20 large, black, shiny impressive cars passed by….. Once again I moved into behind the last one and tried to follow them down the road but I was uncomfortable traveling at those speeds….. I may have gone a 3 or 5 miles when another dark blue police jeep pulled up beside me this time and told me to move over…. and another long convoy of big, black shiny cars passed me by. By now, the clinic staff were positive the President was coming to this AIDS Day events but I had my doubts.

Finally, at 11 o’clock we arrived and found parking in an off the road field; went through security where I was told I could not bring in my camera…..and was directed to seats under one of the six or seven large tents set up for various dignitaries. The next 2 1/2 hours was one set of amateur entertainment after another…. I made me think we were waiting for some… It was truly local talent from numerous school music and dance groups to a high school marching band to two young boys doing acrobatics…… Finally, the activities changed and became more like the start of the program… it was because the President of Uganda had arrived…. He walked into the small circle of tents and passed by the many booths promoting various items, programs or agencies for the fight against or supporting those with AIDS.

Once the national anthem of Uganda and AIDS had been played the speeches started…. I asked the staff what was being said but no one was willing to translate…. after numerous speeches, a little girl come up to the mike and just by her actions I guess that she was telling the President about her life with AIDS…. The clinic staff finally translated her story… she was an orphan, both parents and grandparents had died of AIDS…….. she asked the President for the necessary medications to kept her healthy, a new house and a new school since both were falling down….. It was just then that I understood the everyone’s speech as really a request for money.

There were two English speeches…. the first one was by an UN representative, Janet Jackson, presented the following information…. today, Uganda’s is one of two countries in Africa where the rate of AIDS has increased. In the beginning, Uganda was the example to all countries and governments how to educate about the ABCs for the prevention of AIDS, (A = abstinence; B = Be faithful during marriage; C = use condom); how to ensure that those affected receive the necessary antiviral medications; and how to support those living with the infection. But over the past few years things have changed….now 50% of those tested are positive and only 50% of those infected will receive antiviral medications. Unprotected sex and mother to baby transmission accounts for 99% of all cases…..

The second speech was from a gentleman who represented the international partners…. he expressed the deep concerns the foreign partners had as to why things had deteriorated over the past few years to cause a significant increase in Uganda’s rate of the infection.

By 3:30, I was hungry and the speeches were continuing… I had obtained the information I want… so we walked down the narrow vehicle filled street to see Lake Victoria and find some lunch which was fresh fish…. I would not call this village picturesque in any way…there was no motels, no hotels, no gas stations, no restaurants overlooking the lake with patios where you could enjoy a cup of coffee or tea… the village was made of old broken down wooden huts which look like they would fall down with the next wind storm…. it was foul smelling and dirty. I could not understand why a large event like this would take place in this village…. I later learned that the first case of AIDS in Uganda was from this village of Kasensero.

My plans were to leave at 4:30 so I could be home before dark… I do not like traveling on these road after sunset which is around 7 pm, but at 4:30, I quickly learned the President had just left…. Now, I had to wait for all the police vehicles and all the other support vehicles to depart before I could even think about moving my land cruiser.

I was expecting the trip home to be faster and easier but I was truly wrong…. first of all, many of those who had attend the event were impatient and wanted to get home immediately and therefore demanded that I pull over and let them pass… So it was stop and start most of the trip into Ssanje. We had to stopped to check and see if everyone was O.K. for two accident where the vehicle had rolled over but each time we were told everyone was alright.

I was less than a half mile from the turn off to Kibaale in Ssanje when I saw a very large military helicopter surrounded by the same vehicles who had just passed me minutes ago….. just then one of the staff informed me that the President had two appointments that afternoon. They did not say where the second one was…. I thought it must be in Ssanje… and I was wrong.

I was half way to Kibaale when I came face to face with a dark blue police jeep coming straight at me… I quickly pulled over and learned that the President had gone to the small village of Mannya to open the school and new health clinic. Now…. the various police and military vehicles were not coming from behind me but were coming towards me…. and once again I had to pull over and wait for them all to pass….. I saw the President a second time.

Once I got to Mannya….. the narrow dirt road was filled with crowds of people and I was not able to pass for sometime….. the trip back to Kibaale was extremely challenging…. I did not want to hit anyone and everyone was in very good spirits celebrating the fact the President of Uganda and come to their village….

Yesterday, I spoke to all members of the clinic staff about the events of December 1, World AIDS Day and I expected the discussion to be about the fact the President had come to this remote village but the staff talked for sometime about what we as a clinic can do to educate the community about the AIDS epidemic and the ABCs (abstinence, be faithful and the correct use of condoms); the importance of testing and receiving counselling of the results and making sure the person who is infected receives the antiviral medications….

….. 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.

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