A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Lately, I have had new experiences. Hard experiences. The first happened last week. I attended a birth. Let me tell you, I never want to give birth; at least not in a developing country. Ugandan’s can be overly dramatic at times and perhaps this women giving birth was a little dramatic but I would venture to say she was expressing the truth the way she was experiencing it.

One of the campaigns my health center is promoting is encouraging women to give birth in a health center. This birth was only the 5th since the center opened last November. Women trust the older women in their lives/communities who they believe know birthing and therefore can help them give birth. Women think the young nurses and doctors can’t possibly know what they are doing since they are so young and so trust the older women they know to assist them in birthing. They also don’t want to spend the money at a clinic (many are free).

Since it is rare for a woman to go to a clinic to give birth, it is even more rare for a woman to let a Westerner attend the birth. I think this woman was too fried by the time she got to the clinic and me being there was the least of her worries. The nurse encouraged me to stay and so I stayed. Skipping all the horrifying details, the woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She named him Emmanuel and calls him Emma.

My second hard experience also happened at the health center a few days later. I witnessed my first HIV positive discovery. A woman had come in for HIV testing and her results came back positive. She was devastated. She crumpled to the ground and sobbed. She believes her life is over. With testing, patients receive counseling before and after. Even with the counseling, it was several hours before this woman was able to walk out of the health center.

Development work always seemed like such a romanticized job in the movies, in books, on the news, and in my mind. Now, in the midst of it, I realize how heart breaking it is. I am so limited in my abilities. It is easy to go around telling people they need to get tested and that it is important to know their status. I even tell them I have been tested and know my status. But there is nothing you can do when someone finds out they are HIV positive. That instant is the most shattering moment. Fidelity is a big problem here specifically in the men. As with this women, she thought she was with a man who was faithful but he wasn’t and gave her HIV. Now, not only does she need to deal with a disease that will completely alter her life forever, she also must decide what to do with this man she loved and thought was faithful to her. There is so much more involved here: stigmatizing, abuse, ARV’s, counseling, etc. But I am too tired to get into it right now.

The last experience I want to share quickly is what people refer to as, “dodgers.” At first this sounded very Vietnam draft dodgingish to me and it is as serious in a completely unrelated kind of way. “Dodgers,” are parents who leave their children at boarding schools when they are supposed to be home. Many students board at school during the term and then are required to go home during the breaks. However, many dodgers don’t come for their children because they know they cannot provide for them and think at least at school they have food to eat and a place to sleep. My little friend Sanyu is 12 and her parents did not come for her this break. She doesn’t want to talk about it but her sad face lets everyone around know how hurt she is. Not only is there a whole country of children who do not feel loved because their families send them away to boarding school from the age of 6, there are also a large number who feel even less loved because their families don’t even come for them on holidays.

And so, once again, I am faced with my limitedness.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

5K With No Legs

As most of you know, I am a great runner. I hold numerous world records and am the envy of many a fellow runner. When I heard about a 5K in Uganda hosted by a PCV to raise money for a Life Skills program at her health center, I knew I needed to participate. Since it was a community outreach, I decided it wouldn’t be fair for me to usurp the Ugandan runners and so decided to participate in the race by pushing a disabled child in their wheelchair. What I didn’t anticipate was pushing a legless little boy without a seat belt in a beat up wheelchair on dirt roads in the bush of Uganda. This position was a thousand times harder than running a little 5K.

Robert was my little boy for the race. I blew up two balloons for him and tied them to his wheelchair. From the moment I wheeled him out of the home and to the start line all the way to the time I left him several hours later (through the race and following programs) he was grinning from ear to ear. As we raced along the dirt road and would hit a rock the wrong way which would send us swerving and heading straight into the ditch, Robert would squeal with delight. In the beginning, after having to slow down because each bump would almost send Robert flying out of his wheelchair, he looked up at me and asked, “Have you ever pushed one of these before?” I tried not to be offended and informed him I most certainly had just never on Ugandan dirt roads.

So, after conquering the loose graveled hills of Nkokonjeru, trying not to have a heart attack when watching a Ugandan down syndrome boy race a boy in a wheelchair and repeatedly let him almost fall out and dodging boda boda’s (motorcycles)who thought the sport was to run us off the road, Robert and I crossed the finish line 3rd of all those in the wheelchair heat.

Young Talk

I have an informal group that meets once a month to read Young Talk. Young Talk is a free newspaper geared for late primary school aged children that addresses reproductive health and life skills. Yesterday I made chocolate chip banana bread to celebrate the end of the term for my Young Talk group. The breads and cakes Ugandans eat are incredible dry, stale, and tasteless. I knew this banana bread was going to be a stretch and tried to prepare myself ahead of time to not have hurt feelings when they didn’t like it because it was going to be so different from anything they are used to.

Due to elevation, humidity, lack of controlled steady temperature, poor quality pans, and anything else I could possibly blame it on, my bread turned out moist and wonderful in the middle and hard as leather everywhere else. Of course, not one to waste anything and knowing I’d chalk it up to being, “American,” and therefore no one would question it, I still brought it to my group. It turns out, they love the hard leathery outsides with a faint hint of banana and chocolate and I was able to enjoy the moist normal inside of chocolate chip (crushed Cadbury bar) banana bread (Gluten-Free of course).