Thursday, June 3, 2010
As our program draws to a close, I feel that I can honestly say that I have learned a lot about the character of the Ugandan people. Much of it comes from our daily interactions, both in the classroom and around town. For me, the greatest insight came from working on my independent research project. Unlike in the United States, here in Uganda HIV/AIDS is not something you can ignore. In fact, it is something I chose to embrace. As I began my research on the HIV/AIDS experience in Uganda, I was introduced to and interacted with HIV positive individuals. As we discussed their experiences and the problems they have encountered because of their illness, I was impressed by one resounding quality--strength. HIV/AIDS, as we all know, is a devastating disease that affects all types of people, especially here in Uganda. Stigma runs rampant and treatment is hard to find and often expensive. Despite all of the challenges that HIV presents, the individuals I talked to, one woman in particular, embodied a sense of perseverance and courage. These Ugandans have not crawled under a rock and prepared to die, even though without a cure this disease is a death sentence. Instead, they are out raising their children, holding jobs, and making a good life for themselves.
Now, I'm sure for most of you reading this, it is nearly impossible to imagine a life with HIV. On top of that, your perceptions are based on a first-world, super developed standard of living. Uganda is far from that, which makes living with HIV an even harder endeavor. Living conditions are tough, jobs are hard to find, and HIV treatment can be incredibly expensive, if available. Against all odds, the people I have talked to are not letting this pandemic get the best of them. They fight the stereotypes, hold jobs, make money to send their children to school, and form relationships. An HIV diagnosis is not the end of the line; instead Ugandans fight the disease with strength and grace. While only 6-7% of the population in Uganda is HIV positive, I believe this characterization holds true for the majority of Ugandans.
The leaders of our program, Centurion, Dan, and Joel, took us on an incredibly journey, shared amazing experiences with us, and didn't give up on our group despite our missteps and naivete. Our professors, especially in the School of Public Health, demonstrated the strength it takes to work and research in Uganda and the importance of working to benefit your own country. An incredible body of HIV/AIDS research has been conducted here in Uganda, despite the lack of funding and resources. This perseverance to learn more will ultimately benefit Ugandans and the rest of the world. Finally, the people we have encountered on the street have been wonderful. Despite our foreign status, Ugandans are willing to help us with anything from directions to how to say "half a chicken." No question is too small and almost everyone seems to want to help us learn.
To me, the backbone of Uganda is strength in the face of adversity. The country may have a long way to go in terms of development, but the Ugandan people don't let that bother them. They have proven to me over these 9 weeks that you just have to believe, work hard, and keep on going. Hopefully I can take even a small amount of this knowledge back with me and start to see life in the US in a slightly different light.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
This week I fell in love with Uganda and all of its inhabitants. Well, not all. Some people this week decided it would be a good idea to plan our future together in Uganda after I graduate. Picking out where we would live and how many children to have without asking if that was something I was interested in. I guess my smile indicated that I was all for it in which case I need to stop! People here are very loving and it's going to be so hard to leave. This week we had three birthdays including my own. On Thursday night, we celebrated all of the birthdays with a big dinner at Krua Thai in Kololo. We all had the opportunity to invite a guest which made it extra special. The dinner was good, the company was good, and the cake was grrrrrrrrrreat! For my birthday, a few of us went out to a "silent disco" party with some Ugandan friends. I had never been to a silent disco but the concept seemed pretty fun plus I would be with people I like. It was a bit awkward at first because everyone has their own headphones BUT it got really interesting when people starting singing along and dancing with each other. The next evening we thought it would be fun to have a movie night/pajama party in my apartment. We bought lots of food and had mattresses spread out on the living room floor. It was the first time we all hung out like that to watch a movie. It was a lot of fun and lucky for us, some of our Ugandan friends came by and joined in the fun!! This week was soooooooooo much fun. Not even a Luganda final could ruin my spirits. Everyone needs to experience Uganda, I promise you won't regret it!!
I think it was the second week that we were here in Uganda and our group was still getting to know each other when we decided to order four large pizzas and a red velvet cake from a restaurant called I Love New York Kitchen. It took a very long time to track down the phone number on-line, and even then we didn't have a menu. In the end, the wait was worth it, though. I remember all of us sitting in the flat eating, laughing, talking, really just getting to know each other. This past weekend we ordered pizza from I Love New York Kitchen again, and it made me smile to see all of us back together, eating, laughing, talking - just like that first time.
I remember when we visited Mulago Bright Standard Primary School, and after the children had performed for us, Centurio chose three people to give speeches. The last student to speak simply said "Mwebale" (thank you in Luganda), and the entire place burst into applause.
And the sad tale of the rooster at Busabi. This rooster at the hotel where we were staying woke all of us up very early in the morning and then wouldn't let us get back to sleep with its incessant crowing. The next day Centurio joked with the hotel staff that we would like them to cook that rooster for dinner. But it wasn't a joke when the rooster wasn't there when we got back and we had chicken for dinner. Sure enough we had eaten the rooster. The hotel staff claimed that that was always the rooster's fate, but we still felt guilty. We did sleep better that night, though.
When I was trying to accompany the Butabika staff on an outreach event, Centurio accompanied me on the mutatu rides across Kampala. When we finally got to Ntinda, where I was to be picked up, I remember being so relieved that I gave Centurio a hug. It was in that moment that I truly realized how dedicated and kind Centurio is that he would take hours out of his day to take public transportation with me.
Ah, the frustration that came with trying to learn a Buganda dance. My hips do not move that way, but I tried.
In the first week, Dan told us at breakfast about the tiny antelope called oribe that we would see at Murchison Falls. This was my first experience with Dan's great story-telling skills.
In Zanzibar, I learned that I am not very good at bargaining. Me: "I will give you ten thousand shillings for these sandals." Salesperson: "Oh no. Fourteen." Me: "Okay." I still have not really improved upon this.
Seeing the Rakai Community Cohort Study was just really amazing. It's difficult to describe how fantastic it was to see such a large research project operating in conjunction with health service provision in rural Uganda.
This last week one of the students in our group organized a cookout with a refugee population that he had been working with. It was a powerful gathering, and I was so impressed that one of the students in our group had organized it and even more impressed that this refugee population remained so strong in the face of adversity.
There are so many more stories and experiences, but these were a few that first popped into my mind. I've truly had a wonderful time here in Uganda. I have made so many friends and experienced so much. I will never forget the time that I have spent here.
Location: Kampala, Busabi, Zanzibar, Rakai, all over Uganda
This week we had not one, not two, but three birthdays...well four actually if you count Centurio --Man of the Century (who didn't tell us about his until it had already passed). The celebrations lasted days, beginning on Thursday and finally winding down on Saturday night. We started by gathered with all of our friends at a Thai restaurant to feast, reminisce and enjoy each others company. Our totally was 21 and included the nine of us, Professor Stewart, Dan and Centurio with their respective wives, Olivia, Paul and Martin from PCA, our three new break-dancing friends, and Brian. It was a warm and emotional gathering full of stories and memories. By brother Centurio's request, we were all encouraged to deliver a speech. Everyone had something to say, and the speeches were amazing and so full of love that the thought of the program's ending in a little over one week was overwhelming. The program had creeped to a start, but had surged to a finish before we could even realize it. Encouraged by the warmth of this country and its people I decided to prolong my adventure by staying on after the program.
Many had similar sentiments and had already began planning their summer activities in Uganda. However, it wasn't until we officially decided to change our return flight that we found out that our tickets were only good for a three month period including both outbound and return travel. Since I had left on March 20, to do some traveling around Europe, this arrangement meant that the latest I could return would be June 20, giving me only two additional weeks. To make matters worse, the cost to change the ticket skyrocketed from the expected $300 to over $1000, to account for the change in price of the new ticket, making purchasing a whole new return ticket a much better option. We were crushed. The week had been an emotional roller-coaster --peaking at the prospect the of staying and dropping at the thought of leaving. However, despite the heavy setback, all of us who wanted to stay on (7 out of 9) are staying thanks to the wonderful generosity of parents, fellowships, and grants. So although the study component of our trip is ending, a whole new journey enriched with our own interests and passions is just beginning.
So I am finally settled in in Kampala and I have to leave. I have found my niche, my family, my home here. Peace for Children Africa is what I have waited for my entire life. Thinking about it keeps me smiling from ear to ear- the joy I feel right now is overwhelming. Even when I dreamed about coming to Africa, I never fathomed I would find such happiness, the kind that puts you on cloud nine. But I found it, it’s here, and I just truly discovered its depths within the past two weeks. It amazes me how much love I have felt there. We tell each other how much we love each other- “nkwagala nnyo”, we hug, we are open with our to-the-moon affection for each other. Those children are my equals, my friends, not “poor Africans”. They have changed me. They have filled me with the sense of wholeness I have been seeking, and now I larger hole will be left when I leave. I have been so blessed in my trip to Uganda in finding this organization, and it is because of PCA that I will without a doubt return someday. I know now that my life is just beginning, that the happiness I seek awaits me if I only grab ahold of it, and that no matter how “successful” I become in the American sense, it will never compare to the joy, happiness, and love I can attain through the children of Africa.
Welaba Uganda, until next time. Nkwagala nnyo.
In the public hospitals, there are no “just in case” preparations. Resources are too limited and demand is too high to set up protection systems. In the emergency rooms, there are no “crash carts.” There are no “code blue” teams that burst into a room when a child’s heart stops. There aren’t even defibrillators for the on-call doctor to use to shock a heart back into normal rhythm. They don’t exist here. Instead, in their place, there are faulty face-masks to provide oxygen and a limited supply of epinephrine that is properly diluted one dose at a time. Instead of heart rate monitors that can alert staff of a child in distress, there are their parents who are silent with grief as they watch their child in his or her last moments. Instead of children with coughs and broken arms, the emergency rooms are filled with children suffering from malaria and sickle cell anemia. The picture of a public emergency room here in Uganda is drastically different from the ERs I have seen in the United States. The “Grey’s Anatomy” idea of pristinely clean white rooms aren’t even a fantasy here.
I spent two short days at Mulago hospital in the emergency room ward for children seeing some of the saddest situations I’ve ever witnessed. Doctors work incredibly hard here to save children but they face insurmountable odds. They seem to have enough training to know what to do in emergency situations but come in contact with these children when it’s too late or at a time when there are simply not enough supplies to allow them to do their jobs. It’s an incredibly sad situation to watch. As an American, I questioned our own role in these situations. Are we focusing on the wrong areas for funding? I asked the doctors in the ER what they thought about their severe lack of funding. They told me that the most common things they face are malaria, sickle cell anemia and malnutrition. They said that these issues simply aren’t the focus anymore due to HIV/AIDS. All the money goes to drug research, ARV therapies, etc. rather than on basic illnesses and the supplies needed to treat them. I don’t necessarily blame America or other foreign investors though. The Uganda government doesn’t provide enough funding for health care. They just recently further cut the Ministry of Health budget even further limiting the drugs and treatments that can be provided to Ugandans. As the election comes up, I want someone to make Musevani come to Mulago, come to the acute pediatric ward and tell me why he tolerates children dying that don’t have to. I want to know why he thinks providing simple services like heart monitors or defibrillators are not worth the government’s money. I don’t think anyone can see what I saw there and still have respect for that man or his practices. He would not be okay going to a hospital with the lack of safety nets that Mulago currently has. Yet, he is ok providing this level of care to his people.
Location: Kampala, Uganda
Needless to say, being in Uganda has taught me a lot, in terms of the classes that I took, but mostly through the experience of living here. Most importantly, perhaps, is the much more informed view of the developing world that I have been able to develop through my experiences here. Though there is still a great deal that I do not understand, and though there are certain parts of this perspective that are lacking, I do believe that I understand the developing world better, as I have experienced it (as opposed to only being exposed to it through television, film, National Geographic, etc.).
As part of this, I have realized that far too many naïve foreigners come to do projects, and though their projects might be successful, they leave and never come back or follow up. They have something that they can be proud of and feel good about, but for many of these people, they sacrificed maybe two weeks of their time, but realistically, their presence in Uganda was that of just another foreigner thinking that their services are so badly needed and that they are so superior, when in reality, they do not leave any type of lasting impact.
It is this type of foreigner that I want to avoid being, and this is largely the reason why I have started focusing on making my project sustainable, by continuing to raise money through grants and donations, to give back to the community and to expand and move the project forward. Thinking that the impact of my project is going to be major in any way would be naïve of me, and I know that in the grand scheme of things, it is very difficult to make any type of major impact. However, I do want to at least leave some sort of a lasting impact on those people who I have interacted with throughout the course of my project.
Monday, May 31, 2010
For some time now, a refugee pastor from the DRC has been helping me with my project. Acting as a friend and interpreter, he has helped me turn what was once a disorganized mess into a meaningful and revealing product. One day as we sat down and discussed my research, we came up with the idea of holding a cookout where my group mates would be able to meet some Congolese refugees in the pastor’s neighborhood. The idea was simple: we would all come together and eat Congolese food and get to know a little about each other for an hour or two. This simple idea, however, turned into a powerful experience for us all.
On Saturday, May 29th, the day of the lunch, I met with the pastor early in the morning to discuss the get-together. After speaking for a few minutes, we came to the consensus that a simple lunch would not suffice. We needed to let my group mates know what these people had been thought and what they were still experiencing here in Kampala. When my friends arrived around two, I doubt they were expecting what they got. The lunch began with a group of children singing gospel music to us in Lingala, and after taking some time to eat, the next phase of the event began. Different Congolese refugees began standing up and relating moving experiences to us: they had witnessed rape, murder, and the complete destructing of their lives.
Though these stories were powerful, Professor Stewart noticed that the only speakers were men so she kindly asked if a woman could be given the chance to speak. None of us were prepared for what came next. A woman stood before us all and began telling us about how her children were forced to watch as she was raped, how most of her loved ones had been killed, and how these memories still plague her till this day. She then broke down in tears, and those members of our program who were not crying as well had completely blank faces. Now, I have heard many terrible stories over the course of my research, but nothing impacted me as much as this woman’s story. Most of the times that I have spoken to refugees about what they do to address their mental trauma, I have been met with a simple, “Nothing.” Knowing that this was likely one of the few times that this woman had spoken publicly about her trauma, I was even more touched by her story.
Though this experience was not easy to handle for any of us, I know that something good will come out of it. This gathering was only the first step. Using the content of this get-together as a guide, the pastor is already working to create an organization that can help some of the members of his community. Additionally, Professor Stewart and some of the students on our program are already thinking of ways that they can connect the Congolese refugee women that we met to resources that can help them deal with life after rape. The struggles of this community are great, but they are all skilled and intelligent. I know that they can overcome their troubles, and as I’m staying till September, I will try to help them in any way possible.
This past week, I celebrated my birthday on May 29. I would have to say this birthday experience has been much more meaningful than any other birthday I have experienced in the past (except for my skating party back in 4th grade followed by some ice cream cake, that was COOL). There were multiple celebrations that week, as 3 of us aged one year in a span of one week.
The first meaningful experience came on Thursday. We had a dinner to celebrate Mary, Rachel, and my birthdays, where 21 people came to eat some Thai food. On top of the current students, Stewart, Dan and Centurio and their wives, there were Martin, Paul, the three b-boys, Olivia, and Brian. The dinner was great, but what touched me the most was what each of the other members had to say about their relationships with us students and how much it meant to them. It struck at that moment in time how amazing it was to meet such people, in such a short amount of time and build such meaningful relationships. I had met the b-boys only a week before, and Brian 10 days prior. Yet, we were able to click off similarities and talking about life that made it so much more.
The second significant experience came on my birthday. There was nothing planned; we had the dinner already so we didn’t need anything spectacular. Mark had originally invited us to go eat lunch with Congolese refugees hosted by his entrancing pastor Elijah and lovely wife. The whole crew went to the refugees expecting to only gather together for a lunch and some conversation, leaving in a short while. No one expected what was to come next. We heard some very real stories of how they became refugees and what they experience. They ran away from Congo to run away from war, brutality, rape, and just a horrible situation, but as one refugee pointed out, they still experience these problems in Uganda. They get treated poorly, and they don’t receive the same opportunities as citizens of this country. The stories were very telling, but what hit me the most was how even as they don’t know who I am, we celebrated my birthday together as if they had known me forever. Pastor Elijah graciously gave me a present of a hunter mounted with two spears to catch fish, representing the tribal Africa that once was. They even sang happy birthday to me in 3 different languages (English and another two that I assume was a local dialect of Congolese and Swahili, or maybe it was just Luganda) as though we had been family forever. I was rather speechless through the whole experience, dumbfounded at how they accepted us and told us their stories without hesitation and with meaning.
The last experience came with a movie night. We ordered some pizza, chicken with cabbage (enkoko ne embogo, yehh), ice cream, popcorn, and gather everybody together to watch Avatar and the Back-Up plan. In retrospect, the movie night was just like any other experience, gathering together as a group and watching some movies, but it hit me hard that we were going to separate in less than a week. Everyone is going back to their own lives and this truly beautiful experience in Uganda will all end in such a short while. I watched the Back-Up plan and started remembering all the good times we would go down to Wandegeya and pick up some movies on the way. I looked at the pizza and thought of the time that we ordered 4 large pizzas in a big group back in Week 2, and abhorred the fact at how immensely expensive it was, but provided a meaningful group experience that I will never forget. I looked at the chicken and cabbage and thought of the first day, where Tamon and I slept through the whole day, only to wake up at 1 in the morning to get the same chicken and cabbage, and some lovely Nile Specials to complement and take in the first experience of Uganda. And I look at the group and wonder when we will ever be able to get into a group like this again. I look at each person and wonder how different it will be to see each other back in school, and how different the relationships will develop.
Thank god 7 of the 9 of us chose to stay. The fun still hasn’t ended yet.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Our research project finally had a chance to kick off these last couple of weeks. I have had the great opportunity to conduct questionnaires and interviews with HIV/AIDS patients, analyzing the quality of healthcare at Nsambya Home Care and their important OutReach Program out in Ggaba. This has not only allowed me a chance to meet wonderful people, but provided me with valuable data about Nsambya Home Care.
Nsambya HomeCare was initially created to help PLWA patients afford their medications by subsidization and provide needed counseling to allow patients to cope with the situation. Not only do they provide treatment and counseling for 1000 shillings (50 cents), but they also make sure that patients leave the facility satisfied knowing what they have to deal with. Nsambya HomeCare really is a blessing. They have done so much to provide patients with the care they need to deal with HIV/AIDS, and they even opened an outreach program in Gaba for patients out in that region to have closer access to medication and treatment. Every health worker that I have met has been very welcoming and social, allowing me to research fluidly and quickly. However, as well as this HomeCare has provided treatment, there are nevertheless problems that they need to deal with.
The idea of a problem is related to your point of view on the situation. If you have never experienced a better way of life, you have no idea there is something better out there, so you may have no problem with an experience. However, if a patient is more educated and has gone through countless situations and understand the scenario better, he/she might have more to say in terms of improvement of the quality of care of a situation. Thus, a problem is very relative to what you know and what you have experienced. That was something I clearly saw between the patients at Gaba and Nsambya HomeCare. Gaba patients, who tended to be more rural, have very little problems with the quality of healthcare. The wait time is long, the health workers treat them fine, and they have very little complaints. However, patients at Nsambya HomeCare, though very gracious of the treatment and medication provided, have complaints in which they feel would make the experience more pleasant. For example, if they could provide free water, money for food due to the long wait time, and complaint boxes, they would be able to improve on the quality of healthcare and the patients would be happer with their experiences.
What I also realized is some information that people are willing to share in front of someone other than a health worker or community volunteer. It is in the subconscious to think that the health worker and community volunteers would be biased towards the quality of healthcare at the facility. They would be more likely to say the treatment as positive and the commitment of the health workers to be strong, but the patients would be much more willing to explain their problems to a third party. Interviews and questionnaires provide patients a chance to bring their complaint boxes to the table and share what they have to say, providing a freedom of speech to someone who is willing to listen.
This learning experience of qualitative research has more than helped me understand how patients act and how questions should be asked to not seem harsh and provoking. As one who has not done any previous qualitative research, Nsambya HomeCare has provided a valuable observational experience to perform a pilot study. I would very much like to thank Brian, the counselor, for being my translator and explaining the process of treatment at the Gaba OutReach Program, as well as Sister Irene, Teo, etc. for helping me out on my project. I would also like to thank Dr. Maria Musoke for letting me interview patients at Nsambya HomeCare and Head Nurse Grace for directing patients to me. This experience is more than I could have asked for in a couple of weeks in Uganda.
This week, our School of Public Health lessons revolved around the subject of mental health in Uganda. By far, the most interesting lecture we received was on the subject of post traumatic stress disorder in former Ugandan child solders. As we learned, the forces of Joseph Kony’s rebellion movement, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), have brought utter chaos and destruction to the region of northern Uganda. Over a period of roughly two decades, the LRA acted with what seemed to be a complete disregard for human life in its effort to overcome the Ugandan military. As explained by Derluyn, Broekaert, Schuyten, and De Temmerman (2004), this conflict had a significant impact on the lives of all the inhabitants of northern Uganda: “Tens of thousands of people have been killed and mutilated, hundreds of thousands displaced, and farming activities and livestock have been totally disrupted” (p. 861).
Though few in northern Uganda were left untouched by the hands of the LRA, perhaps the most detrimentally effected were the child soldiers used to fuel Kony’s campaign of terror; with more than 20,000 youths abducted to date, children comprise roughly 90% of all LRA recruits (Derluyen et. al 861).
Although a great deal of stability has come to northern Uganda in recent years, the conflict lives on in the minds of these child soldiers. Subject to sexual exploitation and abuse and forced to engage in the rape and murder of their loved ones, those children abducted by the LRA are at a monumental risk of developing a multitude of psychiatric disorders (Okello, Onen, and Musisi 225-226). Among the most common and problematic of the psychiatric disorders developed by these youths is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Defined as “an emotional illness that usually develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience”, those living with PTSD may find it extremely difficult to adjust to life after war (Muhwezi slide 24). In general, PTSD symptoms are grouped into three categories: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal.
Intrusive memories, or “recurrent re-experiencing” of trauma, represent one of the most troublesome symptoms of PTSD (Muhwezi slide 25). Constantly burdened with the images and sounds of acts that they witnessed and committed during wartime, former Ugandan child soldiers often experience great struggles in their efforts to look toward a new, peaceful future. In a Lancet article entitled “Post-traumatic stress in former Ugandan child soldiers”, Ilse Derluyen and colleagues outline the true prevalence of the intrusive memories symptom in LRA abductees. Out of a total of 71 respondents who completed the impact of event scale-revised (IES-R)—a self-report scale for PTSD— the mean score for the intrusion symptom was found to be 18.2 out of a maximum score of 28 (Derluyen et. al 862). Given their additional findings on the events witnessed by many child soldiers during periods of conflict, this high occurrence of intrusion may come as no surprise; Out of a sample of 301 former child soldiers, 77% had seen someone being killed during their abduction, 6% saw a member of their immediate family being killed, 39% had to kill another person themselves, and 2% had to kill an immediate family member (Derluyen et. al 861). As many former Ugandan child soldiers have had their social support networks disrupted by the very events that caused their PTSD, policy makers in the Ugandan government and humanitarian organizations must continue with their efforts to support a healing process so that former LRA abductees may cope with their painful intrusive memories in a healthy fashion (Muhwezi slide 31).
Thought the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder are indeed serious, a great deal of hope exists for former Ugandan child soldiers living with PTSD. One of the most effective tools in overcoming this devastating mental ailment is psychotherapy; by speaking with former child soldiers about their experiences as members of the LRA, mental health professionals can provide them with an outlet for emotions and memories that would otherwise go unexpressed. Additionally, further efforts are necessary to combat the stigmatization of child soldiers in those communities that have been devastated by the LRA. Though it may be difficult for many individuals in northern Uganda to greet the very child soldiers who killed their loved ones with open arms, the Ugandan government and the international community must work to spread awareness that these children were indeed forced to comply with Joseph Kony’s agenda.
Derluyn, I., Broekaert, E., Schuyten, G., & De Temmerman, E. (2004) Post-traumatic stress in former Ugandan child soldiers, Lancet; 363: 861–63
Muhwezi, Wilson W. "Traumatization [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD]
in Uganda." Introduction to Public Health: Module 4. Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. 27 May. 2010. Lecture.
Okello, J., Onen, T, S., & Musisi, S. (2007). Psychiatric disorders among war-abducted and non-abducted adolescents in Gulu district, Uganda: a comparative study. African Journal of Psychiatry. 10:225-231
Thursday, May 27, 2010
One thing I know for sure is that Uganda has emboldened me. This was revealed this weekend when we went to Jinja for white water rafting and bungee jumping. I must preface this post by noting that I am terrified of heights yet somehow I developed enough courage to plunge 145 feet down into the roaring Nile. After an entire afternoon rafting followed by close to ten hours of deep sleep, we woke up to a new day of adventure. The jump was set for 9:30 and I could barely hold down my breakfast in anticipation. After having mounted a daunting set of stairs, I stood at the top of the platform and watched as one by one my classmates made the leap. As it inched towards my turn, panic set in. Creeping towards the chair, at which point the towel/rope combination would be attached, I glanced over the edge which revealed a 44 meter drop. A few weeks back, the morning of Ssese trip, we spent a relaxing day by the pool side. There were three diving platforms of increasing height. Even though the highest couldn't have been more than fifteen feet from the surface of the water, the jump was intimidating and I barely had the courage to do it. Now, staring down into the Nile 145 vertical feet away made the fifteen foot jump look easy. Probably the scariest part of the whole experience was hopping towards the edge with your feet bound, and then edging even closer with nothing to hold onto. In theory, there's a bar above the edge that one should hold to facilitate the process of reaching the edge. However, I was too short to reach it and therefore had nothing to rely on for support. I had hardly enough time to collect myself before the countdown began...3...2...1....it's hard to believe that I actually jumped. Even looking back at on the moment and watching the video over and over again, I still feel jittery and my heart still races. The first twenty feet was a complete blur, and the stomach drop only set in after falling halfway down. I think that's when the realization of falling actually kicked in. Then the rope retracted and I soared up, then down, then up, then down again. The experience was amazing, definitely a moment of my life that I will continue to relive with the solid satisfaction of having had the courage to take the leap.
This week was sooooooooooooooooo much fun!! On Sunday we went to see the move Imani and it was wonderful. I didn't know what to expect but I a little about the day before and I was amazed. It was so beautiful and so real. After the movie, we met with the director and the writer. I was a bit nervous to conduct an interview but they reminded me of me and my sister which was really nice. They were very down to earth and it was a lot of fun talking to them and seeing how the movie came about. Monday we visited a water treatment plant and the landfill. You can probably guess it wasn't the best smelling experience but it was very informative. Throughout the week, we broke up into groups of threes to work on presentations on our trip to the water treatment plant and the landfill. Because it was our first presentation, we didn't know exactly how to go about it. We only had a few days to prepare on top of our other activities and assignments. We were all a bit stressed out but in the end, everyone did really well and we were nervous for nothing. On Saturday we left for Jinja. Originally I wasn't going to go but I realized that this would be my last trip with the whole group so I went and I'm so glad I did. I pretty much hate water but I went rafting and at times I wish I hadn't. It was really fun but there were times where I thought I was going to flip out of the raft and die. Luckily for me, that never happened but our guide made us get in the water a few times just to get a feel for it. I argued with him a bit because I wasn't comfortable but in the end, it was good practice in case something happened and I fell in. Our bodies were so sore after rafting for 31 km!!! I basically passed out on the bed immediately and had one of the best nights sleep ever!! The next day, though I didn't bungee jump. I enjoyed watching my friends try to fly. Afterwards, I realized how much I'm going to miss this group and how lucky we all are to be here and be able to have fun with each other to create amazing memories.