After 48 hours of flights and layovers, I arrived in Entebbe, Uganda late Wednesday night. Jasmine, my roommate-coworker-partner this summer, had arranged airport pick-up and a nearby guest house for us, because she is much better at Uganda than me. I slept like a rock and my only observation of the first night was on how wonderful a shower is after days of intercontinental travel.
Thursday morning, we met our driver Isaac (also arranged by Jasmine) and left shortly after breakfast to head to Iganga, a town North of Kampala where Jasmine had spent the previous summer. In Iganga, we had plans to meet with the fistula program coordinator at Uganda Villages Project. The drive was long and the car was hot, but Isaac was an excellent driver and tour guide and the Ugandan landscape is breathtaking. We passed acres of sugar cane, tea leaves, maize fields, and coffee farms. In Iganga, we picked up Jairus, friend of Jasmine and Isaac, and had our fistula meeting. It was great to hear about an up and running program that takes advantage of community partnerships to help women suffering from fistula and recovering from repair surgery. I was really interested in their general outreach and education model, as fistula is entirely preventable when complicated births and obstructed labors can be redirected quickly to a health center capable of caesarean section. Jasmine and I will spend the summer learning about fistula in Kashongi and Kitura and figuring out ways to prevent this disability by connecting women with information, transportation, and quality care. It’s a lot to do in 8 weeks, but we are excited to get started and happy to work with an organization that already has done so much in these two village communities to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health.
After our work meeting, we went out into Buhurempe, the village Jasmine and Jairus lived in last summer as UVP interns. The drive was terrifying, but Isaac is a quality driver and we made it alive. Along the way children shouted “Jambo” to us and waved, I felt like a celebrity. I got to meet Jasmine’s old neighbors and many other community members. They were incredibly welcoming and gave us mangoes and bananas that tasted so much better than any fruit at home. In this and many villages there is no electricity or running water and people have limited transportation to get into town. There are bicycles and some motorbikes/boda bodas, but we saw many people carrying produce to market in large baskets on their heads or in their arms. It was pretty impressive.
We spent the night at a guest house in Iganga run by an NGO called Musana, which uses profits from the guest house and other small businesses to support it’s community operations, including a school. In the morning, we got back in the car for a much shorter drive to Jinja.
In Jinja, we were perfect muzungus/white people. We went to the source of the Nile River, which is what first brought European explorers like John Speke into Uganda. They probably thought that there would be some magical fountain of youth. I got to step out of our boat at the site where the longest river in the world meets the second largest lake in the world (guess what the largest is!) and feel the underground springs which feed into the Nile and push it North. It was beautiful. After the boat, we shopped at some craft shops where you can buy all the clothes that Americans think Africans wear. In reality, Ugandans shop elsewhere and although they wear pants in 80o weather, the people in Jinja dress a lot like the people in the states. I ate traditional Ugandan food for lunch and a cheeseburger for dinner. In the evening we visited an orphanage down the road from our guest house and helped in the baby room by holding babies. It was tough work.
This morning, we left Jinja for Kampala where we met Josh, the UM grad student who helped found Progressive Health Partnership in 2008 and helped us plan our internships. We took a brief driving tour of the massive capital city of Uganda, then a long drive through more rolling hills and brilliant greenery to get to Mbarara where we finally unpacked at our home for the summer. We are living a luxurious life in Mbarara, and the staff at the guest house has been very hospitable. The most common phrase I’ve heard from Ugandans so far is “You are welcome.” Hopefully we will also be spending plenty of time out in Kashongi and Kitura for our work. These first 4 days in Uganda have been wonderful and I’m looking forward to learning more and hopefully contributing to PHP’s mission.
We are 7 hours ahead of Michigan here, so good night!/Oraire Gye!