My days have started to ease into more of a routine, or at least I have begun to ease into the uncertainty of where each day will take us. With only a few words of Runyankore, I am useless at setting up the interviews and discussions that are our research tools, so I depend on Joram, one of the PHP staff members, to tell me where we are going each day and who we are talking to. The days working in the community are slow. Meetings start late, greetings are drawn out, and even the walking pace is not up to my need for speed. I’ve taken to carrying around my kindle with me and am pretty close to finished with all 5 books in A Song of Ice and Fire, which is not exactly the goal I was hoping to achieve this summer.
Our research is not so much academic as it is program oriented, so we’ve expanded our scope as we’ve learned about the community where we work. Transportation comes up often as a major barrier to health care. A motorcycle/boda boda ride to the health center can cost around 15,000 UG shillings (~5$), and for families relying mostly on subsistence farming and small local business ventures, this cost keeps women from their antenatal care appointments and makes many decide to just deliver their babies at home and save the money. Jasmine and I want to use our American $$$ raising abilities to get a village ambulance, but the money raising is only a small part of this project, it turns out. There is so much planning, collaboration, input gathering, other groundwork that needs to happen before an intervention. I’m learning a lot about how complicated this NGO work can be.
When we are not researching or contemplating emergency obstetric care and health transportation, we try to collect stories and photos of community members and partners for PHP’s website and blog, to share with donors or US partners what the work on the ground is like. This, too, is much more difficult than I expected. The language barrier again makes me almost useless, and the busy workload of women in Kashongi and Kitura leaves little time for us to meet with them and ask about their experiences. The women we have met have been wonderful, though, and the level of hospitality for a couple of muzungus wandering through Uganda has been astounding.
As we drive around the villages, Joram and Alex, PHP staffers and tour guides extraordinaire, say hi to all the people they know from living and working in this community for about 3 years. We stop every once in a while to accept a gift of watermelon, bananas, mangoes, jackfruit, corn, etc. At one home we visited to interview a woman and her husband, I got to try guava fruit, which I didn’t like so much, and boiled maize, which I liked a lot. When we left, the family told us we had to come back and visit. It’s been similar with many other people we have met with in the community- they share their stories and their food and thank us for the visit.
There’s a proverb I learned on my first day in Mbarara: the hand that gives is the hand that receives.
Relationships, both personal and professional, are about sharing. I’m able to have this great experience because I’m working with an organization that has spent a lot of time and effort cultivating relationships, giving and receiving and listening and learning. I’ve received so much, not just in snacks, from the community here, and I hope I can find ways to give back from my own gifts and resources.