As I stumble home through the craters of Tarmac, alternately blinded by oncoming motorbikes and plunged into darkness, thanks to yet another power cut (who knows how long for this time) I count myself lucky: for the last two and a half years as a volunteer, I’ve essentially worked from home in a quiet, controlled environment; I haven’t had to fight through the dust and the traffic every morning, sit on stuffy public taxis or risk being pulled over by hungry Traffic Police on the way to work; I’ve been able to (mostly) get on with my job (give or take electricity / internet connection / resources!) Eva mops the floor, makes the bed and does the shopping; it’s no surprise I’ve become fat!
I haven’t had to visit patients in the slum whose pathetic makeshift houses flood every time it rains; A. told me how one of his patients (sick with HIV and tuberculosis) had turds floating through his home when he last visited. There’s no such thing as a bed base, just a foam mattress, which absorbs whatever enters into his house. As a visitor, hospitality dictates that you take the seat you are offered. Need I say more?
One day, I don’t know when, I’ll miss the sounds of human activity from beyond our compound that connects my sometimes isolated life to the real world. The music and the drums, the screams of babies and a hammering of zinc can annoy me though. As for the man who slowly pushes a frozen food container along on his bicycle, up and down the railway track, every afternoon to the sound of the tinny Chinese Greensleeves; I can’t say I’ll miss him – but I’ll never forget him. He always seems to come at that moment in the afternoon when we’re all feeling lethargic or trying to rework that crucial bit of a funding proposal.
It’s only 8.15 pm but it’s pitch black and I’m exhausted after a late-night working and a few Warajis (local gins).
I’ve been bitten to buggery this evening.
I’m often aware of how easy my life has been here in Kampala. Simon, a VSO doctor, tells us of the clinic he’s trying to develop in Lira, Northern Uganda. You expect to hear about a lack of resources and a lack of facilities. There is no question of them having any medicines – that’s not such a surprise either. But, you would think the hospital might have some stock of sutures (stitches) and surgical gloves. So, if you need a Caesarean section, the deal is this: you go to the hospital, are given a shopping list and you then nip to the shops and buy your sutures, gloves etc. Sometimes people come back an hour or two later with the wrong items – at which point they are sent back to the shops. Needless to say, many babies – and their mothers – simply die.
Last week I gave blood to help a seven-year-old boy who was very sick with Sickle Cell Anaemia. It’s the first time I’ve ever known anything about the person who receives my donation. The urgent plea for donations came from a nurse Diane, another VSO. The urgent request came because the blood bank had said they didn’t have any the right type of blood left. An official letter had been written, e-mails were sent and favours were asked. By the time we arrived at the blood bank, they said they had plenty in stock! I don’t know how I would cope with this kind of bureaucracy and lack of communication on such a crucial issue. We’ve had plenty of setbacks at UCF, but to have to physically run between buildings on different sides of the city, when you have very sick people in your care, I think I would have gone berserk.
On a personal note, however, I was delighted to get through the blood screening straightaway, no longer anaemic (for the first time here in Uganda). The diet of iron tablets and the occasional bit of stringy chicken are obviously working!
Link to my blog ‘Count yourself lucky’ written exactly two years ago.