Friday, June 16, 2017

"Nothing is more critical than life"

Things I've done while I've been in Uganda:

  • I've put my hand in the Nile River.
  • I've tried some local foods-motoke (mashed plantains), posho (dense grits of sorts) and loved them
  • I've watched a little gecko crawl out of the top of my toilet and tried not to freak out
  • I've battled with a few crickets in my room-and won
  • I've contracted malaria in record timing (and will be finished with medication tomorrow) 
  • I've played with children, listened to them call after me "Muzungo" which means "White Person"
  • I've met Mayors and very important district officials
  • I've played endless rounds of skip-bo with a good friend, Sumayah
  • I've needle-pointed and thought endlessly of home
  • I've begun to learn local greetings-which I'm learning only get me so far
I've doubted if this was the right way for me to spend the summer. I've cried for my boyfriend,my mom, my niece. I've cried for everyone in my family. I've sat and just listened. Listened to the early morning or the late night. I've sat in the back of a van full of 10 people and simply admired the beauty of this country, the acres upon acres of fertile land, the kindness of individuals and bravery of animals trying to get a stray piece of maize on the other side of the road.

I wish I could say it's as glorious of a start to the summer as I imagined. I thought I would be able to adapt to the weather, culture and job seamlessly. I've spent the last two years of grad school imagining this trip. I just knew I was cut out for international work and I could jump right in. That didn't happen. 

The first two weeks have been filled with frustration-not with the people or my job or the country, but with myself. First, because I am so incredibly terrible at being dependent. Two days in I was mad at myself for not knowing how to navigate the town. I hated that I had to (get to, really) be driven around my my organization's van. It is of course for my own safety while I learn the city but I HATE that I was so reliant on the van. I didn't know anyone other than fellow interns and staff members and I was frustrated that I didn't know everything yet. The end of last week felt much better than the start. We had a pool day-which always cures a bad mood. We walked around a new city, Jinja, and ended by a pool, then a sunset boat cruise on the Nile. I was absolutely exhausted by that point, but energized to start the next week with greater assurance that I knew I would find my way. The next day I walked the whole town with Sumayah, a godsend of a friend here in Uganda. She showed me shortcuts, where to buy food at the market, what the best fabric store was and how to get from my hotel to the office. Finally. 

Monday was a typical day at the office, settling into my job, beginning my responsibilities here as a practicum student. On Tuesday I woke up with a migraine-I figured from dehydration, so I called and told my bosses that I wouldn't be coming in. I would work from the hotel. Hours later, I woke from a nap with a fever and body aches-things that don't come with my migraines so my wonderful friend who works at UDHA graciously took me to the health center that is practically connected to our office. In what I think is record timing, I had contracted a very low-grade case of Malaria. (For those reading, don't worry, I was treated) The typical time it takes to contract Malaria is between 10 days to 4 weeks. As of Tuesday I had been there 10 days...

(A break for people unfamiliar with Malaria. Many travelers to countries with high rates of Malaria will take anti-malarial drugs each day. However, these drugs are like a flu shot-they only protect against certain 'strains'. So even though I did all the things I could've done to prevent it, "One stubborn mosquito" as my doctor called it, did the trick. It is typically treated with shots and/or pills and the recovery time is relatively quick-about a week.)

So here I was, already frustrated with being dependent on others and wondering how I was going to make it the next two months and I'm bogged down with a stupid illness caused by one dang mosquito. If God was quietly hinting at a lesson the first week, he was screaming it the second. Asking people for help doesn't make me any less dependent. Any less of an adult. It shows vulnerability, sure, but it doesn't take any part of "Abby" away. Everyone who has been sick away from home-be it from their mom, their partner or even just their own bed, knows how miserable it is. For me, it's also frustrating that I'm not better yet. I've never had this illness and already I'm telling myself I should be better. I should go back to work. 

This morning, one of my supervisors, Michael, came to check on me. I told him I would do some work from the hotel today and he shook his head and said, "Nothing is more critical than life, Abby". That's it. The silly lesson that I couldn't see. No matter how frustrating it is to be vulnerable or dependent on someone to make me eat or make sure I'm drinking fluids, it is to make sure I keep on living. Keep living so I can keep learning. I didn't ever feel like Malaria was going to kill me, but I thought my boredom might. Instead, I am trying to be grateful for recuperation. I am immensely grateful for the people who have taken care of me, offered prayers and acted as a source of comfort while I am away from home. Even if it was just a smile that inferred "it will be okay", I noticed and appreciated it. 

I am appreciative of the people who love me back home. I didn't tell many people outside of my family and boyfriend of being sick or even admit that the first few weeks here have been tough. I still felt like I had an image to maintain-though I don't know who would see that image-seeing as I haven't been great at posting on facebook or sending emails. It has been bittersweet to be relatively disconnected. I miss the constant photos of Hadley, though they have been increasing since I'm sick and I miss regular talks with my boyfriend and my family. I miss the laughs of my friends and know there will be major changes to adjust to when I get back. But it is also nice to wake up in the morning to the sound of a chicken clucking in the garden outside of my room. To go sit in the restaurant area of my hotel and read a good book before work. So far, Ugandans have taught me the power of kindness and hospitality, and how to enjoy downtime. For that, I am grateful.

Oh, and for anyone out there reading this with the thought "What is Abby going to do after Uganda?" the answer is extremely unknown. 

Oh, Oh, for anyone who is wondering what I'm actually doing in Uganda: The organization is called Uganda Development and Health Associates. It is in Iganga district and I am working on the Health Systems Strengthening project. It aims to train Community Linkage Facilitators to go into various districts and encourage residents to access health care and figure out how to make it more accessible. UDHA is also working with other Community Based Organizations in those districts to increase access and educations surrounding major topics like HIV, TB, Malaria, and Maternal/Child health. Pretty cool stuff.