Sorry if my last post is sort of a downer. Good news though: I think things are starting to turn around here, so hopefully the next few posts will be a bit more upbeat. We have traded our live-in plumbers for live-in tile guys for the week, and the plumbers were nice enough to make one bathroom functional until they come back and fix them all this weekend. (Granted, there is definitely no hot water, and the floor is flooded from leaking pipes, but it’s functional.) They are making serious progress on renovating the house, which is cool to see even though the workers do have an annoying tendency to start working very early, even on weekends.
My roommates and I spent most of the weekend just hanging out, which was probably good for all of our mental health. We finally got around to going to the Ethiopian restaurant here, which was delicious. We also met Gulu’s resident drug dealer. He frequents our favorite bar/internet cafe that is right down the road from our house and we have some mutual friends. He owns a shop near the Ethiopian restaurant, and is a really crazy character. The funny thing is that his shop is pretty normal–we checked it out when we were in the area. He sells cooking oil, juice, bread–all the things one finds in an average Ugandan grocery shop–but he also sells pot off the books, from the same shop, and sits around and smokes with various customers without much subtlety. (And smoking marijuana is a crime in Uganda. We’re surprised people don’t complain, but he seems very comfortable in his routine.) Don’t worry, he’s totally safe, and we were careful, but it was quite the interesting experience.
As a culmination to my weekend on Sunday night, I was laying out on our porch and doing a little stargazing. (It’s so nice to be able to have the free time to do stuff like that, and you can see so many more stars here than at home or in Kampala.) I was feeling frustrated about my practicum and wondering when the next 3 weeks would be over so I could just be done with it already, and then I saw the coolest shooting star I have ever seen in my life. It just streaked across the whole sky, steadily and slowly. I actually had to do a double take to make sure it wasn’t an airplane, but then it disappeared into the darkness, the way shooting stars do, and I knew I was right. It was beautiful, with the backdrop of the African sky behind it, and it just made me feel a lot more calm about everything. I made a wish, of course. I can’t tell you what it was or it won’t come true, but I will say that I think it has started coming true already.
On Monday, I had been promised a meeting with some sort of nutritionist who works in Gulu, who was rumored to be starting up a nutrition outreach program this month. He had just said we would meet in the morning, so I got to the hospital at 9 as usual and waited around for him to show up. 11:30 rolled around and he still wasn’t there. That’s the time that I usually start getting impatient and decide to leave (and there are only 3 patients in the ward now, so it’s quieter than ever–which is good of course, but boring. Apparently the “hunger gap” usually occurs in May, so this is the calm before the storm), but I decided to give him a call just in case, and he said he was coming. He arrived at the ward about 15 minutes later, telling me that he was very sick with malaria, but declined my offer to move our meeting to another day. (As a sidenote, the doctor in the ward also had malaria that day, and couldn’t work because he had to receive IV treatment for it. I really can’t believe how endemic malaria is here. It’s SUCH a problem…something really needs to be done about it.) Anyway, the nutritionist made a little bit of small talk and then cut right to the chase and asked me what exactly it was I wanted, anyway. I was surprised at his directness (Ugandans are usually pretty roundabout with their conversations), and tried to recover quickly and said something along the lines of wanting to see if there was anything I could do to help with his outreach program. To my surprise (again), he said “oh, very much!” and basically took off at a run from there. (His name is Albert, by the way. Uganda is full of quirky, old-school names like that.) That afternoon, he took me to a meeting that he was having with the head nutritionist for a very well-known international agency in Uganda, which was pretty cool. They talked about the plan for rolling out this new framework for monitoring nutrition and preventing malnutrition in children, and outlined indicators for measuring their progress, as well as how they were going to expand it to surrounding towns and districts. It was a really efficient and fast-moving meeting, which was very refreshing after dealing with so much bureaucracy in Uganda and in non-profit things in general, and it made me really excited about possibly being part of it.
Then I spent yesterday and today attending other meetings with him, which were attended by a combination of NGOs, funders, and the government. They are trying to recover from the haphazard way that aid was distributed during the war and set up a system that actually makes sense, where NGO services are coordinated with government and Ministry of Health services, and overlap is eliminated. I think it’s a really good idea, though the meetings were less productive than I would have liked. (Yesterday it went from 9AM to 5:30PM and they still agreed on almost nothing concrete. So much for the efficiency of the day before.) That was slightly frustrating, but I think it was 1) the first step towards something that could be really cool, and 2) a good learning experience for me, as someone who thinks she wants to work in a capacity similar to this later in life. I also got some good information that is relevant to my research, which might mean that I have a chance of doing well on the paper I have to write at the end of this all. And I just think it’s really cool that I was actually at the headquarters of such a well-known international agency! 🙂
I’ve decided that Albert is a pretty crazy guy–he moves at lightning speed and doesn’t ever sit still. I think he’s one of those people that takes on way more than he should (yes, I admit, kind of like me), but he’s trying to take me along with him as he does all this stuff, which promises to be very interesting. I think there should be plenty of things I can help with, but so far he hasn’t really utilized me in doing any tasks. He did promise to bring me along on one of the trainings he is doing in a neighboring district next week, though, which I’m really excited about. I’m thinking about it this way: if I end up being able to help him, that will be great, and it will make me feel better about taking up his time as he teaches me stuff; but if it turns out that he doesn’t have a job for me to do, at least this stuff is way more relevant to my research and is a lot more uplifting than my hospital work.
Anyway, sorry… I think the stuff about the research is probably pretty boring for you all, even though it’s super interesting to me, so I will try to cut back on that from here on out. I just wanted to let you all know that I was doing a lot better than I was when I wrote the last post. And truth be told, I haven’t been doing too much outside of research/work, if you want to call it that. So as far as posts in the near future go: I think I’ll try to post more pictures in the next couple of days, and I am formulating a post about language/linguistics in my head, so that should be coming soon. Also, I promise there is a gender post coming eventually. It’s just such a massive topic, I’m having trouble tackling it. If anyone reading has a request about something you want me to write about, feel free to leave a comment and let me know. It’s starting to rain and get really windy now, so I’m afraid we might lose power (and as a result, internet) soon, so I’m going to post this now. Peace and love from Uganda. ~CMK