I just want you all to know that it was very difficult to find internet access to post this blog entry, so you better appreciate it (haha, kidding. I mean, sort of…it was actually very difficult though. I am in a very rural place right now, with only one internet café that opens late, closes early, and has a ridiculously slow connection.) I just wanted to let you all know that I’m still alive and well; I didn’t want to disappear for too long. Anyway, a lot has happened since my last post. The aforementioned nutritionist, Albert, told me last week that he wanted to take me to a training he was doing on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Apac (pronounced “uh-patch”), which is the district just southeast of Gulu. I was pumped about the idea because it is very applicable to my practicum, and it sounded interesting. I found out the next day that the training was a week long, and it was going to make the most sense for me to travel back to Kampala on Saturday and then join him in traveling from there to Apac. It makes absolutely no sense geographically, since Kampala is about five times the distance from Gulu that Apac is, but apparently navigating public transportation between the two is rather difficult, so I opted for the longer but simpler route.
I left for Kampala on Saturday morning, and after sitting on the bus for two hours in the parking lot, we finally departed from Gulu. (Busses here don’t leave at set times; you just show up and get on, and it leaves when then conductor thinks it is full enough.) It was frustrating to sit there and think about how much longer I could have slept, but once we left, I remembered how much fun it is to travel through the Ugandan countryside, watching the endless fields of green pass by the window. I also was reminded of my absolute favorite part of traveling by bus in Uganda: the “rest stops.” Now, I don’t know how many of you have experience traveling by bus in the U.S., but in my experience, I find that most busses there very rarely make stops. Of course, those busses have bathrooms on board, and public transportation operates completely differently in the U.S., but it’s worth comparing. The busses here stop all the time! I think that people can get on and off at many points along the route, and if it stops at certain points in small towns, there are vendors who position themselves along the bus routes and sell things to the bus passengers. But the most convenient thing is that you don’t even have to get off the bus to buy yourself a snack; the vendors essentially charge the bus as it is stopping and shove various items up to the windows to try to entice the passengers. I think one of my favorite memories from this whole trip is the image of about twenty vendors running after my bus and trying to sell bottled water, pieces of meat on sticks, and live chickens through the bus windows. I wasn’t able to take a picture this time, but I definitely will next time. It is just something that needs to be photographed.
So I spent one night in Kampala with my host family and then I met Albert and the rest of the team for the trip at the Ministry of Health. I have to say it was nice to be “home” in Kampala, even if only for a short time. Surprisingly, I even rather enjoyed the addition of matooke (which I have been avoiding like it’s my job since I started controlling my own food intake) to our supper. I felt bad that I only was able to spend one night there, but it was fun anyway.
The next morning, our trip to Apac started off kind of strangely. It was somewhat cool that morning (maybe about 60 degrees F), and Albert showed up to the Ministry of Health wearing a knit winter hat. People here are so funny about the weather. What they define as cold is so entirely different from what I think of as cold. I thought the weather was rather nice that morning, but apparently it was freezing. Anyway, we waited for over an hour and a half for the vehicle that was supposed to take us to come and pick us up to take us “up country”. We kept calling the driver, and he kept giving excuses about why he wasn’t there and saying he would be there very soon, but it took forever. Then it turned out that the vehicle was bringing an extra person up with us and there wasn’t room in the pick-up truck for all of us. We spent about another half an hour trying to figure out how to fit 5 passengers plus the driver into a double cab pick-up. We ended up squeezing four people into the back seat. It was terribly uncomfortable, and it was quite the lengthy and bumpy ride. I kept seeing the signs counting down how far Gulu was, and thinking, “it’s only been 10km??? I’m not going to make it!”
Then we took a shortcut that crosses the Nile River via ferry instead of driving around to a bridge. The “ferry” was the most basic one I have ever seen—it was essentially a largish raft with two motorized propellers attached and a few railings. But they loaded our pickup, another car, many motorcycles, and about 40 people onto it and we crossed without incident. I did take a picture of this one, and I will definitely post it when I get back to Gulu.
The rest of the journey up was rather uneventful, though we did see some monkeys along the road, as well as a creature they called a Monitor Lizard, which looked to me like a small crocodile. Our driver skillfully avoided many cows, goats, and chickens that were hanging out on or crossing the road, and we arrived in Apac safely.
This town is one of the most rural places I’ve been since arriving in Uganda, second only to the place I stayed during the rural homestay. There is one main road, with the center of town marked by a traffic circle. I don’t think they get many mzungus around these parts, because I created quite the stir as I was walking home from the training yesterday. People were staring and children were jumping up and down, pointing, and yelling “mzungu!” I think it’s going to be confusing when I go back home and people don’t completely freak out when I walk by. The anonymity is going to be strange, after standing out so much here. The people I traveled here with keep talking about how Apac is not developing, and how terrible it is. I can definitely see why they would say it’s not developing; it is certainly a simple and rural town that doesn’t seem to be making any effort to change, but I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with that. If people are happy living here as it is, why change it? This is a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially while I’ve been traveling through the countryside and observing rural life. It makes me wonder, “How much do we really need to be happy?” Because on the one hand, it seems wrong to me, as someone who has grown up with the luxuries that I have, that people have to live in these conditions where they don’t have electricity, the whole family lives in a small hut, the schools don’t have windows, etc… But on the other hand, things here are clearly functional. If people can get by in these conditions, why do we need to keep making things bigger and better, you know? I definitely think that things that impede safety should be improved, but at a certain point I think sometimes we just “develop” places for the sake of development, and it isn’t actually entirely necessary.
On a related note, about knowing how much one needs to get by, the hotel that Albert wanted to stay in was full by the time we got here (there is no such thing as making reservations in most of Uganda), so we found a less desirable one near the edge of town (which is, of course, about a 5 minute walk from the center of town). It’s a simple hotel, and we are only paying $2.50 a night for it! This is highly exciting to me, because I have already used up the stipend money that SIT gave us to cover our expenses during the practicum (I largely blame the trip to the hospital, which used nearly a quarter of it in one night), so now I am paying for things out of the pocket money that I brought with me. Obviously, the money that I brought goes a lot farther here than it would in the U.S., but I also brought far less money with me for the semester than I would have used in a semester in the U.S.. Anyway, my companions complain about the hotel, but I think it’s fine. I mean, how much more does one need in a hotel room than a bed and a bed net? It’s not luxurious, but it’s functional.
The only complaint I really have is the shower situation. By now, I am getting used to cold bucket showers, but I’m used to taking them at night, when you’re already hot and sweaty, so a cold shower is somewhat refreshing. Here, it’s so hot at night that you always need to take a shower in the morning, because you basically sweat all night (too much information? Sorry!). So at any rate, the shower situation during this stay is such that it is a freezing cold bucket shower in an outside stall that doesn’t have a door at around 6am, when it’s actually somewhat cold outside. It takes some serious guts to dump a bucket of cold water on yourself in that situation. Try it sometime! I have to say I think it is my worst shower experience. So the next time you are getting into your nice, steamy shower in your own bathroom, take a moment to think of me and say, “thank goodness I’m not as insane as Christina!” All the same, I still have to remember that I am lucky because I know this is temporary. I can complain about it all I want, and yes, I am pretty unhappy at the moment when that cold water is first hitting my body and I’m thinking “Why did I come here again???” but I know it’s temporary, and in a month I’ll be back at home enjoying my nice hot showers again, while people here will still be doing this. And of course, the showers are really the least of most people’s worries here, but the concept applies to everything. All of the things that I am seeing, hearing, feeling, and experiencing here are only temporary for me, whereas for the people I’m meeting, this is their reality. And sometimes that is hard to accept.
Yesterday, during the training we went to the local hospital to practice counseling mothers on infant feeding practices. (Maybe I should stop for a moment to say that the people participating in this training are all health workers from clinics in this district and a neighboring district, so this is a task that they would probably do on a normal day at work.) The woman that my group counseled turned out to be 22 years old (so basically my age). She had brought her 6-week-old baby into the clinic for immunization, and we found out that this was her third child. She was also HIV-positive. Our visit with her really hit me hard, because it was like looking at myself in some sort of a weird mirror. I just kept looking at her and grappling with the fact that though we are so close in age, our lives are so drastically different. I basically realized that the only thing that was separating the two of us was luck of the draw. Had I been born in Uganda instead of in the U.S., my life could easily be exactly like hers at this point. It was hard for me to look at her and visualize what her future would be like because for her, this is basically all there is. I have so much growth and so many opportunities to look forward to in my future, but she won’t have these opportunities, and her life will likely not change that much from today until the day she dies. And that feels very unfair to me.
Sorry to end on a sort of depressing note again, but I think this has become long enough, and I’m out of time. Peace and love from Apac. ~CMK