Several posts to be made in this update:
I am laying in bed under a mosquito net listening to the sounds of the patter of rain drops falling on the sheet metal roof of my boarding compound. It is about 2:40am local time and it has been a long day. It started off on the evening of the 16th as I boarded my KLM flight from Dulles to Entebbe via Amsterdam. The flight was long and uneventful which is what everyone really hopes for when they fly. I arrived in Uganda just as the sun was setting to the West. The heat was present as I stepped onto the jetbridge and began my first journey into the African continent. Looking out the windows of the terminal I also noticed the security guards toting their AK-47 rifles. When I arrived at customs, the woman in the booth asked what I would be doing in Uganda. I told her that I was going to volunteer for a local health clinic. She then said that I could stay for 60 days but that I would need a work permit! I didn’t want to argue and so I hustled through to claim my luggage and hopefully see my ride. Fortunately, my volunteer coordinator, Ali, was present waiting with a sign with my name on it. He was there with a driver and an assistant from St. Francis. There we began the long journey to Jinja. One thing that was pointed out to me along the way was the lack of street side security lights which made the road seem darker – even in the capital Kampala with it’s high rises, the streets were darker than expected. Along the road from Entebbe, a dark SUV with lights passed by followed by a pickup with about 8 armed soldiers in camouflaged helmuts and fatigues sitting in the back. Ali pointed out that it was the convoy for the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) commander. This made things more interesting since the side areas of the streets were crowded with people and would dart across the road at will. Our driver was definitely skilled and navigated us swiftly out of Kampala and onto the road to Jinja.
While on the road, I spoke to Ali about St. Francis and other topics. He mentioned some statistics in the past where up to 30% of the population of Uganda was HIV positive. That number has dropped to about just over 6% currently. This seemed to jibe with some stats I had read about history of AIDS in Uganda. Ali still emphasized the need to continue the work – especially among the young. I specifically asked about what the reasons were behind one of St. Francis’s programs that worked with grandmothers (or “grannies” as they called them). He indicated that an issue that is happening in Uganda culturally is that when a husband in a family dies of AIDS (I assume this could be for any reason not just AIDS but the disease seems to exacerbate this), and the wife could not provide for the family (or is sick herself) – the children fall under the care of the husband’s mother. This has caused much strain where the main provider may fall onto the grandmother. In addition, some or all of the children could be HIV positive as well. Ali informed me that this was an area that was being ignored and so St. Francis embarked on a program to support grandmothers to help support the family. This included things like AIDS counseling, microfinance support, and various income generating activities. As our truck moved down the road, Ali pointed out that we were now on part of the Trans African highway which bisects central Africa from East to West. One of the issues with the highway and the connection with AIDS was that long haul truckers would make stops along the way and solicit sex from local women. The result was that the disease could now be rapidly spread both within and outside of Uganda.
We finally arrived at the boarding compound at about 11:30pm local time in an area called Bukaya. Ali pointed out that I had a “million dollar view”. He explained that where I am located is on a hill overlooking the Nile river. I will have to see how this view is in the morning!