Holiday Travels in East Africa

It has been a while since I last updated my blog and the reason is because I have finally taken advantage of my girlfriend Laura being here to do some vacation traveling!  For the past couple of weeks, I have accompanied her while she did some work for her organization in Kampala and Kamuli.  We then had a few days in Jinja where she graciously took photos and conducted interviews for a story on St. Francis.

We then began our vacation travels!  We first traveled to Kampala to spend the night before catching a bus to Kigali, Rwanda the next morning.  The trip took about 8 hrs and took us through western Uganda and then into the mountains of Rwanda.  Rwanda is also called the “Land of a Thousand Hills” – for good reason since it is one hilly area after another.  It is stunningly beautiful there.  Also, even though it is just below the equator, the higher elevation means it is a bit cooler than expected.  The city of Kigali rests on the side of a hill and stretches across a valley.  I don’t think it is as hilly as San Francisco but it would be good to ensure good brakes on one’s car!  We stayed at the Hotel des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda) while we were there and it is a top notch place!  The first full day, we decided to go to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.  It is a powerful museum and very well done.  On the grounds is a mass grave where an estimated 250,000 bodies are buried from all over the country.  The exhibits were good and chronicled the history of events leading up to, during, and after the genocide.  The upstairs sections talked about similar genocides in WWII, Cambodia, Balkans, and in Africa.  The guidebook says that this stop is a must for visitors and I fully agree.  The second day, we traveled to Huye (Butare) in the south to visit the National Museum.  This is also an excellent stop and the exhibits are well displayed and documented.  The other thing we hoped to see was the famous Intore Troupe.  This is a dance troupe that showcases local tribal dances.  Unfortunately, they perform on Sundays only but we did get to see some of the drummers perform which was good.  We also visited the largest cathedral in the country there that was built by King Albert of Belguim in the 1930s.  The next day, we left to head back to Uganda.

We took a bus from Kigale early the next morning which dropped us off in the town of Mbarara.  From there we took a (very) crowded taxi north to a town called Kasese near the famed Rwenzori Mountains (Mountains of the Moon).  Before we got there, we got off at a town called Katunguru to get a private taxi into Queen Elizabeth National Park.  We arrived at our destination, Mweya Safari Lodge, which is located on a peninsula that juts into Lake Edwards.  It is a beautiful location located in the central part of the Western Rift Valley.  The Lodge is well managed and the staff knew how to cater to their guest’s needs!  The first full day we spent relaxing and then went on a boat safari in the Kazinga Channel which connects Lake Edwards with Lake George.  We saw many hippos, Nile crocodiles, buffalo, birds, and even elephants!  What amazed us was that there was a small fishing village in the park and we saw men and women working with hippos just a few feet away!  The second day we took a guided car drive safari through parts of the park.  We saw scores of Ugandan Kobs, Waterbucks, birds, a few hippos, elephants, and – highlighting it all – a small pride of lions.  This ended our stay and we were fortunate enough to hitch a ride with an American woman and three Ugandan men who work for Compassion International.  They were gracious enough to take us to Mukono, east of Kampala, where we took a private taxi to Jinja and home.

All-in-all, it was a wonderful trip!

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Adobe Youth Voices

Some time ago, I attended a Rotary Club of Jinja meeting and saw a presentation that was done by a few students and a teacher from PMM Girl’s School in Jinja. There is a project which members of the school were participating in called Adobe Youth Voices. It is sponsored by the Adobe software company in California. The program basically provides software resources and training to student groups across participating schools in Uganda and internationally. By giving them the training and resources, the goal is to empower youth to get interested in topics and issues that interest or affect them and make videos about them. At the Rotary Club of Jinja meeting, the girls had produced and presented two videos. One was on Child Abuse and the other was on Living Positively with HIV. The Child Abuse one highlighted several articles that were within just a 6-week period of the New Vision newspaper. The second video showed clips from an interview with a woman who is a member of the Uganda Young Positives. She is about 27 yrs old now but, when she was 15, she was raped by a man who was HIV-positive and infected her. She spoke about being shunned by her family and her struggles before coming to accept her situation. She spoke about the importance of first “love yourself” before others can love you.

I was very impressed with the quality of the films relative to the age of the children who produced and designed them. I introduced myself to Mr. Richard Chole, the instructor in charge of the group and exchanged contact information. I followed this up with a meeting at PMM Girl’s School. There I discussed the idea of collaborating with the St. Francis Youth Groups. To sweeten the deal, Laura had offered to donate an HD video camera to the school. This was especially appreciated since the school has rented their video camera to date. A week or so later, Mr. Chole and one of his students came to St. Francis to give a presentation to select members of the Youth Groups about Adobe Youth Voices. The two previous videos were shown and the student gave a powerpoint presentation on her experiences with Adobe Youth Voices. I think the impact was clear to the group and hopefully indicated the beginning to a long partnership. After the meeting ended, Richard and I planned a trip to visit a St. Francis orphan who lives in Mabira Forest. You see, the other nice coincidence was that Richard was planning to do a video on an orphan even before meeting St. Francis. So, after some discussions with a few of the counselors, a prospective list was developed and sent to Richard. He reviewed and chose the orphan who lives in Mabira Forest. Her situation is pretty bad. About 4 years ago, the staff at St. Francis was sent to look into the case of a sick girl. It was discovered that she was very close to death. In fact, the villagers had already dug her grave. The staff made an effort to try and took her to Mengo Hospital and saved her life. However, she truly is alone. Her parents are deceased and she lives in a house where she is alone much of the time with a grandfather who really often neglects her. She has no brothers or sisters. She is 16 yrs old but yet is in Primary Level 6 (Ugandan schools are divided into Primary and Secondary schools – similar to Elementary and High School levels in America with the exception that there is no Junior Highschool – and there are seven levels in each school). So technically, she should be in Senior 4 or 5 level. I hope it will be a good project and may lead to helping the young girl as well.

The gallery are some shots taken at St. Francis when Mr. Chole and his student presented to the selected members of the Youth Groups.  A link to the HIV video is below.

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Daily Routine

I know it has been a while since my last post but it seemed that I did not have a good update to make. So this time I decided to give a testimony to a “typical” day in my life.

I usually try to get up around 6:30am in the morning. I then get dressed and make sure that I have the things I want to bring to work with me that day. I usually take my malaria pill in the morning as well since they say it is best on an empty stomach. Around 7am or so, I walk over to the host families’ building to take tea or African tea (milk-laden tea) with them and some bread. Breakfast is usually not that big of an affair in Uganda and it typically just involves tea and some item like bread. I either bike, take a boda boda (a motorcycle taxi), or ride with the Executive Director (the most comfortable and safest method). At work, I check my e-mail and write a few back. When the clinic really starts to get going sometime after 8:30am. I then do whatever I had planned to do that day – whether it is to observe a home-based trip, organize a meeting, or whatever. They do offer a second tea break in the mornings for the staff where one can also get chapati (a tortilla-like dish) or samosas (a fried dumpling-like dish that is filled with vegetables). I usually skip this since I usually am not hungry at this time. By about 12pm I am starving but Ugandans don’t typically eat lunch until about 1pm. Lunch is usually at the Canteen on the grounds of St. Francis. Typically it is some combination of rice, matooke (plantains), posho (maize-based cake), G-nut sauce (groundnut sauce), lettuce, and beans. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they also include some meat – typically beef – to the diet. The rest of the day is a continuation of the morning. Usually, I do some research online or compile my notes for the future report that I will write. Around 5pm, the clinic starts to wind down and close up shop for the day. I then usually take a mini-bus taxi from the area in front of St. Francis to the Nile Brewery stop where I then take a boda boda to Bukaya and home. The evening routine varies. On Wednesdays, I usually ride with the Executive Director or take a mini-bus taxi into Jinja to attend an hour long Rotary Club of Jinja meeting where I hope to be a member one day. After that, I usually ride with the Executive Director to the Nile bar for drinks. Other evenings, I usually stay home and read before eventually going to bed around 10:30pm or so. Other nights, I may take the walk to the town of Bukaya to a local bar to have a drink or two with other volunteers.

So this is the average routine for my daily life. Not too terribly exciting as I describe it but the patients that I see and interacting with the staff make it interesting.

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Rotary Club Health Day

So one of the major annual events that the Rotary Clubs in Uganda is sponsoring is a Health Day which falls on the 30th. The Rotary Club of Jinja participated by holding their Health Day at a Primary School off Main Street in Jinja.  Several partner organizations participated namely: The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), The AIDS Information Center (AIC), Jinja Referral Hospital, Children of Grace, St. Francis, and others.  The turnout was fair but not as many arrived as expected for a free health event.

At the event, there was counseling, HIV testing, malaria testing, family planning (such as condom distribution), mosquito net distribution, water filter distribution, and immunizations for polio, hepatitis, children’s TB, etc.

All-in-all it was a good event and it was good to see so many groups working together to help the local people.

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Rotary International District 9200 Conference

I don’t think that many of you know that I have been attending regular meetings with the Rotary Club of Jinja. The Executive Director, Faustine, is a member and invited me to participate. He also invited me to attend the annual District Conference which was held in Kampala this year from 20-23 April. The District, 9200, is made up of 5 countries – Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda. This area covers about 150 Rotary Clubs. Uganda actually has the most clubs with about 63 active. The current District Governor is a Ugandan but next year will be a Kenyan.

The event was held at the luxurious Speke Resort in Munyonyo. The resort is located on the lake on the southeast corner of the Kampala district. Rooms can go up to $600 a night for the suites. The schedule consisted mainly of presentations and speakers during the day and an event during the evenings. The speakers were very impressive for the most part and we had a few VIPs. For instance, the audience/speakers consisted of the Prime Minister of Uganda, Apollo Nsibambi, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Attorney General, and Her Royal Highness the Queen of Buganda. In addition, there were Rotary Club members who were leaders of Industry and business present as well.

I was personally impressed by the presentations by two professors – Professor Lumumba from Kenya and Professor Mamdan from Uganda. Both spoke of the values of Rotary and how they could apply to addressing the current problems in Africa. Professor Lumumba spoke of why Africans continue to “walk and bleed” in this continent with regard to struggling for freedom and human rights. Professor Mamdan from Makerere University was very interesting in his analytical approach to looking at the recent “Walk to Work” protests in Uganda and how it compares to Tahrir Square in Egypt and the Soweto Uprising in South Africa in 1976. The other interesting thing was that the Prime Minister was present for these presentations and he gave an award to both Professors afterwards!

The evening events were fun and interesting. The first night was a cocktail night around the massive pool at the Speke Resort. The second night was Karnivore Night at the Ggaba Beach Resort Hotel. Here they served four different types of meat to the audience. I have to admit that I had nothing green on my plate that evening! The last night that our group stayed was the Africa Night which was lakeside at the Speke Resort. The main entertainment was provided by a dance troupe from Makerere University which did dances from various tribes and from each of the countries represented.

All in all it was a good experience and I am very glad that I was able to attend.  Below are a few pictures from the conference.  The last picture is of Nelson Mandela Stadium just on the outskirts of Kampala.

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Outreach Trip – Jinja Hospital

On Monday, I traveled with the home-based care team once again.  One of our stops was to visit a women who was admitted to Jinja Hospital a couple of weeks ago.  Apparently her condition has gotten worse.  She has Stage IV cervical cancer and is HIV positive.  She was laying on a bed in the far corner of the ward.  She was surrounded by relatives looking after her.  The beds have no privacy shields.  Also, the hospital does not provide any food and one has to pay for any medicine provided for in advance.  Surgeries are free though. So, if a patient is lucky to have relatives to help them, they are fortunate.  She was in a lot of pain and had a catheter attached.  However, the clinician that was with us examining her noticed that urine was coming out of her vagina indicating the wall separating the two areas was damaged or perforated. The doctors at the hospital were in a meeting and could not be consulted.  They only do patient rounds once a day and only on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Most doctors at gov’t hospitals are poorly paid and so they augment their salaries by working at private clinics.

According to the plaque outside, the hospital was built or dedicated in 1998 but it honestly looks like it is about 30 years old.   There are no mosquito nets for every patient.  So I mentioned that to the team and learned that we do have mosquito nets at the clinic which we could get and hopefully return with the next day.

Unfortunately, from what I understand, this is not unusual to see these conditions at gov’t hospitals in Uganda.

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PMTCT. It stands for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission. I think I might have talked about this briefly before but I thought I should describe it a bit more in this posting.

This is an area which was especially new for me when I came to St. Francis. That pregnant HIV+ women can have babies who are HIV negative (or reduce the risks of transmitting the virus) through a recommended regimen put out by the WHO. From what I have been told and read, the key was to understand the mother’s CD4 level. Women who have reached the advanced stages of HIV disease require a combination of antiretroviral drugs for their own health. This treatment, which must be taken every day for the rest of a woman’s life, is also highly effective at preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). Women who require treatment will usually be advised to take it, beginning either immediately or after the first trimester. Their newborn babies will usually be given a course of treatment for the first few days or weeks of life, to lower the risk even further. Pregnant women who do not yet need treatment for their own HIV infection can take a short course of drugs to help protect their unborn babies. Babies are encouraged to be breast-fed in Uganda after birth for a period of up to 6 months. However, there is a risk of transmission via breast milk itself. So an ARV syrup is given to the babies during the entire breastfeeding period in order to reduce risks of transmission.

Proper adherence is so critical to the success of PMTCT and following the guidelines. I do know that it can be successful since there is one counselor who is HIV+ at St. Francis and has two healthy children!

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