Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Navigating the roads through Uganda

Most of the roads in Uganda are not paved. The streets are dirt roads with an abundance of potholes. You feel like you are constantly swerving to avoid the next hole in the ground. At times we would drive off the road, on the side, as there were not as many bumps.

Often drivers are passing up cars, kicking up dirt with their tires, and expelling thick black clouds from their exhaust pipes. I was constantly rolling the window up to avoid breathing in all the smog. Also drivers have to dodge pedestrians, people on bicycles, boda boda drivers, and oncoming traffic that is attempting to go around another car or truck. At times it can feel like you are playing chicken, then drivers switch back into their lane right in time.

I thought by now I had understood the difficulty in travel, however, I found out I was wrong. I got to further understand the struggle many people face when we traveled into the bush.

We went to visit the practice of a delightful midwife, Constance. She is a very rural area. The road to get to her facility was a small trail which appeared no bigger than a bike path. There were high trees, bushes, and crops surrounding us on both sides. I didn’t know how we would make it on that small path, but our wonderful driver got us through.

It’s been eye-opening to see the infrastructure in Uganda. I can only begin to imagine what mothers have to go through to travel and get medical attention. Some of the midwives have informed me that many mothers means of travel is walking, as they can’t afford boda boda’s or taxis. That journey must be long and difficult. Although the travel is challenging, these mothers are lucky to have these midwives within their communities. They would face even longer and harder journeys if they had to travel to the hospitals which are much farther out than the local midwives. I admire the dedication these midwives have to their communities and equally respect them.

-Danielle Calhoun

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Hero in Kalongo

We arrived in the very remote town of Kolongo after about 10 very bumpy hours on terrible dirt roads.  Here, people are extremely poor and live in traditional mud brick huts with thatched roofs.  It’s so lush and idyllic here.  Looking over this beautiful part of the world is a mountain of stone.  Under its protection is St. Mary’s Midwifery School on the grounds of Dr. Abrosoli Memorial Hospital.

We were treated to the most magical of greetings.  The student body led us through the gate regaling us with song and flowers and welcoming us with a warm embrace.  We were so moved; who wouldn’t be.  

The Principal of this place is one of the most extraordinary women I have, and most likely ever will meet, Sr. Carmel.  She told us tales of her many years here in Kalongo.

For 22 years this place was subjected to an unspeakable hell.  Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army had made this place of healing and learning a constant target for kidnapping, gunfire and slaughter.  The Ugandan Army fought here trying to protect from the rebels but every day was a flow of rebel encroachment and then fighting to gain what was lost.  Every night for these many years thousands of women and children came to stay at the hospital for protection.  (Look up “night commuters”). There was never a promise they’d be safe but this was the best insurance people had to survive the night from death or capture.  The nuns here have saved countless lives.

Sometimes they would unknowingly take in rebels disguised as civilians seeking refuge.  They came to spy and report back.  It reminds me of the words of one our scholars, a surviving abductee, who would tell of these times.  She told us that no one in one’s community could be trusted, because the rebels were among them, disguised as them.

Sister told us that rebels came into the compound and collected approximately 100 people into large classrooms and hacked them all to death.  We visited a marker to the mass grave, with these few words, “Rest in Peace.”  To try and imagine the horror, the terror and bloodshed that took place on the very ground where we stood…..well, no words can describe.

Only a short distance from this school over 40 girls had been abducted.  She told us that this was a good time to be ugly. Ugly girls were sent back; not good enough for Kony’s monsters.  I might add, many of these monsters were once children themselves; taken, tortured and brainwashed.  Sister herself had been lucky to survive an attack when she was young.  Once while at church it was attacked (in a brief war before the LRA) where soldiers came in shooting and killing. She and 40 other women had to hide in the bush for over a week until it was safe to return. 

Sister talked about school life during these 22 years.  They often took class under explosions and the sounds of machine gun fire.  They would take cover, and when the gunfire stopped, started back to studies and laughed.  She told us that they had to laugh to survive.

When they closed the hospital down for a couple of years, she was told she should leave and close the school, but she refused.  She said if God takes me here, then it was meant to be.  More followed her example and stayed.  The school remained on site and is still thriving today.

That beautiful mountain I described also saved many lives.  On the one side, the school and hospital was safe from rebels. The army took ground there and gave them some advantage to protect the school.  But at night, on the top of this mountain, is a cross which lights at night and shines for miles.  Its hangs over, protecting the faithful under its glow, where many would follow the light to this place where a hero like Sr. Carmel committed to taking in those she could save.

- Meg Styles 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Observations from Uganda

We have a long day of travel upcountry ahead of us to far off to Kalongo.  For decades, this area was terrorized by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.  This is my first time to Kalongo, although I have been upcountry many times.  While driving along and watching the comings and goings, I thought I’d take a moment and blog and talk about Uganda a little, or more specifically, how so very different it is to life as I know it.

One thing I don’t seem to get used to is being taken advantage of simply because I’m white, or American or not Ugandan.  It’s assumed that I have lots of money and don’t know the customs.  It is a fight to negotiate many things from cab fares to even food prices at times.  Fortunately, our Ugandan friends here help speak for us but I’ve had to learn to do a lot on my own.

Last night there was a storm that seemed more like a typhoon.  Storms come in suddenly and are often short.  Last night’s dumped enough rain that would have singly remedied California’s drought crisis.  I’ve lived in many places in the US where big storms are common but I’ve never heard teeth-clenching thunder like this before.  When the rain comes down like this, you wonder how the so many here living in not much more than sheds or mud brick homes are withstanding the storm.  Incredibly enough, all was dry when I woke up early this morning and people were moving about doing their usual daily business. Where the hell did all the water go?

Now the city is behind us and I’m starting to see the more traditional round mud huts with grass-thatched roofs.  The children are far more curious when we drive by and like to wave enthusiastically. We see trucks on the road with dozens of people on top, many hanging on the sides for dear life.  This is getting from place to place for some here; men and women alike.  Many are getting their water from bore-holes.  The Ankole cattle here have horns so huge that they would make any Texan steer self conscious...if in fact size does matter. 

You’ll see young men with buckets of grasshoppers to sell as food.  They have important protein and are cooked without oil as they have so much of their own healthy oils.  They taste, yes, like chicken, more precisely, fried chicken skin.  Pretty tasty but you’re done after a few.  After all, they are grasshoppers and you don’t forget what you are eating despite how it might taste.

Saw some zebras driving along a main highway, and monkeys and baboons once as well.  Many stray dogs which is sad, but although they flee-ridden, they don’t seem to be starved and I’ve never seen one mistreated…unlike some countries I’ve been too.  It’s incredibly lush here, but as my colleague noted, not so many flowers in relation to all the greenery. 

Driving is different. They drive on the left side and between all the pedestrians, boda bodas (small motorcycles carrying anything from four grown men at one time to windshields, etc., it is really more like a free for all and the only semblance of order is they tend to veer to the left side…if available of course.

Went to a popular pit stop.  It’s idyllic for a petrol station but along the back with pretty landscaping and chickens and goats, you kinda feel like you’re walking up to family resort and not a public restroom. But despite the pretty surrounding, they are still pit latrines, and they still stink.  These are moments where sayings like, “It’s a man’s world” comes to mind.  In moments like this I wish I were a man. 

Back to bumpy roads and crazy driving.  Will report next from Kalongo.
- Meg Styles

Monday, November 17, 2014

New Life

One wish I had for this trip was to see a mother give birth, and today my wish was answered. This was the first time I saw a live birth. It was very different in person than on television or film.

A first time mother was in labor and she graciously allowed us to be in the room for her delivery. Watching new life come into the world was beautiful and remarkable. It also looked painful. Yet, this woman was so tough I barely heard any noise come from her.

The midwife had to perform an episiotomy. An episiotomy “also known as perineotomy, is a surgical incision of the perineum and the posterior vaginal wall generally done by a midwife or obstetrician during second stage of labor to quickly enlarge the opening for the baby to pass through.”

The mother did not scream loud as I expected. She remained relatively quiet, only making a moderate level of noise. Keep in mind she had no pain medicine to aid her during this delivery.
It was fascinating watching the whole process, from delivering the child, to cutting the umbilical cord, and finally delivering the placenta. 

Thankfully this mother had a safe birth and healthy baby. I was appreciative the mother allowed us to be in the room. I will never forget this day. It was an extraordinary experience that I will cherish.