All entries for June 2007

June 28, 2007

The ten bed mattress man

I have just got back from Mulago Hospital, it took an hour and a half to do a trip that would have taken 10 minutes in a ‘special’ aka a taxi. I did pay a tenth of the price so I suppose in the time = money ratio it was fair enough. Whilst stuck in traffic I saw approaching from a distance a whole load of mattresses, initially I thought that they must be on a motorbike and I was suitably impressed by the manoeuvrability, however, as the mattresses approached it became clear that they were bouncing up and down in such a movement that even on the bumpy road of Kampala could never be associated with a motorbike. As carefully given away by the title, it was actually a young gentlemen carrying no less than 10 carefully balanced mattresses on his head I was suitably impressed and he had certainly made the traffic jam more interesting.

I also did my random sampling, I carefully calculated the necessary stratified sample sizes and then, with the aid of my assistant who is a small boy at Mulago, he selected the names from a hat. Obviously, due to the nature of random sampling, none of the staff members that I wanted to talk to were present. So its back again to Mulago tomorrow but I can avoid the nightmare traffic this time and get a Hospice car.

Just as a small side note: whilst you are stuck in the numerous traffic jams you will be approached by a preacher, and they will ask you ‘have you been saved?’, depending on your honesty you can choose to reply ‘yes I have been saved by Jesus’, this might encourage to them to leave you alone, but its more probable that they will preach to you anyway just to assure that you ‘have really been saved by Jesus’. I have never been so thankful for having to study GSCE RE as I have been here as a few solid St Mark quotes will usually convince them that I am a true fan of Jesus.

Ggaba and rugby

This saturday I managed to squeeze in another small trip to the edges of Kampala. The guide book described the market as being similar to the 'Gold Coast in Ghana', now Ive never been to Ghana, but Id be very surprised if Ggaba was like it! Ggaba takes about 15 minutes to reach but is very different from Kampala city, for a start you quickly see that people have less money. Also its a port town, which means loads of fish, for those of you that are 'into fish' there was a 40kg Nile Tilapia being weighed when we were there.

After having a small wonder around Ggaba market, which didn't really sell anything different to Kampala markets with the exception of all the fish, we tried to find somewhere to sit. We found 'Hotel Ggaba', which only charged us 30p to go and sit on some rusty chairs- cash back. It was actually very nice, there was grass, chairs, monkey bars and a pretty nice view across the lake. For those of you that are 'into birds' there were lots of them, eagles, kestrels and heron types. It was all very chilled out.

We also spoke to some children in Ggaba, much like in Kampala there is the desperate searching for a 'sponsor' to pay school fees. After primary school children must pay to attend, so if their family cannot afford it, then they must try and find someone else to, if not: no school. Unemployment is huge here, with many students failing to find work, so those who don't attend school have little chance of finding employment in the future. I don't know what the solution is here. Individuals can be helped if the school fees are paid by foreigners, but this isn't a sustainable solution. Like so many countries the children are desperate to learn and in England we have to impose prison fines on parents to encourage children to go to school! Perhaps this is the solution: swap the truants for Kampalan children desperate to learn. Everyone's a winner.....

After Ggaba we went to watch the Uganda v Namibia rugby match. It was amazing. I did question if perhaps the pitch was smaller than a standard international pitch, but this just meant that you could see more. There was plenty to see with the ref getting caught up in a tackle in the first 15 minutes which meant that he had a pretty bloody face for the rest of the match. There was a brilliant atmosphere and when Uganda came back from behind everyone went crazy, and when they won everyone flooded the pitch. I wasn't expecting this reaction so I was nearly trampled in the process! The only thing that seemed a little odd was that the Namibia team nearly all looked like white public school boys. Don't know if anyone can shed any light on this?

June 20, 2007


I worked at daycare yesterday. I think I've already said that this is by far the best part of my week. There are few summer jobs that allow you to dress up and do cartwheels (although I did nearly take out a telephone cable!). This is such an amazing service that is offered to the children. All of the children who attend live in Kampala and have been coming for a reasonable length of time. Its just so nice to see them so happy, and they obviously enjoy the time that they spend here, but what is not to enjoy ? There are games, toys, instuments, food and an amazingly kind funny British volunteer (err..?!). I also got to enjoy what I believe to be both my first and last margarine sandwich. I think I might break the bank next week and brng the kids some jam!!

The work here is advancing slowly. We need to get approval from the Ethics Committee if there is any hope of the findings being published in the future. I have finished (until something else comes up) all the information and consent forms for the study. I hope that these gain ethical approval as it would be such a shame if it was something silly that stopped it being used for publication.

I am starting to feel the burn of a proper job, even though its not a 'proper job' as I have time to send e-mails and update this blog. I do come in before 9 though so I think its ok! I watched the 'Last King of Scotland' last night. Not a happy film but an extremely good one. It was so good to see places that I recognised and they had the mannerisms of the Ugandan's spot on. There is a lot of 'welcome' here, even if you just walk in to someone's office, you are always 'most welcome'. Honestly its the nicest feeling when everyone you meet greets you with a smile, and its not cos I'm a muzungu (well at least I don't think it is) as everyone is equally friendly to each other. Just on a final note about the last king of scotland, the roads in the movie are much better than they are now! They are laced with pot holes and its rare to have a journey when your head doesnt hit the roof of the car!!

June 19, 2007

Living for the weekend

Well my first weekend here has been and gone.

Cant quite believe that I have been here over a week. Although the time has gone quickly in classic time paradox fashion it seems like I've been here for ages. I'll talk work a little first. I have just completed some very snazzy information and consent forms (I'd take all the credit but the far more intelligent Yale student proof read them for me and made some very sound grammatical corrections). I know, you are all probably sat at home thinking how much you wished you were doing what I am doing!! Jokes aside I'm really enjoying the work, and I think this is the closest Ive ever come to what would be called an 'office job'. I did my pilot interview today, which was of mixed success, but has given me some points for improvement which was the whole point of doing it. Going to Mulago Hospital tomorrow to do a few more then I guess its launch time later this week!!

On Saturday I successfully spent a large chunk of my budget on a mountain bike. This was for a multitude of reasons, the first one being to save money on transport, the second as a means of exploring the area and thirdly as an attempt to do some exercise whilst I am here! I was assured by 'Robert', who is possibly the greatest sales man alive (and should have place on the apprentice)  s he convinced me to pay more for a second hand bike than for a new one, that this was a high quality machine that would cause me no problems. Thinking back on it now I'm not sure how he convinced me to make this purchase, but he did. I drew the line at purchasing a cycling helmet from him in the shape of a skull, he wasn't that good!

Sunday I ventured to Jinja with Caroline and Alex. It was a couple of hours bus ride and then a 'boda boda' to the river. It was really nice getting outside of the city centre, if only for a few hours, and I really enjoyed the bus ride. I was immensely thankful that the Ugandan's haven't taken a leaf out of the Vietnamese's book by ramming as many people in a mini bus as humanly possible. This meant that the journey was both cheap and comfortable (I'm not saying it compared to National Express but it was entirely pleasant!). It was really nice to get a look at the surrounding area as well. And, more importantly I got to put my feet in the Nile for the very first time. Jinja is trying to be the extreme sports capital of Uganda, which it could be as it does sport some lovely Grade 5 rapids. I didn't go rafting, unfortunatly the $95 mark made my mind up for me! It was still a very nice place and we went back down to the rapids with the intention of going for a walk alongside the river. This was cut short due to a rather intimidating man who strongly told us that we weren't going anywhere unless we talked to him and his friends and then let him find us a guide. Safe to say we turned around and headed back in the direction that we had come from.

Uganda is an incredibly beautiful country. I should really have made that clear, and you can really understand why is has been compared to Scotland. The hills make the views even more stunning and its so green and lush too. There is an immense amount of wildlife and I am loving all the different kinds of birds that there are. I saw (for those of you who are interested enough to keep reading) the African version of a robin and (for those of you how know Poppy) some African Grey parrots. I wish I could be more poetic in my description to enthrall you and entice you to visit. But I will leave you with the view of this weekend, which was being at a secluded point along the nile with my feet hanging in the water, with the most impressive powerful rapids only a few meters away. My face would be occasionally refreshed from the dry heat by sprays of water, and the sun was shining down through broken clouds giving a rich afternoon light. In the centre of the rapids was a small island that had those tall bare bent trees sticking out with two crane's purched on the upper branches. I didn't have a camera, bit gutting to know that a picture speaks a thousand words!

Home visits

On Friday I went on my first (and what believe will be my last) home visit. As most/all of you who are reading this know I have no medical knowledge what so ever, so I went only to be an observer. There is a medical care team of 3 and a driver who go (so with me it made 4 in whatever accomodation they lived in). Considering that this would often be one room it was a little tight. Although this was a valuable experience and gave me a much clearer idea of what hospice do and some of the problems that they encounter. I feel that a second round of visits would only stand to serve me personally in the fact that I would intrude on peeople's lives and illness just to make myself realise how lucky I am and privilidged. It doesn't seem a fair trade at all. I perhaps would have considered it had there been alot of english spoken and had I been able to communicate directly with the patient, but as this is rare there seems to be little positive imput that I could give to the situation.

June 14, 2007

owino market

This should just be a short note as there is nothing very exciting to add really apart from me leaving makindye (I think ive spelt that wrong) and heading out into the town centre alone. I know, but I thought at 22 it was time that I learnt how to get a bus alone. It was all fine expect that the bus didnt stop where I was expecting and I couldnt find where I wanted to go. This was not a problem as I decided that aimless wandering was entirely suitable for my cultural adjustment. It was all very exciting, in the way that things are exciting when you have never done them before. The highlight of my day was definately a banana muffin and finding a pair of shoes just like the ones Id lost when I was 15 (I didnt buy them of as they has gone out of fashion but it still gave me a sense of belonging - not sure why!)

I went on a short walk yesterday up from the house and it was incredibly beautiful, it was slightly uphill so there was a pretty nice view of Kampala with Lake Victoria in the background. Also on the way out for dinner I got a 'boda' which is basically your classic illegal motobike taxi and that was awesome cruising (when i say cruising what i mean is more like bumping along due to the poor condition of the roads) down the streets. My favourite thing that I saw yesterday was a guy in front of his house/shack on a bench doing bench presses with some homemade weights which he had constructed using two rather large cans!!

June 13, 2007

The Doctors

Everyday I find out that I was wrong, its hard for me to say, but its true. I am sure that I held the opinion, like many do that all volunteers are a good thing and that we should all volunteer more. However, what I didn't ever consider was that organisations might not actually want volunteers! There are a number of reasons for this; new volunteers take away time and resources from the staff and organisation, they take time to become accustomed to how the organisation operates, and they leave, so if there were of any use they now have created a gap in the organisation. This was highlighted to me by the tale of some doctors who wanted to volunteer in Kampala, their plea was circulated only for them to be rejected by the majority of organisations. I always thought that doctors would be snapped up here, but I didn't consider perhaps how difficult it is to integrate them and the problems that language barriers would cause. This has obviously made me question my presence and how 'useful' I am here and how much good my volunteering can actually be. I don't really think that there is a conclusion to this statement, it just serves as an interesting example of how wrong we can be about how helpful the 'western saviours' can be!

June 12, 2007


ell,So its the end of my third day here, and I feel like I am starting to get a feel for things. Not really Kampala to be honest as I havent really ventured very far! But for the way that the organisation runs and some of the problems that there are. This really isnt like a mad gap year experience and its strange being treated like an adult when I still feel very young (and massively inexperienced for what I am trying to do). I do however feel like I have learnt lots in a very short amount of time. I came with a very basic medical knowledge and idea of the most common illnesses, and whilst most of what I thought was correct there are far more variations than Id anticipated. I think that the only problem with working within one organisation is that I have a very biased few of the problems and how things work. By this I mean that the HAU is well organised and benefits from a large volunteer base, at least at present it does. I really want to get to see some other organisations so that I can be a little more comparative!

What has shocked me most is how happy the children seem to be. I spent yesterday in the children's section of the hospital (the one shown on 'the last king of scotland') I was supposed to be observing, which I did, and it was really interesting to see how they treated all the patients and the distances that people would travel to access this service. The HAU attracts people from across Uganda and Africa as they offer free chemotherapy (which would normally cost £240) for children. This is injected as a course of 6 once every two weeks so the families of the children who come here have to stay for 12 weeks if they want their child to complete the course. The main problem with this is that the first treatment is so effective that the parents think that their child is 'cured' and they take them home, only for the symptoms to return. I don't know how many people have seen the huge swellings from lymphomas, but these are the tumor looking things that you see in asia sometimes. They can grow anywhere and cause problems as they stop children eating or squash their organs internally. The treatment can reduce the swelling to nothing in most cases which is why the parents take them home, the problem is that this just reoccurs and the HAU can only pay for one course of treatment. These swellings are pretty shocking to look at, there is a young girl who has one so large in her mouth that she cant close it and there is another girl who looks pregnant due to the size of the swelling in her stomach. And despite all of this most of the children are happy to play and to talk and seem to accept their illness with little complaint. I helped (this means that I played with the children) at the day care centre today at the HAU. This is something that they organise once a week for the children in Kampala to give them a bit of fun and relief. Most of the children here have either cancer or are HIV positive. There were only about 7 children there today, not all of whom spoke English, but the power of football, basketball, climbing and painting won though. I really enjoyed it and felt a little guilty about how much fun I was having with them. Its easy to forget that these kids are sick when they are laughing and running around, it was only the little boy who had an eye missing who showed a sign of his illness. These kids are really in respect that they get a free meal and there are plenty of resources as Caroline (who I am living with) has organised loads of things to have been shipped from home (donated by friends and family) but these wont last long...

June 11, 2007

48 hours later

After what can only be described as a massive delay I am finally in Uganda, not only that I am where I am supposed to be! I now have a house and a bedroom (in a really nice house that has a cleaner and gardener). Its SO much nicer than I was expecting. There is no hot water, but a nice cold shower in the morning is something that I will learn to love (and most of the time I was sure that it will be welcome due to the heat).

I have seen a little of the city, and it is more built up than I was expecting. The Queen is coming (as in our Queen) in September so they are busy trying to build luxury hotels (they knocked down a school to do this) and repair the roads. The roads are bad.

I am going to go to the hospital in about 20 minutes. I'm going to be shocked. Its an odd sensation knowing that you are going to be shocked. I have turned down the offer of pictures to prepare me. Not sure if this is a wise decision or not, but Id rather go without any preconceptions, perhaps this is unwise, but there is only one way to find out.

I am keen to start the study as its going to be hard to remain neutral, and the more time that I spend here the more involved personally I will become. It will be hard to remain unattached emotionally, but it something that will get more difficult with time so I just want to get on with it!

I think that is enough rambling, and for those who are interested I will try to put up some pictures.

June 09, 2007

nearly there, but not quite

So I should have been embarking on my considerable adventure by now. But no. Things can never be that simple, but I thought that I would have at least have been in the country before things started going wrong!!

I am, at least, no longer in England, but I am about to leave Dubai airport for the second time. There seems to have been an oversight in whoever organised the Emirates flight schedule. They leave about an hour in between transfers which means that if you have the smallest delay you miss your connection and are stranded! This has happened to me twice already, meaning that a total delay of 2 hours, has meant that I will arrive 26 hours later than planned. The joy of being a free spirited traveller.

But as they say 'every cloud has a silver lining'. My lining is free internet and a glass of champagne, is it worth it? Im not sure, I am incredibly tired and have no idea what day it is, or time, or when I will arrive in Africa. Is it worth about the $5 that the champagne cost? erm, probably. It is FREE after all.

I will let you know when I get there. But after this incredibly long journey I cant imagine that I will be doing very much apart from sleeping and praying that I dont awake to find that I am completely covered in juicy mosquite bites!

June 2007

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