Tag Archives: Mbale

Cacophony of cultural pride

Today officially started off the several month-long circumcision parades in town…

The villagers are covered in ash, dressed in plantain leaves, drumming and ululating in droves

Culturally, the Bagishu men who live in the districts of Bududa, Mbale, Sironko and Manafwa among others are supposed to undergo circumcision as a way of turning boys into men.

Unlike medical circumcision, cultural circumcision for the Gishu dictates that the one to be circumcised needs to feel it as it is happening and is not supposed to cry or cringe away from the pain. If this happens, then, one is deemed a man. Circumcision is not always performed with sterile knives. Mostly,  but not always are they consensual. Female circumcision has been banned from these regions. Rumor has it the boy is covered in white flour for three days after the ritual is performed, he then enters manhood. Healing takes 4-6 weeks, providing there are no complications.

Last day in Wanale

After a long day in Wanale, we arrived home just in time for the festivities-Doctor Sabiti and I ran down the drive to capture on film
After seeing what women go through in this country, you might dance a little for circumcision



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More pics and video

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“To be a pregnant woman in Africa is to have one foot in the grave.” African Proverb

Back up to Wanale-

Carlos, Carolina, and I headed back up the mountain to Wanale clinic -Thursday (behind on posting)

The drive up through the lush fertile jungle gives me a  sense of calm. We drove through the vast untouched mountains, filled with sounds, creatures, waterfalls, smells only an unindustrialized nation could produce. Villagers wave and smile while yelling Jambo! ( Swahili) The Land Rover we drive up is a familiar sight to them now. This terrain is starting to feel like home.  If anything will make you a raging environmentalist,  it’s spending time in places like this.  Environmental degradation seems almost non-existent on this land, except for the burning of trash. This natural growth is ‘currently’ free from exploitation, development and modern amenities.  The villagers huts are elemental. No electricity is brought up the mountain, and the result is endless beauty that I will deeply miss.  I’m already anticipating my last ride up here as a very emotional day.

The malnutrition program has been approved for Wanale, but the funding will not come through till later this week. Hopefully.  We started assessing families anyway and followed them back to their homes to get a better understanding of the whole picture. I saw a woman walking down the road heading for the clinic with a baby and a young girl.  From the instant I saw this young woman walking down the mountain, i felt some connection to her. She has an infectious smile and an innocence you just want to know.

She brought a child in with Malaria symptoms. I’m trying to gather information from her while Robert ( medical officer) helps me translate. She did not know the birth dates or ages of most of her children. I’m finding this to be common. I find out after relentless questioning the child she brought to the clinic is not even hers. She is raising three children from a women who left them, and three of her own. She is 18. From the looks of the little girl she brought in we assumed the others were malnourished. We followed her home.  As we suspected, the children were very badly malnourished and one of the boys has been paralyzed for the last three years. No one seemed to know why, Polio is a guess. I’m assuming he sits in the hut mostly. He has never been seen by any doctors. His crutches were made out of wood, he can no longer use them he is so weak. He will need  food, a diagnosis, rehabilitation, and a wheelchair at the very least. These illnesses are so easily avoidable, it’s hard to see them left untreated.

She has a small plot of land and only grows maize. This has been their only diet. Maize here is hard and dry. I can hardly eat it, let alone fathom eating it everyday. Of course questions flood my mind– why is she only growing corn on her fertile land when they are starving? I’m trying to remember farming 101.  Eventually, Kissito will implement an agricultural program. You need to teach a man how to fish. The end goal is to help  support  the villagers to enhance the status of food security through training in agricultural practices, provision of seeds, animal breeds etc. We have a plot of land and seeds to start, but finding funding and staff is a never-ending process. Here is a local organization that teaches community supported agriculture.

Her child tested negative for Malaria. Although the microscope lens was broken, so the medical officer could not get an accurate read on her blood. Same story different clinic. Lack of basic equipment. He medicated her anyway, and her newborn got vaccinated.  We now know where she lives and will go back Thursday to deliver food. Eventually, she will be part of the education program in agriculture. Carolina and I are trying to get Dr Sabiti up the mountain to diagnose the young boy so we can get him transferred to some type of rehabilitation program. There we can be somewhat assured he’ll be fed and at least gain strength to heal.

She kept grabbing my hand and calling me Auntie. I stayed with her the entire day, she felt my devotion. I kept slipping her all my power bars. I don’t even know if they’ll eat them. I’m gonna make sure she does not slip through the cracks. Imagine her surprise walking to the doctors to help her child and by chance we were there in that exact moment to rescue her family. This luck will most definitely change their lives forever. When i saw her walking and smiling earlier, she had no idea – she asked for nothing. I can’t describe the look of hope on her face when we walked her home with food and told her we’ll be back.  And, we will.
We headed further up the mountain. The fog covering the peaks remind me of the city. We started hiking through the coffee plantations toward a home of a women we are supposed to deliver more food too. She is about to give birth. Her husband left her and the children with nothing. We made arrangements for our midwife to keep an eye on her till labor.  As the common saying around here is “To be a pregnant women in Africa, is to have one foot in the grave.” Maternal death here is devastatingly common. She was kneeling to us-a sign of respect. If she were to die, three more children would be orphans. We’ll make sure that won’t happen. We hiked back through the hills toward our car.

Ah, Ugandan coffee plantations. The workers passed on the hillside carrying burlap sacs of beans on their heads. The air was cool and crisp as the mist hovered around the fields. A nice reprieve from the heat.  Carlos and Carolina are making their way to the car.  I’m falling behind as I keep stopping to capture this place with my camera…

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This excerpt is from my dear friend Solar’s blog while traveling/working in Africa with New Seed

She describes the emotional “imbalance”  this otherwise rewarding work can often inflict, in an honest unfiltered way…when someone expresses my emotions perfectly, I’d rather recycle their words…

Forgive me for not having posted in so long. I’m working in reverse to make sense of my experience here. Every time I’m inspired to share something, it’s about the stresses, the challenges, what-I-would-have-done-differently-had-I-known, what isn’t working, why I feel powerless. etc.

I know there is also much positive but that lens is currently marred. I need the reality of what I’m feeling to be valid. It’s ok that this hasn’t been a Lonely Planet Adventure. I’ve been doing real work with real people, not in order to generate a colorful story or rack up an experience on my Life CV, but to actually help this world in some way. And I’ve gained more respect than you can imagine for the people here who spin gold from dirt. It’s part of why I’ve resisted sharing the challenge every time I feel it. I’m so fucking lucky. I didn’t live through any war. I didn’t see my cousin taken out back and shot between the shoulders. I wasn’t born into slavery. I get how privileged I really am. Even knowing I can eventually leave is a privilege.

I think I’ve just been pounded by a relentlessness from many sides in many unexpected ways with no recovery or reprieve. Knowing the complete picture now would make me set up my life here very differently in order to maintain balance, sanity and safety…Perspective is always a teacher but I may need less of it now to learn the same lessons. I’ve also been completely dependent. I think that has a lot to do with it. Because other people here have been here longer, I’ve just allowed plans to be made. I have given myself little control over my life here beyond some excursions to town… I haven’t set my own boundaries or responded to my own limitations. Because I committed to do a job, I’ve let that commitment and my idea of integrity trump instincts or decisions that would have otherwise protected me.  I was dropped into an emotional jungle and I’m finding my way into the clearing.”  Thanks for letting me post, I feel your sediments exactly.

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Stream of Consciousness

A lot has happened these past few days and I’ve become happily busy. I’ve successfully convinced Sister Rose to let me access the books at the Maternity Ward, yeah! This has been a sensitive mission, as the nurses are very weary of releasing private records, understandably so. The monthly reports they submit to us are often very different from the actual daily logs they keep. In lieu of this, I had to very gingerly, convince the head nurses how important it was for me to get this information. I provided them supplies immediately upon request, a few days prior, to show my dedication and sincerity. It’s a barter mentality, I’ve got down. I’ve been bringing my computer and transferring huge books of hand written notes into Excel. I’m logging data, comparing stats, making graphs, trying to find trends and discrepancies. It’s a mess, but very rewarding work.  I’m trying to back log a year’s worth of data before I leave, an ambitious goal. My nights are getting shorter. I’m suppose to purpose an entire plan on how I want this department to run before I leave, so I better understand exactly what’s wrong before I do. I’m batting my eyelashes, working my charm and learning to be assertive in equal proportions in order to pull this off. I’m writing these blogs quickly, as by the time I get to editing photos and writing, i’m exhausted.

Power outages are very common here. The power intermittently goes out all over town. Everyone just keeps going on about their business like it ain’t no thang, and really it’s not so bad.  I’ve learned to charge everything I own while the power is on. I usually work in bed throughout the night till my laptop dies. Most people have generators as back up here, but petroleum is too expensive to justify using them, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Luckily, here at the house we keep it on so we can work. The power has been out these past few days, and the only places that will keep their generators on during the day is two hotels. So when your devices die, you’re on the hunt.

Keisha and I ran around looking for places to poach power. We ended up at Mount Elgon Hotel. Finally, I found the travelers hub I’ve been searching for.  Mt Elgon is apparently where all the Muzungus stay. It’s a sprawling hotel nestled in the fertile hills. Equipped with a spa, restaurant that serves up American esq food, pool, bar and cafe. I plugged in and starting computing my data. Hours passed as I stopped to occasionally chat with travelers from around the world. I walked around to check out the modest spa that seems so decadent here. Hour massages are around 40,00 shillings/20 US. Guess who’s getting a few spa treatments. Whew, finally! After all, I am a women who (admittingly), values balance. You can only swim upstream for so long till you, well, need a facial:) I did also manage to seek out Francis, the town’s best pedicurist, so don’t feel too bad for me. My toes look better than they ever did back home.

Mt Elgon has a bar, smoothies, and a T.V. with channels. The motif is  cozy and colorful.  Just looking at the pool made me work fiercely. Out of no where approx 20 loud white men were walking my way. A color shift I had not thought about till seeing a herd of whities. Intrigued, and a little startled from their boisterous presence, I started chatting them up. They are a Welsh crew here building homes for a few weeks. A few of the men were around fifty, most of them were very young, I’d say 16-20. All of them were drinking and smoking. This is LITERALLY the first time I’ve seen anyone smoke in nearly 3 weeks. I instantly liked them and started chatting with the man who brought the crew over. He told me about an International Market over the Kenya border that happens on Tuesdays. This is what I’ve been looking for! Its about 2 hours over the mountains. Traders come from all over and apparently even up from the Congo. This might be my one chance to buy local art and crafts, so i’ve already arranged to get half the day off and tag along with this motley crew…should make for an interesting day.

I’m gonna make it over to Kenya damn it!  My mission is to get to Hell’s Gate across the Kenyan border.  There you can go on a bicycle safari in the  game reserve which supports the largest diversity of species in Africa and homeland of the Masai tribe. I’m trying to convince the house mates to take the 2 day journey with me, but once again, I’m prepared to do it alone. Somehow going to Kenya alone feels perfect.

I went up to Wanale clinic today. Carlos and Carolina and I made it up the mountain right before the rains set in. We arrived and low and behold the head clinical officer was there. A rare sighting. Not the one Kissito hired but the one that works for the government that possesses the only key to the medical supply room. One of the main issues here is that he won’t release the key to anyone who actually shows up to work. He often won’t show up for weeks, while villagers suffer without medicine. This might have been the most heated conversation I’ve witnessed while I’ve been here. This man is surly and I can’t really get his agenda, at all. I’m glad I held my tongue while he babbled a lot of non sense about -how we will work on a solution and these things take time. I kept thinking, just give us the freaking key you idiot. I learned a lot through Carlos and Carolina. I think because of their language barrier, (they are Venezuelan), they disarmed him by repeating “we have the same goal”, and “we need to find a solution”. Seemed to be way more effective than what I wanted to say. His village people are dying because he won’t show up to release meds, nor will he pass over the keys. We will eventually stock the entire clinic, bring in staff, and take over, cause that’s what we do! Back to Excel, data, Excel, data…

Enjoy Pics-


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