Saturday, 12 December 2009

Feast your eyes

I'm just testing the photo upload speed of our new internet, and it's not that bad though I don't think I'll be able to put them up all the time. Here are a couple from World Aids Day commemoration last sat, one of the kids who live next door getting excited over a video on my ipod, and a few of me and Lindsey (meet Lindsey!) messing around with my mac camera. We went all the way to Canada, Maccu Picchu and Poland in an evening!

Blood taking for HIV testing

Spot the muzungu! Posing before the march.

Entranced by the iPod

  We went to Canada..

  And Peru..

And Poland. All in one night.

Girlie night - Ugandan style

Last night has to have been one of the best nights I've had so far in Uganda. It's been on my heart a lot that compared to the girls my age at uni here, Lindsey and myself have a LOT of space to ourselves, so last night we filled our place to overflowing with girls for dinner and a film. At the highest point we must have had over 20 people squeezed into a space about 8'x10', with a few spilling out of the door, and I don't think the laughing stopped all night. They had all just finished exams so a party was needed, and we were all able to let off a huge amount of steam and giggle incessantly to our heart's content.

The girls were a mixture from our 'Every young woman's battle' on saturday afternoons, the university baptist church and the AIM team, and even though not everyone knew each other, you would never have been able to tell. Somehow we managed to feed everyone on pasta and tomato sauce and nachos (describing which was the pasta and which was the nachos was fun), even though I almost had a panic attack when the pasta turned into a congealed mush of starch and had to be rinsed and reheated - not easy when it's pasta for 20! I'm going to put some pictures up when I figure out how, to demonstrate quite how squashed we were, but even though we had to option to go somewhere bigger, we chose to have it at ours to show the girls how welcome they are at any time, and so that we could use our home in our ministry as well as ourselves. It reminded me of a triple navs pod, but I didn't get homesick as we had such a good time.

We all squished in and layered on top of each other to watch three (yes, three!) films, and finally fell asleep at about 4am when there was still 6 of us left. I got eaten alive by mosquitoes, as my mozzie net would never have fit over so many people, but it was worth every ml of blood lost.

I had the most wonderful feeling of knowing that these girls are my friends, not just my 'mentorees', and that even though we come from entirely different cultures, our love of Jesus has brought us together to glorify Him in our sincere love for one another. If this is what being a missionary is all about, then sign me up for life!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Rain rain rain..

Right now it's raining so hard I can barely hear myself think, and it was even hailing at lunchtime, so no conversation there! It's hard to believe somewhere so beautiful and idyllic can turn so grey and wet so quickly - and in an hour's time you won't be able to tell it's even rained today. Coming from somewhere like Glasgow, where it rains just as much but isn't so beautiful in between, one of the weirdest things I find hard to handle here is that life just stops when it rains. 'It was raining' is a perfectly viable excuse for coming to work late, mainly because the transport system (boda-bodas - those motorbike taxis I mentioned before) ceases to function at the slightest raindrop. I've even had drivers ask me if I want to stop when it started raining - no, thanks, I'd rather be on my way home than standing around in the rain!

But it does mean that this part of Uganda is rolling in food crops - most families have their own plantation of at least matoke (platain) and the stuff turns up in the oddest places - next to the hospital, for instance. If you eat Ugandan food your plate will always be piled high with matoke, irish (normal potatoes), sweet potatoes, posho (like south african mealie-pap but more solid, a paste made of maize flour) and rice, with possibly some pasta thrown in, then some beans and g-nut (peanut) sauce at least, with the option of meat, eggplant (nothing like aubergine), cabbage and/or spinach. I never wonder why I'm not losing weight in Africa, in fact the reverse may well be true..

I only have 10 days till I come home for Christmas, and I'll be sad to leave this place, even if only for 2 weeks. I've settled in, found friends, even family, from all over the world, made my house my home and found my feet at work. Three months have flown by like three days, but it also feels like I've been here a lifetime! Actually, a lifetime is looking even more appealing. I seem to find my feet in Africa much better than I do at home, the openness and kindness of the people are addicting. Men can pay me compliments and I know that it's just because they think that I look nice today, whereas in the UK men are scared to do so because it's a sign they might 'fancy you'. People walk down the streets holding hands (even men) and colleagues at work give each other big hugs on mondays because we missed each other during the weekends.

Ok, maybe I'm making it sound a little like a hippy paradise, but what I'm trying to get at is people here have few pretenses. If they like you, they'll show it, there's no British fear-of-showing emotion holding them back, even if everything else can be a little weirdly British (it's obvious they're an old colony, but that's for another post!). They even talk about their faith at work (shock horror!), and I'm not just talking about 'I went to church on Sunday' but 'God answered my prayers today!'. This is definitely something Ugandan I want to take back to Britain with me when I leave in July.

In other (exciting) news, Lindsey and I finally have the internet at home, and we seem to have the best deal among the muzungus we know. Yey!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Ugandan politics + Ugandan healthcare = frustration

I'm watching the kitten attack a clothes peg and have realised I'm going to miss him a lot! As much as he does scratch a lot while he 'plays' and pretends my arm/foot/eye is a mouse.

This is the last day we're house sitting so the last day I have reliable access to the internet. We're hopefully getting hooked up at our house but who knows how long that will take or when we'll have time to get it organised?

This week has been a busy one, with World Aids Day on tuesday meaning that we're working extra hard, mainly for political reasons. Yesterday I went out with another lab technologist and some counsellors to do VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing) in a village about half an hour away from Mbarara. Whether or not the clinic had been made to do it by the government and we were 'just there to show face and not to test lots of people' (according to the lab head!) it was definitely one of the most fulfilling and satisfying days since arriving in Uganda. We spent the day bleeding and testing 90 people who also got pre- and post-test counselling and advice on healthy living and avoiding HIV. It was pretty intense and incredibly hard work, but so rewarding to know that as a result, 90 more people now know their HIV status and will change their lifestyles accordingly. I also felt a huge responsibility to pray for everyone we tested, and was so relieved to only see 4 positives among the 90 tested.

Though it began as a 'political' day, and the plan had been to only be there for 1 1/2 hours just to prove we were 'doing our bit', we ended up staying until everyone who arrived was tested and counselled, and everyone in the team felt the tension and the need to stay until everyone had been got through. We were in an area where people had to have access to transport to reach medical services, so bringing the test to them made a huge difference.

However, I really feel I need to request prayer for those people who turned out positive. They now have to spend large amounts of money getting to health centres to keep up counselling, get drugs and see doctors for more tests. This is a huge burden on them, and not something that was factored into the political planning of sending city-based VCT units out to the villages. The work we do in the city is equally valuable, and means that everyone who is tested is followed up and has access to drugs, counsellors and doctors. But as we were only there to prove that the Ugandan government was doing something about HIV, we had to refer positive patients to a clinic miles away (but still closer than us) and had no way of helping them receive post-test care. Their lives will now be much harder than before we arrived, because unless they have the money to get to a doctor, they will die in the same way they would have before, but now with the knowledge that it's going to happen.

Obviously I'm pleased that they now know their status, as they have the power to try and do something about it, and family and community support is far more available than in the western world, so they won't be alone. What we did was valuable and indispensable to these people's lives, but the bad planning and political-ness of it meant that the work was left half done.

Tomorrow the entire clinic staff is going out to a town just outside Mbarara for a World Aids Day commemoration, where there will be stalls for organisations to tell the world what they do, as well as a huge parade and more VCT. I'll be spending most of the day on the end of a syringe (well, more than one, obviously they're changed between patients!) testing people who will have far better access to post-test care, so I'm really looking forward to it. I even have a JCRC t-shirt!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

If you want me to..

Here's a song that was sung in church the other day (I'll give a full update on the church I've joined a bit later) and I had to ask where they got it from. It's by Ginny Owens, and I would recommend having a listen on youtube or something.

It really sums up the bad days (they're not all that often, don't worry)..

The pathway is broken
And the signs are unclear
And I dont know the reason why you brought me here
But just because You love me the way that You do
I will go through the valley
If You want me to

Now I'm not who I was
When I took my first step
And I'm clinging to the promise
You're not through with me yet
So if all of these trials bring me closer to You
I will go through the fire
If You want me to

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When you lead me through a world that's not my own
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I'll never go alone

So when the whole world turns against me
And I'm all by myself
And I can't hear You answer my cries for help
I'll remember the suffering Your love put You through
And I will go through the valley

If You want me to.

The girl that sang it at church sang it with such heart that I knew it was really true for her (that and I'm getting to know her and can really see it). 

World AIDS day

Well, I'm still at home, even though it's 9.10am on a tuesday morning. That's because we don't have power (again) at work, and this time it's because the (recently weeeeeer444444444dqffffeqsa - sorry the cat's sitting on my keyboard - installed) cable is faulty and needs replacing, at a cost of 1.9 million shillings. That's a HUGE amount of money (roughly £600) and, to give you some perspective, the cost of a small ugandan wedding.

We (me and Lindsey) are house-and-cat-sitting for a missionary family who are taking some time out in Kampala, hence the interference above. We have an adorable kitten racing around the house at the speed of a rocket, although right now he's licking my toes. We also have an oven and satellite TV - it's like being in another world!

I've just sent out my first prayer letter, message below if you want a copy. I'm also going to attempt to put some pictures up here later today, but don't quote me on that..

Today is world AIDS day, which is a pretty big deal here in Uganda. The staff of the lab are going out to the villages to do VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) and thousands of people are turning up. I'm going once this week and also on saturday, which is the big push day and many different organisations will be there. Please pray that I can remember my newly learned phlebotomy skills, and also that I remember I have the responsibility to pray for every person that passes through my hands for a test, especially those who are positive. It's a huge deal to be the first person to know someone's HIV status, and you really feel it emotionally.

Over the last week, almost every member of the AIM team here has been sick with a strange malaria-like but contagious disease. I was one of the first, and honestly it felt like I had been hit by a truck and then pulled through a clothes mangle. I had a high temperature, muscle aches and vomiting, and had to take 4 days off work,  and if that's fake malaria (two negative tests!), I don't want to find out what it's really like. But sickness was something I knew I would have to deal with here, and I praise Jesus I have a god who is bigger than anything nasty I can catch! For those of you who knew I wasn't well, thank you so much for your prayers and support.

Can't think of much else to say.. except that I have fairly reliable internet access this week, so any communication from the western world would be much appreciated!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

An odd week!

After a failed attempt to send out my prayer letter, I thought I'd blog instead!
Thank you very much to the 35 people who got in touch to tell me I forgot to attach my prayer letter to the email. I know! But I can't get my computer to the internet very often, and there aren't many places fast enough to upload. So hold your horses, it should be with you by friday. I expect you all to be waiting with baited breath.

At the moment the machine I use for CD4 counts (A FACScalibur, for those in the know) isn't working, so I have nothing to do until my colleague or the technician arrives. We had an inspection the other day by head office and our funders, USAID, as we are 30 days behind the required average turnaround time for child HIV tests (It should be 10 days and we're at 40). The reasons are almost completely beyond the lab's control - we can go for weeks without required chemicals or with broken machines, and this makes a huge backlog of samples to process.

A family who also works with AIM have been taking in abandoned babies, and at the moment they have a beautiful baby girl called Amy. She was found in a plastic bag next to the children's ward at my hospital, and it looks like she has TB. She's also being tested for HIV as we speak, but that may take a while (see above!) though I have asked that the girl who does the tests rushes it through. The results depend on her HIV status, as there's a family that may take her if she's positive, and if not then she'll go to an orphanage. It seems almost like a lose-lose situation for this little girl, so please be praying for her!

I'm also helping out a lady whose daughter has been offered a suspicious sounding scholarship for East London University. The courses they're offering her don't even appear on the uni web page, and they're asking for $300 for 'processing fees' and have told her she needs $7000 for school fees and $6000 for living costs, both of which are unrealistic. She has no contact details, and none of the names or organisations she has appear anywhere online. It sounds like cruel people are trying to scam smart students out of an awful lot of money, and doesn't seem like an unusual situation here. It makes me very angry, especially as this girl is getting very excited and it's her mum, not her, that's worried about whether it's legit, so I think her hopes may be completely destroyed soon...

On a more uplifting note, I got a love letter yesterday! However, it's not cute, it's quite creepy, and not from the bf back home, but from a Ugandan I met in a cafe last week. Apparently I agreed to be his girlfriend, and he loves me forever, even though I'm an English lady!

My hair is sadly very orange right now, as the only shampoo I could get was head and shoulders, which strips hair of all exciting pink or purple very quickly..

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Termites, anyone?

Well it's been a little longer than expected between blog posts, sorry everyone! My access to the net is sporadic and generally at other people's houses, and sitting on their computer for the time it takes to fill in a blog post is a little anti-social. But right now I'm at work, where arrival times seem fairly flexible, and the lady I'm working with isn't here yet, so I'm on the lab computer. Lou early for work - who'd've thought?

I'm settling in nicely here, and it's starting to take on a feel of 'normality', although the definition of normality is changing somewhat.
Here's a timetable for a normal-looking day:
- Get up 7.30
- Leave the house 8.10 on a boda-boda (a motorbike taxi)
- Arrive work 8.25 (there might be someone here) and clean the machines for the day's work
- Sit and have 'tea' (African v milky tea and a chapatti) at 9.00ish
- Go down to phlebotomy and hang around with the guys who work there waiting for blood samples from private patients, run them if any come in
- 13.00 lunch (generally matoke, rice, posho and beans with a soda, all for the bargain price of shx2000 = $1)
- 14.00 Run samples from phlobotomy, hope the power doesn't go off and we have gloves. As I work in the HIV clinic, all blood samples are HIV+ so safety is a v big deal here
- 16-17.00 Go home, depends on amount of samples we have in today - could be 20-100

The evenings will generally be spent either in an AIM meeting, at a women's or a discipleship Bible study or watching films at someone's house. I also need to prepare studies for the girls I meet individually for discipleship and fun banter.

There are some surprising challenges, including a bizarre need to find things to do when actually time is best spent getting to know work colleagues.

We have just got through the termite season, which is when millions of termites descend on the city for hours at a time, dive bombing lights and people before mating, spinning around in circles to lose their wings and then all the males dying. Fried termites are quite the delicacy here, and people wait excitedly for termite season. Now it's over, Mbarara is looking forward to grasshopper season. Anyone hungry?

Monday, 5 October 2009

There's a new arrival in Uganda..

I've arrived!

Getting here was fun, as I met Lindsey (the US short-termer I'm paired with) for a sightseeing trip in London before heading to Heathrow for the (direct!) flight to Entebbe, Uganda. It was an easy flight, though Lindsey was upgraded and I had to stay down in cattle class, but I had great chat with the Ugandan/British girl sitting next to me. I feel so blessed to have Lindsey here, as it's so much easier to go through this transition with someone, and we're already getting on like a house on fire.

We arrived tired but happy to this tropical paradise. It's sunny (most of the time) and hot, and there are monkeys on next door's roof. We're currently staying in the AIM guesthouse in Kampala, and have met missionaries from all over the central region of Africa. There are some really inspiring people here!

We have one day left on orientation before heading down to Mbarara (crossing the equator on the way), where the real fun begins. We'll be staying in a homestay in a small village for 5 days, before moving into our apartments in town. Please pray for good relationships with the family who have kindly agreed to take us to help us get settled into Ugandan life.

The Mbarara missionaries we've met so far have been amazingly friendly and are a brilliant team. I can already see that myself and Lindsey are being welcomed in and should slot in nicely. There's one other Brit, and about 7 Americans, but in January there'll be three of us Brits!

Please pray that I'll be able to get working in the lab as soon as possible, or at least meet the people I'll be working with. Getting my work permit should be easy but long-winded, and that needs to be done before I can start any real research. I'm really looking forward to meeting the people I'll be working with.

More to come after the homestay..