Before I left the U.S., last year’s Minerva fellow, Charlotte, told me that I should record everything that seemed new or different about Uganda. She told me to embrace the novelty of the fellowship and take note of the drastic learning curve. To document my first experiences as a “muzungu”—a white Westerner—in Ddegeya.
“Soon, you won’t be able to notice any change,” she said. “The things that used to freak you out will no longer freak you out. The things that used to ‘wow’ you will no longer ‘wow’ you.”
And so, after being here for about a month, here are a few of my “muzungu” observations and experiences:
Traditionally, the fellowship sends two Union college graduates to Uganda and one fellow is more medically experienced or oriented than the other. Matt, my partner here, is that fellow. Matt understands what nephritis is and can tell you about blood cells and immunology and drug interactions. As a bioengineering major, he has a thorough knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, and math—the whole shebang.
As a psychology major, I have learned a lot from Matt and the brilliant clinical officers and lab technicians at Engeye. In the past month, I have had the opportunity to complete tallying and records for the Ugandan Ministry of Health (Matt and I have become extremely familiar with Engeye’s Electronic Medical Records—EMR—system). We have also tried our hand at working in the laboratory. I re-learned how to focus a microscope and Sylyvia and Olivia, the lab technicians, have taught me how to count trophozites (the parasite present in Malaria) and test for HIV.
My favorite place at the clinic, though, is the pharmacy. At the pharmacy, Matt and I assist Resty, the pharmacist, with filling prescriptions. As soon as a diagnosis and prescription come into the computer system, there is a mad dash to find the right dosage of the right drug. Often, Resty fills the prescription in five seconds flat and Matt and I stare on in awe of her speed and precision. But we are slowly and surely getting the hang of things around here (we even wear scrubs now to prove it).
Even though I feel clueless much of the time at the clinic, it is not hard for me to see the high level of care that Engeye provides for its patients. The clinic works hard to ensure its patients receive personal, quality, and comprehensive care. And that sort of investment in patient health is an anomaly in Uganda.
Additionally, I have developed a deep appreciation and admiration for the entire medical field. My mother, a nurse back in the States, is gleaming.
A typical meal here consists of rice, beans, and Matoke or Posho. Matoke is made from plantains and has a squash-like flavor and consistency. Posho, for those of you who have never had the pleasure of tasting it, is like mashed potatoes without any of the ingredients that make mashed potatoes enjoyable…
The fruit is incredibly fresh and delicious and we get to have watermelon and pineapple every morning for breakfast. In addition, it has recently become avocado season! Maama Jackie, the staff cook, will sometimes chop avocado straight from the tree next to her cooking station and it is hands-down the best avocado I’ve ever tasted. Matt and I have even made guacamole, with great success.
During “teatime”(a mid-morning ritual that I believe every American company should adopt), we usually stop by the clinic Canteen for chipatis. Chipatis resemble wraps or naan bread but taste significantly better. Maama Jackie is a chipati master and her chipatis, which are sold at the canteen, are salted, oiled and fried to perfection.
The climate here is very temperate, as we are in dry season. The mornings and nights are surprisingly cool and the afternoons hover around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The surrounding environment is also exceptionally lush and green. Everywhere you turn, there are rolling hills, palm trees, banana trees and coffee plants. Matt and I have compared the landscape to northern California, though neither of us has been to California, so it’s really just what we imagine Napa valley to be like…
The sun often rises in a light pink haze and sets against a vibrantly streaked sky. Winston Churchill described Uganda as “the pearl of Africa” and it is certainly evident why. It’s absolutely gorgeous here.
Village life vs. City life.
Kinoni (pronounced Chi-noni) and Masaka are the closest cities to Ddegeya. To get to either place, we have to take a taxi, which is an adventure in and of itself. Picture a 12-passenger van, add twenty people, fruit, vegetables, possibly some livestock and you have a Ugandan taxi. In addition, the rules of the road are taken as a light suggestion among most drivers, which makes for an interesting, albeit adrenaline-pumping ride.
The cities are a chaotic mix of honking Boda Bodas (motorbikes), street vendors, and hot, billowing dust. They are fun to visit.
I much prefer the slow pace and simplistic nature of Ddegeya. There is ample room to walk and a long dirt road that twists and stretches through the village.
Matt and I cannot go anywhere in Ddegeya, however, without hearing a chorus of children yell “Muzungu! Muzungu!” Just like children all over the world, the children here love to play outside and laugh and chase each other around. There is a constant hum of children’s voices in Ddegeya.
I love it.
While it’s difficult to envision life here without being fully immersed in it, I hope I’ve given you an idea of my experiences thus far. But again, as a Muzungu navigating through Uganda, I still have much to see and much, much more to learn.