“Are you ready?”
My journey to Uganda began on the early morning of May 31st 2011. Well known for my procrastination or as I like to say it “waiting for my motivation to reach its capacity”, I chose this morning to go about the business of withdrawing the cash I would need while in Uganda, shop for gifts to bring to the children here, and apply for an internship with a July deadline. As most procrastinators will testify to, the beauty of procrastination is that you know whatever needs to get done WILL get done, never mind your stress level. In any case, I finished the aforementioned tasks and loaded into a car with my mother, brother, sister and aunt bound for Logan International Airport.
“Is that a Popeyes in Istanbul?”
The flight to Istanbul was pleasant enough mostly due to my sleeping 7 out of the 9.5 hours it took to fly there and good entertainment courtesy of one lesser-known movie (and for good reason) called The Losers. I had taken a terrorism class last year and part of the lesson plan included a brief discussion on Turkey and factors affecting its entry into the European Union. Since most of the EU member states’ objection to Turkey’s entry was based on the latter’s Muslim majority, I expected Istanbul to be somewhat conservative. I could not have been more mistaken. The Ataturk airport in Turkey was as western as any other airport in a non-English speaking western country with both men and women dressed and “made-up” in distinctly western styles (this is not to discount the presence of a mosque at the airport and the prominence of Muslim names). But this surprise was nothing compared to the shock I experienced when I saw a Popeyes chicken joint. Although I was scarcely hungry after just having enjoyed a grilled chicken and rice meal on the inbound flight, I was OBLIGATED to try Turkey’s Popeyes fried chicken. It was not until after I had consumed my entire fried chicken salad (an oxymoron I know) and had thoroughly enjoyed my orange soda (made with sugarcane not high fructose corn syrup) that I realized I hadn’t the slightest clue as to how fried chicken at a Popeyes in Turkey compared to fried chicken from a Popeyes in the U.S. This was the case largely because I couldn’t recall the last time I had Popeyes in the States. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed my fried chicken salad from the Popeyes in Turkey as much as I imagine I would have from a Popeyes joint in the States.
“Breathe in, this is Entebbe”
We were wheels down in Entebbe at 1:15 in the morning of June 2nd. AGRADU had made arrangements to have me picked up from the airport by a taxi driver working for the hotel where I would be staying the night. Everything went smoothly; I was granted an entry visa with no incident, all three of my suitcases arrived, and Dennis was standing at the exit door patiently holding a sign that read NJERI MUGURE MWANGI, SUNSET HOTEL. The first thing that came to my mind upon exiting the airport was how fresh and cooling the air felt in my lungs. There was this positive energy about Entebbe that penetrated deep into my soul triggering a strong connection with a land with which I was scarcely familiar. It’s one of the most difficult things to put to words the feeling one gets when everything is at it should be. Within a very short time, Uganda had pulled me tightly into its grasp, enticing me with its refreshing air, lush greenery and best of all, its generous people.
Sunset Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda
“Where is George?”
The plan was to meet George, a field officer at the Katosi Women Development Trust, at the airport so that together we could wait for the rest of the AGRADU interns to arrive. Unfortunately, when I got to the airport George was nowhere to be found. I desperately searched for him even resulting to asking any young men who appeared to also be searching for somebody if they were George. But none of them were. Afterabout an hour and a half (it took a while for the 7 AGRADU interns to clear customs since 2 large planes had landed at approximately the same time), the taxi driver who had driven me to the airport asked that I retrieve my luggage as he had an engagement. I unloaded my luggage and just as I was about to walk back to the arrival terminal to continue looking for George, a man came up to me and inquired as to whether I was Njeri from AGRADU. It was George! Apparently, someone had sent George a text message describing my hair and what I was wearing. I HAD FOUND GEORGE or rather George had found me! After loading my luggage into the minivan George had driven in, we returned to the arrival gates to find the AGRADU group waiting for us.
“Are there no rules for traffic here?”
The 45 minute drive from Entebbe Airport to Kampala was interesting least of which was because I was having the time of my life watching the chaotic traffic scare the daylights out of Kristen. The constant honking at people who could not be bothered, weaving in and out of traffic lanes, almost miraculous riding of boda bodas (motorcycles) in tight spaces and the sudden appearance of pedestrians crossing the road at all sorts of places was a sight like no other. While I had witnessed this kind of driving in Nairobi, I had been lucky enough to be in the backseat for most of those rides. This time however, I had front row seating. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and prayed since I wasn’t sure whether our health insurance was active upon immediate arrival in Uganda or the day after.
“Wait airtime isn’t talk time in minutes?”
Kampala was much more spread out and “less taller” than most of us had imagined. Structures were scattered over a large area and most buildings were not that high (by western standards). We spent our first few hours checking into the hotel, acquiring Ugandan currency and buying local phones and sim cards. One of the biggest problems we immediately ran into was interpreting airtime. It was explained to us that 5000 Ugandan Shillings bought you 5000 shillings worth of airtime not 5000 talk time minutes and there was no way to figure out exactly how many minutes was contained in 5000 shillings worth of airtime since it costs different to call different people depending on distance (whether in Uganda or elsewhere), type of service being used (calling or texting) and service provider. In general, the customer service rep. continued, it was cheaper to call than to text provided one was calling people within the same service provider (think in network calling from sprint to sprint). Also, one was charged for outgoing calls/texts but not for incoming ones and perhaps most obviously, calls to the US were quite expensive.
Orientation at Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT)
After two days of jetlag-induced erratic sleep, we were finally ready to begin working. Our first task involved attending orientation at the KWDT site. KWDT works to empower women in developing small businesses such as farming, milking, sawing, bee keeping and cattle raising, among others. It was incredible to imagine that the three little women giving the presentation (Vaal, Rehema and another young lady whose name I sadly cannot recall) were responsible for so many projects and as a result so many lives. It also brought home the reality that we would all be living for the next 8 weeks and (should I decide to continue pursuing my goal to become a Human Rights lawyer), perhaps the rest of my life. I left Katosi encouraged by the fact that while some were busy trying to run our world to the ground, countless others were fighting to uplift it.
“Wow, this is a really small town, umm… village”
While we had enjoyed each other’s company in Kampala, we were all ready for our journey to truly begin. George picked Georgia, Leslie, Kristen and I up from the hotel at around 9AM bound for Kyetume then Katosi. The journey to Kyetume was shorter than I had imagined taking a maximum of 1hr from Kampala. Our two-room apartment was better than anything we could have imagined. It consisted of a gas stove, a small refrigerator, kitchen table and chairs, cooking utensils, two beds with mosquito nets and a porcelain in ground toilet with a shower right above it. While our apartment contained all these modern amenities, our neighbors were not quite as lucky. The children occupying the apartment to our left washed their dishes outside even though they appeared to be no more than 8 years old. The elderly woman who lived two houses down cooked outside using firewood and three stones. I was at once happy and guilty when I thought about the modern conveniences we had been so lucky to afford while others who through no fault of their own could not.
“Does Jaja speak English?”
Georgia and I had not settled in our new home even ten minutes before the elderly woman (Jaja) living two doors down knocked on our door and requested that we follow her. This was all done using hand gestures as my roommate and I understood virtually no Luganda. As soon as we walked into the main road, all the village’s children ran up to Georgia shouting “Mzungu, mzungu”. They all held onto her hands as Jaja showed us around. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see so many children made happy just by the ability to hold a white woman’s hand. I wished that happiness would continue to come so easily for them in the future!
Jaja continued the tour of her village showing us where to buy rice, potatoes, flour, cooking oil, onions, tomatoes and fruits among others. Each time we passed a native of the village, Jaja was careful to tell them that we were visitors who would be living in their village for a while. I knew this is what she was saying because she would speak, point to us, then the person she was speaking to would turn to us and nod “ahaaa”. Our first meal in our new apartment was white rice and potatoes! Before retiring for bed, Jaja stopped by our door to ask if all was well (in Luganda of course). I would have been content with the fact that she only spoke/understood Luganda if she hadn’t muttered the words“good night” as she walked out. My face quite literally fell. I waited a few minutes, picked it up and proceeded to excitedly ask Georgia if she had just heard what Jaja had said.
“We’ve been planning months for this and now we are finally here”
Our first day at work was busy to say the least. It started with a meeting with Reuben, the programme manager, where we discussed our expectations of the organization and which projects we wanted to work on. We then took a tour around the resource center and were shown around the Kyetume Community Health Center to include the wards, immunization rooms, laboratory and the theater room where minor surgery was conducted. Everyone was incredibly excited to see us and they each took the time to explain what they specialized in and how important the health center was to the community.
We also talked with a man named Beni who with the help of Kyetume had erected a keyhole garden that he credited for his good health and extra income. This was the first time I had met someone who had been directly affected by the keyhole gardens and was immediately motivated by the fact that keyhole gardens were desperately needed/wanted in this community.
After touring the health center, we made our way to the Katosi Static Center, a branch of the Kyetume Community Based Health Care Programme, which was erected for the sole purpose of serving communities that lived too far away from the main center. While not as large as the Kyetume branch, the Katosi health center provided many services and referred clients who needed more serious medical attention to the larger Kyetume center.
The Heifer Project
Before retiring for the night, David, a field officer who works for Kyetume Community Based Health Care Programme, requested that we make two quick stops to check in on two clients who had been recipients of Heifers. Heifers are mature cows that are given to families with three or more orphans with the expectation that the family will care for the cow and once it has a female calf, pass that calf along to another orphan family. According to the Heifer project guidelines, if the Heifer happens to calf a bull, the family is obligated to raise the bull up to an age when it can be sold for a good amount of money and then use the funds to buy the orphans books, uniforms, blankets or pay for school fees. David explained that he advises the orphan families to try and have the cow calf as many calves as possible while its in their possession since the project only requires the first calf (if it’s a cow) to be passed along (the family can keep any calves born after this first one has been given to another family).
With a Heifer in Katosi, Uganda