Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jackie O. might have approved

Every summer for at least the past 6 summers since Blossom Shoes and Such opened in Greenwood, SC under the classic eternal good taste of Kimberly Stephens, I have enjoyed a new pair of  Jack Rogers sandals every year.

Past pleasures for my feet with ridiculously expensive taste have included:

And this is to name only 3 of the pairs I have.  I have more Jack Rogers sandals than maybe Jack Rogers.

I love summer and I'm always on the lookout for a really great summer sandal.  Since I knew I was going to Uganda this year, I didn't buy my annual pair of Jacks and decided to wait and see what treats would be over here.  Let me tell you how glad I am that I waited.  Check these out!

These hand-sewn and hand-beaded sandals are made in Uganda.  I found them at the local crafts market in Entebbe.  The cost after bargaining, 22,000 UGX (about $9 USD).  There are all kinds of local crafts around that are stunning fashion and home decor pieces, not just the mass made masks.

Hope you like these as much as I do.  I have another pair too.  I'm saving them for special occasions - Havianas can do the everyday job.



Monday, October 20, 2014

Must be doing something right

Good morning everyone!  Meet  my student Irene Agadi.  Irene's husband called this morning just before 5 a.m. to tell me that she had a healthy baby boy.   Irene is doing well too which is amazing because about 1 month ago Irene developed a soccer ball sized cyst/tumor in her vagina.  Week before last, doctors at a local hospital said she MUST have surgery to remove the tumor so that she would be able to deliver vaginally.   The cost of the surgery was around 200,000 UGX (about $80 at the current exchange rate).  An impossible amount of money that required her husband to go to every relative they had plus a few others to scrape together a loan package for the surgery.

 C-sections are a curse here in Africa because the recovery time is 6 weeks and no woman in Africa has enough family support or time to recover from a C-section.  There is water to fetch twice a day, digging in the garden, clothes to be washed, homes to be swept and mopped, harvesting to be done in the garden, cooking to be done, shopping for food to be done.  There is literally no end to the list of work that an African woman must do in order for her family to survive.

And the miracle of Irene's new son is that she was able to have the surgery just in the nick of time and two weeks later, she has a brand new son.  Her oldest child, a two year old girl named Mercy, has been beside herself with excitement about the coming of the new baby.

This little boy doesn't have a name yet because it is Ugandan custom to wait until the baby is three days old.  


Fixing Subsaharan Africa the Redneck Way

I've been here long enough to see that some simple products could go a long way to repairing many things here.  I've also been here long enough to know that not all really good ideas come from a working group or an official team.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying these are good ideas.  These are just things I think most Ugandans would find damned handy in their daily lives.  So here's a short list of items I think could really help improve the standard of living of most Ugandans.

1.     No Ugandan kitchen or office should be without the Hefty Ziploc bags that have the plastic zipper pull.  They hold most everything and keep flies where they belong -- away from food.

2.     The one, the only, the stuff that holds Alabama and Mississippi together -- Duct Tape.

3.    This can fix all those cheesy Chinese made locks that aren't made of stainless steel as they should be.  The beauty of WD-40 is that it is not so viscose as to make the lock easy to pick after you have lubricated it.

4.  Loctite saved my fanny many, many times as a manufacturing engineer.  That and it's darker cousin called "Black Max" could fix anything plastic or metal that had broken.  Subsaharan Africa needs about 30 metric tons of this stuff for every manufacturing facility opened here.

5.   The Leatherman tool should be given to every student who graduates from S4 (that's the 4th year of high school).  If a student graduates from S6 (the two extra years of high school to prepare for the university), the then student gets the French Army version of this tool which includes a corkscrew.  These things can fix anything.

Send your additions via the comments section.  One of my next posts will be about all the cheap and simple things that can be done to make hospitals around these parts safe and sanitary.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Brazil's answer to the Mojito

The Boma Caipiroska

1 oz Vodka 
Simple syrup mixed with the juice of 3 fresh lime wedges 
Large grain sugar on the rim of your rocks glass 
Serve over crushed ice with a lime wedge garnish

Best served by the Boma Entebbe's pool.


The Boma Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda

Thursday, October 16, 2014

New International Standard Proposed: Updated

There needs to be a new international standard for the strength of deodorant.  Really.  Just think about the various situations in life that you face regularly and how your deo either cuts it or it doesn't.

For the record, in Africa, I stink.  Two hot baths a day, plus my so-called deodorant and I still smell like hell.  The problem is, in part, that I have chosen one that is "unscented".  This is perfect for my mighty endeavors of things like eating lunch with the girls where I don't want anything to clash with my carefully chosen perfume.  Can you imagine what the other ladies who lunch would say if I did otherwise?

When I was packing for this trip, I bought a flotilla of my normal deodorant being certain that they would not sell any that was worth the money in Uganda.  On this account, I was right.  Remember Ban roll-on from the 70s?  Well, all that left over Ban that did not sell in the US in the 70s is now for sale in Uganda.  And, get this, the deodorant that they do sell is kept behind the counter with the booze and condoms.  I guess smelling presentable must be more likely to lead to sexual encounters here than in the rest of the world.

So here's a starting proposal to deal with the problem of assessing deodorant strength and developing a rating system.  First, since this is a global problem that affects all Westerners and therefore it affects the non-Westerner too even though they are not yet enlightened enough to know it, I propose that the UN, the World Bank and NATO (just in case there are strategic military interests at stake in the the solution to this problem) form a joint committee to study the problem.   From my friend/colleague Carolyn from Sydney, I know that it will take 2 years to come up with a name for this working group.   Carolyn has also taught me about the skill of vague-ing things up when dealing with international committees on the resolution of anything.

But this is the rough outline of what I hope the standards will look like in ascending order of strength:

  • Mall Walking for Seniors
  • Part-time fast food worker
  • Middle distance runner
  • Endurance athlete
  • Africa strength
Pretty good start don't you think?
Anna, Agnes #1, me in my ubiquitous aid worker skirt and Mary Akengo

Saturday, 18 October 2014:  I have just paid 20,000 UGX for a stick of Old Spice high endurance.  This translates at the current exchange rate into about $8.00.  8-f'ing-dollars!  I better smell darned good all day for this price.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fatigue of the Soul

I've been in Eastern Uganda for about 3, or is it 4, months now and I love actually helping people in tangible ways.  Most of the help I give has nothing to do with crochet or selling crochet.  Most of it is health care assistance.

For example, a few Sundays ago I was taking my usual Sunday afternoon stroll around Kapuwai with my friend Christine.  Suddenly this 60ish looking woman comes running after us yelling at me to get my attention.  Of course she's yelling in Ateso so it's a good thing Christine is there to translate.  Christine barely gets out of her mouth that the woman wants me to help her (medically) and then the woman is showing us her right breast.  It is entirely withered and discolored, nipple and all.

A bit of personal history here -- my mother's sister, my aunt Frances, was probably a paranoid schizophrenic.  She was unmedicated all her life and since she was born in the early 30s, there was no such thing as mental health care.  She struggled all her life just to find a place where she and her only daughter Sherry could sleep every night.  She couldn't hold a job obviously.  When I was barely 18, Frances was told that she had advanced breast cancer.  She had no job and no one in the family had the means to get her treated.  During her last two months of life, she lived in a boarding house in my hometown.  One day when the weather was exceptionally beautiful, my mother received a call from the local EMS that Frances was locked in her room at the boarding house and was unresponsive.  They were calling in the hope my mother had an extra key.  We immediately went to Frances's little room to see if the sound of familiar voices might rouse her somewhat.  We tried and tried.  Finally, one of the EMS guys had the idea to jimmy open the window and have me crawl in (I was only 108 lbsf then).  I went in and found her barely breathing.  Her blouse was open and I saw her cancerous breast.  We took her to the hospital and she only lived about 18 hours more.

Until that walk with Christine, I had NEVER seen another case of breast cancer that was like what my aunt Frances had.  It was as if it were flesh eating.  

I held my emotions in check and told the woman (I'll call her Trisha) that I was not a doctor, but I could certainly help her get to a doctor to find out what was wrong.  I told her that I thought it was very, very serious and that when Edward Kedi (my right arm in Uganda) came to take her to the doctor, she must stop EVERYTHING and go with him immediately.

On Monday, Edward took Trisha to the clinic at the Pallisa General Hospital.  She saw a doctor and the doctor ordered many tests in addition to his examination.  By the end of the day, Edward and Trisha had the results of the tests, but they were not what I expected because they had nothing to do with the condition of her breast.

Tricia was now a PLWHA in international development speak:  She had HIV/AIDS and her t-cell count was horrible (Person Living With HIV/AIDS).

Because I had to be in another part of the district that Monday, Edward told Tricia her results because for some stupid reason doctors here don't want to tell old women they are dying of AIDS.  The doctor said Tricia and her husband had to come in for joint counseling right away.  They immediately put Tricia on a drug cocktail for HIV/AIDS.  In Uganda, the drugs for AIDS are free, but the ARV's and the ARC drugs aren't free or even discounted.  

"Tricia" at my apartment after the news

Wednesday morning of that week, Tricia came to see me to, get this, thank me for helping her find out what was wrong.  I cried and like all Ugandans she said "Don't cry.  We all have to go home sometime".  She brought me a rooster as a thank you gift.  

As soon as Tricia left my apartment, I packed and took Christine to Pallisa General to get better and maybe have her baby.  No time for tears or regrets.  The urgent things come at you faster than ought to be possible.

Pray for Tricia.  Pray for me that I'll stop hating her husband for doing this to her.  Pray that I have what it takes to continue this kind of work.  It's got to be done and I'm willing to do it.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Little Star

Nothing excites me quite the way the birth of a baby can.  While Charles and I have not been able to have our own children, through work, friends and countless other ways we have had the privilege of sharing in the lives of others’ children in many fulfilling ways.  Charles’ work through the public defender’s office and now in private practice brings him into contact with children who have had the misfortune of being on the wrong end of law enforcement.  Many times he has been able to help these children get on the right track in life by dealing with the circumstances which led them to trouble.  In my work as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, I shepherded children through the family court system when the Department of Social Services has removed them rightly or wrongly from their homes.  Most of my cases involved getting families to reconsider how they managed crises in the home.
Here in Kapuwai, there is at least one child for every dollar that Bill Gates has ever made.  None of these children can be considered privileged in any sense that we use the term in the United States.
But they have privileges that Americans would do well to consider adopting in order to raise more responsible youth.  As Hilary Rodham Clinton wrote It takes a Village to raise a child in Uganda.  Everyone in the society feels the burden of correcting, rebuking or praising every child in the community to ensure that the child becomes a productive adult.  And these children are LOVED so much that I can’t even describe how much the community cares for them.  But I have digressed . . .

Meet Christine Acham
In my first crochet class which happened before the yarn arrived, Christine, age 42, was the first to class and the last to leave.  As you can see by her picture on the left, she has a warm and engaging smile.  She has a magnificent heart of gold and she loves people and helps others in any way that she can.
During the first class,  I asked each class member to introduce themselves to the class and to talk about their family.  Christine, who was 6 months pregnant at the time, told the class that she had completed school through P7 (primary — roughly the equivalent of 7th grade) and that she had 10 children. Her first question to me was what would the maternity leave policy be for the class since she was due at the end of September with her eleventh child.  I told her she would be a homebound student until she was ready to come back to class.
She is a voracious and competitive student despite the fact she is functionally illiterate.  She figured out on her own how to read Japanese crochet diagrams.
Christine speaks very little English.  Her native language is Ateso, a common language in Eastern Uganda.  She quickly became a very dear friend to me and the language barrier grew insignificant as our friendship grew.  In class, I nicknamed her “Toto One”.  “Toto” means mother in Ateso;  she is Toto One because she has more children than anyone else in class.  Toto Two has nine children.
And this baby makes eleven.

In mid-September Christine became ill with what the local community nurses thought was malaria.  She had a port installed in her right hand and quinine treatment commenced.  But she didn’t improve and developed a serious lung infection.  She was taken to the local community health hospital in Kibale for treatment.  There she was treated again for malaria and for acute bronchitis.  She began to slowly mend, but when I visited her at Kibale I discovered that she had never had an ultrasound with this pregnancy and had only had 3 prenatal medical exams.  I decided immediately that she would live with me until the baby was a week old.   It was the only way I could make sure she could rest and recuperate given her ten other children.
In Uganda, when you are in the hospital and you can’t afford to pay all of your bill at the time the doctor releases you, the hospital will keep you against medical advice until you can pay your bill.  This seems really backward to me.  How can you work and make money to pay the bill if you are stuck in the hospital?  So Christine and her husband scraped together all they could, about 37,000 UGX (about $15 USD) and paid the community  hospital at Kibsle.  But they still owed roughly 19,000 UGX (just under $8 USD).  I paid the hospital the balance and got her out and brought her to my apartment at PACODET.
She was still really sick and the Kibale Health Unit didn’t prescribe a full course of antibiotics to treat the bronchitis.  As you may have guessed, when the meds stopped, she got worse again.
By September 20th, she could barely speak for coughing so much.  She had tried every cough syrup in Uganda (which are few and utterly ineffective), so on a trip to Pallisa I picked up a bottle of Sherry since they didn’t have Rock-n-Rye with lemon.  Miracle of miracles, it helped her stop coughing long enough to get some rest.   I knew it was risky giving a pregnant woman alcohol, but the coughing spells had become so violent that she had constant pain in her lower rib cage.
As time passed and I had to buy another bottle of Sherry, she was adamant that the baby was still “playing” inside her.  Playing was the term we discovered together to describe the baby’s activity because she didn’t understand what I meant by the baby “moving”.  Whether or not the baby was playing, she was very sick and I was pissed off at the poor health care she had received.  With a trusted boda driver, the two of us packed up on a motorcycle and headed to the regional hospital Pallisa General.
We met with an admitting doctor right away on that Friday right before lunch.  Just prior to going to the waiting room, I heard a nurse tell the doctor that a “muzungu” (white person) was there with a pregnant woman insisting that she be seen immediately.
In the consultation with the doctor, Christine disclosed that she had a heart problem that had been present since her last pregnancy about 2.5 years ago.  The doctor also diagnosed acute bronchitis and a severe urinary tract infection.
While she got dressed, the doctor spoke with me in the consultation room.  He told me in no uncertain terms that she was going to be admitted immediately and that under NO circumstances should she have the baby at a local health clinic.  I asked him many direct questions about birth control options after the baby was born; he was clear that since this was her ninth pregnancy (she has two sets of twins) she should not become pregnant again.
The hospital was nasty, filthy and disgusting; but that is for another blog post.  On Wednesday, October 1st at 4:01 p.m. Christine gave birth to a baby girl weighing 2.8 kg (about 6.2 lbsf).  She named her daughter Lisa Ellen Grose.  She and everyone else in Kapuwai pronounce Lisa as “Elise”.  “Elise” is healthy and thriving on breast milk.  Christine went back to her home (about 5 minutes from my apartment) on her one week birthday.