Resident Travel Blog July 30, 2013

This blog documents the medical experiences of our residents as they travel abroad and experience healthcare in different parts of the world.

July 30, 2013 by Brigette Gleason

Gleason_Brigette_fcBy the way, I’m living in a developing nation. I know you know that, but let me elaborate. It means that my daily walk includes passing babies sitting in the dirty street alone begging. The underlying mentality of the people here seems to focus on surviving rather than thriving. Knowing about the challenges of poverty is quite different from being immersed in them, and hearing about them from Ugandans who have always lived in poverty. There seems to be some optimism about the future here despite the significant obstacles to making any substantial improvements. As a visitor I know that I will once again have access to western luxuries (like infrastructure and safety!) in a couple months, so it’s not possible to truly understand the plight of those here permanently. It’s inspiring to hear locals talk about how they want to stay here after they finish their education in order to work towards improving the development of their country. Even after just my first week or so here, I’d already met engineers, business students, law students, and medical residents native to Uganda who are passionate about things like non-profit work, social justice, starting medical clinics in remote villages, working for NGOs like World Vision, and empowering women through microfinancing.  At the same time many of them express the difficulty in implementing change because of politics, corruption, limited resources, and wide income disparities. It’s so fascinating to hear their perspectives about the successes and challenges that their country faces.

Regardless of the difficulties here, many people are full of laughter, and the city stays alive at all hours with a very robust nightlife. I actually met a famous Uganda singer "Jose Chameleon" because he happens to be a regular at a popular karaoke bar. We got a free mini-concert of both American music and one of his originals. It's great to continue to be exposed to Ugandan social and cultural events. I recently attended an arts festival that hosted local poets, musicians, dancers, and storytellers as a fundraising effort. It was wonderfully thought-provoking and entertaining. Arts are such an amazing way to display both the fundamental similarities among people as well as to showcase cultural uniqueness.

Some logistics of my daily routine: The JCRC clinic in Lubowa where I’m currently working is 10km away from where I’m living.  Luckily there is a free shuttle from the JCRC in Mengo to the JCRC in Lubowa. I live ~3.5km (45 min walk allowing for traffic) from Mengo, and my options to get there are to catch a ride with a JCRC nurse when available (rarely), hire a taxi driver, or walk. Mostly I’ve walked. The weather is quite perfect here: low 60s to low 80s each day because the altitude is >1000m above sea level for most of the country. However, most Ugandans break out the sweaters and jackets when it’s less than 70 degrees. My walk is actually more like hiking because it’s very hilly and I'm walking on sand and rocks usually in sandals while also trying to not get run over by something. No vehicles stop for pedestrians. People here think I'm weird for walking so much. At least I brought my pedometer!

A cultural side note: saying “how are you” in English or Lugandan (Olyo tia), before you say anything else, goes a long way. It’s basically a requisite for any conversation no matter how short, such as asking for directions. People are often surprised to hear a mzungu (white foreigner) trying to communicate in Lugandan.

I'm still getting excellent practice at not having control over my life. It's not unusal to sit in a bus for an hour because we're waiting for a driver or because we've broken down on the side of the road in the dark or because we're waiting for a passenger to arrive. My roommates and I actually had to move appartments a couple weeks ago because we didn't have water for 3 days (including a functional toilet). We just moved back to the first flat after 10 days now that there is a [hopefully permanent] return of plumbing. Otherwise, I'm getting used to the busy pace of Kampala and the weekday routine. The RHD screening project is going smoothly, but I don't want to give away too many details before the research is completed. It's hard to believe how quickly time is passing-- likely because I manage to stay occupied. Last weekend I decided to check out Entebbe, which I loved! It is a much more laid-back city with a "beach town" vibe (it's on Lake Victoria). I have to admit that Uganda does a far better job than Cleveland does at maximizing the lake-front property. It was truly gorgeous, but a bit of a tease because the water is filled with schistosomiasis. At any rate, I'll stop there for now. I'm a bit sad to be missing all the happy-hours and social events hosted by the Case family, but I'm glad to know that the the spirit of fellowship lives on.