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Monday, July 20, 2009

Saturday we went to the government hospital, which is the free hospital. We bought 200 non-stackable plastic mugs (what we would have given for Styrofoam!), 200 sweet rolls, a bunch of 4-liter thermoses, and a jar of tea leaves. We took tea and rolls to the children's ward, the AIDS ward, and the (mal)Nutrition ward.

Then we handed out baby clothes to all the half naked kids, and we had a good laugh about (once again) the peaceful aggressive nature of the Ugandans. Instead of bombarding us and shoving to be first to our suitcase of clothes, they waited patiently for us to bring a piece of clothing to them. Never once did they even ask us for clothing or say, "Give me." But when we'd return with clothing for the next kid, suddenly that first baby was naked again. After second-guessing ourselves way too many times ("Wait a minute... didn't you just dress that baby?") We realized the moms were removing their children's clothes and hiding the clothes under the mattresses. And they'd quietly wait for us to clothe their child again, and more than a couple of times, we actually did.

Hmm... how do I give you a picture of this place without an actual picture? There's something oxymoron-ish about a hospital with empty medicine cabinets. The hospital doesn't provide meals, so if you plan on being hungry while you're sick, you need to bring your own food.

The children's ward had 20-30 beds in a room, and the nutrition ward was outside on a shaded slab of cement. The AIDS ward was about 20 people dying in the same room and in a significant amount of pain. Like I said, bare cabinets. I only saw one nurse, and in two hours, I didn't see one doctor. We spent the morning "being" with them. The death isn't so much the issue. Death happens. It's the manner in which they die that's difficult.

I usually don't curse. I often think that if I curse, it's because I can't think of a more intelligent adjective or interjection to use. There are rare times when it simply erupts from you, such as back in college when I hit the cat who thought it would be fun to dive under my car as I drove my teammates to cross-country practice. I was going about 20 miles an hour and I really think the cat committed suicide, but regardless, when I saw it dive for my wheels and heard the contact, I remember screeching my car to a stop, and slamming my fist against the steering wheel while repeatedly screaming "F$#!" More times in a row than I had in my whole life combined. On top of that, the cat had tags, and I had to carry it to its owner's house at 6 in the morning. Needless to say, it took me a couple of weeks to fully recover.

Vanessa (my dorm mate at the time) had grown up in a Mexican household where animals are not pets, so she was a little lacking in the "working me through the grieving process", as she left cat stickers and subscriptions to "Cat Fancy" magazine all over my dorm room daily.

Today at the "free care" hospital, the weight of what I saw was overwhelming at best, but it doesn't hit you right away. I mean, it does, because you have to be an idiot not to realize that this place sucks. But it is what it is. What can you do, really? So you do your part, hug a bunch, make the kids laugh, hold the dying patients and kiss them all over. Whatever, right?

Afterwards, we were at a hotel having lunch and I was in the bathroom washing my hands. "How's it going?" Brooke asked me. I nodded and shrugged and meant to say, "Fine," but "fuck" came out instead.

I actually don't think there was a more appropriate word.

Anyway, before we left, we got a list of the most needed items. After lunch we went to the local pharmacy. Here, you can buy any drug you want, if you have the money. No prescriptions necessary. So we filled a box with (in case any of you are pharmaceutical nerds): Erythromycin, Amoxicillin, Cipro, Folic acid, Iron, and some injections with abbreviations like CLOXA, CAF, and AMP.

Then rock star translator Tom phoned the most trustworthy nurse in Gulu. How did he know her? Because he's Tom and he's a rock star, that's how. He made sure that she received the box of medications because there's no accountability at the hospitals, and some nurses would gladly take the medication home to their extended families.

Overall it was a good day, and there is so much more but I must sign off. We are on the road to our safari and there are baboons and "Pumba's" outside my van window.


  1. Besides being the most incredible writer and I cannot get enough of your posts! When I came to the paragraph about Vanessa, I belly laughed out loud which made Jeff hurry to the room I was in to see what I was laughing about. OUR Vanessa has the BEST sense of humor, I just love her to pieces! Well, over the years I've developed an appreciation for dark humor due to our circumstances and my husband sharing a similar wit. Keep us laughing, Heather. Because the reality of the scenes that you've painted has brought tears to my eyes and a knot in my stomach.

  2. made an error in my first line, sorry. I was distracted by watching the news and my thoughts didn't flow. I'm not good about reading what I write before hitting "publish". Since you're an English Lit teacher, this is embarrasssssssssing!!!!!!

  3. Check it:

  4. That Vanessa sounds like a real ass...

  5. Just now finally getting around to reading my comments from Uganda. Thanks for the link, Matt. That was really nice of you. Hope you're doing well. I think of you, Holly, and Annie often.