I am sitting on the balcony of my hotel room here in Kampala right now. The equatorial sun is beating down and “doing wonders for my sunburn.” Time to pause, reflect, and talk about the last few days here.
We finished our sampling and analysis with no issues. We got done in time so that the girls could work in the hospital on Wednesday and go to the Ibanda orphanage on Thursday. Alana said she wanted to adopt 10 of those kids. I can understand completely. Despite coming back filthy with scrubs covered with urine and other “stuff”, everyone had a remarkable time with those kids. Me? I finished up the lab work on those days, and assisted with some “handyman” duties around the hospital – helping “make whiteboards, hanging jury-rigged racks for the charts in each ward. Just a little bit here and there to help out.
The brief period of time I spent on each ward made me realize something. I do not think I would have been a very good MD. For those of you who don’t know, I was hardcore pre-med track until a few of the weedout courses at Wittenberg knocked me back a few steps. In listening to the nurses one night, I think Ashley asked how they dealt with the fact that they had to deal with sick and potentially dying kids everyday. They said “you have to try to get used to it or it will tear you up.” I don’t know if I would want to or could get used to something like that. By my count 6 kids died at the hospital during our stay. I know in light of the tragedy in Haiti, this number is small, even minuscule. To me it is still 6 too many.
The next question I am grappling with is am I doing enough to help the community here. Yeah, we test the water. Yes, we will probably get a publication from it in the future. We help small select groups get assistance to help their water problems. Seeing the hospital filled with those kids and you wonder if there is not a better way to help. Just some of the thoughts going through my head, as I readily acknowledge that I am not the right person to be here. They need a microbiologist with experience in quantifying bacterial and virus loads. I hope Kris becomes that person, but he will be starting a new job in the fall and getting ready for a Ugandan adventure in your first year as a faculty member borders on crazy…
I have some pondering to do in the next few months.
Well, we are now home. By the time we finished packing the bus and all that fun stuff, I never had time to sit down and finish this in Uganda. Our drive from Mbarara was uneventful in the fact that we survived. If anyone ever feels they need to find religion, I will take you to Uganda and let our driver take you around. You will probably pray more in that hour or so than you have in your entire life. Driving in Uganda is a mix of testosterone/machismo, Death Race 2000 (for those of you who grew up in the 80’s) where you get points for coming so close to cars and pedestrians without hitting them, and the chaos of Times Square at rush hour during a blackout. We got stuck in the shopping district of Kampala on a Friday at 5 pm …I have never seen so many people. Some of the girls wanted to get out, but no, that could not happen. Too easy to get lost, and too easy to miss the bus again. I know a few folks who went on the trip might disagree with me, but the chaos of the area and our lack of familiarity with rush hour and the layout of the streets made me say no.
Our nights back at Thomas Moore House – now renamed Bibiana’s Hotel – were calm with some poker, scattegories, and other games. Carrie beat me in our poker game on Friday night when she hit her two outer on the river to stay alive and cripple my chip stack. I let her bask in her glory and served her with a nice Nile Special (one of the local beers) on Saturday after rafting.
Rafting the Nile:
One word – WOW! We departed Bibiana’s about 8 am on Saturday for a 2 hour ride past Jinja to Adrift Adventures. We got organized into boats and I was together with Jen, Lilit, Mary, Michelle, Sara, Linh, Erin, and Caroline. The boat crews were named Alpha, Babe, and Charlie – we were the Babe boat, and we all ended up with knick names. Mine was “Babe Wrangler.” We had a good group for this adventure.
We departed Adrift about 10:30 am and went through training – how to paddle, how to get down and hold on, how to get back into the boat, and how to flip the raft over when we capsized. We were actually on the White Nile that originates in Lake Victoria. The water was surprisingly clean in appearance – it did not have the chocolate milkshake texture of the Rwizi River, and the water was clear to about 10 feet.
During the training to get back in the boat, I had my biggest downer of the whole trip. I lost my wedding ring into the Nile. I was an idiot. They had warned us not to bring things of value. I thought about leaving my ring on at least three different occasions that morning. Once before we left the hotel – but that is how my ring got stolen in Jamaica, and twice before heading down to the river from the bus. I did not feel it was that secure. From now on, the next replacement I get is never going with me on a field expedition. Not worth it…
I was able to set the loss of the ring aside. As I thought about it on the raft, I was thinking, I may never do this again…I had to enjoy the day for all it was worth. We had five major rapids to go through – 4 class 5’s and one that was a class 6 that we avoided the class 6 portion of the rapid. Our guide told us that even the experienced raft guides do not do that portion of the river. They may do it in a single kayak, but never with rookies like us.
The final score for our rafting trip for our crew – we completely overturned once and on one rapid, Michelle and I were thrown completely out of the raft. As we went down the rapids, we hit the left side of the raft on a huge wave and our raft nearly went to 65 to 70 degree angle, with Michelle and I on the far right side of the boat at the front two positions. It went into slow motion for me – we were down at the bottom of the boat, paddles tucked under the arm that was holding on to the rope around the raft to keep them from hitting others on the boat. When we hit, I felt my legs and butt suddenly flying through the air, going over my head, and I flipped around my arm that was secure with the rope. Suddenly there I was, under water still holding on to the raft. Michelle was hauled into the boat first and I was close behind because there was another rapid coming our way. I figure that Michelle and I getting thrown from the boat actually prevented the raft from capsizing, because the high side of the raft was now heavier, and fell back down as it came off the wave.
Our full capsizing adventure was another rapid where we hit a similar wave. This time I was on the high side of the raft as it went up the wave, and off I went, still holding on, feeling the raft come over with me. Of the 10 of us on the raft (including our guide Camo), 8 of us held on and got the raft flipped quickly. Lilit and Sara went for a ride down the rapids in their life jackets and got picked up quickly by the “rescue kayaks”. Adrift was amazing, being well prepared for any eventuality to make the trip as successful as possible. I highly recommend them!
Anita’s raft was not as lucky as ours – overturning 3 or 4 times during our trip. Anita was worn out at the end, and has decided that she has rafted the Nile, and does not have to do it again. Still, she did an amazing job! The only minor annoyance of the whole trip was the fact that each boat guide seemed to talk about how the other boats were taking the “mild” routes through the rapids and WE (he man – thump chest) were the only ones riding the ”5’s”. The truth of the matter is that the lines we took through the rapids were not very different from each other. I think it was mostly a matter of luck – like Michelle and I flying out before the raft could completely overturn – as to whether or not the raft capsized. I do think that our boat was lucky in that we all became strong enough paddlers that we were able to paddle through one of the rapids when we went over Bujagali Falls to actually make it over the falls where our guide wanted us to go. The other boats had issues in that they were not able to paddle strong enough and they got caught up on rocks around the falls. When we do it again next year, we will more evenly distribute weight, size, and strength to keep things more even. Anita’s boat only had 5 people in it, and it made paddling the long stretches of our 31kilometer trip more exhausting for them.
We arrived home, got dinner and most everyone passed out. My new poker student Lilit and I played for a little while, with other people coming and going from the game as we played. Believe it or not, she actually called me evil at one point when I bluffed her. Following the third bluff, she started swearing at me in Armenian! Way too funny.
Sunday was our trip to the craft market, packing and off to the airport. I think we supported the Ugandan economy for that day… We said our goodbyes to Fiona and Carol (two of the girls from Mbarara who came to Kampala) and got ready to go. Let me tell you, security is becoming no fun. The Entebbe Airport was its usual self with 2 x-ray machines, but the kicker was the fact that British Airways now only allows one carry-on bag! Apparently that changed since we left…thanks for telling us! My ticket agent would not give me my boarding passes until I proved to him that I could fit my backpack into my rolling carry-on! What really peeved me was that other folks got to take their two bags on with no problems!
Our flight to Heathrow was uneventful, other than leaving an hour late and everyone got a bit of sleep – I think I got 3 hours, the only 3 hours of sleep I would get between waking up at 7 am on Sunday morning and going to bed last night at 9 pm San Diego time (Monday) which was really 8 am Tuesday Uganda time! Instead of being able to just pass to our next gate at Heathrow, we had to go through Immigration and a full security screen again! I was screwed because I had repacked my carry-on as if I would not need it again – computer buried at the bottom, poker chips used to hold gifts in place. I got everything out of my bag (finally), and the security guy uses my bag to educate a relatively new scanner technician about poker chips and the scanners! Throw on top of that, the stone jewelry box I bought Emily showed up as an item of interest on the scanner. My bag ended up empty with everything, including dirty laundry being re-x-rayed individually! It is actually a good thing I had my backpack there. Audrey and Geoffrey had to use my bag to check the booze they bought in the Entebbe Duty Free! From now on, no booze purchases in Entebbe unless you have your own bag to check it in with in London!
Security in London was intense. My guess is the various intelligence services had some warning or other. Everyone was individually screened, frisked, and had their bags searched before boarding the plane. Due to this, we left more than an your late even though boarding started over an hour before departure! The flight home was long, filled with card playing and movies. I did not sleep, except for the last 20 minutes until we landed. The flight at the end was rough due to the weather over the western US. Otherwise, the trip was smooth and we got home to USD by 6:30 pm, which is amazing seeing as we left London an hour late. US Customs was in full profile mode. Any non-US passport from an Asian or Middle Eastern country went through a full X-ray of their bags and sometimes more. We got through quickly and were out by 3:45 pm (we landed at 2:30 pm!).
So that is it. It was an amazing trip from start to finish. We had our ups and downs all along the way, but it is amazing to watch people evolve over this two week experience. I would travel with any of these folks again! To the entire crew of students from the nursing programs, it was really great to get to know you, and I am glad I was able to be part of that experience with you. To Ashley, Denise, and Alana – thanks for all the hard work! I hope you got as much out of this experience as I did.
To those of you who read this, thanks! I hope we gave you a sense of what it was like and what we went through. I will be back again next year.