Juma

I have yet another reason to feel blessed: access to good healthcare. Since I wrote last about our trusty driver Juma, he was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with meningitis. As I’m sure you are all aware, meningitis can be quite serious. Like other public services in the Karamoja region of Uganda, hospitals are very quality. Juma was doing well at first and seemed to be responding to the drugs, but on Friday he went into a coma and Sunday was finally airlifted to Kampala to receive emergency surgery to reduce pressure that had built up in his brain. I believe he had a stroke simply because the staff at the hospital in Karamoja failed to monitor his condition regularly (they were understaffed when I visited the hospital) and his blood pressure rose causing a stroke. Today (Monday) he will be flown to Nairobi for further treatment.

For those of you who pray, I would appreciate your prayers for Juma’s recovery and healing. I am thankful that he was brought to Kampala in time and hopeful that he will eventually recover, but who knows what damage has been done. Meningitis is a very real problem in Uganda (particularly in the north), and unfortunately most adults have not been immunized. Pray also for the health of our other staff and Juma’s family. I have my vaccine, but of course there is a slight risk of contracting a variety of meningitis that is not covered by the vaccine.

As I mentioned in my last post, Juma has a large family and his wife is expecting end of the month (another real problem in Uganda—family planning). Juma is fortunate to work for Samaritan’s Purse because his insurance would not have covered all the costs associated with all his treatment. It’s sad to think about how his condition might have been prevented with better medical care, but even sadder to realize that most people in his situation would have received no treatment due to lack of proper medical care and no money to pay for it. This experience further confirms my belief that healthcare is a basic human right. I am thankful that I received quality healthcare growing up and I pray that my country would find a way to provide quality healthcare to ALL its citizens at a price tag that people can afford.

Please keep Juma and his family in your prayers, and prayer for wisdom for his doctors as they continue to work towards his complete recovery.

Blessed

If there’s one thing that I am reminded of on a daily basis living in the developing world, it’s how blessed I’ve been. When surrounded by people of similar economic status as yourself, it’s easy to let the daily simple trials and difficulties bog you down and overlook the big picture. Even in Uganda, as I enter data and work with excel for sometimes eleven hours a day (fortunately that is finished!), it is easy to forget the big picture. It’s easy to get frustrated and annoyed with the constant yells of “mzungu, mzungu!” (what is so amusing about yelling “white person” ten times at me?), getting asked “how are you?” five times in a row as if my answer would have changed in the seconds between each greeting, the daily requests for food or money from people on the street, and the complexity of seemingly simple tasks. But when I have the rare opportunity to connect with some of the people I work with here, I’m reminded of why I’m here and how blessed I am.

One of my biggest frustrations with working in SP’s Karamoja office has been the difficulty in connecting with the Ugandan staff here. While there is a beautiful community of expats here, who I am extremely grateful for, I still have the idealistic desire to grow close to some of the national staff. At the other SP offices, I felt I was able to connect with the national staff. Perhaps it’s because I was at a similar place educationally (and in some sense economically) and in these regions there wasn’t the history of years and years of aid work. In Karamoja there is the constant feeling of being separate as the white expat “manager” (not really my title but I’m often treated that way). In spite of these difficulties, I have enjoyed the bumpy drives out to the field with our stellar driver and either our engineer or district supervisor.

Juma, is our trusty NUSAF 2 driver, a native Karamojong who comes from a family of Karamojang warriors. Through our many journeys together, I’ve had the chance to catch snippets of his life story. His father was a Karamojang warrior who uncharacteristically decided to leave the cattle raiding life and try to change his circumstances for his family. While Juma never had the opportunity to get an education, he is brilliant. The way he expresses himself, is able to analyze situations, and how he knows his children’s future and country’s is in education is inspiring. I’ve never seen Juma stop to take lunch while we’re out and I suspect this might be partially a way to save money to pay for his children’s school fees. Looking into Juma’s lined face and kind eyes, I can see a lifetime of experiences and wisdom I will never have. His deep desire to give his children a better life is beautiful and continually reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for.

Most recently, I enjoyed an eye-opening conversation with our district supervisor, Paul. Unlike most people in Karamoja, he has a bachelor’s degree, and one that was not acquired easily. He knew that in order to provide for his family and make a living he needed more than a diploma. So he saved his money and was able to pay for a year of school and most of his second year. But by the time he reached his third year he had no funds to continue studying. Paul was only able to finish his degree through the miraculous generosity of his friends. His friends would contribute whatever they could of their simple salaries, pooling funds every month (sometimes contributing up to 50% of their salaries) to support Paul’s education. It’s eye-opening to realize how we take education for granted in most developed countries. There was never a question of finishing high school, and fortunately for me there was never even a question of whether or not I would get my bachelors. Even as I was frustrated with the grad school application process and securing funding, it hit me that most people in the world don’t even have the opportunity to dream of attending grad school.

These experiences reinforced my desire to share the many experiences and blessings I’ve been granted, whether it’s continuing development work or even entering the corporate world. As I prepare to enter grad school this fall (thankfully received a scholarship to study at TU Delft in the Netherlands!!), I pray that I can keep my experience in the developing world fresh and remember to always count my blessings.

Free hugs!

Free hugs. I’m strongly considering starting a free hugs campaign in Karamoja and perhaps all of Uganda. I understand that ideally as a foreigner it’s not my job to change culture, but I’m seriously hugs deprived. After spending four years of my life at a university where on a so-so day I gave and received about two hugs, then spending the next year and half of my life hanging out with South Africans, who similarly treat hugging as a standard greeting no matter how often you see a person; I’m feeling a bit hug insecure (to use the food lingo that I’m getting used to up here) in the hand shake culture of Uganda.

It’s fascinating how different countries approach greetings. In Korea and much of northeast Asia a bow was the standard greeting, with the depth of the bow given varying depending on your seniority. While hugs amongst Koreans were virtually nonexistent, it was not uncommon to hold hands or link arms with your same sex friends (something that might draw ridicule in most western countries). If it wasn’t for my expat friends, particularly the South Africans, I may have died from lack of human physical contact (don’t take that the wrong way).

Even in the continent of Europe there are huge variations in methods of greeting. In Germany a firm handshake was sufficient. Germans may be efficient and hardworking, but their hugging skills were generally rather poor. In Spain a quick hug and a kiss on each cheek, in Denmark one kiss. So confusing when you’re trying to be culturally sensitive! Do I offer my hand, open my arms for an embrace, or go straight to the cheek? Awkward.

I’ve got my sturdy African handshake down pat, and I don’t mind the solidness and sincerity of the handshakes here, but I still find myself craving one of the warm feel good embraces that were a part of daily life at Valparaiso University. Even among the expats here, there is a hug deficiency, making me miss my time in southern Africa. So the next time you see me I expect a hug!

Simple Pleasures

Since my last blog post much has changed, but I’m still going with the flow. After an unexpected and hasty departure from Kampala, myself, my one duffel bag, backpack, and laptop bag (all of my belongings) are safely in Moroto, Uganda. In a few more days I will break a record for sleeping in the same bed for consecutive days, and in a few more days I will be over the ten week mark in Uganda. To clear up any confusion on my whereabouts and the project that I finally selected: Moroto is the main city in the Karamoja region of Uganda in the northeast. I am working with the Second Northern Ugandan Social Action Fund (NUSAF2) project, a partnership with UN World Food Program and the Ugandan government. NUSAF2 is in simple terms an effort to reduce the food dependence of the Karamojang people. Communities select projects related to public works, agriculture, and reforestation and in exchange for their work they receive food rations from World Food Program (or cash depending on the area and project). This article summarizes the project nicely: http://www.guardian.co.uk/katine/2010/jan/11/nusaf-developing-north-uganda

While NUSAF2 sounds great in theory, of course it is far more complex on the ground. A project cycle is one year (starting theoretically in January). However, Samaritan’s Purse did not receive budget approval from WFP until beginning of April, meaning we’re about three months behind schedule. While the deadlines have become slightly more lax because of the delay, it still means rushing through things that shouldn’t be rushed. For the first time in my working life, I feel like I’m actually doing work—working occasional evenings, long days, and Saturdays. After spending most of last year finding ways to entertain myself in front of a computer it’s nice to be actually doing some work. For the time being my job description includes errands woman (not so often), LOTS of excel work (I seem to still remember my 4 years of excel knowledge from school), and brainstorming. After the initial craziness of project planning wears off, my plan is to collect information on all of SP’s (and the many other NGOs in this area) projects, take GPS points and assemble this information in google earth for easy future access and sharing.

Besides the business of work, life has not been (too) dull around here. Living in the shadow of a mountain means hiking, watching the sunset from a vantage a short way up the mountain, running up hills (with my new fun Irish running buddy), and enjoying watching rain clouds form over the mountain. Besides the pleasure of the mountain, the expat community is close knit and fun. We accumulate our resources and create delicious meals with the limited supplies up here, so I’ve been practicing my resourceful cooking skills. Bananas are the one thing in abundance here so many recipes have been created from bananas. Banana peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies anyone? Yes, they are divine as they sound.

Besides creating our own fun and cooking tasty but simple meals, life in Moroto seems to daily present new and unexpected challenges. When I started writing this post on Saturday I was interrupted by the news that one of our vehicles had washed 200 meters down the river in a sudden flash flood. Someone had decided to wash the vehicle then just leave it by the washing station. A few hours later torrential downpour started (as it does most afternoons now), and the car was washed (with someone in it) down the river. Most of the town was around to watch the spectacle. If it hadn’t involved an expensive and nearly brand new vehicle, the incident was rather humorous. The next day with help from prison labor the vehicle was pushed out. Never a boring moment in a seemingly boring town.  

It occurred to me the other day how polar opposite my situation is now than last year at this same time. Last year I had my own apartment in a city filled with millions of people next door to another city filled with millions more people. I spent half of my day yelling at young children who had no idea what I was saying, and I spent weekends and evenings exploring nooks and crannies of one of the world’s largest cities. At any time of day or night I could get most any convenience I needed without walking more than ten minutes. I could freely walk by myself at 3 am and I didn’t depend on a vehicle to get anywhere. In one word my life was about convenience. Although I’m just now starting miss much of life in Korea, I’m also now enjoying the simple pleasures of hiking up a mountain with unexplored and unmarked trails and no people, running on mostly un-crowded streets and paths, having bugs in my room, hearing birds sing and watching them fly, having an oven, reading my bible in the sunshine in the shadow of the mountain, depending on the fact that almost every day the sun will shine for at least a few hours, and finally having the hope that as frustrating as the work can be, it may be providing food and livelihood to at least a few individuals.   Image