A few decades ago, a wide-eyed, curious, Australian boy of about 12 was given a book about tropical and infectious diseases from his father (strange, I know). It was then, he believes, that the idea began to take shape of a life in Africa. As he read more books, asks the big questions of life, and discovered this God that cared much about the poor and their wellbeing, working as a doctor in Africa, of all places, seemed to him the logical conclusion to all his dreaming.
In 2003 my husband Michael visited Africa for the first time, on a short term exposure program with AE to experience Ugandan culture and life. He loved the place.
After returning several times during his medical degree for practical placements to gain experience working in hospitals, clinics and villages around East Africa, it seemed that Uganda itself – the people, the culture, the adventure of the place, and the ill-health of the country that deeply encroaches on daily life and silently murders millions every year – was calling him. After battling with cholera outbreaks in Sudan, witnessing the devastation of HIV/Aids in Uganda, and sharing the disappointment of his African colleagues who despaired at their country’s flailing health services,
Michael decided he want to DO something
On one such visit, Michael, now finished his medical degree, made the decision that he would attempt to build and run a health clinic somewhere in Uganda. Full of the idealism that lingered from his youth, he approached the Ministry of Health Uganda to ask where exactly would they need such a clinic?
The answer was simple – he was given 3 poor, under resourced districts in the West of the country to investigate. So with a friend in tow, he headed back to Uganda a year later, conducting a detailed assessment of the health services and population in those districts. It was on this trip, that he decided Kamwenge district was the right place for the health clinic.
Around the same time this was unfolding, at 19, I was heading to Kenya for the first time, to further explore my passion for social justice and long held interest in Africa. Spending 3 months working in an orphanage called Tumaini Children’s Home, the statistics on HIV/AIDS and orphans, poverty and ill-health I had been reading about in the first year of my degree jumped off the pages and thrust themselves into my life as I lived and worked at this home. In my dreams and when I was awake, the numbers became faces and the 11.6 million AIDS orphans in Africa had names and stories…
In just over 3 months, I had developed a love for the continent of Africa and a feeling that this place was home.
Returning to Australia, something inside of me couldn’t seem to get Africa out of my head, my heart, or my bones. Once I had filtered through the millions of questions that were raised by the trip, I noticed there were some answers tangled in there also. Answers about the way I live, reflections on the economic injustice that plagues this planet and clarity on the direction of my life.
With the force of an invisible string between Africa and myself that felt painfully stretched when I returned to Australia, I was pulled back to East Africa.
In 2007, whilst Michael was completing his internship, I was planning my next trip to Kenya for early 2008, this time for 6 months to complete my Uni degree. I planned to work with a grassroots NGO in Kenya.
It was then that a friend mentioned to me that she wanted me to meet someone who was interested in Africa, and was planning to live there long term. My ears pricked up. I agreed with her that she would give Michael my phone number. A few weeks later I received a call from a confident guy, asking if we could catch up for coffee. To complete the Hollywood cliché, ‘the rest was history’.
Interestingly, although I had planned to go to Kenya in 2008, my organization switched my placement to Uganda before I left, due to the post-election violence in Kenya. Michael and I had met and fallen in love only months before I left, and once in Uganda, I began to fall in love with the country and his vision for this project in Kamwenge also.
The idiosyncrasies of Uganda seduced me bit by bit: the overwhelming hospitality and friendliness of the people; the boda boda drivers on every street corner offering lifts, the fried cassava bubbling in oil on charcoal stoves along the road, the beautifully lush and fertile land with more shades of green than one could imagine, Ugandan women meandering along with their slightly pretentious postures and woven baskets on their heads, the wide eyed terror or excitement (one can never know) of young kids in the village sighting a mzungu for the first time, the relationship orientated clock where time will stand still for pretty much anyone, the grunts, sighs and typically African noises that seem to take the place of most words in conversation, and of course, the many people I met along the way…
After 3 months of tragically romantic separation, Michael joined me in Uganda, proposed, and stayed for the remaining 3 months. Marriage for us felt inevitable! In our lives up to the point of meeting each other, we felt as if we were being prepared for each other – our dreams, our vision and what we loved in this world was so entwined ….
In January 2009, we were married in Adelaide, Australia.
The original project has been moulded, evolved and given new life over the past few years as our board in Australia have researched, discussed, pondered and listened to the wise advice of many. With my training in and passion for community development and Michael’s passion for the poor to have access to healthcare, the project has morphed into what it is today:
It has been incredible to see the way people in both Australia and Uganda have caught the vision for the project, working alongside of us to ensure an overlooked community receives the health services and development opportunities it is hoping for. As well as the usual red tape and mountains to scale, the last few years has bought surprise after surprise of providence, calm waters (with some occasional storms thrown in for adventure!), and the absolute peace that comes from participating in something that is much greater than ourselves and our own making.
So here we are. It is now April 2011, and the time has finally arrived when Michael and I are living in Uganda and attempting to do what we’ve been talking and dreaming about for the last few years.
I’ve never written a blog before, but have decided to give it a go so that if you want to, you can join us on this adventure and find out about what we’re up to. It’s going to be an interesting ride, that much I can guarantee.