Kamwenge’s quirks

Arriving home to Kamwenge 2 weeks ago, it dawned on me one of the things I most love about living and working here. The community, my staff, and the Maranatha Health site produce a constant stream of hilarious live entertainment.

Not in a patronizing “this place has lost its marbles because it’s an African backwater” kind of way, nor a “what have I gotten myself into by moving back here” kind of way. I have more developed a simple appreciation for the nuances and quirks that remind me every day that I am living in a rural area of western Uganda. Coming back after a few months away, has certainly allowed me to see the world through fresh eyes, and what last year I may not even have noticed except for a small shrug and a smile, is now on my radar again. It’s a fun time!

So I wanted to share some of the examples I could think of, just in the last week:

Let me start with a classic Kamwenge story that left Michael’s medical mind gob-smacked. Several days ago, a tired grandmother came in with a wailing 4 week old newborn. The grandmother explained the mother had dropped the baby at her doorstep and left her to care for him. She had been giving it cow’s milk, an extremely less than ideal situation since babies that young struggle to even digest the milk enzymes. One of our clinical officers insisted to her that the baby needed breast milk. Reluctantly, the grandmother agreed, than casually fished out her droopy dark boob and offered it to the baby. Even more bizarre – there was milk there and the baby started to suckle!! The grandmother’s youngest child was 9. Only in Kamwenge…

Continuing in the maternal vein, a woman was very much in labour at our clinic the other day, as is the norm. She was told to stay in the delivery suite, since she was almost fully dilated. But stubbornly, she ventured out, walking into the staff compound. I passed her and one of our security officers pacing near our home, and enquired why she was here. The security officer Paul shook his head meekly and suggested quietly “sincerely, you can’t manage [order around] a woman when the baby is ready to come”. Then gave me a desperate, pleading look which I translated as “please for the love of God don’t ask me to order this woman off the staff compound and back to the clinic”. A few minutes later she stubbornly delivered the baby right there on the grass, with the help of our midwife and a plastic sheet from the trusty mama kit!

The work visa issue has reared its ugly head once again. This time we are up to 7 months worth of attempts, but thankfully are not far away from completion. Michael called a contact in immigration the other day to ask if he could check on the file, which was a few offices away in the same courtyard. The response was priceless: “it is raining too much – you call me back in one hour.” Who would’ve thought rain could have such an impact on life’s possibilities!

The sense of community here always makes me smile. I visited the one bank in Kamwenge yesterday to drop off a cheque, and was met with smiling faces and echoes of ‘welcome back’, before people asked how my family and friends were back home. After the greetings, the inevitable moment arrives when everyone (and I mean everyone – from the MH groundskeepers, to our regular diabetes patient at the clinic, to the bank staff) comment on my fatness. *sigh* Here’s hoping that one day big becomes beautiful in Australian culture too.

Then there was the back-up taxi driver who has occasionally (read reluctantly) picked up blood from Fort Portal (2 hours away) and delivered it to the clinic. Kamwenge taxi’s are normally Toyota sedans that carry up to 15 people in their ‘5 seater’ cars. We urgently needed blood this week. So when the blood bank finally gave us the word that they had some ready and packed for us, we begged this guy to help us. He refused, reminding us last time he had to wait a long time for the blood and missed out on passengers. We called again and begged. This time, a pastor had boarded the vehicle, and reprimanded him:  ‘It is the right thing to do and you will be saving lives – God is watching you!’. We got our blood. You can always count on a pastor pulling people into line in Kamwenge taxis.

Then there is the continued obsession with my fertility for most people in Kamwenge, considering I have been married four years and not yet produced. *gasp!* (In Australia it could be argued that that is normal and a decision that is made by the husband and wife alone.)  Alas, I live in Kamwenge, and I think some are actually making it into a hobby. Each day now, our young newly employed midwife at MH asks me the obligatory question ‘Kim, when are you coming for antenatal?’ to which I always reply, ‘My dear, you wait!’…

One part of life I have never been so keen on is the reminder that meat comes from animals (I know, I am soft and should be able to face facts even as a city girl, etc). Visiting the butcher in Kamwenge always provides a solid reminder. We have a staff party tonight, which should be a lot of fun. However, we now have 2 goats and 3 chickens wondering around the MH compound, and I am sorrowfully trying to remain emotionally unattached, knowing that I have a rare opportunity to eat fried chicken and roasted goat tonight! I walked out of my house 15 minutes ago to see one goat being skinned while the other was tethered nearby and forced to watch his fate – surely that is animal abuse!

So there is a snap shot for you for the first 2 weeks of hilarity at home in the ‘wenge. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

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