Tag Archives: humour

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!

To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question

One of the greatest things about working in Kamwenge at Maranatha Health is the amount of amusing/humorous things that happen on a daily basis.

And I mean laugh out loud kind of funny, not a half-baked smile and a quaint story to relay later.

Patients, in particularly, provide endless sources of entertainment.

The other day we had a slightly obese woman admitted onto the ward. Because the staff aren’t nearly as politically correct as me, she immediately adopted the charming title: ‘the fat one’.

Which was quickly adjusted to become ‘the fat lazy one’, mainly because she refused to get out of bed (despite the fact she wasn’t that unwell after a few days at MH). I shouldn’t judge. I’m sure she had a hard life, with lots of children to look after, and probably just needed a good rest in a comfy bed.

I walked through the ward one day, to see her stretched out lying on her bed, in what could only be described as a typical sun baking position, her top half completely naked. I wandered over to the nurses desk enquiring about the lack of clothes. The explanation was a shrug, then a giggle.

After 3 days like this, she requested to go home. Michael explained that before she could go home, she would need to show she could get out of bed. Freshen up. Have a bathe. He even suggested (sensitively) that perhaps she could put some clothes on?

After another day and much coercion, the nurses got her out of bed. Then, she kind of went missing. Nobody saw her for about an hour. Michael and I were doing some work in the office, heads down, when Merinah one of the clinical officers came in. She looked at the external glass door of our office with mild amusement and asked ‘who is that’? Outside, on the cement ridge that borders the clinic, just outside the office door, was a lady fast asleep. We all lost it. As we watched she woke lazily, wriggled around to get a comfier position on the cement (??), and stripped down to reveal her breasts once again, oblivious to our laughter.

We gave up, and sent her home that day.

***

Michael and Andrew our administrator (and me to a much smaller extent) have one thing in common – we’re not very good with birds. Especially birds inside. My personal opinion? Birds belong outside…

The other day the three of us were having a management meeting in the office when a bird flew in an open window. Immediately Michael and Andrew hit the floor, as the bird fluttered and flung itself around the room. At first I tried to guide it to the open window, but crazy with fear and desperate to escape, it just kept smashing into the glass. I gave up and tried to flee the room. Eventually, it knocked itself out, although we were all too scared to go near it to check if it was dead. Andrew ordered me to ‘find Ibrah’.

Just for some context, Ibrah is our ‘machine’ – he is probably the strongest, fittest guy I know. MH last year sold him an unneeded (extremely heavy) wooden bed for his place, and he happily carried it all the way to town (about 2 kms), over his head, without flinching. Needless to say, the iddy-biddy bird would be no match for Ibrah.

However, Ibrah was not close by. Instead I found Bosco (our CD worker) walking towards me in the corridor, who quickly saw my half amused/half concerned expression and asked me what’s wrong. I explained and he came to the office. After laughing at our pathetic display, he crept over to the bird.

The bird flinched.

Bosco flinched.

It was a tense moment. He picked it up from its feathery tail (still half unconscious) but it moved and he dropped it in fear. He tried again, this time throwing it towards the door, its limp body no longer moving. Andrew finished the job, by soccering it out the door. We cheered.

The semi-concious bird had almost defeated three grown men and myself (an extremely competent woman!).

Bosco was the reluctant hero.

Compared to the rest of us, he was a bird whisperer.

***

There are plenty of funny moments every day, and anyone who comes to Maranatha will quickly realise we have quite a boisterous, energetic work place and staff, which I love!

However, there are some things we laugh at because there is nothing left to do.

It’s a common Ugandan trait – one I am still getting used to but slowly adopting myself to my surprise – to shake your head and laugh when you see the suffering around you. Not because you don’t have compassion, or because you think it’s hilarious, or because you think poverty should be laughed at.

Not because you don’t care, but because you do. Because if you don’t shake your head and laugh, you cry. And that is not acceptable most of the time – Ugandan culture is a culture of glass-half-full people.

Did you ever remember a time when someone was breaking bad news to a room of people, or your class was getting reprimanded, and you got the giggles? The ridiculousness, the terribleness of the situation caused you to slip out a sound of amusement? It is kind of like that. So many situations here and the grinding poverty and ignorance that creates them, is beyond our immediate control. Constantly you watch the worse possible scenario that could happen, play out in front of you like a terribly painful slapstick comedy routine.

Like the other day, when a young boy admitted was left for a whole day at the ward without his family. When the family finally returned with his ‘food’, the staff described it to me as ‘pig scraps in an unwashed detergent container’.

Or the 10th small child presenting at the clinic with a life-threatening infection due to an archaic ‘surgical’ procedure practiced by traditional healers, because the child had a bit of diarrhoea.

Or the woman you test positive for HIV who refuses ARV treatment because her husband will beat her if he finds out she is getting access to treatment.

So our staff laugh. I used to be indignant.  I used to get defensive of those they were laughing at. Now, sometimes, I try to laugh with them. And pray that God will bring change to this place, when so often I feel utterly powerless to do so.

But sometimes, as a last resort, we cry. The other day, the first child died at the Maranatha Health clinic. A little girl with cerebral malaria. Our staff did everything possible, but she did not make it. It was a very sad day. I wasn’t there when the mother took the body. But Michael was; he told me later that the memory of it will be etched in his mind forever. After preparing the body, the baby was wrapped in some material the mother had. She had no transport and no way of carrying the body – all we could find was a box. So as Michael looked towards the gate, he saw the tired woman slowly make her way down the hill and back towards her village on foot, a cardboard box perched above her head; inside her young daughter ready for burial.

Hamburger

With the birds singing and the breeze softly blowing through the trees and the sun setting in the Kamwenge sky, I had a flash of soulful peace rest upon me.

A moment of blissful beauty, where the world seemed to swell with intoxicating hope for a better day. At that moment, the words of Arundhati Roy filled my thoughts: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing”

What aroused this grand moment of hope?’ I hear you asking…

It is the little things sometimes, that lead me to my happy place.

On this occasion Michael and myself were talking to one of our employees. A man of good Kamwenge stock – a village Ugandan, through and through, until a few years ago when he had the opportunity to go ‘out’ as Ugandans call any place other than Uganda (the Australian equivalent of ‘overseas’). He travelled to Kenya (which borders Uganda) to the big, bustling city of Nairobi. We asked him about his impressions of the place. After the usual – much bigger/busier/more developed than Kampala – we got onto the topic of food.

‘Eh, they have something very nice there called ‘hamburger’. It is soooo nice. Have you heard of it?’ He asked with innocent interest.

We explained that this food called ‘hamburger’ is also in Australia, much to his surprise.

In fact, we told him, there is a restaurant there that is very cheap and provides hamburger very quickly. You can find this restaurant all over the world! In thousands of locations, in many  many countries. All selling ‘hamburger’.

All over the world? This was big news to our employee.

We explained further about this infamous restaurant chain called McDonalds – and how people all over the world know it by a giant yellow M – the golden arches.

He had never heard of McDonalds. No idea it even existed. The Kamwenge community (and Uganda at large) is utterly untouched by this money-making, environmentally destructive, exploitative, obesity-generating monopoly that has taken over the rest of the world.

Thus bringing me to my moment of serenity.

And for any McDonald’s management out there reading my blog – leave my new country alone!

Soccer and sorcery: only in Africa

Just wanted to share something that I found quite amusing…

Just to give you some context, Ugandans are soccer – mad (like most of the world its called football here but my allegiance to aussie rules prevents me from calling it that)

There was a big soccer game on TV on Saturday night, between the Ugandan national team (the Cranes) and the Kenyan team, to see if either could qualify for the Africa cup of nations. Neither team have played in the Africa cup for decades. And to be honest, that’s not a massive surprise – they don’t have the strongest soccer teams around…

We don’t have a TV, so Michael and I watched the game at a local pub, like most people in Kamwenge.Everyone took the game very seriously. It was quite painful to watch. Kenya played terribly, and although Uganda played much better, it was still a very non-eventful match. Not one goal was scored for the whole game, and it ended in a draw. But not before Uganda had about a million corners and even more shots at goal (while the Kenyans had almost none).

Once the game finished, we walked into town to grab some food, and I bumped into a good friend of mine. Of course, the topic immediately turned to the game that had just finished, with much clicking of tongues and shaking of heads from myself, her and the people around us. Then she said something I would never expect to hear in Australia:

‘Ah! These Kenyans! They were playing some very funny tricks!  Did you see the witch doctor with the pipe at the start of the match? He cursed us!’

With those around her nodding in agreement, and spurred on by my amused questions, my friend proceeded to explain to me how it was obvious – ‘proof’ was the word she used – that the Kenyans had cursed the Ugandan players. What was the proof?

They had so many chances to score, but always missed.

The theory was that the spell cast on them was similar to the curse used to render a woman infertile. Michael, with some other friends later, heard a similar theory about the almost naked medicine man who was chanting at the start of the match.

I don’t have much to say on this. I find it fascinating, slightly amusing and entirely different to what I know. But it certainly gives a glimpse into Bantu culture; the seeming absence of any authoritative line between physical and spiritual, the merging fragments of self.

An entertaining example of a very complex concept that I love about Africa.

Holism.

KFC: drama, illegal cock fighting rings and an identity crisis!

So, as promised, I thought I would offer you the next instalment of the life and times of Kamwenge’s Fascinating Chickens (KFC). All things considered, their life seems to hold much more drama, intrigue and excitement than mine – in the past few months there has been bullying and intimidation, all out blood and guts cock fighting, an identity crisis and even a baby in the mix. The drama continues….

Life was going on well in this quiet backwater in rural Africa. I was continuing my study of the ways of this world through my chickens. But then, something changed…

Me, happily boiling our chickens' eggs...

Someone gave us a gift of a rooster (Davis’s family actually, see my blog here) as a gift. Now, ordinarily one would love the gift of a rooster. This is a photo of us receiving our rooster. Let’s call him Stud (oh, the irony).

Stud, me and Michael's body 🙂

Me taking Stud to the car. He pooed all over my foot just after this photo was taken. Gross.

So, Stud arrived home and joined the chooks and the other rooster owned by our neighbour. From the beginning, we were very nervous about this combination, as the other rooster (lets call him Terminator) seemed to be incredibly territorial and had intimidated the last 3 roosters that had come into the backyard until they were killed in an attempt to save them from a torturous painful death. We were obviously concerned that Stud, our new prized possession would meet the same fate.

Our suspicions were quickly confirmed. Terminator did not take long to seize up our rooster and pronounce him a threat.

Everyday the bulling grew worse, until one day Terminator and Stud began fighting on our front Verandah. Now, I know in other countries cock fighting is some sick form of entertainment. But this is Uganda, and I was both shocked and appalled by this archaic display of testosterone (I’m not sure if chickens have testosterone, but you get the picture) and was not happy to have an illegal cock fighting ring in our backyard. In a flurry of wings and combs and tails and growling-type noises I never knew cocks could make, the cocks began to fight it out to the death. I watched, shrieking, as Stud was brutally beaten. Several times, in an act of desperation he threw himself up against the glass door head first, desperate to be inside in the safe haven of our loungeroom. Blood splattered on the glass. (I would have posted a photo of the splattered blood but wanted this blog to remain G-rated.) Eventually, Michael and I did the very brave thing and called the neighbour’s boy to break up the fight. He separated them and tied up the mean one. A few days later, Terminator was given away.

My Stud was a wimp…

But I shouldn’t judge. Perhaps something tragic and horrible happened to Stud for him to be like he is.

Our stud - with his damaged 'comb' after the fight. Who knew life could be so tough for a rooster?

But whatever the case, Stud has some serious issues. My husband’s professional doctor diagnosis was that Stud may actually be a hen, trapped in a rooster’s body. Other options are that he may be going through a simple identify crisis. This diagnosis is suspected for several reasons:

a) Stud’s attempt to fight the other cock back was hopeless. It was painfully pathetic to watch. Basically, he just crawled up into the foetal position (as much as is possible for a chicken) and wimpered. I don’t normally condone violence, but in this situation it was necessary for self defence; clearly Stud felt differently.

b) Stud cannot ‘crow’ like an ordinary rooster. Seriously. He gives this half-baked, much lower pitch ‘cock a doooooo’. That’s about all he can muster. Lately instead, we find him clucking like a hen.

c) Stud may have confusion about his species. His desperation to constantly be inside our house (following in the tradition of our other chickens) and his desperation to be around humans is concerning. Speaking with our neighbour the other day, she enquired ‘have I noticed how the rooster (Stud) always comes over to be with people when there is a conversation going on?’ She shares my theory, and we had a laugh…

But in case anyone is doubting his manhood – Stud has fathered a chick! It seems that not only are the local chickens much better at the business of survival, but also at preserving their species. They love to have baby chickens. This is a striking parallel to the fertility rate in Kamwenge – the average woman bares 7 children in her lifetime! (The Mzungu breed of chicken, on the other hand, refuses to sit on its eggs and rarely produce chicks.) Our baby chicken is SOOO cute and I spend long amounts of time gazing at it or taking unnecessary amounts of photos.

So here are some pictures of my new baby chicken:

Note: Regarding the house thing, Stud and I have come to an agreement. At the end of each day, he is too lazy to walk around the house to the backyard. When it starts to get dark he wants to enter the house. Why? To get to the other side! (haha) So now, if he doesn’t bother us the rest of the day, the deal is he can toddle through the house in the evening just on his way to his little home.

Quick update before publishing blog: My rooster, on its journey to the back yard, just POOPED sloppy diarrheoa poo all over my floor!! I think that terminates the agreement!!

The essential virtue for a life in Africa

Considering the amount of time and energy I have of late invested into learning the virtue of patience, I thought it would be appropriate to find out an accurate definition of this word that encapsulates so many of my challenges:

pa·tience  –noun

1. the quality of being patient,  as the bearing of provocation,annoyance,  misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss oftemper, irritation, or the like.

2. an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when  confronted with delay: to have patience with a slow learner.

3. quiet, steady perseverance; even tempered care;  diligence

All 3 of these definitions considered, I think my steep, stumbling climb towards the mountain peak of patience is moving along. Slowly, but I am moving. Of course, all is relative. I mean, how exactly do you define ‘without complaint, loss of temper, irritation or the like’? Such ambiguous terms…

One of the many wonderful things about being in Uganda is the unremitting opportunity I have to work on this virtue. To set up an Organisation from scratch, there are many many registrations, hoops to jump through, walls to scale, and lines to wait in.

I often look longingly (and yes, slightly jealously) at the many foreign volunteers wondering around Kampala, as they enjoy their weekends off of work, a spring in their step from the freedom that comes from knowing the buck does not stop with them. They need not worry about registrations & regulations, of NGO certificates & tax issues and of course the ongoing sagas of legal issues and land boundaries.

Michael and I have lost count of the number of days we have spent waiting in lines, at offices, & searching in vain to find unstipulated officials to sign unstipulated letters.

Last week we spent the week in Kampala attempting to obtain work visas.* The following takes place over the course of the week. We had absolutely all of the documents that were listed, and others that were not, just to cover all possible bases. Nervously, we entered the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where a swirl of mostly defeated looking people were waiting in lines for passports, visas and all manner of documents. By chance, we stumbled upon a helpful office lady. She pointed us in the direction of ‘window B’ which seemed to be the place to obtain visas, which we quickly deduced by the number of weary mzungu standing nervously in line for their n’th attempt at a visa.

Attempt 1: In anticipation, we step up to the window, exchanging greetings in a futile attempt at cracking a smile from the woman that could decide our fate. After a failed attempt (Michael’s charm normally works on Ugandan women, even I was smiling!) we explain that we need the “G” work visa and have all documents. Without even glancing up at us, she declares we need to submit all documents in a folder.

Attempt 2: An hour later, we are back with said folder. However this time, we have the wrong receipt from our NGO registration application. So, we call our Ugandan brother, who has the receipt, and he gives it to us that evening at home. Already, my ability to ‘suppress restlessness’ is waning.

Attempt 3: We now have necessary receipt and come smiling smugly to the counter in the morning. But alas, that is not enough. She now sends us off to get an official signature from the NGO board, where we spend 2 hours talking with the secretary (she was very helpful actually) before returning with the signature.

Attempt 4: It is now lunch time and everyone has knocked off for a good hour or so.  We are told to come back around 2 or 3. Slight ‘irritation’ developing.

Attempt 5: Begrudgingly, we hand over the file, in folder, with receipt to the same woman. This time she does flick through the file, but it seems we need another letter signed by one of the Ugandan board members. We have one, but it doesn’t say exactly the right thing. I do not do this ‘without complaint’. My patience is clearly wavering, and I show it.

Attempt 6: We arrive the next day, our patience becoming more and more compromised as the days pass us by.  We have the letter, as our Ugandan father who we live with in Kampala is on our board. This time, however, we had the wrong type of folder. Apparently this is a serious concern, and she advises us to go and purchase the correct one immediately. I struggle to remain ‘even tempered’ with our interaction this time.

Attempt 7: We come back armed with all documents, receipts, signatures and of course, the special folder. This time, she is happy to accept it – however, only after the photocopy of my passport is rotated 90 degrees within the file to look more ‘suitable’. It is only at this point that she presents us with the main issue at hand. Currently, there is no chairperson to preside over the Ugandan Visa Board, and so we will not be able to get a work permit until such time as they hire someone to fulfil this role. In the meantime, we must apply for a ‘special pass’ visa. In despair, I take the application form for the special pass. By this time, I am past having a temper. Perhaps that is what patience is all about?

Attempt 8: Armed with the special pass application form, we wait in line, praying to God that He may miraculously intervene in this situation in order to prevent us from taking drastic or violent action. It seems He does intervene. The woman takes our documents, the file, our special pass application – and then our passports. In return for the only identity we have in this country, she gives us a little slip of paper from the Department of Immigration that has scribbled on it our names and nationality:

Our current 'passports'

So with fear and trepidation, no passports, & the vague promise of a special pass visa in a week or so, we leave the Department of Immigration, Internal Affairs.

If you are the praying type, pray! 🙂

*Disclaimer: I am ABSOLUTELY aware of the ridiculous difficulty that foreigners are confronted with trying to obtain work visas in Australia, and think that it is equally ridiculous. I certainly don’t want to single out Ugandan bureaucracy, but am merely sharing my experience.