Tag Archives: rant

Think.

Below is a very honest journal entry I wrote after being back in Australia for about a month. Needless to say, in many ways its nice to be back home in Kamwenge….

Rolling and rising and revelling and envying

Costing and clinging and consuming and careless

The herd moves forward fast and furious

On towards the promises of profit and of perfection

Of needs. Of wants. Of desires. Of luxury

Just that little bit more…

And I can no longer stand still in the midst of the chaos.

I stumble.

Despite the best of intentions I am pulled forward by the inertia of culture and expectation and cravings I cannot hope to decipher.

Toyota. Apple. Ikea. Woolworths. Nestle. Unilever. Nokia….

Food processors, Personal spas, i-everythings, treadmills, must-have beauty products…

It is in no-one. And it is in everyone. I guess that is what culture is.

But the culture of consumerism costs.

The currency that we use to pay for all of this is money, and perhaps our relationships

But

It costs the developing world in cheap labour. There are millions and millions across the world that live conveniently below the poverty line, so we can maintain our standard of living. It is only because of their vulnerability and lack of voice, that we can afford such affluence.

It costs the natural resource base, with its finite supply eventually doomed to fail us all. And with so many of these resources comes the chaos of greedy conflict – Sudan, Congo, Angola, Nigeria, Iraq, Kuwait…

It costs the environment its life-giving force, as we pump CO2 into the air that is slowly heating the world, heightening the struggle for survival in Africa as the land becomes tougher, harsher, drier;  and creating wave after wave of refugees born from natural disasters.

It costs the planet’s wildlife their survival, as we pump tonnes of waste into our ocean and into our earth.

It costs our society the intrinsic beauty of needing each other. We stay behind closed doors, scared of losing what we have, forgetting the collection of people is more important than the collection of possessions

I’m not sure what the solution is. I have none to offer in this blog. I am part of the problem.

But I live in a place that is not governed by the law of luxury packaged as needs:

When the water goes off in my house (which it often does for weeks on end), I am pissed off and impatient and struggle to know what to do. My staff shrug their much stronger shoulders and collect their water in jerrycans.

When I spend time contracting carpenters to make wardrobes and tables and drawers to store my stuff, most of the people I know in Kamwenge fit what they own into one simple room.

When I collect up my rubbish for the week and proudly burn off what feels like so little, my neighbours find other uses for almost everything that I would consider disposable.

This is not judgement, this is an observation of my own heart and soul and culture. But when does it end?

What we consider ‘basic needs’ have been utterly corrupted by the messages we are fed, by the invisible lens of culture that covers the eyes of our spirit.

So next time you turn on the TV and watch an advertisement, or envy a friend’s <insert new piece of technology/furniture here>, or visit the shops, think.

THINK.

Just think.

Shoeless and stubborn

Those of you who know me well, will know that I detest shopping.

By shopping I mean buying ‘stuff’, not food. Food I love to buy. But I have to be in great need of clothes/shoes/bag/whatever, to be motivated to even attempt a shopping expedition. When I was in Australia, normally I would only end up in the dreaded shopping centre when my mother, my sister – or yes, embarrassingly a few times my husband – would drag me there because they were sick of me complaining endlessly about a certain thing I ‘needed’.

I still sit and ponder sometimes how women seem to be so good at it. And they actually really enjoy it. Many would actually choose to go shopping of their own free will. Some would even consider it a hobby. A relaxation activity.

Not me. I cannot think of anything more stressful. The salespeople, the expectation of having to come home with ‘stuff’, the time it takes, having to make decisions, the inevitable guilt associated with the purchase, the whole idea of fashion that I somehow have to manoeuvre…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like living simply, but my hatred of shopping is not really about my refusal to accumulate too much ‘stuff’. It’s much less selfless. I am normal, I like having pretty things; I just don’t like process of acquiring them.

Then I moved to Uganda.

The first few times I shopped in Uganda – in the past when I have lived here for shorter periods – I really enjoyed it. It was fun. It made me happy. I smiled and laughed. It was a good way to bond with Ugandan friends.  The clothes/shoes markets here offer a quintessential ‘African’ experience; colours and fabrics and clothes of every make and design, hundreds of stalls lined with endless piles of second hand clothing to sort through, sure opportunities to practice bargaining and language learning…

Now I’ve changed my mind. There are no more smiles. Let’s take shoe shopping for example, my least favourite of all shopping-related activities.

In Kampala (the capital of Uganda) there are basically 3 options for shoe shopping.

1. The classy establishments in the big shopping malls scattered around Kampala. This is where the beautiful people of Uganda shop, for equally beautiful shoes. For an up-country Kamwenge girl like myself, this is very daunting these days – walking into such shops I feel a little like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she attempts shopping on Rodeo Drive. The primary hurdle at these places is the cost – shoes range upwards from about 250,000 ($100). Considering I would never in my lifetime pay that much for shoes, as well as the fact that I don’t want to spend my entire salary on footwear (!!) this option is a no go.

2. Then there is Bata. The international chain shoe store that has locations across the country. Bata is always an option, and if I need to, I can always count on them. All prices, which are normally fair, are labelled so there is no bargaining (I’ve tried!). The issue with Bata is that they have the same range for about 6 months, and if you don’t like the options (which I don’t at the moment) it’s a lost cause. Given my fussiness with shoes/clothes – a frustrating quality of mine my husband will tell you – I often fail to find what I am looking for at Bata.

3. Which leads me to my last option: the classic Ugandan shoe shop, located anywhere and in anything – often a converted shipping container, squeezed between other clothes shops or market stalls, or at the side of the road on roughly made wooden shoe racks. Regardless, the shoes will have one thing in common – they are imported, second hand.

Now, I am not a ‘second hand’ snob. In Australia I often buy pre-loved stuff. No issues there. But I have quickly realised, especially with shoes, that there is one grand dilemma buying shoes from such places: Each pair of shoes will only come in one size.

So I walk into (or up to if it’s outside) a shoe shop. Let’s say there are 100 pairs of shoes. Due to that fact that I am looking for a specific type of shoe, I will probably only be interested in 10 of the 100. Then because they are second hand, there is the obvious issue of quality. That narrows it down to about 8 pairs. In Kamwenge and with my work in the village, I do quite a bit of walking, so any shoes have to be practical – so let’s cut that number in half, with 4 pairs of shoes remaining to choose from…

This is before I have tried any on. After a cursory look, I realise 2 aren’t anywhere near my size. They are out. One pair I really like – but alas after trying them on, they are just a little too small. I utter a sad goodbye to them also. So I am left with one pair. They aren’t amazing, but I am excited because they actually fit me. They are my only option. However, the girl in the shop knows I want them. She knows they are my only option. She has seen the other shoes fail. She also sees my shiny white skin and realises her luck is changing. All of a sudden the cost is high. You wouldn’t believe the quality of these shoes, she tells me. The best pair she has. They will cost 50,000 ($20) – much more than what they are worth.

Then comes the biggest problem. My husband and I have unique qualities we bring to the relationship when it comes to bargaining. Michael is a ‘Findlay’ through and through – he will make every last cent count, and won’t pay an ounce more than the value. Myself? I bring a stubbornness and pride to the relationship that forces me to accept only Ugandan prices when I buy things. No Muzungu prices for me. In combination, most of the time, it makes us a killer bargaining team at a Ugandan market. It can also make us very ineffective at buying items like shoes. Because those qualities also dictate that we walk away from the one pair of promising shoes that actually fit me because the shoe lady wants us to pay double what they are worth.

So once again, I leave shoeless with my pride in tact…

The Power of One

It’s finally happened. The much desired, dreamed of, it-feels-like-this-day-will-never-come, inevitable luxury has arrived.

The Maranatha Health buildings are going to be connected to the newly built hydro-dam and we will have electricity for the first time. WOW.

I think I’m a little bit shocked. We have been waiting for so long that I think we had resigned to the idea it might never come. ‘Hope’ in Uganda is a dangerous thing. I think we have had over 30 conversations with the electricity company since April (when the President came out to officially commission and ‘open’ the dam) where they have fed us false fables of electricity just around the corner.   We have been promised everything under the sun – from connection within a few hours, a few days, a week, a month. Every week there is a new rumour in town, about a cousin’s, father’s, friend’s son, who lives near/works with/is related to someone from the company who is operating the hydrodam and knows the inside scoop. The latest I heard was that the dam ‘had a problem’ and ‘donors from out were coming to fix it’ in March.

But now it is happening. There are engineers driving around in trucks with wires and men walking around with legitimate looking blue overalls, and the Ferdsault office is open and has given us a lovely little certificate to say we are ready for connection.

Driving back to the site after paying our registration and connection fee yesterday, Andrew (the MH administrator) and myself were dreaming excitedly of all  the things we could now use/do/have once we are connected. For the first beautiful moment in months, we had allowed ourselves to hope:

  • Guaranteed lights at night rather than Kerosene lanterns
  • No more frustration at laptops running out of battery power at work or home
  • A toaster, so we can pretend that Kamwenge bread isn’t stale
  • An iron, so our clothes aren’t wrinkled  (I could never bring myself to use a charcoal iron)
  • Hot water from our instant water heaters, rather than cold water showers
  • And most exciting for me – A REFRIDGERATOR!

In Kamwenge, we will be one of the only residential houses with a fridge. I am aware that it is a massive luxury. I lay in bed at night actually thinking about that (sad, I know). But it will change my life. How?

I no longer have to buy and boil milk every single day – we can keep it in the fridge so it doesn’t go off in 24 hours. It also means one less saucepan to clean each day

I can cook food for several days and store in the fridge

I don’t have to shop at the market every second day, as tomatoes/carrots/beans etc won’t go off within a few days

I can buy foods from Fort Portal/Kampala that I can’t get in Kamwenge – cheese, fresh non-sweet bread, nice cuts of meat, sauces…. YUM

I can cut up a pineapple and not have to attempt to eat the whole thing in one go- they’re just a little too big!

I can have COLD drinks- juice, soda, whatever. It will be COLD!

We have had solar for the past few months. It is incredibly unreliable and only charges a laptop or two and some lights (on a sunny day when it isn’t too cloudy). Realising how little a solar panel generates and all the appliances it won’t run (irons, toasters, kettles, fridges) and monitoring our energy needs/consumption so preciously has given me a new appreciation for the luxury of power. Of light. Of convenience. Of temperature control. Of power consumption.

In Uganda, the 10% or so of the population that make up the middle class might have a fridge. Often they will have a toaster and kettle. Perhaps a water heater. A TV. Beyond that, everything is still manual. Household electricity consumption is still so minimal. Only 10% of the population of Uganda even have access to the electricity grid. Those that do, often go days without power at a time, due to the lack of power generation and government failures to deliver on infrastructure.

This is unacceptable. But you know what frustrates me more? That in Australia, we take the luxury of power for granted. There has been so much complaining coming from Australian newspapers I have been reading online over the past 6 months, about the carbon tax and electricity prices going up in Australia. The general gist is that people are annoyed – ‘its not fair’ – and the government needs to find a way to lower prices. We assume we ‘need’ all of these appliances and all of this convenience so our lives can move faster. You know what though?

We actually don’t.

Take it from me. I have lived without a lot of that stuff for almost a year. Even the basics – irons, fridges, toasters, TVs, kettles, washing machines, even lights, for a lot of the time. Let alone the other stuff – dishwashers, microwaves, water heaters, air conditioners, a million gadgets, the flat screen, donut/icecream/waffle makers, clothes dryers, hair dryers, spas, the 2nd (or 3rd) fridge, etc. *

Instead of complaining about the cost of electricity, what about we try and lower our consumption? Because all of this electricity – it has to COME from somewhere. Electricity is costly to generate. Financially and environmentally. And if the rest of the world tried to consume as much as we did, our planet would be destroyed tomorrow. The end.

I am not trying to preach. I’m not an idealist. I have lived in Australia for most of my life. I understand that you think you need all that electricity. I have only really learnt about my consumption in the past year. I’ve learnt this as I’ve seen what I can live without, as I have been forced to check every appliance I brought over here to see if it could run off our little solar panel and now, if we can afford the cost of running it off the main grid.

Rather than idealistic, I am trying to be realistic about the state of our world. The cost you pay doesn’t even come close to the real environmental cost of coal-generated power. So If you don’t want to pay so much for electricity, than reduce the amount you use. Start looking at how much you consume. Which appliances are ‘necessary’ in your eyes, and which ones can go. Whether you can do some things manually. I’m not asking you to use Kerosene lamps or candles, or boil your milk or water each day in a saucepan, or hand wash all your clothes and sheets and towels and dishes, or go without fans, fridges and air-conditioners, like me and everyone in my community does.

But I am asking you to care about the future of this planet

and own the choices you make.

 

*You will notice I haven’t mentioned laptops here – perhaps it is the exception to my post. I can’t live without mine! We are almost inseparable and I use mine (unless we have no solar power) everyday – for work, study and keeping in contact with people….

Patients or Profits?

Perhaps it has something to do with the lack of, and ineffectiveness of, regulatory bodies. Perhaps the training at many Universities is below par. Perhaps it is due to the everyday Ugandan’s powerlessness and incapability of demanding and knowing their rights. Or perhaps it is the simple truth that money-motivated-medicine around the world always seems to behave badly.  I’m not sure why it is the way it is – I will not presume to give an opinion on a complex issue I know almost nothing about.

What am I talking about?

Poor quality medical services – in this case the private system – in Uganda.*

The public system in many developing countries has a lot to be desired, and a thousand reasons why this is so. But the private system? The system with money and drugs and equipment and trained staff on good salaries?

I wanted to share a simple story of something that happened the other day that left me bewildered. Before I share my experience, let me first say that there are many intelligent, professional, trustworthy doctors in Uganda who practice very good medicine. Unfortunately, they are not by any stretch of the imagination the majority.

Michael and I stayed with our family in Kampala for a few days last week. One night, our brother Pete (who’s a year older than me) staggered through the door complaining of a severe headache that he’d had most of the day. It had come on suddenly. After a heap of questions, Michael was convinced it was a migraine and all the symptoms pointed to this – whatever the case, we decided to take him to the Gensi’s family doctor, a private middle-class clinic a block from our place where he could get some fluids and painkillers. We (Michael, me, and Margaret, our mum) loaded Pete into our car to take him. It was peak hour, and so we sat impatiently waiting in traffic even though the clinic was literally around the corner, as Pete moaned and threatened to vomit in the car. Eventually, Margaret had had enough. She instructed Michael to put on his hazard lights, ordered him to drive on the wrong side of the road, abruptly jumped out of the car and starting stubbornly walking into the oncoming traffic (have I mentioned before that you don’t mess with Bakiga women?) as Michael eased his way past the jam on the wrong side of the road ignoring the glares from passing vehicles. Her display of motherly love was quite astounding, but I didn’t know whether to laugh at the situation or hide from angry faces in the vehicles that Margaret had forced to the side of the road.

Arriving at the clinic, a small building with a consulting room, a lab and a few rooms with beds, we found the doctor reading his newspaper. After getting his attention, he took a very short history from Pete – like 2 questions. Pete was convinced it was a migraine and not malaria; after all he had had malaria dozens of times in his life and knew what it felt like. Clearly though the doctor felt he had gathered the info he needed and had had enough of interacting with his patient, because at that point he wrote some things on a piece of paper, ordered a blood test, and told us to wait. There was no explanation given. Pete, in the meantime, was struggling to stay on his chair due to the pain.

After a few requests from Michael, they led him to a room with a bed in it, and shortly after a nurse came in. They apparently had the results of the blood tests back, although no staff mentioned this. She came loaded with several injections and ordered Pete to remain still as she jabbed him several times. He had no idea what the diagnosis was. No conversation with the doctor. No idea what treatment he was getting. No permission was sought to administer the drugs.

Pete was still dehydrated so Michael requested they get a drip into him. Reluctantly, they agreed. The headache had lasted a long time, so Michael also checked for signs of bleeding on the brain. Something they had also not bothered to do.

In the meantime, we were all curious to know what was happening, and what the diagnosis was. (These patients and their demands, how annoying…) Margaret went to find the doctor, who informed her that Pete had a bacterial infection. No further explanation.

Eventually, we found out what they treated him with. The list is as follows:

  • 1 shot of malaria treatment
  • 1 shot of anti-nausea
  • 2 shots of extremely heavy duty antibiotics
  • 1 shot of an anti-inflammatory (this one was actually for the migraine and very helpful)
  • 1 drip of glucose (used in patients with malaria), not helpful for rehydration

By this stage Michael was a little confused. He was convinced that all Pete had was a migraine, and he needed fluids and rest. So he asked the nurse to show him the lab results.

It turned out that Pete tested negative for malaria and negative for any bacterial infection. His white blood cell count was within the normal range.

After several hours, when he had slept and was feeling better, they discharged him and he came home. However, not without being told he would need to come back for the next three days, to have more anti-malarial and antibiotic injections. Up to this point, they had not mentioned money, but Pete was dreading the cost. From past experience, Pete estimated it would be around 300,000UGX  (A$150) or possibly more. That is big money in Uganda.

Now, I’m not a doctor. I have not been through medical school. But being married to a GP – wait – even visiting a GP on many occasions in Australia would have made me more equipped to deal with this situation than the doctor who saw Pete. Here’s ‘Kim’s General Practice Medicine 1-0-1’.

Lesson 1: Talk to your patient, gather a comprehensive history, think of all possible causes (not just malaria because it’s an easy diagnosis).

Lesson 2: Once you have a diagnosis, communicate this to your patient.

Lesson 3: Make sure your diagnosis is based on facts/lab tests/at least some semblance of science and NOT based on the fact that you can charge more money for medication if its malaria or infection (or both?!), which it clearly was not. If in doubt, run the tests again.

Lesson 4: If you are going to administer drugs, explain the diagnosis and medications to the patient and SEEK his permission to administer them. Again, communication is key! In Australia we call administering drugs without permission ‘assault.’

Lesson 5: Do not treat your patient for diseases he doesn’t have, so that you continue the spiral of malarial and antibiotic resistance that are out of control in places like Uganda where drugs are not regulated well.

Lesson 6: Don’t be a money-hungry incompetent idiot.

Thus endeth my rant for today.

*By the way, I don’t deliberately mean to exclude some of the terrible displays of medicine practiced in Australia – by a wide range of doctors.  Statistics show that the average private surgeon in Australia will operate many more times than necessary if there is a bit of money to be made and some fun to be had – often to the detriment of the patient.