Bugabula B Village, Bulongo Sub-County
Bugabula B Village, Bulongo Sub-County
Matt Moy (Team leader) – MPH at Benedictine 2007, first year medical student at Chicago Medical School
Mumbe Lawrence (Ugandan leader) – Public Administration and Communication at Makerere University 2008
Amanda Hibbard - Undergraduate at Suny Upstate Medical University 2010, Biomedical Science, Psychology
Kate Werringer – Undergraduate at Berkeley 2011, Molecular and Cell Biology, Psychology
Chrystal Shen (who left Uganda before this interview was conducted) – second year medical student at Mayo Clinic Medical School
We sit around a small wooden table in the shade of a low-down jackfruit tree, waiting for Kiyunga Health Center staff to arrive and begin the day’s HIV testing.
“Tell me about your village,” I say.
Matt, the team leader, launches into a Scottish accent: “We reside in a sweet little village, where the day begins with the crowing of the cock, and the sunset lights the sky afire o’er the bonny hills…”
I laugh. “Seriously now."
The team pauses. “Well, we live in the middle of nowhere,” says Matt. (Its true – Bugabula is an hour from Iganga town by motorcycle, down small, winding, dusty roads. Of our five Healthy Villages this summer, it is certainly the most isolated.)
“And the crow does really wake us every morning, around 7,” chimes in Amanda. (The kids in the village call her Charcoal, because that’s what ‘manda’ means in Lusoga.)
“The villagers ask us about our lives at home at lot,” says Matt. “About the roads, the houses, if we have goats wandering around everywhere like they do…. “
“Children,” Katie interjects, “are the main inhabitants of the village. Everywhere you go, you hear ‘Jambo, jambo! ‘” (Jambo means hello, originally a Swahili word, now used widely in Uganda.)
Amanda agrees. “ Where you walk, they follow.”
“Sometimes, when you can’t see any adults around, its like the kids have taken over. Like they own the village,” says Katie in a fake-ominous voice.
“Like Lord of the Flies,” Matt jokes, and the whole team laughs.
“The young adult population gambles and plays cards a lot,” says Matt after a moment. “And pool! I play pool with them sometimes, and then feel guilty about it, because I ought to be working.”
Lawrence, the team’s Ugandan volunteer, interjects. “When Matt came, he used to plan out every minute of every day… no, every second! But now, he’s stopped that – or at least it’s less.”
“Being here helps to chill me out,” Matt agrees.
“What do you guys do in the village, for fun?” I ask.
“Play with babies,” Amanda replies immediately, a zealous gleam in her eye.
The others simultaneously groan or make faces at her. “We call her baby-snatcher,“ says Katie. “She’s always got one in her arms… we’re afraid she’ll end up taking one home!” A second later Katie adds, “We also play jump-rope, limbo, we play soccer. We have conversations about where AIDS came from, America or Africa.”
“Oh, and we sing a song, with the kids, about slavery in the US!” says Amanda.
I ask them to sing a verse for me, and it’s horrible – all about slaves in America, working all day growing sugar and tea. One of the lines runs, “See my back, its is broken.”
“That’s terrible!” I exclaim, and we wander off on a tangent about slavery and colonialism.
“So,” I say finally, bringing the conversation back to potential blogging material, “What were the major challenges to your work here?”
“Adjusting to Uganda time,” replies Matt immediately. “And the language, of course… though once I figured out that conjugation goes at the beginning of words, picking it up was much easier.”
“Yeah, and I really think that Matt learning the language so well has opened up doors for us,” says Katie.
“It shows people that you are not isolating yourself,” agrees Lawrence. Despite his generally jolly demeanor, Lawrence’s words always come out sounding thoughtful, and particularly significant. “That you want to be part of the community. It’s one of the most important things here – learning the greetings, at least.”
Returning to my last question, Amanda responds, “The latrines, too, it took a while to get used to them.” The rest of the team agrees.
“Also,” Katie comments more seriously, “our village had very little experience with outreaches, so I think they might have had even less idea than other village about what we were here to do.”
“Yeah, it took a while just to communicate our goals here,” says Matt, and the rest all nod in agreement.
“And,” says Amanda, “I think one of the hardest aspects was the emotional side of things. UVP should maybe warn people… however you might try to keep a distance, you’ll end up getting attached. And you should, you know, its important. You need to get attached to do really good work here. But its hard, then, when people die, or get sick.”
The rest of the group agrees. “There’s been four burials while we were here,” says Matt. “A four year old, an eight year old, a one and a half year old, and a man that was supposedly over one hundred. But we’ve also been here for happy events – like a man ‘picking up’ his wife from her house, with a whole procession, and dancing, and ceremony, and music. That was really cool.”
“What were your major accomplishments, so far?” I ask, thinking I should lead the team to happier grounds.
“Integrating ourselves into the village,” says Amanda.
Matt agrees. “Definitely. Its like we’ve removed the disconnect between us and them.”
“And I think a lot of that came from playing with the little kids around the house,” Amanda comments. “We know all their names; they teach us Lusoga and we teach them English; we show them how to use WaterGuard… stuff like that.”
“What she says is actually right,” agrees Lawrence. “These guys, the children, are a connection to their community. We play with them, and they go home and tell their parents. ‘The mzungu let me come into their house,’ or ‘the mzungu was playing soccer with me in the yard.’ And then the parents think, ‘well, ok, these people cannot be bad.’ Its like a form of mobilization on its own."
“Besides that,” Matt continues, “I think we’ve done really well following up with WaterGuard and mosquito nets – we’ve maybe gotten to about half of our buyers. They seem to be using the products well, and remember our instructions. Which really shows, you know, the outreaches are working. “
“Also,” he says after a pause, “we’ve made so many good connections and contacts in our community. Partly because of the LC1, he’s so great – really interested in what’s good for the village, not just himself. “ (The LC1 is the elected leader of the village.)
“There’s so many amazing people in our village,” says Katie. “People who are really active, and care about their neighbors, and are interested in volunteering and doing whatever they can to help us, and to help their community.”
Amanda nods. “Perhaps,” she says, “the most important part of our work here has been just finding those people. You find them, and you do what you can to help them out, and then they do what they can to help the rest of their village out. You know, we’ve been lucky… maybe its just our village, or maybe not, but we’ve got some amazing, inspiring people living here. Some really incredible people.”