Monday, December 31, 2007

What I Got For Christmas

Apart from sunrise, sunset is my favorite time of day. So as I sit on the porch of the medical clinic, waiting the thirty minutes for my Malaria test results to come back, I enjoy streaks of the day's waning light against the passers by. The busy dirt street this evening is for me ubiquitously Ugandan, with its boda bodas zipping to and fro, men and women carrying their loads, and children everywhere playing.

Paraphrasing my computer dictionary, Malaria is defined as an intermittent and remittent fever caused by a protozoan parasite that invades the red blood cells. The parasite, transmitted by mosquitoes, is found in many tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, including Uganda. The name Malaria originally comes from the 18th century Italian term "mala aria," which referred to the 'bad air' caused by fumes promulgating from marshlands. These fumes were originally thought to be the cause of the illness we now call Malaria.

As I sit watching people pass by I reflect on the consequences of my test results. Oddly, I'm split between which fate is better. The obvious downside of having Malaria is, of course, that you have malaria, and will always have it. On the other hand, I will also get drugs that should swiftly relieve my symptoms. If I don't have it I'll have to wait out my time in purgatory without a clear idea of what my ailment is or when my fever will end. On top of this is the added shame in coming to the clinic without the vindication of a serious illness; "No, it's not Malaria you Mzungu weakling." In any case, I had already managed to coach my football team throughout the entire weekend with the same sickness. Wouldn't Malaria have prohibited that?

While I wait two, toddlers approach me from next door. Even within the incredibly cute demographic of young Ugandan childrenin these two rank among the top decile. One of them, the older girl, is an institution on the block and regular instigator of the ever-popular "Mzungu, how are you" chant/singalong. Her bright eyes and excited smile are irresistible, and if it weren’t for the 20 plus year age difference between us (me being 24, she being around 4)I think I would have a serious crush on her. The other, I assume her slightly younger brother, shares her wide-eyed expression of continual awe and amusement. Together, Spik and Span converse with me, me reciting small words and phrases and them shouting incomprehensible commands at me in baby-talk Luganda. Behind me another adult patient laughs at our babelian discourse. Seemingly satisfied with talking, the younger brother begins to strip off his clothing, one article at a time (incidentally, he is only wearing a shirt and pants). First comes his shirt, which for a while stops to serve as a sort of turban as it makes its way over his head. When it finally does come off it transforms into a "terrible towel," swung around the head and against the ground for added emphasis. Incredibly amused but slightly embarrassed I chuckle to myself as I make continual side-long glances at the little sideshow act beside me. The older sister, not one to be left out as she observes both her younger brother and my reactions, raises her shirt to simultaneously reveal her full tummy and shield the bottom half of her face. Obviously inspired by my reaction, the boy proceeds to drop his shorts for his mixed audience of fellow toddlers, clinic patients and passersby on the street. I cannot contain myself, and my chuckle boils over into a full-on laugh, which reinforces the laughs of the fellow patients on the waitingroom-porch and the antics of the two kids. I laugh and laugh until I'm crying, the tears streaming down my face. And I welcomed the laughter of others around me. Together we enjoyed the ridiculous of everything.

My diagnosis, when it came, was both a relief and a sobering experience.
"Yes, you have Malaria."
"I do?"
"You even have Malaria plus."
"Malaria plus? What’s that?"
"You have Malaria plus more Malaria."
"Malaria plus more Malaria?"
"Yes. But, you will be ok because you will take this medicine."

Without a clear explanation of what this diagnosis signified, I eventually took it to mean that in fact I had been infected by more than one strain of Malaria. The treatment, apparently, is the following:

Metakelfin 500 mg, two tabs once after dinner the first night
Ciprofloxacin 500 mg, one tab twice a day 12 hours apart (morning and evening)
Various painkillers, multiple times a day
In addition I am continuing to take the weekly Larium dosage I got in the States.

I remember the first time the reality of the possibility of getting Malaria struck me. It was last spring while I was reading the blog of a Danish UN worker stationed in Uganda. Her account of getting the parasite, and especially her account of having dealing with reactions to having it hit home the reality of getting it. I think in part it was because I was reading her accounts at practically the same time that she was experiencing what she was writing about. Somehow the relationship between experience and account affected my interpretation of its consequences on me. It's not the first time blogging has had this impact on me, and in fact I think it is part of the reason why I find the medium so interesting. Real people wil real problems writing in nearly real-time.

Every time I get the feeling that Malaria isn’t so bad, Malaria seems to want to remind me of itself in yet another way. Yesterday it was my skin's hypersensitivity. Today it's stomach pains and diarrhea. Luckily, I have companions close by, some of whom have already experienced Malaria and even one who was diagnosed with it for the first time a day before me (Ian for those of you who'd like to know). I'm glad that I'm sick here, where Malaria is as much a part of life as chickenpox is back home. Still, I hope that this isn't the type of Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas and Conservation

Today actually seems quite festive here, with Christmas music and decorations abounding. Unfortunately, my mood at the internet cafe isn't as festive due to the poor connection speed.

Several factors, including the nature of consumerism and consumption here, the book I'm reading (Thoreaux's Walden) and news about local and national environmental events back home, have got me thinking about what it means to live an environmentally aware lifestyle. On the one hand some things, like energy consumption, are easy to mitigate here, where both infrastructure and money are lacking. On the other hand some things, like physical waste and sewage, are a nightmare. It's fascinating how social perception and the status quo can be so different between communities. Here, using a fraction of the power and water we use in the States goes hand in hand with littering any time, anywhere. Both take place on levels unthinkable in the U.S. How can it be so difficult to have Americans change thier lightbulbs (and save money in the process!), while flourescents are nearly universal here? Why is the recent decision to place 500 garbage bins (probably the first ever) on Kampala street corners need be such a newsworthy achievement? Public attitude has a lot to do with it, and its one of the reasons why we should pay more attention to changing public perception about conservation in the U.S. (which, I will add, isn't to say we need to shove environmentalism down everyone's throat. There are enough reasons to conserve besides the environmental benefit. Let's think pragmatically).

I'm not entirely sure why I felt this was a good Christmas topic, but given the stark difference between the American Xmas consumer-fest (of which I normally and happily take part in) and the Ugandan version, I thought the reflection appropriate.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Over the last few weeks I've become introduced, through clips and snippets of conversations, to the topic of witchfract in Uganda and Africa. I've yet to watch the video Big gave me on the subject, but he swears by all that is good that it will convince me of their powers. For instance, apparently there is a way to tunnel underground or under water to attain great material wealth and riches. This explains how some Africans become rich without seeming to earn money working.

Today Big's stories of witchcraft were corroborated by Steve and Frank, two other players on the football team I coach. They say that the power witch doctors wield in African is large, and that there are many witch doctors in Uganda and even in Kawempe, where I stay. They say that some of these witch doctores are pastors by day, although from my talk with them it seemed liek for the most part witch doctors are scorned by church-goers. Interestingly, many Christians in Uganda believe that these traditional withc doctors do the work of Satan, which seems to have the effect of legitimizing their power and authority within the community. Steve said that he spoke with his pastor about witch doctors, and was told that they worked for the devil, who had more influence on earth than God.

Steve and Frank have also informed me that rumor has it Didier Drogba, Chelsea's star Cote d'Ivoire striker, gained his power from witchcraft. This is meant to explain his rise to fame, as well as his teammate's, Ukranian striker Andreav Schevchenko, lack-luster performance at Chelsea after he was traded from A.C. Milan. Ditto goes for the Argentinian Hernan Crespo. When I asked why the Drogba-initiated curse haven't affected Chelsea midfielder Michael Essian (from Ghana), Steve reported that it was much more difficult to cure and African.

In general I've found superstition in Uganda a very real, if suble, part of everyday life, ranging from neighbors hexing "possessed" dogs to curses in children's games.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ugandan Top Ten

My top ten favorites so far in Uganda:

#10) Hanging out on my front porch listening to the BBC.

#9) Watching the Kawempe street traffic from the third floor internet cafe terrace.

#8) Playing Scrabble with the boys on my soccer team.

#7) Watching the fire flies on the path to my house at dusk.

#6) Rolexes/Kikommandos.

#5) Sunday brunch at 1,000 Cup coffee shop in Kampala.

#4) Sipping a Nile Special with the locals at Twins' Bar.

#3) Riding the ferry from Kalangala to Entebbe on lake Victoria.

#2) Eating the "local food" dish (beans/peas, rice, corn posho, banana, casava and sweet potato).

#1) Surprising happy Ugandans with my basic Luganda language knowledge.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


NOTE: This should be up on my website but because I'm having problems accessing it right now I thought I'd put it here and link to it later.

The team that has been called the TASAAGA Football Club informally for the past two months since its formation now has an official name: Christian Alexander Football Club. I wasn't initially happy with the choice, but I've since been convinced that it was the players' decision and one of the only ways in which they could repay me for the work and resources I've put in to make the club a reality. Of course I've tried to make them realize that it wasn't just me who made this happen, but also everyone who has helped me get here and do this work. In the end however I had to accept the name. We have registered for our first tournament, the Ogonto Co-operative Tournament, and will be competing with 15 other teams for the top prizes: a bull for first place and a goat for second. Our first game was a draw after an unfortunate late minute equalizer by the opposing team. Unhappily, I was away at Lake Victoria and missed the first match, but am excited to see us again in action next week. We are also working to get the team registered with the national Ugandan league in the 2nd division.

Classes for the kids have also begun, and I'm excited about their current enthusiasm and alittle nervous about meeting their expectations. The real trick is to keep the topics interesting enough to get them to come back, analytical enough to satisfy my own standards, and practical enough to be of some use to them. So far I think I've done a good enough job, but I'm going to have to continue to put work in if I hope to accomplish everything I'd like to.

I've definitely felt a tinge of homesickness during the past week or two. I expect this is natural, and so instead of suppressing it I've simply worked to keep the daydreaming positive and avoid it from clouding my experience here.

It was great to see Jay, a college buddy, drop in from Jo-berg for the weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing Ian when he comes up here soon.

Sun Power on Lake Victoria

Of all the curious comparisons one could make between Uganda and the US, I think that it is those things here that most imitate what I wish were true at home that I find the most interesting. An example demonstrates how Africa influences my ideas about my utopian America.

This week I graveled to the Sesse Islands, located on Lake Victoria. The islands are located fairly near to Entebbe, and hold some of the most beautiful sceneries I've yet found in Uganda. The islands are responsible for their own electricity, and as such have found solar power to be one of the most cost effective ways of making this happen. Throughout the villages and local hotels in the Kalangala district, where I was staying, one could find solar panels on rooftops and makeshift stands quite easily. A local store in town catered to the solar market, and the town even had an internet cafe that used solar power.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to speak with either the solar store owner or his clients about the details of the industry there. Still, it blows my mind that one of the most powerful sources of energy we have is being put to better use here than in most places back home. Of course they also use less energy here in general, something we would also do well to imitate. Like most Americans, I wouldn't choose to live using as little power as Ugandans do, but living here does definitely help put into perspective what aspects of our lifestyle are complete wastes of energy.

My interest with cost effective renewable energy may lead me back down there again to do a little more research. I imagine that we may have something to learn from them, for in a land where wealth and resources are severely limited a necessity is put on being efficient.

Pictures should be here, but I'm having trouble uploading them right now. They should be up later.