(Lugandan translation- Good Morning/How did you sleep?)
Preface: This is a haphazard stream of consciousness post from the past week. I promise to have more streamlined and coherent posts in the upcoming weeks. :-)
I have an infatuation with large lakes. Not to the extent that I will research them and try to discover of all of their intricacies, but more so that I am enamored by their beauty, their depth and their pure existence. The presence of great lakes somewhat baffles my mind because their sheer size in the middle of a large land mass somehow should not make sense. How all of a sudden you can have sand dunes that resemble the tropics in the northern climate of Michigan makes little sense, and it is for this reason among many others that I love large lakes. All this to say that although I knew that Lake Victoria was similarly a large lake that bordered multiple African countries, I was not nearly prepared by how truly vast it was upon my first view out of the window as we were beginning our descent into Uganda. Lake Victoria has the ability to make a landlocked country feel unlocked because it resembles that of a small ocean with multiple islands in the midst of it and the inability to see its end upon a glance even from above. Similarly, has my experience been so far in Uganda. I thought that I had a strong sense of what to expect, what to feel, what I would see, and how it would affect me, but what I have realized in the past week is that this experience is far more than I could have ever begun to imagine. As I stepped off the plane initially in Kenya, I was thoroughly excited to have my feet touch the motherland for the first time. It was definitely surreal but as we were confined to the airport, my emotions were still relatively at bay. Upon stepping off the plane in Entebbe and placing my feet on tarmac, it was at that point that my eyes began to well up and both my heart and mind felt an instant peace, an instant sense of belonging, a sudden sense of feeling home. I do not feel that my words can adequately express the feeling of being home in the motherland, but the moment was not lost on me.
As we drove about an hour from the Entebbe airport to our new home in Mpererwe, a neighborhood in the city of Kampala, our jetlagged eyes took in the rolling green hills and red clay roads of Uganda. Uganda’s natural beauty is something to truly behold and it easy to understand why in 1908 Winston’s Churchill famous words “For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly “the Pearl of Africa.” has remained the country’s slogan for over the last hundred years. As we approached Kampala, we could see some tall buildings, (not exactly the New York Skyline but beautiful nonetheless) and the unpaved clay roads. Although the amount of people in the roads, on the side of the roads and everywhere was something I have seen many times before in New York, it just felt different. Did it feel different because for the first time all of these people looked like me? Perhaps but I am not completely sure.
First Homestay and First Ugandan Meal
Despite my multiple living abroad experiences, I had never lived in a homestay. Because I had a few friends who had stayed with this family before and only had the best things to say, I knew that I would have a fantastic experience. However, I was still amazed by the degree of warmth, hospitality and love I immediately felt from the hugs that I received from my host family. As we sat down and ate dinner that first night, although essentially still strangers, it did not feel that way. It felt as though we had been sitting at their table for months. We were introduced to the staple food of Central Uganda, Matooke, which is green plantain but mashed and cooked in a unique way. You give me plantain and I am a happy girl and I am already trying to figure out how I can get some Matooke back in the States.
First Day at the Hospital
Hospital. Our perception of what that word should look like coming from the US is very different than what that word actually can mean worldwide. I almost feel embarrassed for myself that when I was interviewing at some hospitals over the past few months that I commented on how “old” things look because it may not have been as shiny and brand new as the hospital I saw a few days prior. Of course, my view of what a hospital should look like was relative to my experience up until that point, but when we just look at the definition of hospital: “an institution in which sick or injured persons are
given medical or surgical treatment”, it is just that simple. Although their resources may be minimal, the conditions unideal, they are not only providing medical and surgical treatment, they are providing intelligent, warm and comprehensive care to their patients. Moreover, the staff at the hospital are some of the most warm and welcoming people I have ever met. They immediately treated me as I was a part of the team and had been working there for months. One of the most unexpected things was how they actually listened to me and cared about my assessment and plan for our patients. Many times, as a medical student in the US, you come up with these comprehensive assessments and plans for your patients, but in the back of the mind you are fully aware that the team would have come to this same conclusion without your progress note and presentation. However, as I am preparing to actually take on the full fledge status of a physician in a few weeks (phew that just made my heart throw a PVC or two), their acceptance of my minimal knowledge and experience has already started to make me more comfortable in asserting what little I do know. I was also extremely grateful that after not having stepped into a hospital in the last 3 months that I still actually know stuff.
The biggest challenge is the language barrier and although many Ugandans speak some English, many do not and this is definitely a space that I really have not had to navigate before. Although I am trying to pick up as much conversational Lugandan as I can, it is a bit frustrating to not be able to talk and communicate like I would like to with my patients.
All of that to say is that there is so much to reflect on, so much to write about and more importantly so much to experience.