After arriving at my new placement in the village of Bulenga, I met with Derrick, the director of KACCAD-the grassroots organization that specifically works in the community to spread accurate and important information regarding HIV and prevention/treatment methods. I will be working a lot with them and doing a variety of things from participating in testing days to going on home visits where we follow-up with people in the community who we know are HIV-positive. Right now the situation is a bit crazy. Several volunteers are here through a different organization but most are leaving this week. I am sharing a room with 3 other girls and there are 2 more in the room next to us that also holds our "shower" for all 6! We are all short-term volunteers and besides us, there is an English guy from Engineers Without Borders and a girl in the Peace Corp. who has been living in Uganda now for roughly 18 months. However, within 5 days, there will only Brooke, a nurse from New Jersey, Chris the engineer, Jennette from the Peace Corps and myself. All of us are doing different things and I believe I will be mostly on my own or working with the guys of KACCAD, native Ugandans.
I had my first round of home visits Tuesday, two days after I arrived. To help explain the purpose of visiting someone's home rather than at a clinic or hostpital, it is important to understand the difference in culture from most Western countries: in Uganda when you are sick with anything from a cough to a serious disease it is expected to go to the house and show concern. Where we are used to calling someone so as not to make them feel burdened with someone they have to entertain at their home, here visiting is expected! So not only do we go and monitor the progress of HIV and how to advise them to better care for themselves, we are also there as a sign of respect and concern. Apparently, it is also seen as an honor to have a mzungu (white person) all the way from America visit so hopefully even if that is all I can do, they will know people are concerned and care from everywhere!
A little bit about my visits: We went to 3 houses and I came out a little discouraged and confused-I went with Nicholas, one of the guys who works for KACCAD and on the way, he handed me a notebook and asked me if I would hold it. Sure, no problem! We arrived at the first house and by house, I am not referring to a multi-floored building with a shingled room and doorbell where through the peephole you can see a well-lit living room for guests. The house was a two room home with the rooms separated by a sheet hanging up in between. In the first room the only furniture was a small table and 2 cushion-less wood chairs. Both Nicholas and I were offered the chairs while the woman who appeared much older than she must be, unrolled a straw mat and sat on the floor. Her baby, under a year old sat on the floor while her other boy, 6 years old, sat on the table. After sitting, Nicholas asked me to start taking notes. Here is where I got a little confused. Notes on....what?! I had no idea what to do or what I was supposed to be recording. I felt a little nervous and frustrated as I wanted to do a good job but felt like I had no idea how to do that! What/who/for what purpose are the notes? I took the best notes I could. With Nicholas translating, I wrote down how she is HIV positive with 2 children both tested negative. Her only source of income is manual labor. I couldn't help but think how that's the last thing she should be doing. The positive note-she is taking Septrin, the (free) drug that you can pick up at any HIV center which must be taken daily from the day you are first diagnosed until you die. The negative? She is not eating a balanced diet because she like most people here cannot afford it. Her main concern is her children and when she dies, how to continue their education. All children are required to pay school fees and while it seems very small, for many parents it is not feasible.
This woman speaks no english so the entire time Nicholas was speaking to her in Luganda and translating into english for me. The other frustrating part was when I was asked if I wanted to start asking her some questions. I felt a little taken aback; What is an appropriate question? What can I ask her that will not seem completely ignorant or worse, condescending? I had been "trained" the day before when I was given 2 print-outs talking about nutrition and sanitation. These were very basic points like making sure you cover your toilet as toilet here means crude hole in the ground. I did learn that here, the 4 basic food groups are considered carbohydrates, lipids and fats, protein, and water. Yep, water. To be honest I just felt like saying, "what is the point of me asking a question when it is just having to be translated in Luganda and surely you are aware of everything I am?" I didn't understand why I was needed and how I was useful for these visits. Of course for me I am getting an education and learning a lot but what about these people? How would it be helping them?
I think it is going to take me some time but I know I will be able to adjust and appreciate the differences as well as contribute!