I spent all of last week to the east (and somewhat north) of Kampala, visiting Jinja, Tororo and then a small village called Mawanga, on the border of the Bugiri and Iganga districts. It was a long, busy week, marked by power and internet and even plumbing deficits, but I was exactly where God wanted me, and that’s a wonderful thing!
The first and longest stop was in Jinja, and large town on the Nile. It is our oldest “partner” after Kampala, and where I would live if I lived in Uganda. (No worries – God hasn’t called me to live here!) I arrived on Sunday evening after the 2 1/2 hour (but only 80 kilometer) trip by the rain forest, sugar cane fields and tea plantations.
I had dinner with Smooth, a friend from Raleigh who lives here now, and his daughter Chloe at a lovely place by the water. (My husband admired my suffering for Jesus here…!)
Monday, I went out with hospice. We went up Kamuli Road, which has (thankfully!) been paved since the last time I was up there. We visited about a dozen patients with cancer, TB, and/or HIV/AIDS. It’s always hard, but also good. Hospice does such great work, and has such wonderful people, that you can’t help but put squeamishness aside to do what you can to support them.
We just honestly can’t comprehend what people, especially in the villages go through medically here. First of all, they get some extremely strange cancers. Many are HIV+ or have full blown AIDS. They have to travel big distances to go to a hospital, and most don’t have the money for the transport and/or any treatment. Most cancers are not diagnosed until there is pain from them, at which time the cancer is generally quite advanced. There is virtually no screening. While much more common now, there is still a stigma with HIV, so many people don’t get tested and get ARVs until symptoms arise. Without hospice and the medications they provide, pain management is virtually unheard of, even with advanced cancers.
This lady, right, has breast cancer that has spread to her lymph node. Nurse Beatrice explains her meds.
Tuesday was spent in Bukaleba at the Arise Africa property there. I visited the Secondary School, partially built hospital, guest house, the Ten Eighteen Primary School, and Babies Home. The kids are doing great, and it was a joy to see some of the children we’ve known for four or more years now.
There are a lot of needs at these facilities. Most of the kids at both schools aren’t paying (most can’t pay) and aren’t sponsored, and most are boarders so get food and medication along with schooling. This takes up a lot of Arise Africa’s funds. Dormitories are being built (they just need furnishings now) for the primary school, but until the older children can move from the babies home, the food expense there is very high. They’ve cultivated 3 acres with potatoes and cassava to help, and the older kids have less medical needs, but it is still a strain on the budget. And the hospital is on hold, as the funding has run out for now. Godfrey really needs to get a slab on top of the first floor to keep the rain out so that the bricks and mortar don’t start dissolving. Getting funds to finish at least the partial-basement and first floor levels would bring much needed medical care to the area, but then there is the cost of medicines and staffing. As you can see, funding is an ongoing problem for everyone here!
Wednesday morning i shopped for fabric for the Mawanga co-op in Jinja, and then we headed to Tororo. I met my friend Rinty, who runs the hospice there, and then we went to the guest house and visited for a few hours over tea and dinner. Green Meadows is a LOVELY place, new and open and clean. And the best shower in all of Uganda, I think!
Thursday I went in the field with the psycho-social team of Hospice Tororo (as opposed to the medical team). Dennis and Peter are the wonderful social workers, who have huge hearts for the people who come through the program. We visited one child, Hillary, who is a “sickler” – he has sickle cell anemia, and has had some very bad sickle cell crises in his short 7 years. He isn’t able to go to school because of his illness, but stays home with his father and grandmother.
We did two bereavement visits to the families of patients who had died in the last two weeks. The first was incredibly touching – I’ve told the story four times and cried every time. Lydia was 19, and had had a benign but growing brain tumor for some years. Her parents loved her. Really loved her. They took wonderful care of her, by all accounts. (Now, for us in the US, we may say, “Well, of course!” But here in Uganda, this is not at all a given. Many dying people are left all day to lie on dirt floors unattended; many children are abandoned and discarded by their parents, especially their fathers.) The social workers asked the parents how Lydia was in her last days. I couldn’t understand what the father was saying, but the grief in his voice brought tears to my eyes, and when he began to cry, I did as well. We all walked to her grave, a very elaborate concrete affair that cost much more than this family had, I know, and said a prayer and shed tears. It was an amazing privilege for me to be allowed to participate in their private grief.
Going out with hospice to these homes, as well as doing another bereavement visit for a brother-in-law who died within a month of being in hospice and check-up visit to a boy who has HIV and lives very meagerly with just his elderly grandfather, was, as always, a blessing. We take so many things for granted in the US (and the rest of the West). We know grief, but we don’t know suffering. We don’t understand being sick – to death – and no one being willing or able to take us to get care. We can’t imagine suffering pain without modern medicines. We don’t know the prejudices that come from being so sick with sickle cell or HIV that we can’t attend school, getting beaten for being absent or shunned because of a disease you did nothing to acquire. And yet, as always, there is so much joy in this country. Someone said to me this week: “We know how to do well in suffering in Africa. It’s when we are doing well that we lose sight of God. You in America know how to do well, but you don’t know how to suffer.”
I have to say that, in my experience, this is truth.