Thursday, June 19, 2008
THE ROAD, EARLY: Scott’s post from yesterday eloquently puts that day into words. Heidi and I left home at 9 am, did priorty-only hospital work and were on the road at 10:15. We arrived at our destination in Kampala twelve hours later about 10 pm, and only by the grace of God, the prayers of the powerless (I started the day on the ward asking a widowed grandmother of a motherless baby to pray for ME since I pray out loud daily for them), and the chivalry of my husband who sacrificed his entire day to our rescue. Please try to picture Heidi and I, with Melen and baby Jonah, peering under the hood of an unfamiliar borrowed car, discussing in Lubwisi mechanical issues I don’t even understand in English with a motorcycle mechanic who materialized out of the nearest village slightly inebriated. But even in that hour or two, we saw some amazing mercies. We broke down 50 meters from a pay-to-use phone kiosk, probably the only connection within many, many miles. Within minutes people we knew in a hospital truck stopped, gave intelligent opinions (including chiding me for not checking the water in the radiator like any decent African driver before a trip) and offered to take Melen on her way, since she was trying to get to Fort Portal and back the same day (still chasing the paperwork for Jonah’s estate). In the midst of trudging back and forth to the nearby village to get water and use the phone, the young man who owned the phone kiosk became my self-appointed assistant. I could hear his friends, the ever-present idle crowd of men, teasing him. And he turned to them and said something like “Of course we are helping her, she is our person, don’t you know she works here in our district for us all these years?” It was a very sweet moment for me. How many times have I seen our own need call out kindness, the opportunity to be helped a moment of connection?
THE ROAD, EVER ON AND ON: Once Scott saved us and switched cars, we bounced along to Fort Portal, where we did have one moment of panic when the truck would not turn on after refueling. But it turned out to be a loose battery connection from switching batteries from car to car (so we’d have the only functional one) . . .and so we went on. I don’t usually drive, and felt pretty nervous about the responsibility. But I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Heidi more than we’ve ever had a chance.. We knew we were so late by this time that we pressed on without stopping for food or drink or anything else. But our rush was not enough to get us to Kampala before dark. The last hour and a half were nothing short of harrowing: darkness unbroken by street lights, so only the narrow field in our headlight beams was visible, the crumbling road pocked by random deep hidden potholes, swerving to maneuver around them, while trying to avoid head-on collisions with oncoming road-dominating suicidal trucks on a fragment of tarmac that is not wide enough for two vehicles, being blinded by the oncoming headlights, and just to make things interesting the sides of the roads packed with pedestrians, bicyclists, the occasional cow, students, last-minute market shoppers, carts, you name it, all seemingly dressed in the darkest clothes possible. And to make it even more interesting, we were right behind a fuel tanker for a good while, the kind that regularly blows up in accidents here. At one point a mountain of dirt, no doubt intended for road repair, appeared in our lane suddenly out of the dark, and if Heidi had not yelled I might have hit it. But she kept her humor, I kept my focus, and somehow we survived. We were so exhausted by the time we arrived we could barely eat and fall into bed.
THE APPEALS: We were up early today to re-enter the traffic struggle, an hour-and-a-half of inching progress, futilely whistling policemen, cars driving the wrong way in lanes that don’t exist, swarms of boda-bodas cutting in between the bumpers, in short Kampala. Our first stop was UNICEF, a brand new beautiful building with security and buzzers and air conditioning and desks and phones . . . Not exactly what we’re used to. But we dressed up and tried to be confident. Our contact there put us at ease, and within an hour we had worked out an agreement for them to supply our nutrition unit with about 9 thousand dollars worth of special formula per year. Small in the UNICEF world, but huge for us. Instead of being cut off, we are expecting a supply to arrive next week. Hooray!
From there we found the nursing board, the initial impetus for the trip. Heidi had been scheduled for an interview at 11 am. We checked in with the receptionist, and sat to wait. The lady on the phone had told Heidi it would take a few minutes. A half hour later we decided I should proceed with the day’s tasks and come back for Heidi. It turned out to be a wise decision, since the 11 am interview happened about about 3 pm..
Meanwhile I found the Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit at Mulago Hospital, the national referral hospital. There is something about the open-air, single-story clusters of colonial-era African hospital wards that I love in spite of the peeling paint and scant resources. Here disease is not glossed over or sterilized: hungry kids are lined up and intent staff are going about their daily tasks as if it is perfectly normal to mix milk in plastic pails and cook porridge in charcoal-blackened pans. Because it is. I stumbled upon Save-the-Children-UK filming documentary footage of malnutrition in relation to rising global food prices, and then spent some time with the staff. I came away impressed by the articulate and competent nutritionist in charge, and having a connection of sorts for sending our staff for better training.
Heidi was still waiting. So from Mulago I found the Clinton Foundation office, where I had a very pleasant meeting with the young program director. He listened to the needs in Bundibugyo and then pulled out a pen and calculator and committed to sending 150 cartons of plumpynut, a ready-to-eat food supplement the foundation supplies to HIV positive malnourished children, next week! It turns out he’s changing jobs next week, so the timing was very providential. I was beginning to have that feeling that the angels had put a sign on my forehead: give this woman whatever she asks for.
Heidi was still waiting, so riding the crest of the prayers going before me, I next found the EGPAF offices. I never do this kind of moving about town .. . . So they were all surprised to see me instead of Scott. But I explained that we had not been able to follow the newest guidelines for the treatment of HIV-infected mothers and babies because we lacked baby-formulations of AZT . . . And came away with 20 little boxes, a good start.
THE HARD NEWS: By this time it was late afternoon, and Heidi called to say she had finally been seen by the board. It seems they liked her paperwork and her presence, but there was the little detail they had forgotten to mention that she’d have to spend two months interning in a hospital in Kampala supervised by one of their registration board nurses if she wanted a work permit to continue nursing in Uganda. This was shocking news to all of us, and we’re still processing it, since 2 months without Heidi sounds pretty bleak to me, and two months in Kampala alone sounds pretty stressful to her. But after God opened the doors so decisively at UNICEF, Mulago, Clinton Foundation, and EGPAF . . It was hard not to suspect that even this apparent setback had a purpose we do not yet realize.
FINALLY: We finally got a bit to eat, a “breakfast” of falafel at 4, and managed to knock off some shopping and errands for team mates. One of the freedoms of being without kids: we had ice cream instead of dinner to wrap up our second 12-hour intense day.
I started the day with a Psalm about justice for the fatherless and widow, and ended the day having witnessed that Justice in motion.