Wednesday, January 18, 2012

UGANDA DISPATCH # 2: Running in Uganda

I awoke in the middle of the night; a victim of jetlag. I did my best to fall back asleep and must have for a little while, but I eventually was up before first light and rearing to get my run started. 

I ran the dirt road towards Kenya and passed villagers just getting started with their day. All of them stared at me. Unlike neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, running is not as touted in Uganda. That coupled with the fact I was white and in the middle of literally nowhere caused many to jeer and others to cheer. But, most smiled and some ran alongside me, but that run was one of the toughest in recent memory. After a day and half of travel, malaria medications, new smells, new tastes, a new sleeping schedule and altitude, the run tired me out, but I wanted to get back on my normal schedule. The route was extremely hilly – almost unrunnable at times. In fact, I don’t recall a piece of flat ground. The dirty red road meandered over hill and dale for miles and miles. At one instance I was joined by some neighborhood kids. Another time I was joined by a middle aged man. He said “I will come with you”. He was wearing gum boots. As I finished, an elderly women who had seen me run out and now saw me again as I came back said, in perfect English, “very good work”.
For the first 11 night of my trip to East Africa I am staying at a guest house adjacent to a medical clinic. The clinic is run by a young America doctor and her husband. Essentially, this clinic, high up within the mountains of eastern Uganda, is the only medical outpost for miles and miles. Before doors open at 9:00am, there is already a line wrapped around the building. The clinic treats the gamut of ailments incurred in Africa.

Our living/bedroom is quite simple; 4 walls, a mattress covered by a mosquito net, a shelf and a table. The doors attached to the rooms must have been pulled from an old abandoned battleship. They’re steal and creak horribly when opened or closed. Their cries keep me up at night. Ester, our cook and cleaner, operates out of a wooden hut in the backyard. Food here is pretty bland and the menu usually is comprised a few of the following: posho (cornmeal and water), rice, beans and some form of meat. Laundry, naturally washed by hand, is done twice a week. All of the food we eat is collected or killed in the village that day. Thankfully the village also has beer, albeit warm. I’ve been trying to keep a steady stream of alcohol in my body since leaving Dulles, during our layover in Istanbul, Turkey, and once I arrived in country all in an effort to keep foreign toxins at bay. So far, so good. The road to town (there is only one road in the village and the “center” is only about a 1/3rd of a mile long) is marked with vendors selling bananas, chicken, beef, coffee and other locally acquired foodstuffs. All along the road small fires burn piles of trash. The first night of my stay I wandered into town with the host family in an effort to secure some suds. The local villagers were all very nice and eager to meet Westerners. The asking price for a warm bottle of Ugandan “Senator” or “Eagle” was approximately 2,000 shillings, or, roughly one USD. The vendors, some dressed smartly in faded sports coats and loose khakis, are adamant about returning the bottles so that they get their deposit back. This, I was promptly able to do. 

One of my jobs, while I am here, is to document (on camera) the efforts of the American couple running the clinic. The other, is to teach Ugandan secondary students how to use video cameras. This is what I do during most of the day, but I find time to explore the surrounding mountains, read in my bed and even had a chance to white water raft the Nile (about a 3-4 hour commute from the village) over the weekend in Jinja.

Upon returning from Jinja, I began to feel very ill. My stomach cramped up and I shivered the night in bed. I had had my daily allowance of self-prescribed beer, but it hadn’t worked.
I lost all willingness to eat or drink, shrunk into my bed sheets and wondered what was wrong with me. Time cures all, so I hunkered down to wait.


DM said...

Got to be careful what you eat, buddy. Takes awhile to develop the iron stomach. And hate to be a bore: but think about drinking plenty of filtered water in addition to suds. That helps. That shivering feeling, as I recall, might be from the malaria meds; those things are pretty tough on the system.

KLIM said...

The ironic thing was that I was doing everything I possibly could to avoid getting sick. I can't put my finger on it as I had the same food/drink as Emily (even denying certain local foods for fear of this), but with all the new "things", maybe sickness was inevitable. Yes, I've been drinking lots of water too - all bottled. I'm interested to chat about your time in Mali/Niger, again, when I return now that I have more perspective.