Celebrating the Easter Holiday in Uganda was quite a treat for the students, residents, and me. It was a great cultural, if not a rewarding personal worship experience for us. About 85% of the country is Christian and besides celebrating on Easter Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Monday are official holidays. We found out that all of the outpatient clinics were closed, University classes were cancelled and the hospital ran a skeleton staff and most regular ward rounds were cancelled. We were fortunate to be able to work with some of the Ugandan Pharmacy Interns at Mulago Hospital on Friday morning but decided to change our trip to Jinja to Monday because of the holiday.
We all attended Easter service at All Saints Cathedral Church, which is part of the Church of Uganda. This Christian denomination is very similar to the Episcopal Church.
The service was packed full and we were happy to be able to get seats within the main sanctuary. There were tents set up outside the church with video screens so the service could be viewed. The tents were as full as the main building.
You might think this was because of Easter, but unlike many churches in the USA where services are packed on Easter and Christmas but attendance is low the rest of the year, using tents for overflow is quite normal for Ugandan churches. We chose this church because I had attended it last fall with Monty, the Biomedical Engineering Professor from Duke who is a Fulbright Scholar at Makerere University this year and with whom I shared a house during my Fulbright Specialist Projects last year. He found out about this church from the Professor he works with, Charles, and we attended it with his wife, Lydia. I explain this all because after church, we met up with Lydia and were invited to celebrate Easter with a barbecue at her home.
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and feasted on BBQ goat and chicken along with a delicious cream of carrot soup, potatoes, sausages, stewed vegetables, spaghetti, and roasted sweet banana. The latter was a favorite of us all. It is sold at roadside stands you pass on road trips and I had always wanted to taste it but I don’t feel safe eating from these vendors. But now we know how yummy it is. We finished the meal with a delicious spice cake. The Professor and his wife had invited their friends and family and we all really enjoyed socializing.
While I was in a deep discussion with the Professor, who is a Surgeon, and one of his friends about the challenges they face everyday as healthcare providers in Uganda, the students had been watching African music videos and learning some dance moves. This resulted in an invitation to a disco with the Professor and his wife and family later this week. We all had a lovely evening.
Sunday ended our first week in Kampala and as I pondered all of the new things I’ve encountered, three important observations have really stuck in my mind. The first two are the amazing services provided by Ugandans to Ugandans in honor of the Easter Holiday. On Friday when Stacy and I were meeting with Benjamin, the UCI pharmacist, we saw a bunch of young college students in red smocks with buckets of water and sponges. The nursing staff told us that these students were volunteering service by scrubbing the floors, walls, and stairs in the Cancer Center Wards. I was thoroughly impressed- it was clearly hard work. Their selfless act was allowing the normal cleaning crew to take a break on the most holy holiday of Good Friday. The second occurred when two of the students and I were reviewing patient charts on one of the Pediatric wards with the Ugandan Pharmacy Intern, David. As we talked, a large group of secondary school students (high school ages) entered with their Head Teacher. He made an announcement in Luganda and then a student began to pray. Each child carried a bag and after David translated for us, we realized the students had raised money to purchase essential items, which they had brought to give out to the parents of the children who were hospitalized. The gifts included milk, eggs, rice, sugar, and mosquito bed nets. All of the Moms were very appreciative and immediately began to use them, such as by adding milk to the porridge they had already prepared to give their child. What struck me is that these school children don’t have much themselves and I’m sure their parents struggle to pay their school fees, yet they took the time to raise funds to help those even more in need.
My third significant observation of the week occurred when the students and I were attending the JISSC conference. After each presentation by a health professions student, there were comments and feedback from the other students. I was very impressed with the quality of the research and talks, and the impassioned responses from the audience. One of the participants remarked about how wonderful the conference was and about how “one nation we are helping to build together”. What he meant is that if all Ugandan health professions students work together, they can make a difference to the health of the nation.
These experiences inspire me and I hope they show you the love and dedication Ugandans have for their country and people.