Tuesday, 26 June 2018
I’ve had a great day and now have a signed MOU with the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda! This has been an extremely productive trip for me. The pace was kind of crazy with running around and going “up and down and up and down”, as the Ugandan’s say regarding my two back to back weekend trips out of Kampala, but I had so much to do in only 2 and 1/2 weeks. I’ve kept Winnie very busy working on the research and going around town to meet with collaborators. Her assistance has been invaluable and I’m so grateful for a wonderful colleague and her partnership with me on this quest to advance pharmacy practice in Uganda! She is a calm presence whenever there is a snag in our plans, she grounds me and assures me things will work out alright. But I think she will be glad to get back to normal after I leave. 🙂
You’ve been hearing all about my research and capacity building project over the past 2 weeks but now I want to tell you about an interesting young woman I met in Masindi—she truly goes all out for her research. Julia, is a social anthropologist from the UK who is studying disabled people in rural Uganda. She is particularly interested in how they manage economically. The title of her project is “The disability rights movement in Bunyoro, Uganda: human rights, value, and negotiations of belonging.” She came to Uganda to study the disabled because Uganda has a very unique law that requires the election of Ministers of Parliament (MP’s) to specifically represent persons with disabilities. What I know about anthropology is small but I’ve heard of researchers who have lived with indigenous tribes/local people to get to know them and their culture better. I couldn’t imagine what that was like until I met and talked with Julia who does this in a place I have come to know well. Julia is a PhD student and when her research here in Uganda started somewhere around 18 months ago, she first had to learn the local language. Runyoro is quite a difficult language and is constructed much differently than English. This took her 6 months. To help you understand the significance of this feat she accomplished, none of the non-Ugandans that I know now living in Masindi for much much longer than 6 months, has learned Runyoro. They may understand and speak some phrases but no one actually can converse for hours on end in Runyoro. I’m not sure if Julia started living in the village while learning Runyoro or after but for the last year plus some, she has been living side by side with the disabled Ugandans she is observing. Her accommodations are meager, to say the least. Some people are amazed that I have had to use traditional toilets (holes in the ground) on occasion, but this is nothing compared to Julia using pit latrines all the time. She lives in a small block of houses built from red clay bricks covered with cement. She has a 1-room home that is split in two by a hanging curtain. She does have a bed to sleep in with a government issued, insecticide-treated bed net, but her only cooking implement is a small charcoal stove. She has no running water. She either collects rain water from the roof via a gutter downspout or pays 100 shillings per jerry can of water from the local, government provided well that is a 4-5 min walk from her home. She says she is lucky she is this close. Regardless of the source, she still uses a ceramic water filter before she can drink the water. I forgot to ask if she has electricity but I would venture to guess the answer is no. At first she did her own cooking using the coal stove but found it took a lot of time away from her research. She is now grateful that her neighbors are cooking and providing her food. Another question I asked was if she actually had a door to her 1-room house—I’ve seen these types of dwellings before and many Ugandans only have a curtain to cover the doorway. But Julia does have a door I’m happy to say. When I asked her about her research, what I mostly remember is her passion and enthusiasm for her work. She is going home to the UK in September but when one of the muzungos (white people) at the restaurant table asked if she was ready to go home, she stated that she was actually not ready to go home—she still has so much she wants to accomplish. So, the next time I’m feeling deprived because I’m eating beans and rice every day or not staying in a regular hotel, or I find a bug or two in my room, I’m going to remember Julia and how she happily lives in poverty conditions deep in the village to accomplish her research. I have nothing at all to complain about. Actually, I rarely feel this way and know I am really blessed to be able to be here in Uganda working with dedicated pharmacy practitioners who want to gain more skills and practice at the top of their field! Sound familiar? I think we all want this as pharmacists…to be challenged in our work, to be valued by other healthcare practitioners, and to provide care to patients that improves their lives.