Monday, February 29, 2016

School Time!


The Big Fix manages all transportation with two motorcycles. Like most people in the area they spend plenty of time and money repairing the suspension because of the loads strapped to the front of rear of these small vehicles. I've seen loads of roof thatching or firewood stacked five feet high, 8 feet of metal pipe, doors, windows and more. Today Dr. Opira and I left on one motorcycle with storybooks and information posters in one of my suitcases.
Riding as a passenger on the boda is a pleasure in itself. The air is soft, the scenery slides by, and today we ventured out beyond Gulu city center (total population perhaps 100,000). Within a few minutes the huts and shop kiosks thinned out, the tarmac ended and the country opened into green countryside and red dust road. Even in "the city" I enjoy seeing the livestock. The goats are similar to what we know in the States as Nigerian Dwarf. They are small, busy foraging, and give plenty of milk. Chickens of all ages and sizes scavenge about. I love watching tiny new chicks run after the hen!  On our way out to Koch Ongako subcounty I saw occasional settlements by the road, families going about morning business. As in town, women and girls prepare cassava or chapati and set it in a bowl on a tiny table beside the road to indicate it is for sale: "fast food drive through".

The Big Fix had never visited our first school: Kweyo Primary School. Young children remind me more and more of puppies and kittens; even the body shape of little ones is similar. Primary children are in the US grade equivalents 1-7.  It is the start of the school year here, so the smallest children retain a bewildered, overwhelmed countenance. In two weeks Kweyo Primary will host our field clinics, so part of the task was to motivate the children to bring their dogs and cats to the events!
The equivalent of the school principal did the translating for me, though I can feel I'm gaining vocabulary every day.
Me: "Hello students!" (translate)
"Who has gwok/gwogi (dogs)?!" (Translate, tentative hands raise, then more)
"To be safe around gwogi we have to read gwogi language!!" 
Then I tried to act out growling, cowering, ears back, tail between legs, when never to approach a dog, etc. The translation really helped and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. I talked about a few other things, including the "5 freedoms" I've always loved.
I hope to see many of those small faces with their cats and dogs in a few weeks.
Dr. Opira gave a longer talk in Lwo-Acholi about the physiology of rabies. The pupils paid rapt attention.
Notice Dr. Wildred's pink shirt. It certainly is a wonderful color on him! It was, however, explained to me that this is one of the few colors not already taken by a political party. 

Our second school, Kock Li Primary, had met The Big Fix members in the past. Today Dr. Wilfred and I teamed up to read the book he wrote "Andogpiny and Tam-Pira" Other primary children did the illustrations and each page is presented in both English and the local language.  "So... Which language would you like to take in the reading?" He joked. Such a good soul, he is! The children really enjoyed the story. Andogpiny is a village woman who had lost all her family and shares her food with the small dog, Tam-Pira, despite the suspicion and derision of others. When Andogpiny has a medical crisis, Tam-pira runs for help, wrestles a python and waits outside the hospital until her person can come home. 

Despite the language barrier, the welcome I receive everywhere I go is almost overwhelming. Overall, I am immersed in a quiet culture. People don't speak loudly, they don't raise their voice. Sometimes I have trouble hearing the men I live with and I think "Oh no, first my eyesight, now my hearing is going!" They take great time in talking/communicating. There is special language and time taken to communicate feelings. In everything, there is much more waiting than any American would tolerate. On the school building is painted the slogan "Be Assertive!" 
I ended up asking to know some Lwo words people use as insults to each other. (After witnessing an American COPs show with all the bitch, m--f-cker, etc we are used do).  I went round-n-round with my hosts and still they didn't know what I meant.

And teachers, if I could've taken pics of the school offices I would have. I've know n this already for a long time, but teaching and learning happens in our world with nothing more than teacher-student trust, care, and a broken piece of chalk.  A few battered handwritten notebooks keep records of student names. A few pieces of poster board list items that would be on a massive Google spreadsheet on a school district drive in the US: 2016 Objectives, activities, resources, indicators, responsible parties.
Objectives include a borehole for water, a washroom for girls and fixing broken benches for seating.
I had time to study some rosters on the wall, and it looks like in P1-7 in the area there are as many girls as boys registered!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Comfort Dog Training and....


The current triumvirate of challenges that preclude entertaining, blog posts are 1) Electricity is sporadic, 2) Internet is sporadic, and 3) My energy is sporadic as I continue to adjust. But adjusting, I am! The young men I live with are truly some of the most tender-hearted and kind people I've ever met. Both young doctors are living several hours away from the families they have started and I hope the new house and land offers them a chance to join their loved ones!

Early this morning the yard area of the compound began to fill with comfort dog teams reporting for 9am training.
The rainy season is just around the corner; it felt cooler this morning and we has some drizzle. Two new comfort dog teams have been paired-- Esther with "Agonya" and Joel with "Acero"
Acero is wearing the fancy e-collar to prevent licking her spay incision site. It took us a while to find an e-collar in the supply closet; send more!  I impressed upon everyone that this type of inflatable collar we save "for the rich people" in the U.S. These can be costly. Both Acero and Agonya already know their guardian's voice and are making progress. As new guardians, they're sent with fish and rice for cooking dogs' meals. Dr. Moses and myself talked about health care and nutrition. Dr. Moses elaborated on having dogs eat their guardian's leftovers, something that's highly encouraged and nutritionally sound.


In the afternoon Dr. Wilfred spayed four of the feral cats trapped at the restaurant. The Big Fix team is used to do absolutely everything themselves, including shaving with a razor blade- no fancy clippers. It's so fun to be able to give them a break with large parts of the process.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Bura boys and Mt Dew


Two male ferals enjoyed restaurant food scraps and subsequently elected to be neutered today (time for new hobbies, boys!). Montana--the Ugandan man who owns and runs "Montana Restaurant"--- said he would've transferred and reloaded the trap to catch more cats (most of my exchange with him was me smiling while he reiterated VERY MANY CATS!) but Montana fell asleep.  We will try for more tonight, after we release these two. They've been neutered, vaccinated, treated for parasites and ear-clipped. The drugs and supplies are exactly what is used in the U.S. I will get to neuter any other males we catch!
When they wake they'll be offered some milk and released where they were caught.

I'm not a soda drinker at home, but here it's refreshing and gives just enough energy. You purchase the soda for 2000 schillings (approx 70 cents) and drink from a straw... You bring the bottle back, get a refund, and the bottle is shipped back for refill and redistribution. 
Fried cassava wedges from the girl next door are so tasty! I'm trying to moderate myself with new foods to avoid losing time to gastric upset. Francis also introduced me to millet porridge with a good discussion about the health benefits of hand ground flour using a grinding stone, which still describes manufacturing in this area.

My current knitting project will return to the States with built-in memories/souvenirs... One of the house dogs pulled the ball of yarn out into the yard last night, dragging the work and needles behind. The red soil is tenacious, impossible to remove without soaking and agitating the wool which would felt the project and ruin the design. My cold-climate wool jacket will always wear the blush of Equatorial earth.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Beans and cats and music... Oh my.


Just messing around this morning and ended up making this 'poster'. I collected some kind comments from my hosts.  I don't think the second one came out as well. "Gwok" is dog. "Gwogi" is the plural. "Akuru" means puppy.
Dr. Wilfred will introduce me to three different schools on Monday as we deliver the book he wrote about the bond between an Acholi woman and her dog. More about this next week; children from the different schools did the book's illustrations.

My hosts know a great deal about food politics and the joys of eating fresh, local food. I've been pleased that the dried beans I bought at the market come right back to life after less than an hour simmering in the pot!  In the States they've been dried and stored (and probably GMO) until it takes hours in the crock pot to produce food.  At the market here you can see batches of beans laying out on a blanket in the sun and the ladies scoop up kilos of them from the sacks at their elbows.  They save the best to plant for next year. 
A maudlin detail about the current Big Fix headquarters--it's, literally, 20 feet away from the town's night club. Such clubs in East Africa are what Americans would recognize as wooden shacks with tangled extension cords, but with sound systems engineered to put Super Bowl half time to shame. A truly remarkable variety of pop music and movies serenades The Big Fix from noon to midnight every day.  Next month the organization is moving to a new site "good for meditation" as Remmy said.  You need to know that before I tell you about the discussions involving their planned orchard and garden.  Francis has some seeds sprouting in the yard already. I can't wait to see it and help with the move. March is the rainy season, time for planting and harvesting honey (Francis also has apiculture knowledge and connections).

I'll try and write descriptions of the village environment before too long. There are countless times I wish I could take a picture of things I see as I walk, but even with my iPhone in my bag, it feels wrong to take pictures of people's homes or their children sitting in the bath bucket.
Last night I walked further down the road until the night club noise fell away and I heard crickets in the low light. Two small boys had been sent to fetch water. Each had a yellow jerry can holding several gallons. They had to go uphill with their load.  They joined hands tightly between each other and each leaned out towards the heavy weight of their can. They listed left and right, laughed, stop to rest, saw me behind them "Mono! (white person) How are you?" The children glow with the satisfaction of being able to say this. Very small children like to have a good stare at me.
It would be possible to make a fascinating photo montage of business and brand names, as these things make a unique sense here that wouldn't work elsewhere. The night club next door is called "The Remedy Place" Up the road is "Good Pork" roasting joint, right next to "Ma Kula's Cheap Outlet" which is a phone charging station. I'll collect more of these the next time I walk.

The house cats caught a fat rat last night!  Good kitties!  They bit his head off and left him by their food bowl. I don't want that thing in my room, thanks.
Waiting for the sun to go down a bit more before setting out the cat traps for feral spay/neuter. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Labor of Love: World Spay Day 2016 with The Big Fix Uganda


Alaskan friends will understand when I invoke the start of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race to communicate the energy and sound coming from The Big Fix Uganda's headquarters in Gulu at 9am on February 23, World Spay Day. The barking, squealing, leaping, growling, tangled lines and stooped handlers crowded the compound as Dr. Wilfred Opira's calm voice delivered instructions in Luo regarding the flow of activities. I was working at one of two stations delivering the rabies vaccine and parasiticides (ivermectin or tablets of a praziquantel/piperazine combo).  I had a fabulous partner, whose picture I failed to get, and two rockstar young people, Nancy and Augusten (pic below) both
with animal health certifications did a Herculean amount of paperwork to keep logs and deliver certificates. Throughout the day I desperately wished I knew more of the Acholi language. Both young people were trying to help me and I simply had no idea what they were saying: blah blah blah gwok (dog) blah gwok blah blah blah....blah gwok. Everyone should experience being the foreign idiot at some point in their lives!!   Once we got going, however, our common "language" was dog-human behavior and our shared task. We vaccinated hundreds of animals. I'm estimating by the number of multi-dose vials I kept pulling from the fridge inside the house.

Veterinary technicians-- you know those boxes of syringes you have at the clinic that stay at the back of the shelf because no one really likes that brand, something is annoying about the way the needle goes on, they aren't luer lock or Dr. XYZ doesn't approve?  Every clinic in every corner of the Western world has donated these boxes to Uganda and they have ended up in The Big Fix supply closet. My least favorite came out of Australia; the back half of the plunger would snap off before the injection was complete. I started to have my only swearing fit of the day, when young Nancy blurted "TECHNOLOGY! Haha!!" Shortly afterwards someone muscled their way through the crowd looking for more syringes. "Here, take these!" I foisted the box on him. No language barrier prevented the others from laughing at me. 

The mango tree, once again, provided comfortable shade for us at the head of the line fumbling with needles, vials, cooler boxes, dogs in every stage of stress and anxiety. But most people had to wait hours in the hot sun for their turn. Ugandans have protection from sunburn, but are also the first to agree that by 2 or 3 pm the heat is profound. Many of the younger puppies were flat-out asleep by the time they made it to us. I saw so many people speaking lovingly to their dogs.  I remember one young man who, as he positioned his dog for the injection said, in English "Mine is special".  Indeed, their bond was strong and despite the fracas all around them the dog's attention was solely on his human friend. 

This morning I was able to visit with Dr. Wilfred, saying "I don't know why the burra (cats) move me so. They are like little children to me and their crying calls my heart."  Perhaps it's an absolution to admit this, but I have evidence that I am in good company in Uganda as well as elsewhere. Several times during the day I could hear a kitty crying in the line and, due to the heat, I'd stop to search through the crowd and bring them to the front.  My first memory is of a young man, perhaps in his 20s, with a neutered male cat named "Mark" in a cardboard box. Mark was panting with the heat. The owner was concerned his cat should have a brief exam before his vaccine, which we did under our mango tree--clear eyes, good color despite panting. I can still hear the owner's voice soothing "Mark... Mark" as all the dogs kept up the  ruckus. The next kitty voice in the crowd was a small one, an older man with cataracts had a plastic basket with a kitten inside. I took a moment-- despite the crowd in front of me-- to have a little snuggle and the meowing stopped.  The older man was with a child holding the leashes of two dogs, which I vaccinated and managed to make a joke that the way to move to the front of the line was to bring a cat to the event.  I remember the concerned, earnest face of yet another young man with a female cat several months old. After I vaccinated her he was very worried about getting in the correct line... "I don't want her to produce". The surgeons took good care of  both of them.
Two cats came in burlap sacks. An older woman and two girls paid a boda driver (motorcycle taxis called boda-bodas initially meant 'border-to-border') to bring their young cat and newborn kittens to us.
I will always remember looking up to see a little girl, maybe five years old, certainly no older than 6, clutching a woven purse.  I think she'd been standing in line for several hours; it was late afternoon. Inside the purse was a 7-week-old kitty simultaneously purring and dying of heat exhaustion. I took an empty syringe box and placed the kitten inside with my "stoned" (frozen) water bottle. Then I troubled the surgeons for some 5% dextrose, which the kitten was thrilled to take orally.  I found a translator and hopefully the little child will return in the cool of the morning soon.

Another group had a tent with supplies and stations for pet washing and grooming!  At one point I had a chance to look up and saw two wet, fluffy puppies who'd just come from their baths.
As you can imagine, much of the day is a blur. I was pleased I could share my watermelon and everyone helped each other stay hydrated with water bottles. Some magic, invisible hand also brought out water and food for the dogs. There is kibbled pet food here and for sale in the shops. Most of what I'm seeing, however, is a mixture of rice and fish or food scraps in addition to some kibble mixed in.
The surgeons didn't finish until past sunset, close to 8pm, so clean-up was hurried... This morning I found the resident house cats had savaged the bag of cat food meant for show-n-tell at the event.

Pets recovering from surgery. A variety of donated drugs are used including xylazine, ketamine, propofol, thiopental, and plenty of pain medications.

Remmy Mukulu, one of the seminal members of The Big Fix Uganda shows his excitement for the day's turn-out.

I'm using my IPhone as a computer with a miniature Bluetooth keyboard. I've also lost my glasses, am overstimulated and processing a foreign language, so writing this has felt unusually difficult. There's no 'flow'.  But being out of one's comfort zone is the point of this type of travel.


Monday, February 22, 2016

World "Yango ot Nywal" (spay) Day tomorrow


It seems last year's banner was recycled to make curtains in another house... Notice the clever water bottle weights!

We were on the radio to announce the big day tomorrow! Francis (pictured with Dr. Wilfred) said I sounded good, which meant a lot. Radio host Tony did a lot of translating for our time on the 4-5pm "power hour" dedicated to making the world a better place.
I can finally say 'kitten'!  A cat is 'burra'(boo-ra) or affectionately "puss". A young thing is 'latin' (la-ten). Latin burra is baby cat. 'Gwok' is dog. 'Agwera' is vaccine. 
Gulu has an amazing open market. I bought a watermelon, beans, rice, shallots and bread.
It's late; time to get some rest. A few pics of spay day prep