Wednesday, March 30, 2016

About those ants...

Unfortunately the brief interview of Loyom Joyce that Francis helped me with at the market the other day takes a back seat to clarification on my insectovoracious activities.
How strange to see all their tiny legs as residue in the pan--like pieces of straw or plant material.  As I listened to the harvesting stories of white ants ("wen" in the local language) I puzzled over why there's no European tradition of eating insects. I hypothesize that early humans were willing to try foods they saw other animal species eating (I mean, how else do you know to eat a potato or some of those other root vegetables?) Jump in here and correct me if I'm wrong, but beyond bears raiding honey bee hives, are there any mammalian insectivores in northern climates? In this area of Africa it's possible to clearly witness apes and primates inserting tree branches like swizzle sticks into termite mounds and find anteaters with a diet completely of crunchy crawlers. 

So, this is Anena Paska
She would like Americans to know that the sale of wen is her sole support. She is eager to develop her market overseas as a snack food (Popants?) She purchases her ants from the villagers that harvest them. To "force" a harvest (as apposed to simply encouraging a harvest at the perfect time seasonally) a person needs to dig a hole next to the ant hill and build a mini hut over the hole so the wiser ants can't just fly off.  Then, she reports, you flood the anthill with water and they all fall into the hole. When I arrived home with my bag of wen Dr. Wilfred's eyes brightened with the memory of harvests in his younger years. He describes carefully monitoring the anthills and, during the rainy season (if I heard him correctly) there are mini mounds and holes at the base of the hill that indicate their activity. It reminded me of the way you can look for bubbles/blowholes in moist, coastal sand  to indicate where you should dig for your clams.  Dr. Wilfred then said the ants are photophilic (photophobic is for vampires-- they avoid light) so you can just go out with a torch at night and out they all rush for you to collect. The excitement on his face as he described this reminded me of the feeling I get when I just stepped into a particularly good blueberry patch. Oooohh....ahhhh...imagine the jam and pie!  As he went on to describe, you can pulverize your wen into a paste in which to dip your cassava chips, or you can cook them up with tomatoes and vegetables. The fry pan technique I used does give off a particular odor, and though not unpleasant, I didn't experience the childish swoon that brought Francis into the kitchen "something is smelling good!" They really weren't bad. I ate a few teaspoons. I suppose you could market them like Corn Nuts: ranch flavor, siracha, nacho...
If you grew up with this food and move to another part of the world I imagine you long for it.

Anena Paska is describing a forced harvest because the rainy season hasn't come to this area. Our reserve tank of water here at the house has run dry. They announced the regional drought on the radio. There have been a few showers and a bit of violent lightening. We continue to purchase drinking water and there's a local place to fill the yellow, plastic jerry cans. We are the lucky ones. The jerry (or geri) can came to the African continent through the German presence in North Africa during WWII. They came with metal fuel  containers that stacked and transported well. The original metal ones weighed 10 pounds before being filled with fluid. By the late 1960s the jerry can was a ubiquitous symbol of how precious water is to this equatorial climate. Our current conditions mean many local women have to walk far away in the evening to find a water source. In 1970 they began selling the yellow jerry we know today coming in at only 3.5 pounds.

Playing and growing is hard work!
Tika the kitten is thriving. Like everyone else who can afford it, I sleep with a mosquito net. This functions like a spider web for a kitten who wants to snuggle with you at night... I managed to untangle her without her nails leaving holes in the net!  Very soon she should be old enough for her spay surgery and I hope to have news about finding her a home!

Surgery protocols for spay/neuter:
I never mentioned the adaptations the doctors have made for the climate and conditions.  The lateral (side) spay incision, allows for easier post-surgical monitoring and cleanliness. For healthy, non-pregnant females the doctors may choose only to remove the ovaries and not the entire uterus. They've developed a remarkable neutering technique for the male dogs. At first I thought they were talking about the "ping pong technique" which sounded like a lot of fun! They were saying "pinhole technique". An anesthetize dog is shaved and scrubbed as if he were going to have an "open castration"-- one that includes an incision and externalizing the testes. Instead, a metal canula (just a big syringe needle) is inserted through the skin and out the other side. Suture material is threaded through the canula. The result of a few rounds of this is a subcutaneous
(invisible) ring of suture that cuts off blood supply to the testes. "If the owner does not see swelling of the next days then you have done it wrong" Dr. Moses explained. A similar technique is used in young livestock for castration but our companion animals suffer severe extrernal wounds and complications when/if a layperson tries this.  The pinhole technique means the dogs don't need special collars to prevent licking and it is harder for them to develop complications.

Back to my market field trip with Francis to help with language. Loyom Joyce shared a recurring story I heard at the market: she works with her village contacts to purchase her goods from the farmers. These women are entrepreneurs, extrovert 'connector' people. One of those American business guys who writes about networking and human systems needs to step up and talk to them.  The profit margin for their wares is incredibly slim.  A kilo of beans may sell for 3000 schillings, approximately 1 USD. Joyce also sells her groundnut paste. In the opening photo you can see the paste stacked in containers on the wall behind her. When asked what her favorite thing to sell is she remarked on the seasonality of her goods and the freshness. Purchasers are aware of when things are "in season" and their demand matches her sales.

There is an entire annex for sale of dried fish. My tolerance for the odor depends on the day and the heat. This is Caroline. I have learned that if someone of Acholi origin does not offer a last name do not press them for it. It's likely they have one of those Acholi name markers that indicates something other than "I love this child".  (See earlier post when I described Tika's naming process). Once in a while someone refrains from sharing their name to spare my embarrassment at mispronouncing it.  Like the other "middle women" at the market Caroline purchases her fish from the fisherman who've already caught and dried them. Fish come from Lake Virctoria and Lake Albert. The lakes are relatively close, but I've yet to write about the challenge of overland travel around here.
The dried fish area of the market is, like, 2000 square feet of cubicles, each with a seller. Fish range from the tiny silverfish minnows, to large halibut-size whoppers. The whole dried fish is cooked with cabbage, tomatoes and spices (Dr. Wilfred did an AMAZING job of it last night!) and the bones and any other unwelcome bits are removed. The silverfish are shared with companion animals and humans equally. They are used in baby porridge and call also be cooked in several ways.  The teeny fish would seem to add good calcium and minerals as their mini skeletons get eaten as well.

Friday, March 25, 2016

How to choose your taxi driver

I'm at a really lovely backpacker's lodge right near Lake Victoria and Uganda's airport. It's very gentile/colonial around here with gardens, birds and fresh breezes. I was going to try and pick up some books to read while here. In most of Uganda a "book shop" is a stationary store with notebooks, pencils, envelopes etc. With this many expatriates in one area I was certain I could find some novels or the latest Hollywood confessional memoir. I did find a "bookstore". Each book, regardless of beat-up paperback condition, cost more than a night at a hotel or two pork dinners.  It's kind of the same thing with cheese. And chocolate. Fruit, however, remains the go-to gorge for the budget conscious.
Here are baby Jackfruit on the tree. I looked up what family of plants these trees are in and it turns out they're related to figs. An ugly pouch filled with tons of seeds. Hmmm

How to pick a boda-boda taxi driver:  as you climb out of your bus or matatu, or at cross-walks, intersections, heck--almost anywhere when you look sweaty and foreign--mobs of men on motorcycles crowd you yelling YES! MADAM! YES! BODA! As they honk and rev their engines. Most in Gulu now understand I like to walk so leave me alone. But Kampala is entirely different and much, much larger. Yesterday I figured out how to handle the insanity. Go through crowd and ask their age. Not only does this seem to neutralize the shark-tank mentality but it becomes a game "Eh, how old do you think I am?" They ask me. Then they tease each other. "He is forty-five hahaha!" Or boast "I am 20! A mature man!"  To choose, pick the oldest one in the bunch. If there's s tie pick the one with bad teeth. You will be picking an honest winner who can use the support of your business.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Happy Mango!

(An approximation of the note I left on the desk yesterday 6am)
I'm off to catch the 8am bus to Kampala then to Entebbe! I hope everyone has a wonderful Easter holiday with all their travel this week and family visits. Americans will not believe that the whole country shuts down from Thursday through Tuesday.  I have made you "Easter baskets".  In the States children wake up on Easter morning to baskets filled with sweets, toys shaped like rabbits and chicks. The tradition evolved from pre-Christian spring rituals (March 21 is the start of Spring; in most parts of the States the land goes from gray/brown and snowy white to green) and now is so big that even non-Christians follow it.  Most stores have an area the size of this whole house dedicated to selling baskets and what goes in them! The small children are told that he baskets are delivered by the "Easter Bunny"--like the Christmas Santa Claus but it is a giant rabbit. I like how this tradition is an example of how pagan and Christian beliefs come together over time (like some African traditions and Christianity?) but all my American friends would agree the marketing of the holiday products is is extreme. America is not known for its wisdom or prudence! Haha! [America is known for its money and power].  My American friends will also find it a great contradiction that all of Uganda takes Easter so seriously yet I can't find a single "jelly bean" or "Easter grass" (shredded green plastic to look like fake grass) anywhere! And Americans like to decorate eggs, which are usually white. Someone decided white eggs are better than brown.  For your baskets I have shredded a plastic bag to make grass. I painted two eggs from the market and 'Happy Mango' drops instead of "jelly beans".  I think jelly beans were meant to signify the start of the planting season.
Doesn't that sound bizarre when written down? Francis gasped when I told him "Americans don't stop for Easter".  And the fake grass was a whopper of a tale.

The little kitten is growing! Here she is sacked out Monday afternoon with a spoon for size comparison

I arrived in Kampala yesterday around 2pm.  I was stunned at the difference in temperature (those things you intellectually understand, but until you feel them as bodily sensations you don't process...). Kampala and its smaller sister city 30 minutes south are consistently 15 degrees cooler than where I've been situated in Gulu. The difference between managing to get through days that are a 99/82 and those down here that are 85/70--for me--is the difference between experiencing an Alaskan -30 and an Alaskan -10.  You need to adapt your expectations for productivity as well as which tasks you can accomplish. While we have had some rain and, by my estimate, about 3 days when it was in the low 80s, I've been experiencing the heat as if I'm wading through a relentless pool of hot water.  This is a new and very challenging experience for me. My mood is affected by my productivity and, as anyone could guess, you can get extra irritable with that heat.  Both plumbing and electricity continue to go on and off.     I managed to get a bucket bath every day. Unfortunately there's no latrine, so we have to flush the toilets with water buckets. I think I've convinced the gang to add just regular, pit latrines onto the new property, which currently has a fancy septic system. 

I can tell I'll be rested and ready to get back by next Tuesday!  


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Saturday CDP and brief notes

Charles is looking thin after a 3-week illness, but it was his comfort dog that alerted the neighbors to Charles almost unconscious in his hut!
Dr Wilfred leads a discussion about rabies and vaccinating
A Classic example of the Ugandan gwok breed:)
Matina and "Amnesty"

Not reflected in Saturday pics are the vet call I made with Dr. Moses, followed by a visit to the local lab where I got to recall my hematology slide-reading knowledge. Some other interesting stuff happened but have had amnesia in the last 24 hour power/internet outage.
Here's a gratuitous kitten shot.
And a pic of s Ugandan welding machine, a product and the artists that produced it
We are living in an age of miracles.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Otika's story

Otika's first day & my foot
Tika's "carrier" (and my foot :)

Have a snack and use the restroom now, because we have a lot to cover! "Otika" is a name, usually given to a male child, who is born after their parents or grandparents have faced a challenge. Unlike many cultures in the States, and even the Buganda clans who hail from the Kampala area of Uganda, Luo culture gives a sirname to a child based on what has happened. For example Ocen Peter is the second born of a twin or Banya Lucy was born before her parents married. Some of these names get interesting--there's one for something like 'my husband cheats' or 'they laugh at me'. I'm still in the dark about the name that means the parents are abusive...who is giving these names anyway? In Luo no family association exists in the name.
SO, "Otika" (now 'Tika) came under the care of The Big Fix on Monday when her owner came to the field clinic with a family of cats. The owner was a woman struggling to feed her own family and the mother cat was trying to do all the hunting for her three kittens. One of the kittens took it's last breath at the event and the mother cat was in no condition to be spayed. Remmy Mukulu, our humane officer called me (I had a full day, but elsewhere...) "We have a kitten for you!" was all he said on the phone. I was drafting a letter to the director of education on behalf of the animal kindness clubs when I heard the motorbikes return.  I was handed this yellow syringe box with a tiny, insistent meow issuing forth. Tika had ridden about 20 miles strapped to field clinic supplies on the motorbike. She attacked a mixture of the tiny silver fish used as cat food with some soaked kibble (video on Facebook) and immediately began purring.  Ugandan cats run small--adults seem to come in at 6-8 pounds in good health. From her grooming and play behavior I think she's around 7 weeks. She likely weighs about 14oz (about 450grams), certainly not a pound. This morning, however, I could feel she'd gained some grams, maybe in hydration alone. The goal is to get her big enough for a spay.  I haven't yet talked to Francis about making her a comfort kitten.

For most Ugandans sharing food and precious resources like water with companion animals is difficult. Tika's owner managed to hear the news of the field clinic, get there, and ask for help. That is commitment...asking for help with your animal is caring, and how wonderful something like The Big Fix is here. In the States I'd like to see us make it safer to do something similar. Surrendering an animal to a shelter is viewed as a dire moral failure and I think we end up with more "abuse" cases because we so harshly judge that someone struggling now feels guilty and delays asking for help.

I have had the experience of surrendering a dog to the shelter. It was traumatic. The rest of my life was more traumatic at the time, however. I will be forever grateful to the shelter worker in Fairbanks, Alaska--I can still hear the warmth and compassion in his voice "That's what we're here for."

Peanuts!  Called groundnuts here, they grow vigorously.  "Peanut butter" in Luo/Acholi is called odi.  
Look! Peanuts aren't delivered in by a person in a truck!
scrappy greens--already harvested

I told my hosts it would be a thrill to see my favorite food "in nature". I know they thought my request was entertaining. Yet I WAS thrilled when they handed me my bouquet, even while they apologized it wasn't from a fresher field.

Goat C-sections:
Yesterday's field clinic held at Kweyo Primary had some surprises. By the end of the day we'd vaccinated and de-wormed 243 animals. The first surgery of the day, however, was the flip side of the story. A gravidly pregnant goat had been savaged by a rabid dog. Dr. Wilfred said the other goats managed to run away but this one "was too heavy". Again, these goats ('dyel' in Acholi) are those cutie-pie little ones that birth many goat kids. I assisted Dr. Wilfred in extracting three deceased fetuses very close to term. Dr. Wilfred carefully put the doe back together. She has an excellent chance of making it. Goats (and sheep for that matter) are miracles on hooves. 

If you'd like details on both the strategy and field condition of the surgery send me a note. Oh, right.... Everything is done with masses of onlooking school children :)

The team decided it would be best for my health to refrain from field clinics the day prior (I was very ill over the weekend).  I was really disappointed, but by age 42 you understand such things better than when you're 22.  That day, Dr. Moses took me back to The Big Fix construction site for the new hospital and dormitory.  We were able to sit down the young men running the project and share lunch; what a great visit!  But I expressed to them how hard Americans are working to do exactly what they're doing--create an entire homestead from local materials. The conversation started when Wokorach remarked he'd be unable to lead a project in any other area until he spent some time understanding the weather, the soils (for brick making), timber and other building components.  I learned all about the physics and stability of brick sizes and making. Here are the pics of the solid mahogany (Ugandan) doors going on the consultation rooms

Locally-sourced solid mahogany!
We WANT you in the pic Wokorach!
The new homestead will have a serious septic system, so Dr. Moses and I also learned about the latest techniques as we watched hard workers cement the inner pits (it DID seem cooler down there, though).
If anyone would like to intern with this contstruction company I'll see what I can do!  

Towards the end of the day Dr. Moses finally reached the inspector of schools and we zipped down to the district office to meet with them about some organizational changes in the kindness clubs.  It's a school district. The main concern was making sure the student respresentative for each club was accompanied by a same-sex teacher...

That's enough for now!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Meanwhile, back in the land of ridiculously large fruit...

That thing in the center is a papaya. The electric kettle is for scale.

Cute animal pics will return when I get back to working the field clinics tomorrow. Saturday I woke up with a fever of 99.5 and my head splitting. I thought oh shit, as I realized my differential diagnosis in Africa is about 57 things and none of them pleasant. I took some weird comfort in knowing there are some things that can still frighten me, however. No problem being in Uganda during a big, tense election, no problem navigating streets and shops without the right language and weird money with too many zeros, no problem if you want to bully me, take me to court, burglarize me or flood my home, but a fever of 99.5 in Africa and WTF I'm frightened. A few other things colluded to make me incredibly irritable and seriously consider how I could get home early without paying an extra 2K 1) The rain has retreated, back to temps of about 100. There's plenty of wind. Just like a blow dryer. 2) The exigencies of water and electricity/Internet being available at the weirdest, wrong times make virtual escapism challenging. 3) I live with four men. I have not had roommates in... Uh...15 years?  What a fine reminder that you can still get annoyed with people you love!  4) Did I mention I live next to a night club which is actually an "all-day" club which is sometimes compounded by screaming preaching on the east side, compounded by rolling campaign trucks with megaphones and more music, unhappy babies, barking dogs and more unhappy babies?  Try lying under your bed, on the cool(er) tile of the floor with ice packs around you for your fever and... I drifted off as I was composing a letter in my head to the pop princess Katy Perry-- I actually love her in my regular life--about how  she was truly a world superstar blaring from Gujda street in Gulu Uganda at 9pm on a Sunday night.

I am not here because I enjoy the heat and I thought it would be a fun break. I'm here for a new challenge. Joy and fun are invited in but never guaranteed.

My illness proved self-limiting and my gratitude is immense!! Even before I contracted Mystery Illness I realized that while I was staying hydrated, I wasn't replacing all the salt lost in sweat, so now I'm salting a whole bunch of things I never would at home. It has been no fun lying around today, but I did get to be on the radio again! We didn't go to the air conditioned place, to a different station this time, but I was able to present the PSA I wrote about "that thing under the tongue" that locals have been surgically removing from their puppies. The group thought it was well worded and accurate and Francis assured me the broadcast went well. I get a boost of energy from every radio broadcast I take part in. I also got a boost of energy from the two pineapples tethered together like a pair of breeding dogs that Dr. Wilfred returned from Kampala with. Best pineapple yet!!  And a good long discussion about thwarting the encroachment of industrial ag and GMO.

From last week:
"Eh...the world is getting developed!"
I like a few hard candies to get through a workday. I found this coca-cola flavored roll of lozenges at one of the Indian-owned supermarkets, kind of like root beer barrels, I pulled them out at our Friday field clinic. "Eh! What is this?!" One of the older men asked. I explained. He thought you put the lozenge in water and it made a soda. Then we reviewed the details. It only tastes like a soda. "The world is getting developed!" He exclaimed.

The other day I started an essay about knives and razor blades.
I titled it "Knives and Razor Blades" to prove how a sinister, passionate violence is invoked in the American psyche by these words alone. This knife has been the sinlgle most valuable thing I brought with me. Knives are used in place of can openers, scissors, pencil sharpeners, several automotive tools and more. Every tiny child goes to school with a knife or a razor blade to sharpen their pencil. People can't believe a child would be sent home for doing such a thing!  Before I left the States I told someone "you need to understand there are many things about Africa you can not understand". Culture runs deep. The unspoken associations are so often the potholes in which well-meaning Americans break their legs 'cause they're walking in the dark.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Prep for Village clinics

I excavated all the instruments for our next few days of field clinics and gave them a good clean with steel wool over the box  locks and hinges.  Without any instrument milk and with all the corrosion I ended up using cooking oil to get hemo stats and towel clamps snapping again. I was able to put some packs together for the spay surgeries!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Americans don't know Jack

This is a jackfruit. They can reach colossal proportions...
Inside are 'kernels' of sweetness wrapped around individual seeds the size of a garlic glove.  The fruit tastes like some combination of pineapple, honey crisp apple and bubblegum. Today, March 8, is International Womens' Day, a public holiday for Uganda. On Saturday, when we had CDP training, I made small gifts fo give to the six women in the program. Each card said "piri tek" (you are important) and "ileng" (you are beautiful). Gentlemen in the audience and my housemates were instructed that every woman in every culture wants to hear these words. Today, when I returned from traveling to The Big Fix site under construction, Franics informed me that Godfrey (canine partner Tampira--which means 'think about me') had left me a jackfruit for Womens' Day!!!
Godfrey and Tampira:
I've been joking that I can start promoting the Ugandan Gwok as a new breed in the U.S. They're 20-35 pound, toast-colored dogs with a temperament between a golden retriever and a rat terrier. Basenji and Rhodesian ridgeback (Rhodesia is the colonial name for Zimbabwe and Ridgebacks were bred from the indigenous Khoikhoi dogs...) are the most common identifiable heritage stock. Locals have high esteem for German shepherds and you can see when some of that shows up in the mix.

Last night I realized I am living in a country that completely lacks even a single McDonald's. Or Starbucks. WalMart has investments down near Kampala, but this is as close to a pre-globalized food system as anyone is likely to see in 2016.  The perfect time to get to the main market is right after sunset, around 7:30, when it's mobbed with women and girls selling fish and produce. I went to buy an avocado and the two older women wanted to know if I was going to eat it right then. Puzzled, I said 'no'. They asked if I'd eat it tomorrow, and what time tomorrow. They then spent what felt like 15 minutes going through their stash and chatting to each other before they handed me an avo and confirmed the time I'd cut into it. I'm praying that some other visitor to Uganda will still be able to have that experience in another 50 years. That avo cost me 29 cents.

TTUTT: I've had a crash course in regional beliefs around 'telebe gwok', literally That Thing Under The Tongue. It seems that pups around here get parvovirus and other enteric troubles just as frequently as they do in the States, but prolonged time without a local veterinarian helped instill the idea among locals that some part of the normal anatomy under the tongue needs to be removed to remedy anorexia. The Big Fix functions just like James Herriot's place in the 1930s...people just drop in. I was trying to communicate with two clients about their visibly ill puppies while waiting for Dr. Moses to return when I first learned of the local practice. I later quizzed the doctor, certain there was some part of parasitology or epidemiology I failed to understand. Nope "that thing under the tongue" as as scientific as it gets. I'll leave it up to readers here to name parallel esoteric/erroneous beliefs in the U.S. 

Yesterday Francis, myself and two CDP guardians Charles William, guardian of Ogen Rwot (translation: he who knows you) and Filder, guardian of Lok Oroma (trans: fed up with what people are saying!) were on Mega FM radio to talk about the program.  I walked into the studio....OMG no one mentioned beforehand that there'd be air-conditioning!!!  Dr. Wilfred said we have a standing invite to be on the radio every Monday. I will be ready every Monday.

The electricity here goes on-and-off at odd times. Water from the tap/shower is telling a similar story, and Google has made it nearly impossible for me to type on anything other than this iPhone 5 (it keeps sending password reset codes to my non-working Colorado phone) but I'm adjusting.

This morning we went out to the site of the new hospital and housing. The move is in another few weeks


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Untitled due to power outage

Photo: Student Animal Kindness Club patrons (certificates acknowledge 'high activity' clubs) after our meeting yesterday afternoon.

Praise's quiet!  (Until Dr. Moses started the generator this afternoon-- which allowed me to write and post this).
Considering the night club next door "The Remedy Point" is losing revenue, being ebullient about a forced noise ordinance due to power outage seems inappropriate. The grid electricity has been off for longer than 24 hours. Uganda has never had relaible electricity. Living in a house without a resident woman also means our kitchen consists of a popcorn maker and hot plate. Most mornings I am up long before the guys and piling up soda bottles and take-out wrappers and I think...ah, 20ish men are the same all over the world :) We're mounding the ice packs in the freezer and mopping up the water as it pools out of the bottom, despite the fact that water still doesn't come from the faucet taps or showers. Northern Uganda is hotter than central Uganda. Two of my housemates are from the Kampala/Entebbe area where temperatures don't get up to 99 during the day during the dry season.
Typically I've able to get out of the sun and be lazy between 1 and 3 or 4 pm. I've allowed myself to get terribly frustrated with Internet and electricity.  There's no table or desk to use here, and I haven't yet found a place--like a coffee shop--where I can just sit and write. I'm adapting, but I get really, really crabby if I can't get some writing done. Here I am with the NIKE "Just do it" motto... On the floor in my room, in my underwear (aforementioned high temp climate) with a plate on a pillow on which is balanced my phone.

Yesterday at the CDP training:

And AFTER the CDP training: