Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Bad Case of the 51's

Heather and Lorraine spent a further week at Mulago.  On the Monday morning I learned that we would not be able to move the HDU project any further forward due to building works happening elsewhere on the ward.  This was disappointing news as I had been reassured that the space we had created the HDU in was not going to be affected by the works, and a number of people had put a lot of time and effort into what we had managed to achieve already.  This news has unfortunately dampened my enthusiasm to push the project forward - which is a real shame as I felt I was going to be able to leave some sort of lasting legacy.  C'est la vie, as they say.

We ran a skills training morning which we opened up to all staff.  Disappointingly, only the midwives attended, but there were 15 in the group.  We covered Eclampsia, PPH, shoulder dystocia, neonatal resuscitation and vaginal breech delivery.  It was a really fun morning and I think that the staff enjoyed it as much as we did.  

We spent a drunken night making a poster illustrating cervical dilatation and positions of the fetal head...  I haven't had the guts to look at it again, as wielding a ruler, pencil and Pritt Stick after a third of a bottle of gin cannot possibly bode well for a professional looking product.  We were mostly on labour ward - and for the most part it was reasonable, apart from one day when I had been to meet a friend for lunch, and arrived to find Heather and Lorraine muttering curses as they ran from patient to patient.  The theatre was not up and running, the list was overspilling and there were several women who were causing concern.  Finally we got moving, and stayed around until the last patient that we had been involved with had been delivered - baby and Mum both did well.

Rebecca Smyth joined us that Friday, and the girls all moved out of Mulago Guest House and into Emin Pasha - a far superior abode.  I met them for dinner and drinks.  We made the mistake of eating a salad...

On Saturday morning, we hired a driver for the day, for our grand tour of Kampala.  Alfred collected Adam and I from the house, the three girls from the hotel and a radiotherapist called Kate from the guesthouse.  We then travelled to the Kasubi tombs, and important historical site, which is the burial place of four Kabakas (Buganda Kings).  The tombs were destroyed by fire back in March, but the site is still very interesting.  The tombs are tended by the wives of the Kabaka and subsequently their descendants.  Around the central building - ravaged by fire, covered in tarpaulin and a mess of mangled metal - are small thatched huts where the tomb attendants dwell.  As we entered the complex, we met the Prime Minister of Buganda, and spoke to him about how work was going on to reconstruct the tombs.  It turned out that there was a Buganda Princess with an entourage at the tombs that morning.  We wandered round, receiving snippets of information from our guide and meeting various people.  

We met an elderly lady who was responsible for looking after the tombs, sitting outside her hut wrapped in a large piece of barkcloth.  Our guide introduced the ladies in the group to her, and we each greeted her.  Because women are considered subservient, Adam was not permitted, due to custom, to greet her.  However, she let him know, that even though she couldn't greet him because of tradition, she 'loved him just the same'.  Our brief tour of the site concluded with our guide showing us a list of the different Buganda clans.  Heather happened to notice that clan 51, known as the Ekitibwa, was translated in the list as 'Shit'.  This obviously appealed to our inner schoolchild, especially since it is not permitted to eat the thing your clan is named after, and you're not allowed to marry a fellow clan member.  In other words, if you're a member of the Ekitibwa clan, you can't eat shit, and you can't marry shit.  I think I'd be ok with that.

From here we travelled to the Kabaka's Palace, to visit one very specific part of the site.  The Kabaka's palace itself, is not accessible, but the grounds contain an important and sinister piece of history.  Idi Amin constructed a concrete bunker here, where he and his soldiers incarcerated people and tortured them.  The chamber itself is accessed down a slope, flanked by imposing concrete walls.  The doors of the bunker are no longer there, nor are the sliding doors covering each of the 4 large cells, but it's complete enough to give you a sense of what it must have looked like.  The cells are raised up off the ground by about 3 feet, and the open part of the chamber was filled with water.  On the walls are bloody handprints and smears, and graffiti, inscribed by prisoners, and latterly by family members who suspect their relatives were victims.  It is a dark, dank, oppressive place.  In the far corner is a cockroach nest, and there's a colony of bats that move from one chamber to the next to roost.  I was glad to get back out into the fresh air, even though the heavens had just opened.

After the oppression of the torture chambers, and lunch, we headed to the National Museum, to examine the dust coated relics, paying particular attention to the educational text accompanying the exhibits.  For example, if you didn't know much about paleontology, a fossil is something which has been dug up.  Thanks for that.  I am now much wiser about what fossils are.  We stopped for a drink and a spot of craft shopping before heading back to the hotel to meet Judith Ajeani for a farewell drink.  Heather managed to miss the entire farewell session, in favour of spending time visiting the bathroom, and my stomach also decided that I couldn't participate for long.  We both ended up with a severe attack of the '51's'.  I headed home and spent the night burning up with fever, as the world fell out of my bottom.
We were due to head to Murchison early the next morning.  I felt like 51.  I called the girls and by this point Rebecca was also unwell.  And so instead of spending time journeying to visit the wildlife, the day was whiled away drinking flat coke and eating rich tea biscuits.  Having been relatively fortunate in my time here, I realised that complacency had got the better of me, where food was concerned.  Fortunately we were able to rearrange our Murchison trip, thanks to good old Fast Eddie.  Taking Monday to fully recover - and utilising the time to take Rebecca round the hospital and buy some more Africrap (read: souvenirs), finishing with a barbecue and copious deviled eggs - we started our trip to Murchison bright and early on Tuesday morning.

Fast Eddie excelled himself - literally - by making it to Masindi in 3 hours flat.  We ploughed on to the top of the Falls, where we took a leisurely stroll around.  What initially started out as 'This is a pleasant walk' swiftly turned into 'Kate Alldred, when I get my hands on you...' as the heat and terrain took its toll on a certain group member (Smyth).  Fast Eddie was on hand to help - thankfully - and everyone made it back to the car in one piece, nobody having been murdered, albeit sweatier and dustier than when we'd started out.  

We moved on to the Red Chilli Camp, and the boat launch.  Eddie had booked us onto a tiny boat, that carried no beer on board.  Not what I had requested and I told him so, in a fit of childlike tantrum, demanding to go on 'the big boat with the cool box'.  It worked.  I think it was my outburst that caused karma to break my camera, just as I was about to get a National Geographic head on shot of an elephant by the water.  The beer, however, was ice cold and delicious.  The usual assortment of game were out playing, with a particular abundance of elephants this time, and a good trip was had by all.  After a refreshing cold shower, dinner and a bottle of Nile, I was knackered and in bed by 9.  The game drive the next morning was great, with a tentative sighting of a leopard - which was a black silhouette skulking between two bushes - and a shoebill stalk.  There were dozens of giraffe out too, and a lot of the game was quite close to the track whereas previously ithe animals have usually kept their distance.  On the way out of the park we had 15 minutes of being attacked by Tsetse flies in the car, and a mass execution of trapped flies - using a copy of the Bradt guide as a weapon - ensued.  All flies out of the car we travelled to the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary, stopping for lunch in Masindi on the way.

At the rhino sanctuary, we tracked a family of rhinos, Baby Obama, who is just a year old, was stomping around with Mum and dad keeping a close eye on him.  We had a slightly hairy moment after Mum got annoyed with Dad and Obama's play fighting and charged him.  Dad then contemplated charging us and stood pawing the ground, facing us, as the rangers talked him down.  It was a privilege to see the family interaction and a worthwhile detour on the way back to Kampala.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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