Megan Yarberry’s Travel to Uganda Part II

May 11, 2008

Megan Yarberry

We’ve now finished our 2nd training, which took place at Mama Kevina Comprehensive Secondary School. The school was established 2 years ago by a couple of (Ugandan) Franciscan nuns, Sister Clare and Sister Margaret. The primary 3 populations among the students: children affected by the war in the north (including “invisible children” and child soldiers), those affected by the flooding that affected ½ the country last year, and AIDS orphans. The remaining are just plain poverty stricken, or have other, more personal disasters.
The school is secondary, meaning for high school aged kids (although because of interrupted studies, the students range in age from 12 to the early 20s). Because most of the kids will never get a chance at college, the sisters focus on vocational programming. Some Dutch philanthropists organized the building of a bakery, including lots of industrial machines, although the power to run these machines is unlikely, so some enormous wood stoves have been constructed in the back, which will probably see a lot more use. The sisters also hope to offer tailoring, basic computer skills, and some other things, and as a matter of course the students do agriculture (had just planted sweet potatoes, beans & corn) to supplement school food (most students are boarders), and are making the bricks to make the new dorms and school rooms.
The students are full of personality, although some seemed a bit disconnected, and some – as the sisters say – are “a bit cheeky”. They have a reputation for being very good at music (which we later had opportunity to see), and were extremely well-disciplined when they needed to be.
The student body has grown far too fast to keep up with, as the sisters are soft hearted, and as you can all imagine, there are many hard-luck stories around here. The dorms are absolutely packed: 3 story bunk beds set a foot or so apart, & not enough mosquito nets.
Making things even more difficult are the rising prices: food prices have shot up recently (a global phenomena particularly acute in places like this), as have costs for things like mattresses and mosquito nets.
We trained only 12 people this time: 5 are healthcare workers including 2 from the school (Charles, our country facilitator for RMF projects in Uganda, and Immacilat, the school nurse), 2 from the psycho-social ward at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Tororo (their boss had signed them up after seeing our work at the refugee camp), and 1 from Mella clinic – a rural clinic where a staff of 4 sees 500 patients per day. The other 7 people trained were teachers and admin at the school, and they were trained only in ear beads (ie no needling involved) and also in yoga.
I did the training for the needling portion, and Beth taught yoga to the other 7 and the students. I often heard grand hilarity from the bakery (which had a huge open room ideal for teaching yoga to a large group) when Beth was working with them. Most had never seen or heard of yoga, and although the sisters seemed occasionally befuddled by it, some of the teachers – male & female – and all of the students seemed super excited by it.
We offered acupuncture treatments to the students twice, and asked them to write down some of their thoughts. They reported big improvement to their sense of well-being, being more relaxed, and great improvements in sleep. I didn’t realize the full significance of this until I interviewed some of the children one-on-one. We had asked the sisters to arrange for us to talk with a few of the students in order to get a more thorough history & picture of what they’d been through.
The first boy I talked to was from the north. I’ve read a lot about the civil war that’s been happening for the past 20 years in Northern Uganda – the atrocities, the damage to communities – but it was a completely different thing to sit down with one of the people and talk about his experience of it.
The rebels had killed his father when he was 6, after which his village was moved to a camp where sanitation, food, and shelter were abysmal. School was interrupted for 2 years, after which the kids were taught under trees in communal areas. Invasions from rebel soldiers were ongoing, and when he was 18 (in 2006) he and many of his friends and one brother were abducted by rebels. He was forced to carry 50Kg (120lb) bags of salt on his head for days and nights at a time with no food or water, and beaten with spears and sticks to keep up and shut up (showed me scars). His brother wasn’t able to keep up, and was killed in his presence. He himself was forced to kill a few of his friends to “prove” his loyalty, and to prevent being killed himself. He was forced to fight against government soldiers, given a gun, and probably drugged. During one of these skirmishes he escaped, and was later found by gov’t soldiers and returned to his mother in the camp. There he was befriended by Patrick, a seminary student who also works for the school (who has been taking care of Judah during our long work days), and brought to the school.
The other students we interviewed had equally horrific and/or tragic pasts. All of them said sleep was difficult, interrupted, a lonely time for them. One girl said she woke in the night, imagining her bed had turned into a hole in the ground and she was being buried. Another said that when she woke her tears were falling “without my knowing”.
All of them also said that since receiving the treatments, they had slept well, “like when I was a child,” sleeping through the night and waking rested. A couple of the girls said after their first yoga session that they hadn’t felt so good and safe since before their parents had died (these 2 were AIDS orphans).
On the last day we presented certificates to the trainees, and the students performed songs and dances for us for over an hour. The music went from traditional dances & songs to gospel, to songs written specifically for Beth and me. It was extremely moving, totally beautiful. I’m very much looking forward to sharing pictures with folks when we return!
Our little team of 3 has now landed safely here on the coast of Kenya. Today is our first full day off in weeks of working roughly 7am-10pm, so we’re maximizing with pool and beach time, catching up on mail, and looking forward to pizza for dinner after weeks of mostly Indian and African food.
We left Uganda Friday night, accompanied to the side of the rode that serves as Tororo’s bus station by Charles, Sister Clare, and a gaggle of the Mama Kevina school girls. It was nice to have the company since the bus was 1.5 hrs late. We spent the time talking about the week, but also learning & teaching games with the girls, eating roast corn, watching the roadside traffic & community, like the chapatti lady and her kids at work & play.
The bus finally arrived and we were loaded on with tears and hugs. Within an hour we’d reached the border, where everyone has to deboard & walk between checkpoints across the no-man’s land, getting exit stamps for Uganda, and entry stamps for Kenya. By then the sun was setting in its usual brilliant oranges and reds reflecting off dramatic cloudscapes, so the rest of the ride was in darkness. Much of the journey felt a lot like riding a greyhound bus through a pot-holed construction site at high speeds, overtaken and being overtaken by other lorries and buses, with occasional traffic going the other way. A thrill a minute, though Judah says we only lifted onto two wheels once, and at least we didn’t hit any wildlife.
A total of 12 bone-jarring hours later we arrived in Nairobi. We caught a taxi to the airport in the dawn hours (great time to be on the road in the capital as otherwise one can crawl along at a snail’s pace through the horrendous traffic there), with no ticket and no real idea if there were flights to Malindi, our next destination.
We got lucky and found a little commuter airline leaving in the next few hours. Had some food, brushed teeth in the domestic terminal bathrooms, tried to call my contact on the coast, who I’d not been in direct contact with for some worrisome amount of time (unsuccessful).
In the waiting area I talked with an elderly white woman who’d grown up in the Himalayas, daughter of a British shipping line owner in still-colonial India. Her family had moved to Kenya after WWII, living quite the lush life I’m sure. She met & married her husband here, and later moved to France to live out their golden years. He had recently become suddenly paralyzed, & died within a few days. That was a month ago, and she was just now returning to spend her final weeks/months/years in Kalifi on the Kenyan Coast. It was very much like talking to an anachronism, as she was all about colonial life and mentality.
The flight was about an hour during which Judah and Beth slept, and I read the African news magazines in the seat flap. We descended over palm & mango trees and thatched roofs in sight of the coast to a charming teeny airport in the middle of the green. We hadn’t arranged for a hotel, so the only taxi driver in sight listed some possibilities & drove us through town (“ there’s the private Muslim hospital, there’s the post office, this is the Lamu/Mombassa road”) to where he thought we might stay. It had gorgeous grounds (plumeria and bougainvillea are plentiful here), a play area for the kiddies, luxurious pool, stables, bikes for rent – looked fantastic after our digs in Uganda which were lush by local standards but still limited on power and hot water, and in the middle of a dusty town. Unfortunately, the hotel was too steep for our very limited budget (around $75 per night for a double). We sadly refused a room there, and walked across the street to some cottages we’d spied on the way in.
The price was much more within range, but the place was a bit spooky: the front gate had a padlock, the pool was murky & bug-filled, there was an old Indian man who regarded us steadily and silently all the while we were walking around. The rooms were pretty spacious, but pretty dirty (Judah found a cockroach in the fridge), and pretty oppressive feeling. Beth and I looked at each other thinking “eew, this place is creepy” but saying “yeah, I guess we could be here for a while and maybe change rooms when we have more time to look for something nicer?”
Judah, bless his soul, said “ let’s look at one more place; I saw something a bit further up the road.” So we trudged out with the taxi driver (who was walking with us as we figured things out, his car still loaded w/our belongings back at the first hotel), and along the road until we saw a place called “the African Pearl.” It was also set off the road, had beautiful grounds, a nice pool, thatched roofs on all the buildings, vine-woven hammocks and swings hanging from the big mango trees, murals of lions & elephants on the walls. “Ah well,” I thought, “there’s no way this place is in our range.” But after some negotiations, we accepted a large room w/lanai overlooking pool and grounds, including breakfast for about $8 more per night than the spooky place, so there we are, living in the lap of what feels very much like luxury to us at this point in our trip.
I was able to reach my contact for the Omari Project this morning, and he’ll be picking us up to take us to the rehab center in the morning to start the next training session. This is the place that Nina (TCMCH student) and I visited back in December, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they do. It’s one of only 2 sub-saharan drug detox centers, and I think the NADA protocol will be a great tool for their toolbox.
Well, Judah has been patiently waiting for me to finish to we can get that beach time in.

Country Page: Uganda Initiative Page: Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement Project