As weird as it may sound I feel happy here. I left my private storm in Holland behind.
And I can fully submerge in the work here in Uganda. Who recognizes saying as a child: ‘I want to work as a volunteer in Africa’? I was such a girl. After wanting to be a stewardess, a hair dresser and a schoolteacher I also said I wanted to work in Africa as a volunteer. And later also as a teacher in a hospital. The images I saw on television and the stories that my parents told me already fascinated me at the time. The wish to be a teacher stayed and it became reality. I stil enjoy working at school. Working as a volunteer never fully left my mind and now the moment was there. Would that be the reason that I felt so happy, or the experiences? I’ll give you a glimpse of my impressions..
I’ve now had a few working days. There are A-shifts and B-shifts and always a free morning or evening. Great! Once a week you have to do an evening or night shift.
Back to my second day at work. There’s a daily routine of getting all the babies, toddlers and infants out of bed, into the bath (a tub on the floor), providing milk to the small children (between age 1 and 4) and going to the porch to play. Some of them are really mischievous. Those faces are fantastic to see! It’s not so easy to try and be clear and consistent. The more because people in Uganda take things easier. There were some doubts between me ‘the teacher’ and me ‘the traveller’ who likes to adjust to the habits and rituals of the country I’m visiting.
Apart from playing and providing milk, there are a lot of nappies to change. That’s quite some work with all those cotton cloths at the inside, plastic cloths at the outside, and all the knotting. And you musn’t tear the plastic apart when knotting it. To visualise it: it reminds of knotting a blown up balloon. Yes, including the same frustration. Only this balloon is moving and, worse, goes crying because it’s taking too much time. And he’s right about that, it’s my first day and I’m still learning. Sorry mate, tomorrow will be better I think. Cloths for cleaning the buttocks are only allowed to be used very sparsely, so that takes a lot of improvising when three nappies are filled. Hopefully I will get used to this as well.. In situations like these people say to each other, laughing (and with the nose tight between two fingers): T.I.A. (This is Africa).
After work you can often find me near Michael. He’s a boy that has been left behind at a hospital. His mother handed him over to a schoolgirl, promising to be back soon. But she never came back. There’s no further information about this boy. It’s assumed he’s about 1 year old and that he has a damaged brain of spasm. Today he has a fever and he cries a lot. When I pick him up he calms down. He really needs the safety of someone around. I’ve tried to do so as much as possible. It’s no big effort for me and you simply cannot ignore his dark eyes. Especially when you see those eyes change and feel a rest coming over him after picking him up.
From time to time I also leave Amecet, where I will be working as a volunteer for the next four weeks. Together with another volunteer I’ve walked to Soroti (‘in town’), which takes about 10 minutes. It’s beautiful. Everywhere bicycles, mopeds, cars, pedestrians and boda’s (bikes and moped used as a taxi where you can sit on a back seat). In the main street lots of small shops, many colours and odours and a supermarket. It’s a bit like the odours on a multi-cultural market on a Saturday in Antwerp. At the bank we were not the only ones: 30 people were also waiting. Gladly, there were benches in the shade. Anyway, it’s Africa, so why bother about it? Imagine how Dutch faces would look like in a row of 30 people waiting. Ugandese people in contrast have totally relaxed faces, no air of irritation whatsoever. Wow! What a difference! I want to store that in mind.. After having bought some groceries we went back on a boda, the three of us on a moped. We enjoyed watching a cyclist carrying a bunch of wood, a truck loaded with people on top, a moped carrying a family of five… I can recall those images of Africa so easily here in Uganda.. Great!
During work, I’m often in the medicine room to assist with the six prematures. They are so tiny and so sweet.. Every two hours measuring their temperature, changing their nappies and feeding them by bottle or probe, is something I have learned to do. I can feel an intens happiness when I look such a lovely baby in its eyes. I’m also realistic. I’m not going to make the difference here, I can only do my utmost best during the weeks that I’m here. I’m trying to make somebody smile, take care and give some extra love, that’s all I can do. But it feels so good to be able to do this. And I hope that And I hope that the little ones keep stable. The situation of one of them is quite troublesome and two others are a bit restless from time to time. Today at 7 pm the electricity went off and normally this room always gets electricity from a generator. So there you are with a baby in your arms and a torch to see what you are doing. A very special situation which makes me smile..