Well, another week has passed. This week has been nothing short of wonderful, as I have come to expect out of this place. The day I sent my last e-mail, I went home and pulled a total “Megan.” I walked back to the house because Ryan had to finish up some stuff at the office and was going to be coming along later. When I got home, I pulled out a water and sat down to read my book. I got up to head across the room and managed to step on a piece of glass. A jar had broken sometime during the day apparently and was scattered all around the table. I went back to wash off my foot and get what glass I could out then headed back out to clean up the rest of it while we still had power and before I stepped on another piece. Well, as I was picking up a piece, it cut my hand. When I looked down at it and saw it bleeding, the power went out. So I went back to my room, grabbed a flashlight, and did a little self-first-aid in the dark.
I managed to get most of the glass out of my foot and the cut on my hand was pretty deep, but a clean cut. I washed it out well and gauzed it and taped it and took good care of it. The two clinical officers here (David and Joe) were both very impressed with my mad skill. It was as if I had been injured before or had a dad as a doctor. Crazy, right? [Megan’s dad IS a doctor.] Good news is that now it’s all set and good to go. It may very well scar, but since when have I come home from trips without scars or something memorable? Tuesday night (much to Felix’s relief) I was able to talk to my parents for a little bit and that was great. It was really nice to hear their voices and it made Felix’s day. And then two days later, I got to talk to my brother. And it made my life. I miss home but it really would just be a lot easier if everyone came over here instead. That would be lovely.
I’ve come to “adopt” a three year old, the son of Dick Denis who works here in the office. His name is Francis and he’s teaching me how to dance. He’s an absolute doll. While I’ve only casually adopted him, there are so many children here I ACTUALLY want to adopt and bring home with me. I mean, how can these kids grow? Their choice of role models is between their brother who was fighting and probably killed, or the men who made them kill their own parents, or their 13 year old sister who is raising them by selling herself to earn money for food. It absolutely tears me to pieces. How can you develop with those as your examples? I mean, there’s no Nelson Mandela here, ya know? I’ve cried so much this trip, and these kids are the primary reason. Every person here has been affected by this war—directly, not even indirectly. And these people still smile, and they still laugh, and they still go on living. I know the war is over and the situation is relatively settled and pretty stable, but I mean…wow. We saw a kid on our way up to a camp further north this week walking to school with a gun. We’ve seen boys balancing machetes on their heads and girls with slingshots around their necks. It’s exhausting to me and I cannot even begin to relate to everything these children have endured. It makes so much sense why it’s so religious here though. It’s not a matter of why God has forgotten them or forsaken them, it’s a matter of a relationship with God is the one thing that the LRA (or anyone else) can’t physically touch or manipulate. At least in my observation, that’s the one sure thing in all of these people’s lives. The one stability that can be offered through faith and personal commitment. It doesn’t matter if you’re beaten or walking hundreds of kilometers through forests you’ve never seen at gunpoint—you can still pray. And that always reminds me of the song “Waters of Babylon” that we all learned at Lauren’s memorial service. These people never fail to amaze me with their immense beauty, and not a single one of them has failed to impact my life.
I’ve been making a map of Lira Central in all my spare time. If you’ve tried to find a map of where I am, the best you were probably able to get was a T-intersection with Lira marked on the northeast side. So, that has been my task. It’s coming together pretty well, thanks to a lot of help from Allan. I went for a drive around Lira yesterday with Anthony (one of the drivers) and he showed me all the landmarks so that I could have a complete map drawn to scale. I used Epi Info to create it. That program and I are best friends now. Headquarters asked that I make one for Pader also, so I’ll be heading the two hours north sometime this week and working with the people up there while in the midst of gridding and mapping out the roads around the area.
This week we have arranged a meeting with the Rachele Rehabilitation Center. I am proud to say that it was on my initiative that this meeting was arranged. The Rachele Center is a home and school where some of the bush children who had been abducted by the LRA now live. It is on the outskirts of Lira and when I was out there with Anthony, I asked him about it. As soon as he told me about their program I asked if we could possibly stop by so we did just to go in and say hi and see what it was all about. There’s a strong psycho-social support program that is so clearly necessary for these children. I was able to speak with some of them and I had to do everything not to break down bawling right then and there. I came back to the office the briefly talked with Ryan about getting them involved with the athletic or drama programs that we will have at the Youth Center, but he didn’t know much about the Rachele Center or their story. So then I went in and had an extensive conversation with Felix and David who thought it was a great idea, and was able to get a meeting set up for later in the week. I’m so so excited about that. Even if it winds up not working out, I really want to go back and spend some more time there in the evenings or on the weekends before I leave.
I went back out to Alito last week on Wednesday. Of course, there was a huge rainstorm through the night Tuesday so the road was once again nothing less than entertaining. No one got stuck this time around, but we did have a few dicey moments with the vehicles pulling out of potholes and slipping across the mud. People recognized me and came up to shake my hand, and I made a point to smile and greet most of the people who were there when we were setting up. This week I was able to help set up the tents since I actually knew what was going on, and really wowed some people with my mad skill at setting up tents. Oh, the things Oregon teaches you. We went back up to Barowo to pick up vaccinations. We had just missed their break period so all the students were in their classes, but as we drove past the main building a lot of students came to the window and yelled “muona” and the ones who remembered my name called “Megan,” though it sounds more like “Mageene.” I went and said hello to my friend, the P2 teacher who had just had the Frisbee returned to him after the break period. I greeted all the students in Luo and they greeted me back in English with a “Good morning, Madame.” The teacher insisted on giving me a soda, which is a pretty high honor over here, and said that if I came back during one of their term breaks he would be honored to invite me to have tea at his home and meet his family. I then went over to the maternity clinic and spoke with the women who were waiting for their checkups. I saw a mother and her healthy baby girl who had been born the day before. I must admit, it was quite refreshing and reassuring seeing a healthy child.
I sat in with Joe some more this time around and we saw a lot of mothers worried about their children’s coughs. Sound familiar to anyone else? I learned a lot in there, Joe is great and he’s so good about explaining things and answering questions. One seven year old boy came in with his mother and was very shy and embarrassed at first. I thought part of the reason for his embarrassment was my presence, so I pulled out my Luo again. I greeted him and said good morning and he responded with a smile and a thank you. I continued on to ask how he was feeling and to introduce myself and to ask his name. His name was Odongo Jimmy and he was “pleased to make my acquaintance.” Joe got a kick out of the conversation as did the boy and his mother, and then everything was just fine and there was no more need for embarrassment. I was pretty proud of myself though. We brought home another referral case of a combination of malaria and malnutrition. She and her mother are at the Lira Regional Hospital and we should get an update sometime today or tomorrow.
I’ve been able to make some great friends on the staff, but have found it much easier to interact with one or two people at a time. When they’re all together it seems as though most people don’t want to speak up, but when they are in smaller groups it’s much easier to talk with them. Each day of the week I’ve decided to say good morning and goodnight in different languages. I started with German and then Italian, I think tomorrow’s Portuguese and then French, Spanish, and Farsi. That’s the schedule Allan and I worked out anyhow. We’ve decided I’m ready to become a local since I now know the town as well as anyone else here, the fact that everyone in town has seen me at least twice already, and the fact that I can speak enough of the language to have a casual conversation and meet people.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as I think it was predicted by all before I even set foot on the plane: I’m even more seriously considering go pre-med instead of pre-law. Now I just have to get my head around all the sciences…gah. I must admit, I looked into USC’s health promotion and disease prevention program. Maybe I’ll be able to get into some of the classes as electives in their Keck School of Medicine. We’ll see. I was looking at undergraduate internships with Doctors Without Borders online the other day, actually. There are some promising ones. Now we just have to see what happens. There are a lot of people down here who think I should come back down here and have MTI set up an internship program or something for next summer—and I would be completely okay with that too.
Ryan and I were the only ones in the office Friday as everyone else was getting their National Social Security cards and such. Yep, social security. We were able to get quite a bit finished and a few people rolled into the office around 5:30 or 6 to check on the mezungos and make sure we hadn’t ruined anything at the office. We went in Saturday also for the typical half-day. We went home around two and had a very relaxing afternoon and evening. We have made a habit of playing football with our guard and making hot chocolate for all three of us on the rainy evenings. He invited us to join him on his road workouts, meaning running. A few mornings a week at 6. Woohoo. I must admit though, it is so refreshing and nice to get out and run. I was getting bored of my jump rope. We made sure it was safe before hand, no worries.
I’m still in love with this place and this week has gone by far too quickly. This weekend we’re probably headed out to Murchison Falls to be tourists or something, but it’ll be fun. Felix is taking us and he’ll go on the land and river safaris with us. I’m still excited to be here and soooo happy to have heard back from people. It’s wonderful to pick up these messages as I can and to hear back from all of you and to grow from your support. Maybe it’s in a way only Jesuit [Megan’s high school] can teach, or in a way only Ugandans can be, or maybe it’s just there, but it is so easy to see God in each person’s face, especially those children who have been through so much and still find the strength to smile. When I was asked to speak at Church again Sunday (though I was decidedly no longer a visitor, which I took as a great compliment), I quoted the one Bible passage that has been running through my head the entire time I’ve been here. I came across it on my junior encounter. It’s from 1 Peter 4:8 (I think) and it goes something along the lines of “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, for love covers a multitude of sins.” How beautiful is that—let your love be intense. You can’t help but be overcome with the love surrounding you when you’re in a place like this, and being reminded of the love to which I’m sure to return.
Well, the thunderstorm is rolling in and that means Internet and power can only last a few minutes longer. Once again, congratulations on making it this far through words and babble. I hope it made sense and I can only do my best to convey everything I’m feeling, all the heartbreak and all the greatness I know because of these past few days. Thank you for your thoughts, thank you for your prayers, thank you for your love and for keeping me in your busy lives day to day. I leave you with all of my love, having no worries of it being wasted and the other thought perpetually in the back of my mind: lueur. [I asked Megan’s mom about this – she has the French word lueur – meaning "gleam, glimmer, light" – written in ink on her wrist.]