Geelong to Uganda

Geelong to Uganda
Google image of trip from Geelong (my home) in Australia to Karamoja, Uganda!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Last Days in Karamoja


Our last week in Nabilituk, Karamoja, before heading down to Jinja city for the Pioneers International conference next Monday.
The week was really fun and full, busy with many moments of joy to wrap up the last month we've been without Tom and Jean. It involved visiting friends in villages every second day; praying all together squished in a mud hut (so great), storying as much as we could (our last burst), continuing to study language at every opportunity and doing another animal health training day - the second one I have lead now, it was a fantastic day of teaching things like how to do a physical exam on an animal, about common diseases here (how they occur, how to prevent and how to treat them, etc.), about correct methods of drug administration and the biggie of not underdosing animals with antibiotics, which seems to be an epidemic here. It was really great to see the lessons learnt from the previous training had stuck as we discussed all these things and the group was really interactive in discussing through everything which was cool.
Tick-spraying on Wednesday of course which is always an experience and treating animals during the weekdays too.

Visiting the villages in these last days, I cannot properly describe how awesome it was. To be so warmly welcomed and cared for, to share in their activities and just be with them. We were so blessed by the hospitality of the women in the village who fed us morning tea (eshai) and boiled eggs (from the chickens KACHEP had distributed to them) which was actually a really generous offering to us considering that this is a village who are constantly raided by enemy villages; have their animals taken from them and so who struggle to feed themselves. We also received lunch too which we weren't expecting but the main woman we were meeting with was so happy to have us there we stayed until late in the afternoon with her.
Part of the day was giving out Ivermectin for mange to 40 of their goats free of charge as a gift from us. We wanted to help in a way that they would most appreciate during this time of insecurity and it was just crazy great to be able to do such a small thing but which went so far for them. It was also another great training opportunity and I got a local guy who has just started working with KACHEP and has been attending the trainings and everything, to be in charge of the weight tape and then we calculated the dosage for each goat together and then I showed him how to administer it. It soon became a fun community affair :)
The other village we visited, Okutoot, is an hour drive from where we live and we went with three Karamajong friends to help us with some language translation and the day was in one word... interesting. I am beginning to see that every day I wake up here I should just expect it to be a crazy day full of the unexpected. I've always been someone who loves a challenge and even seeks them but being here I feel like I didn't know the meaning of the word before now. There are so many layers to that statement that is too much to try and write now so it'll have to be another time. Suffice to say, it will be nice to be on holidays even though I'll miss this land of Karamoja and everything that it is.

Packing up to leave for 4weeks (2 for conference and 2 for personal holidays) was exciting but also bittersweet to think of leaving. I'll miss my girls, my dog (not really mine but I like to call her mine :), the incredible night sky of 2 hemispheres combined that you can only get in Karamoja, the crazy and sometimes frustrating animal owners (ok so I may not miss them that much), the animals!, the funny looking billy-goats with their beards, the beautiful, sweet, gentle & just plain cute cows who put up with so much from the people here during ploughing season haha, the donkeys who have now become my new alarm clock, now that ploughing season has come and our kittens which have kept me awake by jumping on my toes during the night just for funsies but who are soooo cute you just can't be annoyed.

I won't miss being stared at though :) Well stared at less anyway and I am so looking forward to the conference, meeting new people and going on holidays yewwwwww!!!
In two weeks I am off to Kenya for some time on the coast in Mombasa (such a great  African name- reminds me of Mufasa from the Lion King!) and then some random jaunts here and there until the team meets back together to go back to the land of pain and toil for the simplest things but yet satisfaction and joy because you have to work so hard to get what you want.
Things have been difficult of recent with the abscence of Tom and Jean and of hearing that they will not return for at least another 3 months. This leaves our team of three girls in a tricky situation as we were planning to head to Lotim in north Karamoja and now there lies a huge question mark over what the next few months will look like. There are many factors and confusions to deal with at this time and worry over the future so please join me in praying to God who is in control of all things and who knows the future to give peace, wisdom and understanding on the difficult road ahead.
For me I am just asking for patience in not knowing the details of the rest of my time here in Africa and that I can grow in the love of Christ in this time, trusting and knowing that God has the blueprint of my life and just because I don't know what is coming next doesn't mean it is not going to be amazing.

All my love,

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Getting to know Karamoja


Every day, without fail, an animal comes with respiratory problems. There is a disease outbreak here that mostly only hits cattle and goats, called CBPP (contagious bovine pleural pneumonia) and CCPP (contagious caprine pleural pneumonia) respectively. However, lately because the rainy season has started (hot, humid mornings which build into stormy rainy afternoons starting at around 2pm daily) the fresh green grass has brought in some bloat cases. With no veterinarian here anymore, this basically gives me reason to say, eeeeeeeeeeep. A week ago we sprayed cattle for ticks here in Nabilituk and a small black cow was brought to the car (where I treat animals from- my office ha ha) clearly suffering from bloat. She had not eaten all week and the rumen was extremely distended with gas. On percussion you could hear it like it was a gas bottle you were tapping not a cow's stomach. I knew that it was severe but I chickened out from puncturing the rumen to relieve the gas. Olum, the local traditional healer suggested a plant to help relieve the gas and to pour soapy water down it's throat. A week later it came back to us, still with bloat but worse. She struggled to stand, had her neck stuck out and was finding it hard to breath. Ok, this time I could not chicken out. I checked the textbooks for guidance and they said a cow showing the signs above, about to die, must relieve gas now, danger, danger! I gave some sedative IV (I actually got the vein first time which, in a cow, usually doesn't happen for me) scrubbed the area of the rumen, which felt like a bouncy ball by this stage, and stabbed. It was pretty cool but I was so nervous that I'd do it wrong, with no one there to help me! The first time I went for it, the trochar (sharp pointy thing) just bounced right off again like it was a trampouline, eeep. I stabbed a little harder the next go. Watching the trochar with the plastic chamber thingy move as the gas came out I thought wow was I crazy to have done that just then when it could have gone horribly wrong? A penicillin streptomycin shot and a prayer for the cow later and we were finished.
I am not sure if I'm cut out for Karamoja, I'm not sure if I'm cut out to be a vet missionary but I do know that God knows and he gives me the good and the bad to wrestle with and grow from. Sometimes I feel like arghh I want a proper bathroom and fresh vegetables and to be able to communicate easily with people, I miss home people and I wish I didn't look so clearly foreign so that people wouldn't stare all the time and if only I could stay clean for 5 minutes!
But then other times, I am not sure I ever want to leave. When I go for a long walks with Nakirion (the dog I have adopted) who is wonderful and faithful and sweet and entertaining and I fall in love with the landscape of Karamoja again and again, with the fresh green grass and flowers blossoming, now it is rainy season to the backdrop of stunning mountains. I think of the friends I have made here and the tiny successes made every day with being able to say a little bit more to them. I see Nabor, a Karamojong women who is a neighbour and friend of ours looking a little sad and I run over to her and she tries to act all tough and I hug her and she erupts into giggles, her nose crinkling up and she tugs my hair. I think of the people here who are so tough, struggling every day in this environment and yet are the most thankful people I have ever met. The men who stay awake at night protecting their cattle, the women who look after their children, their homes and who also work during the day as well (often carrying their babies on their backs as they work), carrying 20L jerry cans of water on their heads or hoeing the fields in the sun. One day Nabor came over and met Miriam and told her she had just fallen off the roof of her house she was fixing, onto her back but she said 'I did not fall on my baby, God is there'. Wow I would not be so faithful in such a moment. When Summer was sick, they all came over and sat with us and prayed for her and were in tears for her, seeing her pain.
I also love the animals here; they are everywhere. I love the kids here, they run up to me and shake my hand
(I think that's what their parents tell them to do) and the ones I see regularly even know my name, they call out Me-liiissss-a! they are just so cute. I think if I sacrifice some clothes in my suitcase I can smuggle a few home with me ;)
I think surprisingly, doing the vet work is not even the best part of being here, it is the time spent with the women here or walking around the place meeting people you can just stop by and ask how they are going, what is new in their lives. It is funny how you can be a novelty attraction for your strangeness; the colour of my skin, what I am here for/do - typically the men work with animals, that I am over 20 and not married with kids, and that we often wear different types of clothes (although every woman must wear a skirt longer than the knee here or you really will be an outcast), etc. which can be bad because they make assumptions of you before they know you. But the longer you hang around, the more people you know and the more excited they are when they see you. You change from just being a strange entity to being a person, with a name, who can speak to you (a little). It makes you want to stick it out, even when it's a struggle to begin with.

My time to story: Sitting under a tree relaxing with some Karamojans


Wednesday the 2nd May was a great day. Miriam and I, with Joshua (a local guy and friend who has worked with KACHEP for most of its time, with animal work, agroforestry work and evangelism work, plus translates for us) and Olum (local animal health worker and traditional healer) drove down to Lolachat, where we would be doing the spraying that day. Summer had malaria (not a great part of this story) and so had to stay home, sick in bed :(
Usually each Wednesday spraying consists of three parts; tick-spraying cattle, sheep and goats, vet treatments and a Bible story at the end. With Summer not there she asked if I would like to tell the story. I jumped at the opportunity and I told the story of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). I love this story for what it tells us of both God and humanity in the characters of the father and the sons. I feel it's applicable to all ears that may hear it because everyone rebels against God, whether they live in Aus or here in K'jong, just like the younger son in the story rebels against his father. Just like in the story, as soon as we ask for forgiveness and turn away from living life our own way, God forgives. He loves us so much, he is waiting for this, in fact! He wants us to come back into relationship with him just like the father in the story waited for his son to come home.
The people were very interactive with the story, in the usual Karamojong way and although I wish I could be telling the story in their language without needing a translator, I was also glad to have Joshua there. He often gets really excited about acting stories out and so when the part of the story came where the son returns home he got up and acted out the father looking out across the land and seeing the son and then racing out to greet him, ha ha he is really good value for that! Even as an older man he still gets youthfully excited when it comes to telling people about God.
I really loved sitting around with the people, sharing with them and then listening to their thoughts on it afterwards. It just feels so natural to sit under a tree here and talk about God together, I may look really different to them but somehow they accepted me, listened to the story and were even interested to know more. Afterwards the conversation took a really cool turn into explaining how it is that God can forgive us, like the father does in the story. How is it that God can forgive everyone's sins, every wrong thing done against him, and all we have to do is ask for our record of wrongs to be metaphorically wiped clean? What a great question and segue into talking about Jesus. The Karamojans understand the idea of sacrifice probably better than we do the first time we hear it because, in many ways the people here live like they are in the pages of the old testament. When wrong is done, a price must be paid, blood of an animal is shed, for justice, they “get” that, it's how life is here. Like us they may not understand how it could be that God could love us that much to send his son to take on the weight of such a sacrifice, all the sins of the world paid, once for all but they can believe. Jesus died that death so we don't have to.
Afterward we prayed to our powerful God for anything that was on their hearts. A lot of the people there had lost cattle to 'enemies' recently and this is a massive blow to them, their livelihoods, their sustainability and even their ability to provide for their families. I feel so sad for them I can't even put it into words. Some of them have people come and attack their villages and homes every week. I cannot imagine how that must feel for them; that insecurity and worry. But the crazy thing is when I talk to them about it they often repeat 'mam nache, iyey akutch' to me, 'God is there, we do not worry', the faith of those who believe out here is such an encouragement to me. It is true God is here, God is in every situation and God takes on our worries and troubles. I also asked Joshua to pray for Summer, who is really feeling horrible. Turns out malaria sucks. Thank God he has given the world an effective and relatively pain free treatment for it. If she had brucellosis (another common disease out here) she would have to have 5ml of antibiotic injected into her thigh muscle daily for 14 days! There's a silver lining for everything.

Later in the afternoon we returned home and got stuck into some language learning, it is fun to be able to say more and more to the people around you each week. You really take language for granted when you are back home and can speak to everyone easily.

Since writing the above, Summer has finished her malaria treatment and apart from stomach upsets and remaining fatigue (malaria destroys red blood cells= iron depletion= muscle weakness), she has recovered :) PTL

All my love, Mel.

Ostentatious owners

I am a person who really doesn't like it when people are all up in my space. However, it seems that you cannot survive as a white vet in Karamoja if you stay with this attitude. Today a man came to our doors saying he had sick cattle that we needed to see, all he could tell us was one symptom for each of them. It was our day off, a day to ourselves when we don't treat animals, but this man would not take no for an answer, every time we'd say please come on Monday we can treat them then he would say, ‘ok I come at 4:30 this afternoon?’ Um… No. ‘5 o'clock then? Ok I'll come then’. No!
At 5pm he came and I went out to see that he had brought every cow he owns to us. I waited for them to get a hold of the sick animal (we have no cattle crush here so they just whistle and grab the horns) and then as I started the physical examination and tried to work out what was wrong with the bull, the owner wouldn't stop repeating the one symptom he knew. He could speak English, which is a rare thing, but he wasn't the best at it :) I somehow also suspected, as time went on, that he liked the sound of his own voice. It turned out that the one symptom he was repeating, the cow did not have, changing the diagnosis completely.
In addition to that, imagine trying to listen to lung sounds, the heart rate and rumination noise while you have three to five men talking loudly around you. However, as soon as I told them to be quiet, they were, which was good. I think somehow they knew that you don't want to upset the young, white, animal doctor girl with a rectal thermometer in her hand. Worst was still to come for me though as I told the owner the treatment, saying the bull needed an oral dewormer and then he replied "no you give vaccination for antibiotics".
Firstly, that sentence makes no sense as vaccination and antibiotics are two different things and secondly, the bull needs neither. I struggled to know how to tell him this though. Lesson of the day, how do you keep your cool and stay respectful when you are becoming frustrated to the core of your being?
Then, haha, as I ignored the men all around me trying to tell me what to do I gave it the treatment for intestinal worms, having to tell the boy holding the bull’s head "quap, quap, quap!!!", which means 'down', maybe I had become the one liking the sound of my own voice but I tried to explain to them that you cannot hold the animal's head to the sky when inserting medicine into the mouth as it may go into the lungs. It sounded better in my mind than when I tried to explain it to them. Language can really be a barrier here, as can owners, who do what this man did next.
We looked at the next poor cow that was sick and it had severely laboured breathing and a fever, looking like a form of pneumonia. So, as I am giving the treatment, injecting an antibiotic into the hindlimb muscles, the owner actually tried to take the syringe from me! Seriously! I was so shocked I am surprised I got all the medicine in. For the first time in my life I had to defend my position and tell an elder man to back away and let me do what I came here to. Miriam, who was watching, said she was impressed, she said, you know that's what you got to do around here, you gotta be tough, even when you don't feel like you are.
It was honestly a very stressful half hour to hour long treatment time, and the longer I was out there, the more people came to watch including a group of shepherd boys who unfortunately did not knowing the meaning of personal space, all trying to get a good look at what the thermometer says or 'where will she stick that needle' or 'ooh what is in that hoof there?' So... it turns out I need personal space. Who knew? ;)