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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist

I spent a week in Kampala trying to deal with a hole in my tooth as well as a potential cavity in another tooth. Little did I know this adventure would provide me with yet another ridiculous story to tell.

*Disclaimer: I am going to go ahead and say “that’s what she said” in anticipation of all the dirty minds out in cyberspace.*

So I came into Kampala on Monday, as instructed, in hopes of seeing a dentist on Tuesday or Wednesday. Little did I know May 1st is a national holiday here in Uganda. When I was told this, I was rather confused and asked “what holiday is it, May Day?” I got some good laughs for this, but in all honesty I was serious. I soon found out it is the Ugandan Labor Day. I guess you really do learn something every day…

I get an appointment for Thursday and everything goes fairly smoothly. Big props to the Ugandan dentist fixing my cavity, he decided it was not too deep so he wouldn’t give me any novacane. Initially I was a little nervous, but he assessed the situation correctly and all went well. In regards to my potential cavity, it ended up being a sensitive and possible exposed root. He didn’t really seem to know what to do besides give me desensitizing cream, which makes me nervous that I’d have to return after a few weeks to reapply the cream, which was completely topical. I was glad I didn’t have to suffer through any mouth injections during this time though. 

The hilarious part was when they were filling my tooth and cleaning my teeth. Apparently the assistant to the dentist is used as a utensil tray because he stood next to me for over an hour just holding things for the dentist, whether it be the sucker in between uses, the scraper, or any other dental tool. Also, at one point both men had tools in my mouth, three different instruments in my mouth all at the same time (see disclaimer). Please keep in mind I have a small mouth, which was already tired from the other procedures and probably wasn’t open to its full capacity. On top of that, you add three instruments which are being pushed and prodded in my mouth? Talk about discomfort…I kind of wish I had a picture because from my point of view it looked absolutely ridiculous, two men coming at me with three different instruments trying to shove them all in my mouth and do something to benefit my dental health…yeah.

In other news, my site had a party to celebrate the graduation of the candidate class, also known as Set 5 (each semester a new set of students enters into the program and they go through the program together, as a “set”, taking all their classes together, so they are numbered by their set). One thing I love about my site is that the school throws party for everything and anything. Another thing I don’t love as much is the delay in the start of programs. The party was supposed to start at noon and only last about an hour but it didn’t actually start until 6 pm and went on until 8 pm (which in the grand scheme of life isn’t much, it’s only two hours, but the fact that it started so late bothered me…I had started supper before the party and was interrupted…it was just annoying). Anyhow, the party went fairly smoothly (besides the power going out in the middle and everything turning into chaos for about 20 minutes). I have to say, my favorite part wasn’t the awkward side conversations between the director and principal tutor who were sitting in the front of the room. It wasn’t the entrance of Mr. and Mrs. Set 5 (Mrs. Set 5 is actually an amazing girl who I absolutely LOVE and will miss). It wasn’t when one of the staff members shook a bottle of soda and sprayed it on Mr. and Mrs. Set 5, acting as if it was champagne. It wasn’t even the ridiculous massive game of musical chairs, which ended up being a mix between musical chairs and a conga line. It had to be when the MC (another student who I will miss) decided to attribute all the success of the students and their passing of exams and inevitably the program not to their hard work and dedication, but to the will of Jesus Christ. Now, I’m not knocking religion or Jesus or attributing anything to God’s divine power, but sometimes it just rubs me the wrong way when someone takes absolutely no personal responsibility, whether it’s for the successes or failures in life. It just seems that the students really have been working hard and studying a great deal and deserve a little credit too.

After the last of the students left, the school became quite lonely. Lucky for me, my life got a little more interesting thanks to the work of CHIPS and Worldwide Logistics (both are courier companies similar to DHL). I received a call one morning informing me that I had a 21 kg (about 46 lbs.) package waiting for me in Kampala. I was ecstatic until the woman on the line went on to say I was being charged 507,000 USH (equivalent to $202.80). I was completely taken aback, not really sure what to do. The woman on the phone informed me that I had to come to the Worldwide Logistics office in Kampala to pay the fine and retrieve my package. I told her I lived in Rakai and wouldn’t be able to get into Kampala for a few days (pending permission given by Peace Corps, arranging travel and accommodation, etc.). The woman on the phone told me this was fine (pause for breath of relief) but they would have to charge me a holding fee for every day the package was in the possession of the office until I would pick it up. I didn’t even get a chance to find out how much this “holding fee” was, I instantly demanded the fee be nullified because of my circumstances. The woman on the phone was very defensive and kept saying it was procedure and she couldn’t do anything about it. I finally calmed down and just said okay I’d be there within the next couple of days. After I hung up, the woman e-mailed me with the breakdown of the fees I was being charged (which wasn’t on any official receipt or bill but just typed out in an e-mail). I immediately called the Peace Corps office to request permission to go to Kampala to deal with the matter and to my surprise I was approved and told I would receive help. I was told that Peace Corps had an agreement with the Ugandan Government which exempted PCVs from getting taxed. AWESOME! 

Or so I thought. 

Well, I went in the next day only to find out nothing could be done that day, the paperwork and the processing of the package would take three business days. I went back to my site only to get a call a few days later telling me I needed to bring my Peace Corps Passport to Kampala to give to the office that way we would be able to get the package from the airport (apparently it was stuck at the airport at customs). So, I hop on another bus to Kampala hoping to return with a 21 kg package (I didn’t really think about how I would get it back, I just wanted to get it…first things first, right?). So I get to Kampala and wait for my ride to the Peace Corps office. Apparently they forgot about me because I waited for 3 hours before someone came, and even then I think it was by accident. I later found out it was a complete miscommunication so I let it go fairly swiftly. I was just happy to be making progress towards getting my package.

Or so I thought (do you see a trend yet?). 

So I go to the Peace Corps office, get whatever agreement and letter Worldwide Logistics needed (which took a while because the person who initially had it was out sick so new people in the office had to find the paperwork). I then went to the Worldwide Logistics office, met the woman I had been speaking with on the phone and gave her my Peace Corps Passport, thinking we’d be going to Entebbe Airport that day to get my package. I guess the joke is on me because when I gave it to her she told me she had to take it along with the paperwork to Entebbe and then they would release the package which would take two days at least (even though a taxi ride to Entebbe Airport takes an hour, maybe). So I sit there, riding the fine line between starting to scream or starting to cry, when the woman tells me to “calm down, in Uganda things go slowly”. That made me laugh a little. I gave her my passport with her word that the package would be in the Worldwide Logistics office by Friday when Peace Corps administration could come and pick it up allowing me to pick it up from the PC office at a later date. Again, I went back to site that evening with nothing physical to show for my trip but still mildly happy that some progress was made.

Or so I thought.

On Monday, having not heard anything since the last Wednesday (when I was in Kampala) about the package, I called the Peace Corps office to get an update. I find out that Worldwide Logistics needs MORE paperwork, including something that needs to go through higher security levels in order to get the package from Entebbe. Yeah, the package is STILL IN ENTEBBE AIRPORT AT CUSTOMS. At this point even the Peace Corps staff helping me are frustrated because every time they call to make progress, there seems to be something else needed. Why all this wasn’t explained THE FIRST TIME is beyond me and anyone that has been helping me. 

Seriously, all this for a bunch of my old clothes from home and some Indian snacks…I wish the people at the airport would realize what was in the box, then they’d know not to waste any more time trying to get money or whatever else out of me for something that isn’t really that big of a deal.

So now it’s just a waiting game…when in the world is Aditi going to get her package?


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I have come to the realization that my life here in Uganda could be one of the books from the Lemony Snicket series. 

Seriously…think about it.

If you don’t believe me, let’s review the events of a “normal” 24 hours in my life, shall we?

It’s Friday, I’ve eaten breakfast and am waiting for lunch to be served in the staff room. I munch on some PEZ and other candies to keep my stomach at bay. A couple Skittles into the snack, I notice my tooth is slightly hypersensitive. Now, over the past few weeks I’ve noticed the same tooth has been intermittently hypersensitive, but on this particular day, the sensitivity doesn’t seem to go away. Even during lunch (which is your standard Ugandan posho, beans, and greens) I notice my tooth is fairly sensitive to the meal. So, like any normal human being who has the wonders of Peace Corps Medical Services at their beckon call, I call the Peace Corps Medical Office to hopefully see a dentist and figure out if it’s a cavity or not. I am told I will get a call back as soon as an appointment is made since the medical office has to call different dentists and find out who is available. Satisfied, I hang up the phone thinking I should be seen fairly soon, at least by the upcoming week.

So, I go about my normal Friday (consisting of reading on my midget couch or in bed, napping, making up rap lyrics, and basically spending the day enjoying myself). Around 6:30 pm, I decide it’s about time I figure out what to make for dinner. I decide on a vegetable bullion broth-type soup with some tomatoes and green peppers. I also decide to add some pasta in the “soup” to get some carbohydrate action (Becs and Ginger, judge away). While I’m cooking, I use one of my pot holders to hold the handle of the pot so I can stir the soup (because heaven forbid the pasta get stuck to the pot and everyone judge me again, which happened anyway) and guess what happens…the pot holder catches on fire. Yeah, no joke. The fire wasn’t huge or out of control, but it made me a lot more conscious of what I was doing (because cooking on a flame isn’t hazardous enough). After getting everything back on track, I get very excited because it smells amazing and after a few taste tests, it tastes pretty good too! I put on some music, log on to the internet, and enjoy my supper. 

Not two bites in, I notice a jagged, sharp point on one of my molars. I quickly realize it may be one of the molars which had a filling in it. I rush to my tiny mirror (by this time the power is out so I have my head lamp on trying to position it in such a way that I can actually see myself in the mirror) to check out what is going on. I find that there is a hole in my tooth.

That’s right, a hole…in my tooth.

So, I panic. I come to the premature conclusion one of my fillings has come out (not really sure if that’s even possible). I frantically text and call various people asking if this is a valid reason to call the Peace Corps Medical After-Hours phone (which is supposed to be for fairly serious health issues). After what was probably only 10 minutes but felt like an hour, I decide to call (it’s only just after 8 at this point). One of my favorite nurses answers the phone and we talk for a few minutes and decide I should travel into Kampala on Monday to hopefully be seen on Tuesday or Wednesday. After hanging up, I continue eating my dinner (very slowly, chewing only on the opposite side of the hole, which coincidentally is the side of the potential cavity). I finish my dinner, clean up the dishes, and get myself ready for bed.
While I’m throwing away the scraps of my dinner (which really means just throwing them outside for the livestock to eat) I notice one of the staff members sitting outside listening to the radio. I decide to be social and sit outside with him. We talk for a bit and then when the power comes back on he decides he is going to turn in for the night. I say goodnight and begin walking to my place when he calls me back asking me for help answering some questions for some students. I take the questions and go into my place in order to look them up on the internet. This is probably an hour or so after I have finished my dinner. So I’m sitting down, looking up things in the internet, when my stomach decides it wants to chat. It must have been angry because it was grumbling and screaming like it was being tortured. After going for a long call I felt much better and finished my work. I gave it to the staff member, did my little workout routine (up to 135 push-ups, say what?!) while watching Flight of the Conchords and settled in for a quiet slumber.

Or so I thought.

Around 5:30 am I woke up with the sharpest pain in my stomach I’ve ever had (and trust me I’ve had pains in my stomach before). It felt like someone stabbed me, twisted the knife, took another knife, stabbed me, and was twisting that knife while continuing to twist the first knife. The last time I had a sharp pain in my stomach, I had a moderate case of pee butt, so I figured I should see if this was the case. A few minutes later, and feeling slightly better, I go back into my room and the pain begins to return. At this point I have nothing left in my stomach (or probably in my body for that matter) so I have no idea what to do. I’m standing by the door when all of a sudden I feel weak at the knees, nauseous, and have a cold sweat forming all over my body. I am fairly sure I will faint so I slip back into bed while fighting back the urge to vomit. I drink a little water and try to go back to sleep, to no avail. The pain continues, the cold sweat persists, and I have the vague inclination I may die (I know, very dramatic, probably unnecessarily dramatic in fact). At some point I must pass out because the next thing I recall is hearing my phone jingle indicating I received an SMS. I take a peek and see that it is one of my friends letting me know she too has been sick and wouldn’t be able to go into town as we had discussed the day before (though at the time she obviously didn’t know about my story). Another friend sends an SMS asking if I want to go into town for the day and I regretfully inform him that I was sick during the night and would like to rest (and at this point OF COURSE it is raining, which is good since I get my water from the rain, but it definitely makes me not want to travel anywhere). I sleep the rest of the morning until around noon. When I finally get out of bed I feel fine, no residual pain or discomfort. 

Apparently my health being okay makes the universe think something needs to NOT be okay because as I’m getting up, the power goes out…as I’m plugging my phone in to charge. 

And now my phone is dead…another win for Uganda (and UMEME, the Ugandan power supplier we use, I suppose). Luckily my computer is charged, so I decide to check my e-mail and find an e-mail with the subject line GLOBAL HEALTH COUNCIL TO CLOSE OPERATIONS.

…and add a fly at the bottom of my coke…which was in a sealed bottle…


I definitely foresee the next 18 months being a series of unfortunate, and potentially extreme, events.

On a completely tangential note I find I always get the most interesting stories when I travel.

Case in point: The day the conductor got beat up by a small village mob.

So I am on my way to Kampala to visit the dentist. I got into a mutatu (the bigger van taxis) thinking it would be the most comfortable option (of course 45 minutes later I thought it’d be quicker if I had just gotten into one of those Corolla taxis). Eventually we got on our way, only to stop twenty minutes later to see the conductor step out and try to get yet another passenger, only to be met with fists.  Another conductor was apparently upset that the conductor of my taxi was trying to get the same passengers. This led him to take my conductor by the collar, throw him into some bushes on the side of the road, and continue to pummel him while a small crowd gathered, egging him on and holding the drivers back (who wanted to either help beat each other up or stop the fight, I wasn’t quite sure). Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a small child pick up a large piece of lumber, which an adult soon took from him and started walking towards the two conductors fighting with the body language of someone who was ready to beat someone else with the said piece of lumber. Luckily, the fight broke up before the lumber could be used to potentially kill someone, but it was quite an event nonetheless. The driver got back into the taxi and drove a few feet ahead and stopped to let the conductor catch up and come inside. The conductor was covered in grass stains and had a very sad, disheveled look on his face. I guess he lost the fight…

Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up.

In more serious news, my World Malaria Day event was canceled. It was starting to sound too good to be true, which should have been my first hint I suppose. I talked with a few of the students early on in April and we thought of some good ideas, such as skits and dramas, education sessions, bed net distributions, clothing donation distributions, and even a blood drive. Everything was confirmed the Friday before but apparently the Monday before the event the school decided the students were to go home, meaning no students would really be available to participate in or carry out the event. Now when I brought up the idea I knew we were about to break off for the semester break but I asked many times if there would be students around and if they would be able to participate and even if they would be interested and given the plan THAT THE STUDENTS CAME UP WITH, they seemed to be all for it. There was little hope that anything would happen on Wednesday, even though my supervisor was a little helpful and tried to get some students interested (before he left on Tuesday). I guess in the end it wasn’t meant to be. It was such a letdown, I thought I really had initiated something that could be good and different (compared to the HIV/AIDS outreach we’ve been doing in various schools around Rakai District). If I had known everything would fall through, I would have gone to Gulu to help with the youth camps, like I had originally planned, but I thought since the students seemed interested, I should stay to see it through. I could have been doing something useful and effective. 

This disappointment put me in a foul mood until Friday…and then everything just crashed and burned.

My life should be a cartoon series.