Monthly Archive for November, 2007

Grania: A Weekend of Extremes

After having a period of not doing very much, the last two weeks have seen a flurry of activity. We left you last about to leave on Ursula’s first trip (we’ve named the car after Ursula Andress, as although she’s getting on a bit she’s still sexy!)

So off we went to Jinja, source of the Nile as you know from our earlier post. We had been informed of a quiet back road we could take (rather than the direct road which has the dubious title of  Most Dangerous Road in Uganda) and had a very pleasant drive. Dan had planned the weekend and decided that to celebrate the first round of visitors booking their flights to see us, we should check out some of the nicer places that we might be taking them to. We were staying at The Haven, which we had been told was a little piece of paradise and I have to agree with the recommendation. It is set above “Overtime”, one of the fiercest grade 5 rapids on the Nile, with cute little bandas that are completely self-contained, all with a view of the famous river. Friday night was spent looking at the sunset over the rapids with the fish eagles making their last catch of the day – an excellent change from the noise and bustle of Kampala.

Click the images below to see the full-size version. You can click through all images in the post by using the left and right arrows. Additionally, the Flip Side Photo Gallery has more photos from our weekend at the Haven. Click here to visit the Photo Gallery.

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The next day we partook in another one of the many “extreme” sports available at Jinja, and as I’m saving the rafting to do with Mum we did horse-riding this time. I have had this bee in my bonnet since the beginning of the year that it’s been too long since I’ve been on a horse and that 2007 was the year to change all that. If you’re going to do something you may as well do it properly so we waited until we got out here as Nile Horseback Safaris just has a better ring to it than pony trekking in rainy Epping Forest!

There were only three of us riding, and luckily the other girl, Linda, was an experienced rider. I was given a young stallion called JJ to ride, who was a bit sprightly but not too headstrong. We headed off through the banana plantations to the first view of the day, overlooking the falls that we had been kayaking down three weeks before. Unfortunately it had been raining heavily the night before so the opportunity for moving faster than a trot was limited by mud but on the way to the drier ground we went through lots of little villages. The homes in Africa are deceptive; you’ll go down a road and not see any houses but all the people obviously walking to and from somewhere. What you don’t see is the houses just off the main roads connected by miles of paths only able to handle pedal bikes. Going on horseback is a great way to see all these settlements, although the appearance of both a Mzungu and a horse (both of which are a very rare sight) did overwhelm a few of the smaller children who burst into tears at the sight of us!

Due to the weather we moved away from the river and headed up into the sugar plantations and from there we got to have a bit of a gallop. I have forgotten just how exhilarating it is to have a good old gallop and in a wild environment, not a riding school, it’s just so much fun! The other surprise in store was the view from the top of the plantations – you could see for miles and really appreciate how green and lush this part of Uganda is.

The end of the ride was a little muddy so we had plenty of time to take in more goings-on of the local area, and make a few more children cry. After three hours of riding we headed back to our little piece of luxury and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the white-water rafters bouncing down the rapids from the safety of our hammock! For those of you concerned that life will be tough over here, the Haven is definitely going on our list of places to stay with guests!

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Now, before you give up on us, there was an element of work to the weekend. Some of the Dutch VSO volunteers have set up their own charity called The Refugee Next Door to provide assistance to a slum area of Jinja called Soweta. They aim to provide “Health days” every three to four months. I am not quite sure of the sustainability of this but Dan and I were asked to help out a few weeks previously. After some discussion the focus of the day broadened to incorporate preventative work so as well as providing medics to hand out free treatment we would also hand out malaria nets (malaria being one of the biggest killers of the under-fives in Uganda).

I have had some experience of this when I travelled to Guyana with Operation Raleigh so was able to reuse the knowledge gained there. The most fun bit was the revival of the “Malaria Mary” play. This is basically a play that we made up in Guyana when we gave out nets to a community that cannot speak English (and so therefore we had to rely heavily on mime). It involves Malaria Mary who does not use her net properly and gets sick all the time, Net Nigel who is a good boy, puts his net up correctly and stays well, and Nasty Mosquito who comes and bites Mary and makes her sick. Although it sounds very simple and patronising, it is like panto, as all the kids get involved and boo when the mosquito is about but the message is reinforced about the appropriate use of mosquito nets. (In many countries the nets are dyed blue so that they aren’t used as wedding dresses!)

So Sunday was the Health Day. We had met in Kampala in the previous week to practice the play, count the drugs into bags and assign roles. My role was fairly predetermined, yep I was a doctor for the day! Dan, however, had the grand title of “Crowd Control” i.e. Bouncer. We met the Kampala crew in Jinja Town early on Sunday morning and headed out to the camp. It was on the edge of a swamp area and the walk to the area that we were going to be based in smelt heavily of Kasese, the banana-based homebrew.

By the time we arrived, an area in the centre of Soweta had been cleared for our arrival, and more importantly there was a crowd gathering ready for Dan to control! We began admitting patients at 9.30am, with each person in the queue being asked if they wanted to see a  doctor. If they replied that they did, they joined one queue, if they were brave enough to say No to the doctor they were then sent to receive a de-worming tablet and a vit A pill. The malaria play went on throughout the day with only those who’d seen the play being given a net. It was a busy day with a constant stream of people wanting to be seen.

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The Flip Side Photo Gallery has more photos from the Soweta Health Day. Click here to visit the Photo Gallery. 

Thankfully most of the medical problems we saw were general aches and pains, rashes and occasional mild infections. There were a couple of people who obviously had more serious problems such as TB and HIV which health days such as these are not appropriate for.

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We finished up at about 3.30 and by then we (the docs) had seen over 500 people, probably 800 or so had been de-wormed and vitaminised and 250 mosquito nets had been given to women with young children.

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Despite my general misgivings about projects like this, there is no doubting that giving mosquito nets, de-worming and vitamin A is not doing any harm, but having a doctor present sits less easily.

So after a weekend of extreme luxury and extreme poverty we headed back to Kampala on the main road to experience some extreme driving! You’ll have to wait until the next post to find out if we survived or not!