Monday, 28 January 2008

My visit to the hospital - the revised version

Originally I had it in mind to blog about my tour of Kampala's International Hospital. "Bit basic after Switzerland, but OK!" would have been the general tone and message. But I'm not going to write about that anymore, because I've discovered since then that - surprise, surprise - 'basic' in Uganda is a very relative term.

This story needs a bit of background. Since I wrote about the Medair neighbours, I've been visiting them on and off. I've got to know one 'family' in particular. When I say family, I mean a pastor, a married couple, two widows and three children. They all live in a shack the size of a small-double bedroom. The pastor converted from Islam to Christianity, and has suffered a lot of rejection as a result. Most of the others have Muslim names, but are also Christians. None of them has a job. There is no electricity, no running water and they share a latrine with the rest of the 'village'. (Still, the men in particular always look immaculately turned out, and there is always a pristinely-ironed shirt hanging from a nail on the inside wall.) Zira (married to Nicholas) and I hit it off straight away by dint of us both being heavily pregnant.

On Friday I got a text message from the pastor. "Praze the Lord. How r yu. Zira not fine" it said. I called straight back. "The baby is imminent," he said. He was not panicking.
Panicking, I drove round to their place and got her in the car. "Er...where are we going?" I asked. She directed me - between strong contractions - to the local maternity home.

The midwife in charge - late 40s, scary-looking - directed us to the delivery room at the back. There was an iron bed, a foam mattress covered with a blue plastic sheet, a wooden cot covered in woolly blankets, and a metal bucket with 2 pairs of forceps inside. It was a tiny space. The scary midwife came and talked to me. "We need 40 thousand shillings for the delivery," she said (about £15) "2 thousand for the plastic sheet."

I stayed outside while the midwife examined Zira. "Relax." I heard her say, sternly. Then, shouting: "COME ON. RELAX." I'd never heard a Ugandan shout until now. It was absurdly funny if not at all relaxing. It seems stroppy midwives are a global phenomenon. From the examination, she still had a way to go, so I said I'd come back later. I spent the next couple of hours buying odds and ends for the barbecue we were meant to be having that evening.

I re-appeared about 4 o clock with a carton of juice. There was no baby yet and Zira was on the dirty floor obviously in a lot of pain. "They can cut it out of me now!" she moaned. Pain relief was not an option. A younger, less scary midwife was spoon-feeding her Lucozade. "Auntie," she told me, "she needs strength for the pushing." I hung around like a bit of a lemon, rubbing her back from time to time. Then all of a sudden she was back on the plastic sheet, and in about 2 minutes I heard some crying and tiny toes wriggling at the end of the bed. A little boy. The midwife clattered around with the forceps and tied up his cord with the end of a plastic glove. Then she wrapped him up in about 4 blankets and put him in the cot. It was about 35 degrees outside - I was already melting in my cotton trousers. I didn't say anything as I was still feeling like a bit of an intruder. And I was a bit overcome.

"It's a little boy, Zira, he's beautiful!" I gushed. Zira looked knackered. "Can I get you anything?" I would have got her anything she wanted at that point - blame the hormones again. She paused. "I would like a Coca-Cola." A Coke. No problem.

I drove her home the next day. She was embarrassingly grateful for the £15. The thing that humbles me most about this family is that they have never asked me for anything, ever. I sat in their shack while everyone cooed over the baby - he doesn't have a name yet. "I'd better go," I said, as I felt a bit awkward and was a bit pushed for time.
"Wait, Madam," said the pastor. "We would like to bless you. We will do it in our language." They stretched out their hands and prayed for me. Then I said goodbye. On the way home I did indeed feel very blessed, but mostly grateful that it had all gone according to plan. It was not the sort of facililty that could have coped with anything at all untoward.

(Of course, there is still a lot more basic than that. Just when I thought I had a good story to tell, my friend Jenny told me how the same day, she had delivered her friend's baby herself in the corridor at Mulago hospital and had to ask other labouring mother's to spare a razor blade so she could cut the cord.)

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

A Mongoose Ate Our Rabbit

Poor Fraser.

At about 9.30pm a couple of weeks ago, Hannington the guard* knocked on the window while we were curled up on the sofa watching a DVD.** "I heard the rabbit crying," he said. "Come and look."

I slipped on my crocs*** and went outside. There was Fraser, motionless, under the Hibiscus bush.
"How did he get out?" I wondered. I had put him in his hutch myself.
I went to investigate.
The clever bunny (or perhaps a small child) had worried a hole in the chicken wire at the front, through which he had escaped. Obviously my carefully-placed cabbage leaves weren't doing it for him, nor his all-you-can-eat buffet that is our garden during the day.
"A wild animal got him," said Hannington. "Small. Brown. Long tail."
It sounded like a mongoose, but only because I can't think of any other creature that matches the description and would be interested in killing rabbits. I baulked at how we would break the news to Emma and Gloria in the morning.

Shortly after the kids wake up around 6am, Rob did the necessary. Emma came straight out of the bathroom after hearing the sorry tale.
"Mummy. I need to tell you something, Fraser died in the night," she tells me matter-of-factly.

After church we have a rabbit funeral. Fraser is buried under the hibiscus bush where he fell, and where he spent many hours evading my attempts to catch him. We talked about death, and God and sparrows falling to the ground, etc. We said a prayer. But not a tear was shed; Emma mentioning that she was "a bit sad" was as emotional as it got. He was never the friendliest of rabbits; rather contemptous of our attempts to cuddle and stroke him, sniffy about the cabbage.

We have a new rabbit now. Her name is Sally, although she might be a boy. She is black and white, and unlike Fraser, loves being held on her back, paws in the air like a baby, having her tummy tickled. No mongoose is getting their teeth into her. (The hole has been fixed.)

*Hannington can make anything from a picture. He made the hutch. He specialises in lamps. The man is a genius.
**Boston Legal. A slightly lame US lawyer show.
*** Ugly, but so comfortable!

Monday, 21 January 2008

An update!

Sincere apologies for the delay, and a big thank you for all the emails to check we're OK. Since moving to our new place getting internet access has been difficult, especially as we've been without wheels. But things are looking up: not only do we have a nice, shiny new motor, but we're getting the Internet installed at home. It's about the only service that's twice the price of the same thing back home, but worth it I reckon. At 30 weeks pregnant it's an effort getting from the bedroom to the kitchen, let alone navigating the cratars that mash up the road between house and office.

We've had quite a few adventures since I last wrote. Expect posts coming soon with the following titles:
- When Kampala ran out of fuel
- My visit to the international hospital
- Glorious Gloria turns two
- How about this for a business?
- A mongoose ate our rabbit

They are all true stories. (Sadly, yes.)