Another day at the office

We get to Gulu late Friday afternoon.  It’s good to have the weekend to get organized in the office.  Even though the guys have been using it, it is unbelievably dirty and dusty.  It’s hard to keep anything clean around here this time of year.   It’s hot, dry, dusty, hot, dry and hot.
George lives in our headquarters with his family so he can keep an eye on things.  It’s important to have good security around here.  I try to get unpacked but the kids are so curious about everything in my bags.  It’s cute.  They definitely slow me down, but it’s hot and Saturday anyway.   It’s a different kind of energy here. It’s much less hectic than Kampala.  Although there are a lot of people around, there are few cars.  People are everywhere, walking riding bikes, sitting around, and living their daily lives.

the girls discovering lipgloss

We learn that George’s youngest daughter is sick and he fears she has malaria.  I go with him to take her to the hospital.  Gulu hospital is the nicest one in this area but it’s still more like a clinic than a hospital.  The people inside seem to have a range of conditions.  Illnesses and accidents are part of daily life around here.  I try to absorb it all but end up having to go outside because it’s too hot to think.

Standing outside the hospital I start feeling so tired, cranky and a bit sick.  I think maybe I’ve gotten dehydrated.  I am always very careful about this stuff.  I drink tons of water and am very selective about what I eat in the field.   But since we haven’t actually gone into the field yet and I’ve been so busy thinking about other things, I didn’t realize I’d gotten very dehydrated.  It’s just so so hot and dry.  While George was in the hospital with his daughter for tests, I walk across the street and literally drink five bottles of water in a row.    Luckily George’s daughter did not have malaria.  They prescribed five different kinds of drugs to her (anti-malaria, antibiotics, cough medicine, and two other things).  I could tell it cost him a fortune.  I wanted to offer to pay the bill but did not want to embarrass him by suggesting he’s not capable of taking care of his family.  This is part of life around here.  Everybody personally knows many children who have died from illnesses, so if people have the money, they take their kids to the doctor as soon as they get sick.  Unemployment and poverty are prevalent but if people have any means, they sacrifice to put a fund aside for this kind of thing.  There are some serious germs around these parts and children are the most vulnerable.

We take her back home and go to buy food for the headquarters.  George family cooks for me when I’m there.  On the way, we come across an enormous funeral parade.  Apparently, a much loved local leader and war hero has died.  It seems that the entire region has come out to honor him, as they bring the body home through the streets of Gulu.   George knows him very well and I can tell he is saddened by the loss of his friend.

Along with the food, I brought back two cases of water for the office.  I’m determined nobody is going to get dehydrated in this heat.

Our headquarters is connected to city water and power but they don’t work a lot of the time.  Both are off right now.  Things pretty much work half the time around here anyway.  We probably need a generator at some point.  But for now we will make do.  It’s always about saving as much money as possible.

I don’t always love staying at the headquarters.   It’s usually okay and it sure saves money but there are challenges.  After several days of bathing from a basin and using a pit latrine, I’m usually dying for a real bathroom with running water.  Even though we have a city water tap on the compound, having an actual bathroom is a different story.  Because of our work, we need a place with a lot of space for storing all of our big drilling supplies and equipment.   And it’s too expensive to find a place like that, which also has a bathroom.  I feel bad even saying it out loud since George’s family lives there with no complaints.  This is just how people live around here.  It’s hard to sleep because there is no power for the fan.

Next morning the power is still out.   It’s okay though because at least it’s a bit cooler.    I just drink my tea under the huge mango trees on our compound.  I can hear singing coming from the nearby churches.   I decide to show the girls a puzzle I brought them.   Nobody, including any of the adults, has ever seen a puzzle or knows how to put it together.  Two local boys get curious and come over to help too.  We spend almost two hours putting the puzzle together.

Because of the heat yesterday, I never got much organized.  I have a busy week ahead and know I have to do it today.  I try to unpack but the girls are so curious about all of my things and I end up spending another hour with them brushing my hair and putting on my makeup.   So far this morning is still nicer than yesterday.  I just hope it stays that way.  I’m concerned about the power situation since I really need to charge my computer.   I finally get the energy to go work in the office.  The kids are hanging around, trying to help, so curious about what I’m doing.   Later that night I offer to cook spaghetti for family.  They heat my bathing water over the fire and cook for me all the time, so I’m trying to participate.  They had never eaten pasta before and seemed to really love it.   This is the second time I made my “bush spaghetti.”   I’m determined to perfect at least one dish.

Gulu is hot, dry, dusty, hot and dry…. and dusty.  Wind storms that last five minutes blow up so strong that everybody has to stop and duck until they pass.

I feel bad when I said to George that I’m, “I am hot and dirty,” and he says back, “We are all hot and dirty.”   I’m quickly reminded that I’m just visiting. This is their life.  I need to not complain.

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Author: Stacey Travis

Founder and Executive Director of Drop in the Bucket a water charity building water wells and sanitation systems at schools in Africa.

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