Tragedies and Emotions

picture of newborn baby

I sit outside alone having breakfast in downtown Kampala relishing the last few hours we have in Africa. There are few Americans at breakfast as I listen to the sounds of multiple languages around me. I find myself emotional – missing both home and KIDA simultaneously. Yesterday had goodbyes with those at work, a quick stop in Ft. Portal to pick up some fabric and the van ride here. The trip is quicker now taking only a little over 4 hours from Ft Portal. I found myself wanting to take hundreds of photos of life in Africa along the way maybe clinging to the last hours I have, but it felt somewhat invasive and I will have to rely on my memory as we traveled through towns and villages. Children are everywhere wearing brightly colored school uniforms. I see them walking and am surprised how far some of them seem to have to go as we see the same colors kms down the road. As we head toward the city, I recognize that Kampala is experiencing urban sprawl and we reach actual traffic much sooner than hitting the city proper. The expressway construction causes interesting road conditions. Moses takes us on back roads to avoid most of it and I get to see parts of Kampala that I haven’t before. The streets are crowded and there are no rules for merging or attempting to cross at an intersection. At the hotel Jonathan comments that there are “a lot of Mzungu here”, noting to myself that Africa is now a part of his soul despite his quiet nature here. I am thankful to have spent this time with him and that he is talking more now that it is just the two of us.


Tuesday I spent time at the hospital and then back up to begin the packing. The family shares gifts with me and more to take home for Karen and Debbie. I leave some of J’s clothes that he has outgrown, seemingly in the time we have been here, and share the gifts I have brought. In the late afternoon we get a call down to the hospital. A young 18-year old mother has had a very early morning emergency caesarean section. This is her 4thdelivery and only one child has lived from the three previous births. Because all were caesarian she is not allowed to push and by the time Dr. Brian is called at 2 am she is fully dilated. The baby is 33 weeks and only 1.56kg – less than 3 ½ lbs. She is encouraged to go to Ft. Portal where they have a NICU and can take better care of the baby who is not able to suck yet. The baby has an IV to receive dextrose and is on oxygen. If she survives the night, she will have a tube for feeding for two weeks using the mothers expressed breast milk. She has good color, Dr. Brian explains, but although they cancare for her, she needs an incubator and more sophisticated care. The family refuses to move to Ft. Portal due to money and are more comfortable at KIDA since family is close and after several conversations trying to convince them, and against Dr. Brian’s advice, they choose to stay at KIDA. There are many family members in and out and I feel as though I am intruding on their personal space. Ezra later explains that the family is honored to have us there and they believe that this is support rather than intrusion. Dr. Brian explains all the details to me and the family asks for prayer as they begin singing. Rev. Ezra prays and many in the hospital clap in thankfulness afterward. As we are leaving the next morning, Ezra WhatsApps me that the baby has not survived the night. This hits hard as just hours ago I was there and have a photo of this young life. I think of this mother’s pain both physically and emotionally. I also learn that the police have been called as the father and husband has not taken responsibility for the mother and the hospital bills. He will be arrested for this. Dr. Brian’s dream of having a NICU at KIDA sinks in. He knows this is part of a long-range plan and although that would not have guaranteed this baby’s survival it hurts right now. I have to sit with the pain knowing that tragedies happen here as well as at home as I also learn of a friend of Sam’s whose father miraculously survived a burst aortic valve this week and is at Stanford receiving care. I am thankful that we have all the care we need in an emergency and still grieve these losses.


And so, I am left to begin to absorb the trip. This post may seem like an emotional roller-coaster reflecting where my mind is at. Although the time has gone quickly, I realize we have been here for quite some time. New flowers have bloomed, rain has changed the roads and the house kitten has grown and become much more playful. He is feisty and I am certain will miss Jonathan entertaining him at each meal. I have decided his name should be Chompers although only J and I will know that.

I will miss the sounds. It is impossible to describe the daily sounds I hear from the porch off my hut. A vast myriad of birds each with their own call, the chit-chit-chit of the monkeys, and the rustling of the trees as they playfully hop from branch to branch. The children’s voices and laughter echoing up the hill as they travel to and from school, the adults shouting instructions and greetings to one another and yes, even the booming bass at all hours of the night from someone’s sound system that proves that there are no noise control violations to be had here. My hut is near the family end of the home so I hear the daily sound of their comings and goings, the clang of the large metal door at the back of the house, the workers talking to one another and hammering and banging as they complete the new larger kitchen down below for Joseph who currently cooks in a kitchen the size of a mid-sized closet. The generator that pumps water turns on twice daily while they have visitors, the cows and pigs below bellow and squeak as well as the chickens and Murungi’s dog who does not seem happy to not be roaming free. The thunder, when the storms roll in, brings along with it the lonely sound of rain on the roof and through the trees but shortly after the putter of the boda bodas returns along with shouts of greetings on the road.

I will miss the depth of colors and the breadth of the topography. I hope my pictures will do the people and the land justice as I think I have run out of adjectives to describe things.

I think about working with Ezra and the staff her to find large grants to help with water and internet access for the hospital. I think about how I can raise more money. I am struck again that they appreciate the encouragement of a visit as much as the support we give.

So, as we pack up here at the hotel, which will no doubt bring some re-arranging at the airport in an attempt to get each bag under 50lbs. When we arrived they couldn’t find our reservation but were able to get us in. The room we have is one of the updated ones and it feels opulent to be staying here. The hot shower, the air conditioning, the internet all seem like luxuries. I start thinking of practical things and the lists that will start at home. One of the tricks leaving here is managing your shillings. Because you get the best rate for $100 bills you have to manage out what you need to spend leaving the country – tips and snacks and water. Last year I went home with what amounted to $12. This year, because I thought I could charge the cab back to the airport, I am going to make it out by the skin of my teeth. The bell hops may be a little short lugging our heavy bags out of our room.

Now we wait to take the cab to the airport in a couple hours. The trip is a 5 ½ hour flight to Dubai, a 10-hour layover and then nearly 16 hours back to SFO . I am thankful that Debbie will be there to pick us up and hope that all goes smoothly so I can grab Desean from his camp bus at 5pm Friday afternoon. Thankful for my friend Kim who is my back-up in case we are late and for Sam’s friend Sarah who has faithfully watched the dogs, visiting them twice a day. Thankful to both my sets of parents who took on Desean in between his two weeks of camps, who rearranged schedules and fed and loved on him. Thankful to Karen for hiring me and allowing me to not only experience this wonder but now, to allow one of my boys to as well. I am so incredibly blessed.