Thursday, March 20, 2014

This is it

You feel invincible when you’re traveling.  The same laws of common sense in the US that tell you not to ride a motorcycle at night without a helmet do not apply.  You eat that samosa being fried in an empty fuel barrel.  You tilt your head back and enjoy the dips and sways of a bus careening down a mountain.    It’s a survival technique for the sake of your white knuckles and clenched teeth. 

But my friend recently got into a bus accident while traveling in Turkey.  Her legs were trapped under the bus and were mangled pretty badly.  Luckily she will be able to walk again once recovered.

It’s horrific and has been crashing into my thoughts all night.  When living in country, the prevalence and incident rates from our textbooks are not of “the others.”  They’re rates that now include me.

Melinda Gates said “I’m constantly saying to myself, ‘I’m lucky to have been born in the United States.’” I’m self aware enough to realize that a big reason I was drawn to international work was guilt and a feeling of responsibility to use the resources I was born into to give back to those who were not.  It’s what gets me on that plane every time.

But what keeps me here is knowing, now that I’m a part of it, I won’t ever be able to fully go back.  I’m in it for life.  So I might as well put on that helmet.

Monday, March 17, 2014

My first weekend in Kampala

This weekend was epic. 

Friday, I decided not to feel bad for myself and stay home uploading another “scary” (as my mom puts it) YouTube video, so I called up Morgan: A friend of a friend of my friend Jessie, who lives in Kampala.  I met Morgan and her friends at Little Donkey, a surprisingly authentic Mexican place with delicious flautas and strawberry margaritas.

The women were loud, tattoo having, motorcycle riding, feminists working in women’s health—just like I like ‘em.  I jumped on the back of Morgan’s motorcycle and we drove across the city to a Chocolate Party.  A German friend brought back a suitcase of fine German chocolate.  We ate ourselves silly and Ricardo from Peru made us all passion fruit pisco sours, and we sang 80’s karaoke songs until 2am.  Women’s right and chocolate make for fast friends.

Saturday I met Morgan at the Kabira Club where we worked out and lounged out.  Everyone was like “oh god, Chelsea is going to Uganda, she is so brave.”  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

We went for dinner at a Sudanese stall on the terrace of a building in the heart of Kampala.  We ate Okra and Aseeya (a sticky bread wheaty thing you use to scoop up the rest of the stuff) and some kind of meat (unsure) and beans.  It was sticky, slimy, and delicious.  Morgan told me of her time in South Sudan when she had very little to eat and developed a sweet spot for tuna with oil in a can.

We went upstairs to a local bar on the rooftop of the building.  Everything it seems, is outside here.  It’s lovely.  The bar was covered in green plants and I felt like I was sitting in a jungle.  We drank crappy beer which was made better by our view of the entire city.  What makes Kampala so beautiful and unique are its hills.  The entire city is made up of huge hills with houses and businesses dotting the sides.  When on a roof, the hills make the night lights feel 3-D.

We rode the motorcycle slowly through the hills and Morgan leaned back and told me what I was seeing.  She has lived here off and on since she was younger and knows the city very well.  We drove to a house party on the very top of one of the hills.  We drank and danced and laid in the grass with people from all nations, and I saw a shooting star so close it touched the tip of the city.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Uganda is red.  The sky dips low and red beyond the mountains.  The boats are bright red against the blue Lake Victoria.  The roads are all red dirt, winding up and through Kampala.  My shower water is red when I wash my feet at night.

I arrived in Kampala on Saturday.  I was dropped immediately at my apartment, a one bedroom with neon orange walls and a 20 year old Josef who took care of the place and asked me again and again to explain how in America, he would not be able to drink.  I went immediately out, bought a fan and a coffee maker and settled back in. 

Sunday I wavered in and out of a fever, weak and nauseous.  The CHIA driver drove me to the Kabira Country Club so that I could get out of the house.  This place was epic.  It had a huge pool, with cushioned lounge chairs and poolside service.  There was a big gym and restaurant!  I laid for most of the afternoon feeling happy, guilty, relaxed and sick.

My office is a large house with all rooms opening up to the veranda and front lawn.  We work extremely hard (forlittlepay) and have 10-12 hours days.  But I’m not being a martyr.  Because there is a woman who brings us fruit every day, packed in containers with our names on it.  Fresh papaya, mango, pineapple, carrots and jack fruit. Because the driver’s wife sells us fresh mushrooms from her garden, and our lunch is a big bowl of delicious food for less than a dollar.

My lunch today, was beans, ugali, rice and greens. 

And just in case I get too wrapped up in missing the man I left in DC, or realizing that I’m going to gain so much weight here unless I can figure out how to work out, I look outside our office, and see that we are right next to houses made of tin and children made of bones.  And then I suck it up and go back inside.

But not before getting some more coffee.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Malaria Tsunami

"The eradication of malaria is not a near-term goal," Gates said, but one that can "certainly" be achieved within his lifetime.

Bill Gates isn't young.  We have a lot of work to do.

Being in this meeting and preparing for the work ahead of me is like watching a tsunami slowly rise up in the distance.  I can kind of prepare.  Put on my swimmies and learn how to hold my breath for a long time, but basically I'm just bracing myself.

The good news is that this work excites me.  I find it invigorating.  Plus, my hair looks prettier the less I sleep and shower.

Malaria kills over 3000 children a day.  I think I can stand a little swim.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A New Chapter

I have accepted a job with CHIA (name changed) on the global malaria team to work in East Africa and live in Uganda.  I will be a study coordinator.

I left DC with 10 days notice.  I had just started to make friends in the city, to fall in love in the city, and here I was, once again, packing up and shipping off.  I spent a good portion of the 10 days with puffy eyes.

But I was excited.  I was tired of being tired from being tired in an office.  Excited to blink away the computer screen and start seeing the real stuff.

My first stop was Tanzania to join in a full week, full team meeting.  I got straight off the 20 hour flight, brutal, and joined a meeting on rapid diagnostic testing of malaria.  This work couldn’t be sexier.  I am literally at the edge of my seat.  The most noticeable thing about this meeting is that everyone is under 30.  It’s a little shocking.  My initial reaction was that the elimination of malaria was being undertaken by a bunch of kids.  My reaction lasted for two seconds, because as soon as these “girls” opened their mouths, I realized how brilliant and passionate all of them are.  I am at once intimidated and inspired.

The jury’s out whether I’ll sink or swim.  It’s a good thing I coordinated a drowning prevention study in Bangladesh.