Let’s talk about sex, baby…

Otherwise known as that time I went to Uganda to teach First Aid Classes and ended up teaching about sexual health! May as well continue the post titles referencing old songs… But just for the record this is a kid friendly blog post… well, pretty much!

I arrived in Kisoro to visit Bonnie with a tentative plan to teach first aid courses. It’s what I do for work in the US, why not try it out in Uganda right? Bonnie pulled together a group of her closest friends and we did a pretty comprehensive class. It was really interesting to get out of my comfort zone of teaching. What do you do when you usually teach “call 911”, and now you can’t? I couldn’t teach that help is just far away, like in a wilderness situation where we are teaching how to care for someone as we evacuate them. I realized that in Uganda when people are hurt or sick they may not seek treatment at all- due to lack of money, fear, lack of faith in western medicine, or a perceived lack of benefit from care in relation to the distance, inconvenience, and cost of traveling to a medical facility. Answering questions about local beliefs- ideas that fall well outside of western medicine, well that was really a learning experience for me as well! I decided to focus on teaching when an injury or sickness would benefit most from seeking treatment with a doctor, when should someone talk to a pharmacist about if antibiotics would be helpful, preventing dehydration, splinting a bone or joint injury, understanding what a spinal injury is and why they are dangerous, burns, cuts, infections, clean drinking water, and many other topics. The response was good, lots of smiling, and although we were all pretty shy around each other at first, some great questions and observations about how to incorporate my ideas into everyday life in Uganda. During our last break I asked Bonnie, “Should I talk about HIV? Or STD’s? Is that inappropriate?” We agreed that it couldn’t hurt to slip in a quick 5 min discussion on the topic and if people were offended we would stop. Well, 2 hours of questions later we were still answering questions! The jury was in, splinting and dehydration were interesting, but what everybody really wanted was clear, straight-forward information about sex. And I can’t blame them! It’s not a culture where people can run out and “Google” an answer, or ask a teacher, or easily find a book on any subject. HIV is rampant, there is a culture of fear surrounding STD’s, and a lack of understanding about proper condom use and it’s benefits and limitations.

Talking about assessing an ankle injury

Talking about assessing an ankle injury

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Banana leaf splints!

Banana leaf splints!

Sling and swaths

Sling and swaths

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getting ready to carry someone safely

getting ready to carry someone safely

On the move!

On the move!

When we got ready to do our first class with outsiders, at a nearby village, we decided to focus almost exclusively on STD’s and especially HIV, and then only a small bit on nutrition, hygiene, dehydration, and antibiotic use. I decided to tailor the class to the audiences interests. We made our way out to a nearby village for our first class. I am used to riding on motorbikes now, but I still found the singletrack disconcerting. We found ourselves surrounded by a group of men, with the women a row back, and the kids in a group off to my right. My friend Mark was at my side, ready to interpret. I took a deep breath and said, “Hi, I’m here to talk about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and condom use.” The mob of people surrounding me fell quiet. I held my breath for a moment, wondering if they were offended, and when nobody moved, I just dove right in. For a moment I thought they might riot. And then the questions came flying! “How many times can I wash out a condom and reuse it? Can I reuse my condom with different women? If I am HIV positive should I use a condom with my wife? I want to have a baby but I have HIV, will the baby have HIV? Can I get Syphillis by just sleeping next to someone? Will Gonorrhea make my private bits fall off?” And on and on it went. At the end, most of the men wandered off once they felt their most important questions had been answered and I threw in some info on clean drinking water, proper nutrition, antibiotics and dehydration. Around dehydration I felt interest had waned and I said my goodbye’s, feeling like I had just done something radical and pretty happy to see people smiling as we said our goodbyes. I hopped on the back of the motorbike, closed my eyes and held on tight as we flew over the singletrack and back to the main roads.

Thomas, Bonnie, and Mark setting out for class

Thomas, Bonnie, and Mark setting out for class

The first class in a village

The first class in a village

The kids were very interested

The kids were very interested, but at first not sure about the camera. They warmed up by the end of the day!

Fielding questions...

Fielding questions…

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We made handouts of the information covered, people were very excited to take one.

We made handouts of the information covered, people were very excited to take one.

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We walked to a few nearby homes to meet some other families.

We walked to a few nearby homes to meet some other families.

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Going to the chapel baby… Gonna get married…

Just kidding- it’s not me! But now I can’t get that dang song out of my head! I went to several weddings in Uganda. And I had so many marriage offers, almost every day, I’m surprised I didn’t end up at my own accidentally! I will have you know that in Uganda I am worth 700 cows! I had 5 genuine offers for 700 cows. My friends were dying to sell me off and keep the cows- that’s a fortune! Green eyes, ratty bleached hair, and a big smile are a top commodity in some places… So guys let’s get one thing straight- I am expensive! haha.

This first wedding was a really great time. We took some motorbikes over to the village, and arrived in this almost empty green field. I remember thinking “so, aren’t we going to a wedding?” We followed a ton of kids down the path, past buildings and fields, and I can’t even remember what, until all of sudden we ran into this WALL of people. There were so many people, they couldn’t move. In the distance we could see the bridal procession making their way past. I stepped back and looked for a place to settle in, at the edge of the crowd. But I underestimated the excitement of having “muzungu’s” or white people at an event. Within seconds we were being escorted through the parting crowd right up to the edge of the action. Chairs appeared out of no where, and we were deposited in the chairs and sodas were pushed into our hands. Wow. This was one of my first moments of realizing we stuck out like a sore thumb, and also dealing with my discomfort at being treated differently, preferentially, because of skin color. I had been happy in the back, I didn’t really like the special attention. But I will say the up front view was fantastic and I had a great time! We were right in front of the singing and dancing- church choirs from all over came to sing at the wedding, so there was an endless exchange of groups. I was fascinated to learn that the bridal dress and dresses of the wedding party are all rented, which is why they don’t really fit everyone exactly. I lent my camera to my friend Promise, who we nicknamed “CNN”, and he did a great job taking pictures of the wedding, many of which are included here! Afterwards we found the “real” party, a dance circle between a few homes where the women especially were tearing it up! The dancing was a circle with dancers alternating into the circle alone or as two. The dances often included extremely high jumping and the singing had a lot of high calls of “Aiii-eeeEE!”.  The drums pounded, and it was so good. I was stunned to see in one dance women were even getting down on the ground, swinging their heads side to side and arching their backs as another women danced over them. Of course we dove in head first and danced our tails off, which everyone found entertaining. When it finally got dark, we made our way back, back to that empty field where we started and piled into a little white pick up truck that carried about 30 of us home. Yes, 30. Welcome to Africa. Africa-4292

CNN back from his photo shoot!

CNN back from his photo shoot!

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The people were jammed together in chairs, often facing in all different directions.

The people were jammed together in chairs, often facing in all different directions.

This little girl was my shadow. Featherlight, but impossible to get her to let go of my hand, leg, anything.

This little girl was my shadow. Featherlight, but impossible to get her to let go of my hand, leg, anything.

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Choirs in action

Choirs in action

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Bonnie after dancing on the ground!

Bonnie after dancing on the ground!

 

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Visiting school in Kisoro

My friend Bonnie is one of the main reasons I visited Uganda. She teaches in the local primary school called “Amazing Grace” in Kisoro, Uganda- right down there about 14km to the border of both DRC and Rwanda. Her job is to teach a group of young kids remedial reading lessons. And she has the grace to throw in a little bit about life, and how fun it can be. Things like afternoon picnics, air guitar, reading books, and home made cookies. In the states we take for granted that every child experiences these things, but in Uganda, these little treats are a bit of magic that few kids are lucky enough to encounter. So I stopped by one day, and hung out for class. We read some books together, played a few games, and I had a great time, although I left with a feeling of sadness for all the lost opportunities and untapped potential talent of lives lived without much hope. The teachers here are overwhelmed by classrooms of 70+ students in small rooms without facilities, a lack of resources like paper and books to study, and a lack of pay- regularly going more than 7 months without receiving wages. This is not a criticism of this particular school, rather a reflection of a standard of education common in Uganda. Amazing Grace is a private school and therefor significantly better off than the unpopular public school system. Here are pictures of a few of the kids, and a few of the teachers from the school. While I was there I also taught a basic first aid and sexual health course to the teachers, although I will save talking about how I became a sex-ed teacher in Uganda for another post! As Rachel Maddow says… “Watch this space.”

Teacher Henry

Checking out the kids books Bonnie’s friends mailed over from Hope, Alaska.

 

Teacher Chantal

Sheeba

Sheeba

Esther

Esther

Zama

Zama

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Teacher Henry

Teacher Henry

Teacher Chantal

Teacher Chantal

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A long time ago, in a far away land…

So it’s been a REALLY long time… Sometimes life is just too much fun to blog about it as it happens. Unfortunately, looking back puts a filter on everything, and what a shame to view it distorted, edited, abbreviated. But it’s gonna have to do!

Africa. I’ve come home the exact same person as when I left, barring a sudden taste for cheeta print anything, beans and potatoes, and warm beer. The pile of beautiful photographs do little to show just how beautiful the memories really are. And I’ve come home with a few new thoughts… Africa has taught me a lot I wasn’t looking to learn. About how life really isn’t fair, and about getting handouts and getting ahead. Corruption and greed, and working hard and getting nothing for it.  Trusting strangers with your life and yet trusting no one but your mother.  This trip has opened my eyes to my love of the world, and all the wonderful people I am lucky enough to have met and shared time with. And it’s given me a new perspective. I have arrived back in the US filled with enthusiasm, hope, energy, and a drive to attack every day with a get-er-done wild excitement. Not sure why, maybe it is simply the result of 3 1/2 months of fun and adventure and happiness and laughter! So thanks Africa, and I’m looking forward to writing a bit about you!

As a start, here are a few photographs from my first three days in Uganda. Just a picture of the bungalow at my hostel the first morning, the hills coming into the mountains of Uganda’s southeast corner and a local market I visited along the way, and then a trip with friends to meet the local pygmy population of Kisoro, Uganda.

Bungalow in Kampala

Bungalow in Kampala

The hills on the way to Kisoro.

The hills on the way to Kisoro.

The market in Kabale was a hair raising motorbike ride over the mountains to reach.

The market in Kabale was a hair raising motorbike ride over the mountains to reach.

The Boda Boda drivers are too cool for school... love it!

The Boda Boda drivers are too cool for school… love it!

I talked with these ladies in Kabale for hours- amazing women.

I talked with these ladies in Kabale for hours- amazing women.

Visiting the Pygmy's just before the rains came.

Visiting the Pygmy’s just before the rains came.

The kids were super excited to see us!

The kids were super excited to see us!

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Wild singing and dancing to fill the time while the rain poured down... The beat on the Jerry cans was so powerful, and the rain pounding the tin roof and the women singing... best dance party of my life!

Wild singing and dancing to fill the time while the rain poured down… The beat on the Jerry cans was so powerful, and the rain pounding the tin roof and the women singing… best dance party of my life!

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Backpacking in the Wrangell’s in Alaska

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I don’t know where all the time goes, but here is another post about AK. Been playing with panorama’s- I want to print some up huge- I think they would look amazing! This trip was super fun. We could have … Continue reading

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Why Valdez Alaska is AWESOME!

I went down to Valdez, Alaska last week. I’d been through there before briefly so I knew what to expect, but this time it really blew my socks off! We started out with an exceptional day of sea kayaking with Pangaea Adventures.

http://www.alaskasummer.com

The guides were great, the views were awesome, the boat ride super fun, the icebergs fantastic, and the wildlife up close and personal.

After that we stopped on a highway overpass near the fish hatchery and watched a momma grizzly teaching her cub how to fish. The cub was great- he would catch a fish and then drop it and chase it through the water. He would set one on the river bank and walk away and then be super confused when it flopped back into the river. We stopped by to watch them both in the evening and the next morning.

We had an amazing trip throughout Alaska but the one place we really wish we had been able to stay longer was Valdez!

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Root Glacier Moulin Climbing

So I’m getting really excited about my month of playing in Alaska this summer… And I still haven’t posted from our awesome trip climbing in the moulins of the Root Glacier- just outside of McCarthy. So why not now???

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I have to say that getting lowered into a massive hole of ice with a gigantic waterfall raging next to me, staring down into a cold black hole without a bottom….it was a rush! Scary and amazing.

This trip was with the wonderful staff of St. Elias Alpine Guides on the Root Glacier, outside of McCarthy/ Kennicott, Alaska.

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