I am an applied medical anthropologist beginning my PhD in Public Health this fall. For the second summer in a row, I will travel with my research partner, Ginger Mckay, to Kampala, Uganda. Last summer, we evaluated an HIV education program for children developed by the Savannah Sunrise Foundation, which is a non-profit organization. We we will be residing in Kampala from the end of May until the end of July to conduct additional fieldwork. This summer, our colleague Nicole Smith will be joining us as we wrap up our project.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

12/6 to 22/6

The three of us spent the afternoon preparing for the big birthday event by prepping the food and wrapping presents. We had a successful birthday party for Joan even though we couldn’t make “tacos.” There are no taco shells or tortillas available for us to make the real thing, but we did find some pita chips to use as “nachos.” I enjoyed meeting Joan’s kids and her housegirl Daphene. Joan was the only one out of the four of them that enjoyed the nachos we made. I ate them even though they were made of beef. Ginger is a really good cook. See the pictures to appreciate the way the Joan and her family enjoyed the party. They loved the cake and the presents.

Ginger thought to buy two books by Roald Dahl for Joan’s children, Lighton and Louis. She also gave Joan one of her necklaces with a silver sand dollar pendant that has a small pearl on it. Nicole did a great job wrapping and creating a bow and a flower to tie on the presents. I wrapped up a matchbook to make it look nice, and put the earrings we bought at Mary’s church inside. Even though it was her birthday party, Joan brought us three mangoes and an avocado. We ended up cutting the avocado since we didn’t have enough to make guacamole. I think they all really liked their presents, especially Joan, who shed a couple of tears and told us it was the best birthday party she’d ever had.

I think they all liked the cake the most and were happy to bring the leftover cake home with them. Before they left, the kids played in the bathroom and turned the faucet on all the way, and it got stuck for a minute. When they left, they asked if they could come back the next weekend, and we said yes. Joan looked lovely wearing her new jewelry, and the necklace really suited her.

Monday 13/6
Ginger and I went on an observation today, and Nicole stayed behind. We saw Mary mentor at one of the large schools where they’ve recently began mentorship. It seems like a huge undertaking since there are thousands of primary students. We went to four streams (classrooms) of primary one students, and it took us two hours. If there are several streams for each grade level and 7 grade levels, you can imagine how trying it is to mentor all of them. I admire Mary for her perseverance.

We ate lunch at 1000 Cups after, and visited with Joan. She was wearing her new necklace, and she gave us some cake to take back with us. It was the chocolate cake they sell in the store. We also saw this guy named Frank, who we met last summer. He invited us to dinner with his girlfriend and said he would call us to finalize our plans later in the week. It’s fun to run into people you know.

Afterwards I suggested that we stop by at the SAS Clinic since we hadn’t been there yet. We saw Andrew and Paul who we remembered from last summer, both of whom work in accounting. Paul gave us a tour of all the new facilities and showed us the expansion of the clinic into the surrounding offices in the building where it’s located. SAS has really grown since we were here last summer. Now they have a birthing center, more equipment in their laboratory, a dental clinic, a surgery wing, and a cardiology specialist. They have one of only a few C.T. scanners in the entire country. Paul told us that they began to market to local businesses and centers to develop a better customer base for the clinic on Bombo Road and the one in Bugulobi. They want to expand their clientel before they open a new hospital, so that they will have outpatient services to clients they are familiar with already from the clinic. They seem so organized and collected, which is not the same vibe you get at the foundation. I wish the two were more similar in management strategy.

We decided to walk home. Later on, we met our friend Pharouk at a local hang out nearby. We also got an email from the UNCST today saying that we could resubmit our research proposal from last summer. Apparently it’s been misplaced. For now, we have temporary approval to begin our data collection, but I’m not really sure what that means exactly.

Tuesday 14/6
Today the three of us discussed the issue with data entry, and how we are going to get everything finished in time. We want to present our results at the mentor meeting on the first of July. We also plan to travel upcountry before the meeting so we need to be finished before we go. Our friend Moses has been helping us, but we are still going to be pressed to finish before we travel to Hoima and Gulu. We’ve had several errors with data entry, and with all four people working on the files it’s becoming challenging to make sure we’re all on the same page. So far we have graded and enter 745 tests and it barely looks like we’ve even started. If you recall our sample size of 620 from last summer, then you have a pretty good idea that we have a lot of work to do!

Wednesday 15/6
Today we went to the foundation and met with Reverend. We discussed our plans to travel with him and we decided to meet again next week on Tuesday to finalize our plans. We are picking up more pretests in Hoima, and I suspect there will also be tests in Gulu since we haven’t seen any schools from that district yet in our stack. More work!

We ate at a Mexican place for lunch, and with exception of their tortilla chips, the food rivaled some of the best Mexican food I’ve had in both Mexico and the US. Afterwards we walked downtown to buy air time and to find a place where Ginger could take more passport photos since we have to resubmit our application. We sat inside of a small store, which is really just a room, for nearly 45 minutes waiting for her photos to develop. There was no air in there and it was very hot. We read the tabloids while we waited and I had forgotten how disturbing they are.

On the way home I told Ginger to go on without us and Nicole and I went by the SAS Clinic. Nicole got to meet the several of the staff, including Dr. Grace, Paul, Andrew and Rachel who happened to be there. Nicole switched her antimalarials from Doxycycline to Mefloquine, which is what Ginger takes. I am staying with the doxycycline even though it gives me crazy dreams. Afterwards, I tried to board a matatu and even though I was waved to by the conductor, the other matatu drivers stopped us and would not let us on. I couldn’t tell if it was because of where they were trying to stop, where we were standing, or because the other conductors did not want them to stop at the stage. Sometimes it’s funny, and they will fight about letting a taxi pull over especially if they are not at the stage proper. But, I really don’t know what was wrong. In short, not a day goes by where I’m not embarrassed somehow or questioning if I did something wrong.

Thursday 16/6
The data is never ending. I worked all morning while Ginger and Nicole went to the UNCST without me, which was necessary. I spent a large part of the day today thinking it was Friday, and I even opened the garage in anticipation of Grace and Annette’s arrival. Moses came a little later than usual and began to work. I went to meet Mary at a school to document the way that she proctored the pretests, which I think will give us insight into how the other mentors administered the tests we are grading now. The power was out all day, too, so I was happy to get out of the house. I was also anxious to get to the school on time. As a result, I got there really early so I just walked around. I pacified my hunger by reminding myself that lunch would be ready when I got home (of course, I was wrong about that since today is actually Thursday).

Mary did an absolutely fantastic job giving the test to the primary seven students. There were 320 of them outside on the courtyard, and we stood on a raised platform while she yelled out the questions. I took video and photographs of the experience and I was just in awe of how it all went down. The gratification I felt was immeasurable. In that moment, I could see the product of all our hard work, and the analogy of the dandelion seeds Ginger had described last summer came to my mind. Somehow, the seeds managed to turn into flowers against the odds. I never have felt so elated about a successful research strategy; our planning, methods and practice have created a genuine product that works and is replicable, although it needs to be refined. Even though our quantitative instrument has some flaws, the experience has been awesome. I loved hearing Mary ask the 20 questions and see the students fill out their papers. There are 2 videos in “week four pictures” so check them out!

I collected the tests and walked to get a boda to Kamwokya since there were rainclouds forming. It has rained so much this year, even though it’s the dry season in Kampala. I had this terrible vision of losing all the data and the answers running together on the wet papers. I held the tests really close to me, inside my bag from the AAA’s in New Orleans trying to protect them from the rain. I thought of how upset I would be if I were robbed today of all days, and determined that I was not going to part with the tests.

When I came home I realized it was Thursday. It was after 2 pm. The power was still off, and everyone was still diligently working on the data entry. I began to grade the new set of tests from the observation today, and then we decided to go to Mulago hospital to charge the computers and work more there. I wanted to go by the craft shop, too, and to get some coffee since I was tired.

I realized today that whoever ends up handling the pre and posts tests at SAS after we’ve left is going to need to have a developed a guide to reduce the potential for human error. We are working out the kinks of some of our own mistakes, and Ginger has been documenting the careless errors we’re making. The potential for human error is problematic and the ability to produce inaccurate data without knowing it is something we really need to think about more. We’re all still learning.

Friday 17/6
We ate bagels for breakfast. It’s the first time I feel like I’ve had bread because they’re so dense. I don’t know if they’re really overtly dense, or if I’m so accustomed to airy bread here. Either way, we only needed half of one each. We graded and entered tests all day long.

I talked to Grace about our tests, and she was curious about our sampling strategy. She told me that the IBES program would not work in some schools because children who are very impoverished do not share information freely with each other or their parents because they have a different relationship and outlook than others. They are busy doing chores, and are not “free” to discuss such matters. She told me that students can’t talk about HIV because of their poverty which creates a lack of confidence to freely converse on difficult issues, and because it creates a serious lack of free time to socialize with peers. I was annoyed because it seemed like she was telling me that the program was futile. I prefer to think that what she described may be true for some students, but not for all. And anyway, the ones who don’t feel confident are the ones the mentorship is geared toward.

I stayed home tonight while Ginger and Nicole went to meet Frank and his girlfriend Ruby for dinner. I just really needed some alone time. I watched Seinfeld and took my first real “break.” It was great.

Saturday 18/6
We are on a data entry marathon, and the end is in sight. One funny thing about this process: the Excel programs on both Ginger and Nicole’s computers are having a difficult time processing the large file that is our main database. As a result, we had to start making individual files for each school. Someday we will laugh about the computer software we tried to use, and ponder how computer programs like Excel have become much more powerful since 2011. We’ve been discussing finding a free statistical software package like R or encouraging the foundation to purchase Access for future analysis. Any thoughts on this issue would be very helpful.

Sunday 19/6
We were supposed to be leaving for church at 9 am, and the rain prevented us from leaving on time. We decided to wait for the storm to pass since the city sleeps when it’s raining and it makes traveling more dangerous because the roads are so slick. We left for church around 11 and reached Kireka by noon. We went to Echiba’s church this week, which is just down the road from Mary’s house.

As we walked up to the third floor of a building that has several other offices and shops, we passed a painting of a stairway to heaven. The analogy was not lost on me. Fortunately, the service only lasted around an hour after we arrived, since we were so late. I did, however, enjoy listening to the visiting Nigerian pastor, who was telling jokes in his sermon. At one point, he said “There’s no rush! We’re not in Russia!” His accent was really very different from Ugandans and I especially liked the way he said, “Amen.” He told everyone to put all of their worries in little bags that they should press deep down inside them and to let God handle their stress.

Afterwards, Echiba took us to the Hospitality Lounge, where church members encouraged us to join the congregation and had us introduce ourselves. We also were given a tour of the facilities. Echiba did not have his family with him at church because of the weather, and he did not invite us back to his house for lunch to meet them, which surprised me a little. I wonder if he was upset that we were late. In any case, we called Mary and told her we wanted to stop by. When she heard my voice she said, “Ah! You come!!”

We ended up beating Mary to her house as she was still at church, and we also woke up baby Shem who was sleeping. I didn’t mind because I love playing with him. After we hung out for a few hours we ate lunch. Mary served us “baby portions” as she calls them, although it was still really a lot of food. We left around 5, and Julius took us on a quest around the neighborhood; he was determined to help us get three Rolex’s from a vendor even though it was early to be selling them. A rolex is akin to a breakfast burrito, only it has cabbage, onion and tomato inside the egg and it is wrapped in chapatti instead of a tortilla. They are so delicious and we were excited for Nicole to try one since she’d never had one before. See pictures!

Monday 20/6
Moses came over to work with us today, and we all knew we would finish entering the tests by the end of the day. 2,482 tests later, we finished! In other news, Moses has been trying to get into a German language school in Germany and he was accepted today. He used the money from selling the computer I left for him last year to buy a passport, so now all he needs is a student Visa and a plane ticket. It seems likely he will achieve his dream to study at a German University and be closer to Sonja. I am so happy for them both. He had to leave right after he found out to go to school, where he takes night courses to study German here in the city. After he left, we decided to skype with Sonja and she seems elated about the news. It’s great. Ginger and I were talking about how we have been rooting for their cross-continental love affair, and it seems like they will end up living happily ever after. It’s like a movie.

Tuesday 21/6
We made it to the foundation by 9:30 to meet Echiba and discuss our plans for focus groups at three target schools from last summer. Echiba is going to help us make plans with the school administrators since some of the schools have been zoned out of mentorship this year and are no longer receiving the IBES program. We took a break after meeting with Echiba and had some chai next door while we waited for our next meeting. It was supposed to start at 10 but it was postponed (it wasn’t clear if it was because Reverend had an engagement or if Beatrice did). The actual meeting ended up beginning at 12:30. We made plans to go to Hoima and Gulu this weekend with Reverend. We leave on Friday and we will be back on Tuesday afternoon. I’m excited to see how mentorship is going in Hoima, and to reunite with the mentors we met last summer at Meeting Point. I am also thrilled to be traveling north into parts of the country I have not yet seen. I now have to catch up on writing/blogging/emailing and skyping before we go without internet for five days!

Wednesday 22/6
Today Ginger and I went to the post office and to the Aristoc bookstore. I wanted to purchase a book about birds to take with us on our trip, but they are so expensive I decided not to buy one. I should have gotten one before we came. Hindsight. Nicole went on her first outing to meet with local NGOs today. She is running out of time, so I hope she can network and make some connections before we leave. Time is so different here.

The rain in incessant and so is our lack of electricity. Ginger and I worked on analyzing the data all afternoon and prepared the descriptive statistics to be presentable for next Friday after we return. Things are starting to happen rapidly now, and I remember feeling like we were scrambling last year when we had only six weeks left. The pressure is even greater now at four weeks. I know it will somehow all work out because it always does. I am sad to be leaving so soon. I really want to come back next summer, even if only for a short time, but I don’t think that will be possible.


  1. hahahaha, well yeah, who knows, naybe one day Mr. Spielberg will knock on our door asking to turn our story into a blockbuster-movie! ;) Thanls for your support and encouragement hun! And thanks for still continuing with your blog, i truly love reading it, this gives me a feeling of almost being there with u myself! :) xxx

  2. I love reading your blog Meagan :) You describe everything so well its almost like we are there with you! Stay healthy and don't get sick again! I also loved reading about Joan's Birthday party... y'all are so sweet! We miss you dearly in the US, even though you are having such a great time there. Don't work TOO hard haha. Hope you are getting to enjoy the rest of your time. Love you!

  3. My Meagan, I can feel everything through your words. You write so well. thank you for taking the time to take us through your adventure. I can see it and feel it and it makes me want to be there to share it with you. I am so proud of you and happy for you. I am happy you will be back in four weeks. I want you home.I can't wait to see you and be with you and listen to all of your experiences again. Stay safe and good luck finishing, you all can do it. I love you,

  4. Meagan, I love the new pictures, they are wonderful. I can see why you love it there. Why were those bulls horns tied like that? It mad me sad. The baboons were funny and what a fast river the Nile is. Wow. I am going back to look again. The students are so cute and that baby Shem is a doll baby.