Moving to Uganda

Our names are Eitan and Reut, both doctors just after our internship. Together with our one year old son Eyal, we set out for a journey to the unknown – a year of voluntary work in Uganda. After searching and searching for a place to volunteer at, without much luck, we decided, together with Brit Olam organization to reestablish the “Israeli Medicine on the Equator” project. The project operated in Kiboga district in Uganda, and shut down a several years earlier due to funding problems.

After a long and tedious flight (with a tired one year old…) and a short recover in Entebbe, at Gila and Judy’s house (our new and beloved friends), we set of to the capital Kampala. Kampala is a noisy and bustling city, with huge masses of ‘boda-boad’s’ (motorcycle-taxi) hurrying from one place to another, masses of people, smog and chaos. And only two meters from all the disarray -beautiful luxury neighborhoods. In Kampala we attended a lovely “Purim” party organized by SBI (Eyal was a bear), and met many Israeli and Jewish people living in Uganda. We me Judith, the potential nanny we are to trust Eyal with, and even interviewed for a local newspaper and TV channel, on behalf of SBI company, who is one of our major sponsors.

From Kampala we headed to Kiboga hospital, located in a small godforsaken town about three hours’ drive from Kampala, where we are to spend the coming year. After waiting for hours (they work in ‘Uganda time’ here), we met with the hospital and the district health directors and were taken for a tour of the hospital. On first glance, the conditions at the hospital are challenging, to say the least. The hospital’s 120 beds are divided into 4 wards, each one is set in a huge room, without any form of privacy. The hospital is severely understaffed, with only four doctors currently working at the facility, and is in constant drug and equipment shortage. During our first visit in the hospital we got a preview of the every-day challenges when the head nurse of the labor ward approached the hospital director, who was escorting us around, and informed him of a patient with severe post-labor bleeding (a true medical emergency). She asked for his help since unfortunately there was no blood available for transfusion, and the doctor on-call was nowhere to be found…

Before we were able to begin volunteering in Kiboga hospital, we had to overcome several challenges – attaining a local license to practice medicine, work permit and visa for a year, as well as finding a house for us to live in. In a short while we realized that despite promises from the local management, that enthusiastically volunteered to help us find a house, things will not move without our personal intervention. So Eitan set off on a real-estate search. Right from the start it was clear that this is a very poor town, and that our requirements (electricity & a tank of water) are pretty high compared to the local standards… After a long and failed search, just at the point when Eitan was about to lose hope, he met again with the hospital administrators and agreed with them that instead of renting a house, we will pay for renovating one of the staff apartments around the hospital. The house in question was not in an ideal condition, but the basic infrastructure was there. The cost is estimated to be smaller than that of a full year rent, and there is also an added benefit that this house (as well as the furniture and equipment we buy) will hopefully be used in the future by volunteers that will continue the project after we return home.

Moving to the new house was not an easy task, since as it turned out the house the hospital provided us was falling apart and just about everything needed fixing before we moved in. The hospital administrator Ronald managed the ‘renovation’, and we choose to believe that he didn’t scam us out of too much money, although he is trying his best to make it hard for us (especially when he tried to convince Eitan that we give him all our money to keep for us, since “Muzungus (=white people) don’t know how to manage their money”…). After the house was ready we were left with countless tasks and errands. Apart from the obvious things like getting the basic furniture and equipment we needed, we found ourselves learning a lot of things we never thought we will need to know – Like how to fix rain gutters, how to fill our water tank when there is no rain (and the answer is, like always in Uganda – using a motorcycle), fixing the pluming (apparently Eitan has a gift for pluming we never knew of), learning how to operate a generator, finding a way to get reed of our garbage (surprisingly there are no garbage trucks here…), trying to get a car we can use for the outreach from the hospital, failing, buy our own fixer-upper, welcoming Eyal’s (lovely) nanny and finding her a decent room to stay at (not an easy task in a place where the locals think that a room for a nanny doesn’t require electricity or oxygen, and ours is a Kampala town girl with higher standards…), give her the basic training on how to operate the kid, find a way to import dippers to Kiboga, find Eyal some play-mates and on and on.

While the house renovation was in motion we set off on a tedious war with the Ugandan bureaucracy. It seems all the Ugandan ministries joined hands with a common goal – trying to prevent us from volunteering in Uganda. After countless visits to the Ministry of Health and Immigration offices, and crushing losses we endured during the first rounds, after recruiting our family back home and the ‘Brit Olam’ staff for a ‘collection of documents no one knew existed but Ugandan’s decided we can’t stay without them’ operation, and after tough struggles with the local bureaucracy that included waiting, begging, anger, kissing up to many officials, and a lot of patients, we are proud to declare we are the proud owners of two local medical licenses and one year work permits!

So after all the bureaucracy, renovations and challenges we are finally starting our new life in Kiboga! Wish us luck…

Eitan, Reut & Eyal

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