Friday, October 23, 2009

The October Post

( Pictured Here: Christine, Mediatrice, and Rosine [from back to front] test villagers for HIV at a local school.)

The October Post: Let's see what I got for ya this month...

I got my kitchen roof fixed...that's all done and paid for. The new one is holding up just fine.

Oh yeah! I wanted to mention something else regarding cultural norms about alcohol. Specifically, Rwandans have a big fear about being poisoned; all drinks (alcoholic or not) are opened in front of you to prove that nothing was put in the bottle. This is not news to me, really. I remember being in college and people telling me not to consume drinks that I didn't pour myself or that haven't been in my possession the entire night. In Rwanda, they are really serious about this...REALLY serious.

I have a friend at the health center I work at and her mother passed away about two months ago. Her death was drawn-out and painful; she was barely taking in any water and she was not eating at all. The community and her family (even her daughter, my friend and a lab tech at the health center) were convinced that a jealous neighbor poisoned her. They took her to hospitals in Kigali and Rwamagana, but the medical staff couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. It wasn't malaria, or T.B., or advanced AIDS, or anything else for which they tested her. The only conclusion people could come up with was that she was poisoned. (I don't know what the doctors said specifically; however, I had a pretty strong pulse on the community's perspective and they were were saying 'poison, poison, poison.')

What seemed to have complicated her treatment program (from my perspective) was that, according to the community, she had a specific poison that led to instant death if she was hooked up to an I.V.; so, she never got an I.V. Moreover, I know she was taking medicaion from the doctors she visited, but she was also taking medication from a local medicine man. I asked my friend what was in the drugs the medicine man was giving to her mother and she didn't know. I insisted that we find out; my friend's reply was that, 'he'll never share his secrets.' I tried another angle; I suggested we try to figure out who might have poisoned her. If we know the person who might have done this, we could figure out what poison was used. Depending on the poison, maybe we could alter her treatment to counter its effects somehow. My friend's response was that, 'we'll never know who it was for sure.'

My friend's mother passed away at the hospital in Rwamagana...she was 46 years old. (I didn't know the funeral was that same day, so I was unable to participate.)

9. Do NOT accept a bottle that has not been opened in front of you AND be sure to keep the bottle close to you as you consume its contents.

What are some other things that happened? Oh yeah! So, the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) for Rwanda was at a medical conference in Thailand and she was having a discussion with a representative from the US ARMY (I think it was the US ARMY; it was definitely one of the branches of the US armed forces) and, naturally, the topic of tropical bugs and illnesses came up. Well, she mentioned my experience with jiggers and the representative was very interested in having the photos she took of my feet; the rep wanted to have them on file to teach new recruits about local ailments and such. Anyway, the PCMO asked me if the rep could have the pics and I said yes, of course. I wish I had taken pictures myself, but it was just so gross. Maybe I'll get the ones that the PCMO took and post them so you can take a look.

Let's see...what else...what else...

Well, we have more volunteers in Rwanda as of this month. We have about 35 'newbies' and they are being trained to be English teachers. I was able to spend some time with them in Kigali when they first arrived. They seem very nice and they are very excited to be in Rwanda. I am sure they will be successful in Pre-Service Training (PST) and go on to be great volunteers; heck, about fifteen (15) of them are volunteers from Mauritania, so they have played this game before.

Volunteers from Mauritania? What?
Let me explain.

Sometimes a country that has Peace Corps volunteers becomes a little too unsafe; so, Peace Corps pulls out. When Peace Corps pulls out of a country, the volunteers in that country are given a choice to complete their COS (Close of Service) or continue their tour of service at a post in another country. Well, Mauritania (a rather large country in Northwestern Africa) closed about two months ago and fifteen (15) of this country's PC volunteers decided to continue their service in Rwanda.

In other news, the remaining Peace Corps Rwanda volunteers that I graduated with are organizing a bunch of different projects. Jessica is spearheading the 'Books for Africa' campaign which is doing really well. A handful of the other volunteers have been working hard at coordinating a G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World) camp to empower Rwandan young women (high school aged). I am helping them with what I can, but I have decided not to take any serious leadership roles in these awesome projects. Things in my village are just too busy for me to be of any real help to my PC cohort.

Two weeks ago there was a national campaign for vaccinating children. The nurses at my health center were divided among the various make-shift health posts throughout my community; they spent the entire day vaccinating children and updating the childrens' growth charts. Because some of the nurses were spread throughout the villages working with the community health workers to get these kids vaccinated, the staff at the health center was nearly cut in half. I decided I would be of better use if I stayed at the health center and helped counsel patients - my standard 7am to 5pm day.

These next few weeks are going to be pretty busy too. Just a few days ago, the health center began visiting different village 'health posts' in my community to test people for HIV. (I don't know if this is a national campaign or just something the health center came up with on its own; I forgot to ask.) I have been put into the 'HIV Testing Mobile Unit' weekly rotation with the nurses to help record data and do some counseling; so, I will be doing that once a week for the next two weeks.

My first 'HIV Testing Mobile Unit' rotation was actually Tuesday of this week and it was...interesting. The nurses and I got a late start to the testing site because we had guests in the morning, so the staff meeting went a little long. Anyway, once we got to the site, we were able to test 107 people. That part of the experience was really cool...people wanted to be tested, which was good. After we analyzed the results, however, I became very...well...sad. Eighteen (18) of the 107 people tested were positive. (I wish I could tell you statistics like these are uncommon in my area.) We registered them in our counseling program and got them started on ARVs.

I do wish I had brought my camera to get some photos of the nurses working hard, but I suppose I can do that next week.

Anyway, that has been my month or so...

Man, I just read through this and I was wrong...a lot has happened over this month...(*side note: my stupid 'Check Spelling' application on the blog won't work for some reason so this entry is probably full of spelling mistakes and gramatical errors. Meh.)

Okay, I got a funny story (well, sorta funny) that I can close with. Kara, Brandon, and I were coming back from Kigali a few months ago; we had a meeting or something, I can't remember. Well, we got into the matatu (a swahili word used to refer to the taxi-vans) and Kara and Brandon took seats near the front. I sat in the back. (I like the back...right next to a window...its great...I don't have a good reason for this, I just like it.) The seat I had was in between these two big guys sitting next to a third big guy...I mean big. Behind our seat were bags of someone's know, bananas and stuff like that. Needless to say, we were cramped. I mean we were shoulder to shoulder, which is pretty standard seating when a person is sitting in a matatu, but I was being crushed between these guys. Anyway, instead of sitting with my shoulders up to my ears and burying my chin into my chest for the whole trip, I decided I would put my right arm behind the seat to give me more shoulder room.

About fifty minutes passed and most of the ride to Rwamagana from Kigali was finished. At that point I was looking out the window to my left and my right hand was casually toying with the bags behind the seat. All of a sudden, I felt a horrible pain in my hand.

I haven't been stung by a bee since I was in gradeschool. Well, the streak is over, baby. I never saw the bee that did it, but it stung like a dirty *expletive deleted*! Well, I was so shocked by the sudden surge of pain in my hand (which quickly shot up my wrist) that I brought my arm up without thinking. This reflexive action was executed in no careful manner; I swung my arm up so quick and with so much force that I totally slapped the guy next to me in the back of the head! (Ah! Sorry! Sorry!) Now I know why we were trained in Kinyarwanda! I was able to talk my way out of the physical beating that I was about to encounter as a result of this inadvertent provocation; not that I had practiced this scenario in training or anything. He was actually really cool about it; he seemed to understand that when a big ol' African bee stings you, it freakin' hurts!