Movement at the Time of Corona

When I can I compose my thoughts and put them in writing. After months of flying to commute between Kampala and my homebase I am back on the road. This time there are a lot of thoughts put into this time and I am sharing it with you.

I’m in the road pit stop #kabalega for the first meal of the day β˜•β˜•β˜•

It’s been several months since I took the road to Kampala from my home in the West Nile. If not for the Covid_19 pandemic, by now I am in Entebbe via the small aircraft that lands in the same airport as all the other planes the come and go.

To reach Kampala I still have a good solid 4 hours plus or minus the traffic πŸš‘πŸš’πŸš“πŸš”πŸš•πŸš•πŸš–πŸš˜πŸš™πŸššπŸš›πŸš›πŸš²πŸšœπŸ›΅

My organization decided we should not mingle with undetected peeps in the airport since we pride ourselves to be both Covid free and Ebola free. It puts me and the others at greater risk since after the airport I will go in the mall for lunch like now and then to the office before I reach home.

While the world is waking up to the pandemic of πŸ‘‘ Corona virus, Uganda is living with the scare of ebola outbreak every day long before I came here. The borders are manned to make sure it doesn’t come here. The health center workers are trained to detect even a slightest symptoms and sound the alarm on suspected cases.

The country also gets a share of active cases of poliomyelitis, measles and even leprosy not because Uganda has them per se but the country host refugees from countries that because of the breakdown of health systems import with them long treatable and preventable diseases.

Am I scared? I guess not.

My country is on lockdown, and Uganda is just waiting to confirm it’s first case after all the countries around it is already dealing with it’s own cases. But I opted to stay here than go home to the chaos of the Philippines.

At the pit stop I met two girls I know in Arua, they are being pulled out by their organization. The same for my Aussie friend, after 3 weeks of deployment she’s returning to Australia before they lockdown the country. Soon my organization too will pull out it’s non essential staffs, we’ll be skeleton staffs to remain and I am one of them.

Am I crazy to stay? Maybe not.

Imagine this πŸ€” if i leave here I will need to travel for over 24 hours and change cars and planes multiple times. To arrive in a closed airport and disgruntled people. I make myself vulnerable by exposure.

Then I travel to my dad’s place that is if I am found okay. And self quarantine myself in my old room. Family is πŸ’ž it’s impossible to not hug and kiss people you love.

What if after 14 days I got sick? And like dominoes the rest follows.

So no I am not crazy I am being practical. I have to be extra sensible and cautious until the first case and double the effort of self preservation once there is an active case identified … self quarantine and pray that the pandemic blows over and start the life back better and the environment cleaner.

Food During Quarantine: Rice and Beans

Who doesn’t like rice, but what about beans?
In Uganda this is staple across region.
If the quarantine continue, as long as we have these two in the pantry, I will not go hungry. Only, I don’t really like beans especially eaten with rice. In the Philippines we eat beans sure, added to some dishes but I relish it when done as dessert, with crushed ice, milk and cooked to perfection.

COVID-19 is a Great Equalizer

I left the Philippines when the new virus started to affect Wuhan. That was the first of February. I went prepared, even brought with me masks and hand sanitiser. It was the only time I spent over 3 hours waiting for my flight. Then, I arrived in Uganda not having to get myself checked or quarantined, like it is now. I only have to show the usual yellow card to let the officers at the airport know I am vaccinated with yellow fever and I’m good to go.

Two months since, I am self quarantined in my little house up in West Nile after I was told I am a PUM – person under monitoring. 

I left KAMPALA just in time for the government declaration of national lock down, even private vehicles are not anymore allowed in the streets.  But I was there in Kampala when the first case was confirmed. The same day most expats with families are able to leave to go home fearing the worst being here. I got exposed from one of those under 20 people despedida, thanks to the many meetings we do trying to anticipate the arrival of the virus at Uganda doorstep. 

With the national lockdown, my organisation  has to stop our field intervention in the refugee settlement. Myself being in quarantine is relegated to work-from-home and had to endure Skype meetings to get something done for our projects.

Social distancing is already hard, being self-quarantined is harder. I don’t envy those with families with them, especially young kids. The same time the office has output expectations while on it.  But hey, I am not complaining, just stating facts!

The virus is a great equalizer; it is a serious business. If we don’t follow all the precautionary measures we put many peoples life at stake, and to be in charge of getting guidelines for our intervention in the failed, I have to set an example for all.

Stay safe everyone.

A Reluctant Overseas Worker

How many of you remember your first overseas sojourn outside the Philippines?

I am sure you were very excited with a mixture of apprehension of not knowing what to expect from the airport of origin to the new port of entry.

I finished a course in college where we are destined to be working overseas. My friends already had contracts signed for the US before they even graduated. They cannot stop talking where they will go, but not me. I didn’t find working overseas appealing until I experienced it myself.

A little backstory

I content myself working in a tertiary hospital 10 minutes walk from my house. The hospital was behind the zoo and next to the Manila Bay. The lion was my alarm clock, but I don’t need to rush to go to work. I eat proper breakfast, and I always get to attend the morning mass before I head to my department to prepare.

I was seeing an average of 40 patients every day and supervised at least six students. I was not obliged to attend any meetings, so all the time spent in the hospital was mostly patient care and supervision-training of future therapists.

And then I got bored. I got disillusioned with my chosen profession because being in a tertiary hospital; you don’t get much excitement regarding the type of cases to treat. We had the usual instances of strokes. Then there would be the occasional fracture, cerebral palsy, and plenty of arthritis.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to be with those people, but it just became monotonous and mediocre before I even knew that word exists.

Despite the department being the hub for cases that take forever to heal, the people I met and gave treatment to are the best people you will encounter in your life. The most grateful people. I was well fed with local delicacies because one of my oldest patients owns the biggest stall in the Paco Market, selling all local “kakanin” (treats). We met special people too, and they get attached to their therapist that sometimes it becomes a competition – a healthy one to who should go first.

Then I changed work. 

For a year, I became a secretary of one medical association. I can’t say it enriched my life except being organized. I discovered how awful some doctors are in real life at the same time I made friends for life.

I decided to quit for my sanity’s sake and took the ship to go to the south of the Philippines and discover General Santos and Davao. It was a good break, and it also broke the bank that pushed me to accept the first job offered by a competent doctor I met the year before.

I became a research assistant and bypassed the recruitment process until I can’t anymore. That stint enriched my life – it opened my eyes to a full new understanding of research and ethics. And of course office politics.

A blessing in disguise 

I can’t seem to get my laboratory to become a regular employee. After several attempts, I accepted that I would only work as a temp and wilt away in the lab with the monkeys.

Until I got a call from my brother saying he gave my credential to one international organization in Cambodia and should wait to be contacted. Eventually got the proverbial call, offering a short term job training local physiotherapists on the job. How hard can it be? Since I was already doing it, the decision to accept didn’t take too long to come.

I got hired.

The organization processed my paper immediately once I had all my documents in order, and two months after my birthday celebration in the year 2000, I flew out of the Philippines landing in Cambodia to start a new adventure, and I never looked back.

 

Traveling for Work

Its Sunday in the Philippines, and I am halfway to my final destination in Entebbe.

The seven weeks holiday is finally coming to an end and will soon be going back to humanitarian work.

Many, if not all, of my friends except of course those I knew from expatriations do not understand what I do. I mentioned that to Yaya Sabel and said: “she thinks she knows what I do but don’t understand.”

She is not alone.

Even my dad was clueless and only realized what I’ve been doing overseas when I shared with him the information I need to share with family in case something happens to me. That was five years ago.

Many people, when they see you travel for work, the first impression would be to work as domestic help or DH. Many Filipino and other countries like Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, and India have people leave home to work as domestic regardless of background to support their families back home.

But I learned a long time ago also that there are skilled workers like my dad was when he worked in Saudi Arabia for 23 years.

Then with all my travels, I met a lot of Filipino working in hospitality, including those in the duty-free shops in small and big airports. Health workers, and of course, there’s a bunch of us working in the field of humanitarian and development in countries with varying security levels.

Working for the vulnerable

Such a big word, vulnerable. I learned that word over time. It was not in my vocabulary when I joined the diaspora in 2000.

All I have was technical medical and rehabilitation words and management jargon.

I am not the kind that goes on the ground when an emergency happens.

I am more the second wave humanitarian worker. I do mostly recovery, rehabilitation, and transition together with many colleagues with different expertise.

The kind of work I do allows me to see a different perspective in life after an emergency. It’s completely different from the kind of life most overseas workers have when I meet them in countries that has labor relations with the Philippines.

There’s no monotony in the kind of work I do, but I meet the same types of people you meet when working and traveling overseas – the good, the bad, the ugly, and a mix.

So what exactly do I do?

In the world of technical support and coordination (my big words job title), what I do is to make sure the project and people are aligned to objectives that have been agreed on when the project was designed. This happens when the emergency settles, and security is restored, or sometimes it can arrive at the same time.

I join the team to ensure we are within acceptable standards locally and internationally to the limits of my specialty and practicality. Which often is overlooked when responding to emergencies.

It may mean I train people, and I check their work as we implement projects, at the same time, prepare for the materials and links that can help them remotely. Since we take care of people’s wellbeing, I have to be very clear, and no misunderstanding or my ass is on the line.

It may also mean I handle transitional work or I read and review documents which require more time and brain cells to do than actual fieldwork if you get my drift πŸ˜‰

From time to time, I share snippets of my work and some photo of the people and places I’ve been. But I try to be careful too and not overshare. As we sometimes deal with sensitive issues or simply exercising better judgment. There’s a better platform for it if one is keen to find out.

So as I wait for my connecting flight to Entebbe, I sit here in Doha people watching, composing this article, and drinking my first cup of coffee for the day.

Talk soon in East Africa!

Snow Covered Kilimanjaro and Sunny Dar es Salaam

I intended to see the majestic Kilimanjaro. The mountain I heard so much about from friends who had no problem climbing mountains. It was once in my list of mountains to conquer, when the knees, the weight, and the heart are still in their prime.

Anyway, I had a good time at least, watching the brothers when my plane from Nairobi passed over the mountain, exposing its snow-covered top in the early morning of July last year.

At the Nairobi airport watching the sunrise as our plane gets ready to fly to Dar es Salaam and begin my journey

Kibo peak appeared, and I got excited

It feels like Tanzania is just a dream, and Kilimanjaro is an illusion since I visited the country six months ago.

Zoomed
The Kilimanjaro range is seen from the plane
Kibo (the higher peak on the far end) and Mawenzi (the more rugged smaller mountain) brothers

It will take me two days before I can go to where it is located.

Meantime, I enjoyed the warm days on the beach of Dar Es Salaam doing nothing but watch the sea, read, nap, eat, and drink, taking in all the sun I could bear.

Azure Boutique Hotel was a haven. A welcome respite from the heat of Arua in the north of Uganda, west of the Nile river.

The pool outside room 113
Azure
More huts
The gazeebo
The beach
Hallway
The hallway lights – seashells by the ceiling
View from the terrace
View from the terrace slash restaurant
Walkway to the beach from my room

Even the crab fascinates me.

After a good rest, good food and a good night’s sleep. I was excited to plan my next destination and see more of Tanzania.

Living Solo

Most of my adult life I live alone. Except when I am home, I crave the company of people familiar to me, my dad especially.

But when I am out of the country, more often than not, I am alone.

Living in Arua is not any different than any other places I live in. I get to enjoy all the perks of living solo. I get to cook food I like to eat, like when another Filipino brought me dried fish from home, I had a moment of happiness cooking it and eating with my hands.

When I wanted to be away from drama, I have a place of refuge, where no one can touch me. I can decide not even to answer my phone.

I can also choose the people I wanted to invite and dine with me, even to crash just because I know they are good people.

Although there are times, I feel lonely. In cold nights or when there’s no power, and a good chat buddy would be nice to have around. Phone calls don’t cut it. Those times, I needed someone close.

But the pro outweighs the cons of living alone. I wouldn’t trade it if I can avoid it. This is the life I chose to live, the compromise to the kind of work I do. And like, having my me time, I wouldn’t trade the work I do for anything especially the people I meet in the field. To be around them means I am part of the circle of life in Uganda and in anywhere I am then and in the future.

I get to enjoy working with them with my undivided attention; you wouldn’t trade those smiles for anything. And at the end of the day, I can go back home, kick my shoes, put my feet up and enjoy my evenings recalling what I had done and what I will do next or, what I will do for dinner.