Saturday, 24 October 2009

Can't believe we've been here for 8 months!

We've just realised that we've been here for 8 months already - time is definitely flying by. It's been a pretty busy time for both of us lately, as the university semester is now in full swing - which means writing mid-term exams, marking assignments etc.

We went to Kampala last weekend, which was a nice change to Mbarara. I think we would possibly go there more often if the journey wasn't quite so horrendous - 5 hours in a battered old bus, driving along a road that is being resurfaced, and basically being thrown around the bus (you drive over the non-surfaced parts!). The bus seats are covered in plastic, to allow for easy cleaning (although I have doubts whether cleaning ever takes place), but it also makes the seats very slippy....I nearly ended up on the floor on numerous occasions. When we got to Kampala we stayed at the International Landmark Hotel, in Muyenga, just around the corner from the VSO office. It's not in the centre of Kampala, but it is near some pretty nice restaurants (proper pizzas, yum!) and an Italian supermarket that sells ice-creams, so it was a good place to be.

Hectic Traffic in Kampala

On the Saturday, Jason and I had to go to the Uganda Wildlife Authority office to get an annual pass for the National Parks. If you get a 2 year resident's permit, they will let you get this pass, and it's really good value - only $150 for a couple, so it pays for itself in no time at all. After that, we went to Garden City shopping mall, which is amazing - well, actually it's a bog-standard shopping centre in western terms, but we don't have anything like it in Mbarara so we are always quite impressed.
Shivaun and I went to have our hair cut by a Serbian lady nearby (too chicken to brave the salons of Mbarara!), and she did a pretty good job. After that we met up with some other VSOs in Centenery Park, and had lunch. The afternoon involved a big supermarket shop, with me scouring the shelves for things to use in my extemporaneous dispensing practicals (making creams and ointments etc). The lab at the university has hardly any equipment, and I really wanted the students to be able to make something, so I decided to buy all the stuff myself.
The journey back to Mbarara on the Sunday wasn't going too badly, which meant something had to go wrong....and it did! The bus broke down quite far away from town, but luckily the driver managed to start it up again. It then broke down again about 2 miles from Mbarara, so Jason and I decided to walk up the road and get a boda boda to take us home.

Things in the pharmacy department are going quite well, and I'm feeling a lot more comfortable in my role here. The fourth year students have to do a research project next semester, so we gave them a research workshop a couple of weeks ago. I did a presentation on plagiarism, which it seems that they have not heard of before, and didn't realise it was a bad idea (which is maybe quite worrying).

I did a practical with the third years this week. I'm teaching them Pharmaceutical Technology - so lots of theory about the manufacture of different dosage forms (like creams, ointments, suspensions) but very little opportunity to put it into practice. Anyway, the practical was quite successful - they made Calamine Ointment, and Lassar's Paste. We didn't necessarily use the right tools, as I couldn't get hold of them - instead of a porcelain ointment slab, we used plastic chopping boards, and instead of spatulas/palette knives we used decorator's scrapers! But the principle was the same, and it seemed to work quite well (despite me having to put them in groups of 5 to do it, which is less than ideal). Sometimes I really feel sorry for the students here, they pay lab fees, but I don't know where those fees go (cos it's almost certainly not spent on lab facilities). Hopefully things will get better soon, as the pharmacy and pharmacology departments have won a $1.2 grant from the Millennium Science Initiative, to improve facilities and develop the course etc.

Students doing their extemp. dispensing practical in the Lab

Calamine Ointment - note the non-scientific implements used!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

To the loony bin and back again...

Lovely Lariam

To try to prevent the onset of Malaria, both of us have been taking the delightful drug Lariam since arriving in Uganda. Having used it in Ghana I always poo pooed the stories of people going a little mad, however I think maybe my opinion on the subject has changed.

Five months in we were going great guns, until we had get a new supply of Lariam, unfortunately all we could get our hands on was the Swiss version of the product Mephaquin, which is theoretically the same.

Of course I am fully aware how annoying and dim I am, but shortly after changing drugs, it became apparent that I was a very horrible person as after being home at about 5.10 instead of 5 on a number of occasion, I got into big trouble from Anna. Other things upset her too and she was in tears over very simple things like the washing was not done or she lost a Scrabble.

To further her anxieties she woke me up one evening to dress me down as I had just flown through the window and she try to sleep! This of course follows an episode of asking me why I had decided to grow vegetables in the bed…

Of course we concluded that the drug was having an adverse reaction and we decided request that she could change to another drug. Following a consultation, with a Doctor and after VSO’s permission she changed drugs to Malarone.

Thankfully now I am only annoying some of the time and she no longer cries when I am delayed or do not do the washing up. I have even stopped flying through windows as well.

Those of you who have worked with me, know I sometimes get angry when somebody incompetent has ensured that I have to do more work because they have caused havoc, however most of the time I am quite a placid creature. My effects on the drug were not as drastic as Anna’s however the new first years took a bit of abuse from me on a number of occasions as they cannot queue up when waiting for my class to leave lectures. However after changing to another drug myself, the first years still cannot queue up but at least I don’t shout at them as harshly as before.

Now I shall leave it up to you to decide whether the stories I have heard before are true!


A few weeks ago our VSO cluster arranged a goodbye cluster meeting for Danny a departing VSO and his wife Annie.

We decided to spend a night at Lake Mburo, to say farewell, we provided the drink, Shivaun made a fantastic cake and Sofie one of our VSO colleagues arranged a bespoke calendar with many photographic memories of their time here. A lot of beer was consumed, good food eaten and amazing wildlife seen at close hand.

A highlight was our trip on quad bikes around the park (I am sure some have already seen the delightful photos on Facebook). In Ugandan terms the trip was expensive (£35) but to be honest with you well worth it! 2 Hours of driving through the Safari tracks, including some of the harder to reach places was outstanding. We saw so much wildlife at close hand, and it felt a lot more exhilarating not being closed inside a vehicle.

Jason dons his quadding gear

Our trip was guided and very professional indeed, especially as en-route to the Quad bike centre, myself and Peter another VSO colleague had been talking about go-karting and how much I liked it going fast. Standing on the back of the pick up alongside our ranger, he joined in the conversation and also seemed to like the idea of going speed.

Not much of a fashion statement!
Matatu’s, “Outstanding” Driving and a Beautiful Lake
September is the time for change here in Uganda, and one of our other friends Meg was leaving Mbarara. Although she has been here on and off for seven years, she had never been to Lake Bunyoni before. We agreed to have a little weekend trip to see the sights and sounds of the place translated into English called “Place of the Little Birds”.

In the interest of saving cash (having spent a fortune on quads the week before), we opted to get to Bunyoni by mini bus taxi (Matatu).

Of course you always have an adventure on a Matatu as they are usually battered and bruised, fit 20 people into the vehicle instead of 14 and drive like absolute lunatics.

We knew we were however going to have an adventure, as when waiting in the taxi park a young student, spent 20 minutes haggling with the conductor over a fare and proceeded to haggle for another 20 minutes over his immense luggage. Then just as we were setting off he decided to get out and delay us even further getting all of his stuff back. Let’s just say in England, I would have told him he was an prat an hour ago. The people in the taxi park though so too in the end and told him so, of course there was a little scuffle but nothing too serious and it soon settled down. Now I do not advocate any form of violence but I do sympathise a little with the Taxi Parks staff who were patient enough with the petulant gentleman.

Our trip from then on was uneventful except the driver drove as though he was 10 hours late. Imagine a scary driver (Bex, “other people I have been censored from writing”) but at 90 miles an hour on potholed roads, then times it by 10 and you have the quality of driving from this man. The smell of brakes and clutch did not help either, and the final death knoll was his pothole overtaking attempt on the wrong side of the road with a truck approaching. A lock up of the wheels later and the truck screeching to a halt, a) we were definitely not impressed and b) not too surprised that in the next town we stopped and then told we had to change vehicles. Now I was wary as I was told first and being careful wanted confirmation that everybody was getting out and we were not part of a scam. Thankfully we were not and we were even bundled into a very nice well kept “share taxi” (a car which they normally squeeze 8 people into). The rest of the trip was paid for by the Matatu driver, which I was very surprised about and our driver was very nice and careful indeed. Now being a businessman himself he opted to take us as he knew he could continue and take us to Lake Bunyoni. All in all we were thankful as the drive was far better.

After an eventful journey we were ready to get to our island. After a short boat trip, we arrived at our island and were given lovely furnished tents. The food for Ugandan standards was very good indeed and we relaxed and drank in a lovely setting.

As Bunyoni is a crater lake it is free from Bilharzia so we swam, dived off the pontoon and generally had a top time. This place is great for relaxing without any doubt.

After relaxing it was very sad we were only staying a single night, and therefore we were gutted to have to try and get a Matatu home again. After being lucky last time we called a Special driver who had found us a good Matatu last time, and we were very happy when he arrived in a Matatu himself in very good condition, announcing that if he could fill it he would himself take us some.

Unfortunately we were not as lucky as we had imagined as soon as we arrived in Kabale the main town near Bunyoni, the heavens opened and we knew our luck was out. After discussions with another Matatu we agreed to join a new vehicle, which proceeded to tout for business by driving around town looking for people sheltering but wanting to travel. Maybe an hour later we finally set off, and we were hoping with a better driver. This was the case until we realised that as the boot was partially open due to loads of mattresses being stuffed into the back, and being at the back we were going to become asphyxiated.

The drive until half way was uneventful, but afterwards insane, partly as we were high on fumes but also as most people left at the halfway point and the driver decided he had to race another Matatu to ensure he got business, therefore his driving became erratic too. This included overtaking at stupid places and driving into a petrol station at speed, and skidding to a halt 30cms from a pump!

Thankfully we arrived home in one piece, although Meg was sick all night from the fumes and Anna took three hours to sow some trousers she had ripped. I have vowed to try to avoid Matatus at all costs from now on!

NB: This was posted by Jason.