Saturday, 24 April 2010

Fantastic Pharmacy Students!

One of the Second Year Pharmacy students came to see me this week, to tell me that the students were arranging a farewell tea party for Jason and I - I have to say I was very touched. Sometimes it's easy to think you haven't achieved much in your time as a volunteer, but when the students show they appreciate what you've done, it makes it all worthwhile.

It's never an easy decision to move to a completely different country and work there, especially when the information you've had about the job is quite vague, and you don't really know what to expect. You arrive at your new place of work and are shown your office in the department, your colleagues are lovely but aren't always around, as they have to supplement their incomes with other jobs - at first I found it quite lonely, as I was used to being really busy all the time as a pharmacist in Liverpool and interacting with customers and other staff members.

When I began to teach, I realised that the students here are absolutely FANTASTIC - they have made these past 15 months so memorable for me. I was assigned the task of teaching Pharmaceutical Technology to the students (i.e. how tablets etc are made) - and I was terrified, as I hadn't looked at any of that stuff since I was at university myself (where, if I'm being totally honest, I didn't particularly enjoy the subject anyway). However, I understood how important it was to teach the students to the best of my ability - I have spent so many hours making notes from textbooks, finding things out on the internet, and preparing lecture notes. Practical sessions have been more or less impossible, as we have neither the laboratory facilities nor the equipment to conduct pharm tech practicals. I have felt sorry for the students at times, as it is quite a dry and boring subject, and I have enormous respect for the ability they have to learn and understand theory without seeing any of it in action. They are all super-intelligent students, who will make brilliant pharmacists, and I am proud of all of them.

At the start of the tea party, some of the students did speeches to thank Jason and I for our efforts in the pharmacy department. Although Jason is in the Institute of Computer Science, he has helped my department by facilitating a presentation skills workshop, rolling out the Learning Management System for pharmacy students, and many other things.  The speeches were moving, and often humorous - one student recounted the day he got thrown out of a lecture by me for being 25 minutes late (fair enough, if you ask me!).  I had a tear in my eye during most of the speeches, as it suddenly dawned on me that we're going home in 6 weeks, and I will really miss Uganda, especially the pharmacy students at MUST.

We got presented with certificates from the Pharmacy Students Association and the Medical Students Association, to recognise our efforts - they'd even been signed by the Dean of Medicine. Then the students presented me with a plaque to display on my wall - you can see it in the picture below:

The wall-plaque the students presented to me

After the 'official' bit of the party (you have to remember that most Ugandan functions are extremely formal), it was time for tea, chapattis, and bananas, followed by group photos:

All the Fantastic Pharmacy Students

The Third Year BPharm Group

My Tutor Group - Second Year BPharm

The Second Year Girls

The Second Year Boys

A few of the Fourth Year BPharm Students

I still can't believe how much effort these students went to to organise a party for us; we really enjoyed it and I will miss them all.

Friday, 23 April 2010

How to NOT chop down trees...

Many people believe that our lives in Mbarara are simple and uneventful. Thankfully we have a number of people in the locality who sympathise and strive to provide us with entertainment.

Today it was the turn of our friendly lumberjacks, who decided to chop down all of the big trees in the compound. Indeed this is a complex task, there are a lot of houses, telephone lines and power cables.

This of course did not worry our intrepid lumberjacks who thought that ransacking the compound was a great days work. Other people in the compound found the events so interesting they neglected work, made a cuppa and proceeded to watch the man with his chainsaw and rope, climb trees, hack at them from above and saw them until collapse in a "controlled" manner. This meant that the power lines at one end of the compound were felled, plus the phone lines and finally one tree fell on top of the security guards hut. Thankfully the hut (with Ascari inside), survived the impact...

Arriving home at lunch time, I had to climb over the newly created assault course (even though maybe the place should have been cordoned). Following lunch I took up my grandstand seat in my office as I knew it was soon time for the big trees near the guest houses.

As can be seen from the picture below, we had an electricity pole outside our flat, which passes by the guest houses:

Now felling trees in close proximity to power cables in dangerous, and most of the time you would expect whoever is felling them to maybe take the cables down. Indeed this did happen and fast as two trees took out three electricity poles and also nearly smashed the guest houses into tiny pieces too.

Tree and cables after the felling

Our electricity pole

The event was very entertaining to watch, although I did stop laughing when I realised we could be without power for days on end!!! I was also concerned for Anna's safety as she was at home and they were felling trees near the flats. Thankfully they missed but from the photo below you can see why we were a little worried...

Thankfully we only suffered two days power loss but and we were entertained for a few hours by these calamities....

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Easter Weekend in Rwanda

We'd been wondering what to do over the long Easter weekend, as there is never much happening in Mbarara, and we eventually decided to make the trip to Kigali in Rwanda.

It turned out to be a much more pleasant journey than the one to Kampala; The bus, which was air-conditioned and had comfy seats, picked us up outside our house and we travelled in relative luxury for 4 hours to Kigali (the trip to Kampala takes about 5 hours, and is always a bit traumatic!). The owner of the hotel we'd arranged to stay at picked us up at the bus park, and drove us to 'Hills View Guesthouse'.
Some of the things that amazed me at first in Kigali were:

  1. Nearly all the roads were tarmacked

  2. There were proper pavements (i.e. not just mud at the side of the road)

  3. There were traffic lights (which people obeyed)

  4. There seemed to be a sense of order about the place (which I am no longer used to after the chaos of Uganda!)
The guesthouse was on the outskirts of the city, on the top of a hill. It was pretty near the airport, but we didn't get disturbed by the noise of planes. There were lovely views of the surrounding area.

View from our Hotel

We relaxed for a few hours, then set off to explore Kigali. It's a pretty small city really, and it was raining, so we sought refuge in a lovely coffee shop. It was so nice to have some decent coffee!!! We've never really understood the reason why, even though Uganda produces amazing coffee, there are no decent coffee shops in Mbarara (the best you get is instant Nescafe). 

Kigali is a lovely city, very clean and well-organised. Our taxi driver, Joseph, told us that the government brought in a law where one member of each household has to go out and clean their local area one Sunday every month. Apparently there are big fines if people don't turn up (and laws are actually enforced in Rwanda). Seems like a really good idea to me, maybe I should mention it to the powers-that-be in Uganda...

Kigali seems a lot more well-kept than Mbarara!

We didn't do much on Friday, as it rained and rained all day. We walked down to the local shops from the guesthouse, and got caught in a huge downpour. We were forced to shelter under a tree with some local women and a goat-herder who couldn't have been more than nine years old.

Saturday's weather was a bit more promising, so we headed into town on a Moto (Rwandan boda-boda), which was a nice experience - they actually provide you with a helmet! We decided to visit the Genocide Memorial Centre, which was a moving experience. Walking around Kigali it's hard to imagine that, only 16 years ago, more than a million people were killed in 100 days. By the end of the genocide, 85% of the Tutsi population were dead. To quote from the website

In 100 days, more than 1,000,000 people were murdered.
But the genocidaires did not kill a million people.
They killed one, then another, then another......
Day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute.
Every minute of the day, someone, somewhere was being murdered,
Screaming for mercy.
And receving none.

View of the City from the Genocide Memorial Centre

The centre contains three exhibitions: the genocide in 1994, a children's memorial, and the history of genocidal violence around the world. It was very interesting, but harrowing at the same time. I still wonder how a country can ever recover from something like that; nearly everyone we met in Rwanda had been affected by the events of 1994. The centre also has memorial gardens, containing the mass graves of over 250,000 victims of the genocide. When we visited, Rwanda was about to start its period of national mourning for the genocide, so there were many Rwandans visiting the gardens to pay their respects. We didn't want them to feel that we were intruding on their grief, so we didn't stay for very long. Something that will haunt me for a very long time is the sound of a Rwandan woman in the memorial gardens screaming and wailing uncontrollably.

On Easter Sunday, we decided to visit a town called Gisenyi on the shores of Lake Kivu. We took an express bus, which was very comfortable, and were there in about 3 hours. Gisenyi is walking distance from Goma, in Democratic Republice of Congo, and we considered going there just to get stamps in our passports but didn't think it was worth paying the price of a visa.  Gisenyi is a beautiful town, and seemed a world away from the rest of Africa - it actually reminded us of being at Lake Como in Italy.

Lake Kivu

 Fancy a Swim?!

Is this really Africa?!

It soon became very clear to us that there is a lot of money in this part of Rwanda - some of the villas by the lake were truly spectacular.

Amazing Lakeside Villa

After a nice lunch and a walk alongside the lake it was time to get the bus back to Kigali. We weren't so lucky this time as there was a toddler sitting near us on the bus who was vomiting for more or less the whole journey...

We were really glad that we made the trip to Rwanda - who knows when we'll get the chance again. We would definitely love to go back some time in the future, maybe to see the gorillas in the Virunga Mountains -the journey would definitely be smoother than going to Bwindi in Uganda!

Mbarara Rally 2010 - Boma Grounds

Uganda has its own Rally series and local drivers (who typically fund themselves) take part in a number of rounds around the country.

Each year Mbarara stages a rally, usually however the cars go to outlying villages and pit themselves against each other there. This year was no different and they even added a night stage. Without transport we couldnt get to see these stages but thankfully for the first time ever they did a stage around the Boma Show Grounds which make up the golf course and its local area.

The turnout was immense and the driving very good indeed. It was suprising to see some very new cars too including that latest Imprezas and Evo's.

Everybody was in their element and although the local hero (a mechanic) broke down all of the drivers got loads of cheers and it was as well organised as any motor racing I have seen in blighty.

Unfortunately there were no spectacular crashes but as there were a lot of spectors to be fair it was probably for the best. As usual things were running very late and the special stage began at 4pm when it was supposed to begin at 1pm. We of course had tried to get in at 1 but as there were no cars we went for lunch and luckily bumped into a Boda driver who knows more about what is going on in the town than anybody else important. So he thankfully advised us to go at four and hey presto it started on time.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Graduation 2010 & ICS and Pharmacy Dinners

Graduation 2010

Although it has been a very long time since we posted on the Blog, it is not because we have actually been slacking! It is because we have been enjoying ourselves and also getting ourselves too sun burnt to actually appear in pictures!

A very long time ago, back in January we had the privilege to attend the 2010 MUST Graduation. Having a big mouth I volunteered to help with taking pictures and videos of the event.

The Graduation Grounds - Before people started to arrive en-mass

It was a gloriously hot day and Mbarara was awash with Graduands. The event began with the Academic procession, which I thankfully avoided being official "press" and Anna had to suffer a 20 minute delay in the searing heat!

Anna waiting for the procession to start

The Chancellor & Vice Chancellor

Following the procession, the Vice Chancellor welcomed all of the guests and gave an outstanding speech which although long was actually not bad at all. Other speeches followed and the Graduation began.

The Vice Chancellor giving his speech

Unlike in the UK, the students names are read out as a class and they graduate together in one go with the blessing from the VC.

Pharmacy students Graduating

The event was of course quite long and me being stupid I did not put sun tan lotion on! This therefore meant that for the next week I was the colour of beetroot and was peeling all over the place... whoops.

More pics of the graduation can be found here:

The Pharmacy Dinner

Anna and I had argued before the event whether the Pharmacy dinner would be more boring than the ICS dinner. Lets be fair we should have chosen careers in subjects much more interesting shouldnt we?

As usual it was a black tie event at Lake View hotel. The problem was my suit is no longer well a suit as the trousers went awol (for example in the pictures of us at the film premier people with a keen eye will see the disparity in the colours of the jacket and trousers). Anna definately didnt have a posh frock, so we decided to get stuff made.

I had bespoke suit created and Anna a dress and top. Now for 150,000 Uganda Shillings (£50) I suppose you can expect much can you? Well yes you can, top quality material, fully fitted, a cool lining and the only problem being that the tailors could not understand that I wanted trousers that didnt go up to my armpits!

On trying on the suit, I did look like I was attempting to be an R&B star with the trouser crotch nearly dragging on the floor... The tailor pulled up the trousers to where he believed my waist is and hey presto super comfy grandad trousers!! They look fine with the jacket but you cant remove it!!!! I am returning to get a pair of trousers in the style I desire and just so that they dont get confused shall be taking a pair of my own trousers they can model the new ones from!

Annas new outfit was modelled loosely on her bridesmaid dresses (well the colour was the same), and managed to get it made in record timing! Although my suit is a little large it is definately value for money and the best suit I have ever purchased!

Anyway, the Dinner...

It was a very enjoyable occasion with speeches an auction and weirdly poetry.

Students at their tables

Two events during the dinner stood out, the first being a poetry rendition from one of the students. The content was of course Pharmacy which yes is a very dry subject but thankfully the student entertained by pretending he was auditioning for one of those horrendous stage schools in England.

This of course meant he proceeded to do exagerated actions, crawl around on the floor and generally do insane things. We were not sure whether the students thought it was a funny as myself and Anna.

Anna enjoying her chicken wing

The other event which was interesting / confusing was the auction. As we have mentioned previously there seems to be a habit of not choosing the highest bidder. Instead it seems as if you big an ammout and even pay it, the next person must outbid you, but somehow there is a remainder and another person must bid to knock out the remainder and so on. In the end somehow it then changes to a bid between two people and others add money on their behalf. Suffice to say I am still confused but somehow myself and Anna won some bed sheets... Of course we donated them the next day to one of the students and still dont even understand how we won.

The cutting of the cake, a tradition during formal dinners

All in all we had a good time and indeed Pharmacy students can be a little be geeky but I think they did a very good job.

The ICS Dinner

Now ICS is much bigger than Pharmacy so instead of having the dinner is a conference room, the organisers decided to have it pool side. I think they did a great job as it was very nice indeed. Of course in the UK this would not have been allowed as Health and Safety would have stopped the pool side fun!

Pre-dinner drinks

Now there is of course a reputation for things starting late here so we did the usual trick of looking at what time the students were supposed to arrive and adding an hour on for ourselves. Unfortunately I think most of the students added at least an extra two hours on for themselves so we had ample time to have drinks before people started to arrive. Therefore instead of starting at the alloted time of 7.30 we began around 9.30.

Our table poolside

The pool side even with float tea lights

By starting so late, we had taken a few more beers than expected and then sitting down to dinner, there being no alchohol we proceeded to doze a little. Lasto my colleague actually slept through the speeches which eventually began after dinner at 11.30pm.

All went well however, we had another mad auction and thankfully we didnt win this time although the item was mobile phone from Orange so much better than bed sheets!

The guest speaker from Orange was also very good indeed although his speech was wasted on many people as they we fast asleep due to the time. Unfortunately he was the last person to speak and the gentleman before him, supposedly an events co-ordinator and prospective politician had a great ability to lull people to sleep.

A very good evening, if a little late running, so sadly we decided to go home instead of staying for the after party.