In November, we had dental appointments with our longtime good friend and almost-twin-to-Travis, Dr. Shawn Edwards. He has an amazing office, staffed a with cheerful, kind-hearted team, who made us feel so welcomed, even though we had two impatient children and one crying baby with us. As I was getting my teeth cleaned (or my cavities filled...yikes!), the dental hygienist said, “I would love to see just one ‘day in the life of Amy Johnson’”. So, this is to you, the dental team in Easley, South Carolina, and anyone else that is curious about what a “typical” day in Bundibugyo is like, whatever typical may mean...
5am: Sleep through the call to prayer from the mosque as I have a pillow over my head as a result of trying to block out the dance party coming from the local bar last night. Noise ordinances are a outlandish concept. The common thought is “Wow! We now have electricity, so we should share our loud music with anyone fortunate enough to hear it.” The same thought is held by those that “sing” from the mosque in a language no one here understand five times a day.
7am-ish: Up to feed a barking dog, read from a daily devotional, retrieve a crying baby, get down a 4 year old from his very high bunk bed, make espresso (these days, coffee is for wimps), scramble some eggs (our main source of protein...we buy 2 trays of 30 each), heat some cinnamon rolls from yesterday on the propane stove, get the milk from the front porch (gratefully, milked by Belige, from cow DMC who is enjoying her new stall and the corn/maize that was recently purchased from Fort Portal as the one place that grinds it here was not grinding...), pasteurize the milk, froth the milk (the “aeorlatte” battery operated frother is the best gift I ever gave Travis!), enjoy the milk with the espresso, read daily devotional with kiddos
8am-ish: Greet Joyce (called Joycie as a cute little “i” is added to the name of a friend, such as grown men call Travis, “Travisi”) the tiny little woman (who seems to be 65 but has a teenage son) who washes twice a week for us; Clean up breakfast, get kids dressed, change a cloth diaper, try to pack up for a trip to Bundibugyo Town; Greet Kapu and Joas, two men who do work in and around the house and at RMS; Lock up things that must not “walk” away just in case; Grab petrol cans, kerosene cans, bags for produce. Head out. Once out of drive, turn around to get electricity card. Drive out, but once again, turn around for ATM card.
9am: Bump down the road that has not seen a grader but a few times in 2010, trying not to hit young unsupervised children, old women with heavy loads on their heads or “backs” (which is really a load that rests on their back, but is carried by a strap that goes across the woman’s forehead), men on bicycles, motorcycles that carry 3 people, or the wayward goat along the way. Marvel at the sheer magnificence of the mountains in front of us and remember that we live in a valley.
10am: Take electricity card to Electricity Office and wait in line for savy, sharply dressed woman to take my card and insert it into a machine which adds credit to it based upon the shillings that I hand her. Park at CalTex petrol station to fill up the two jerry cans of petrol for our house, two for RMS, and two of kerosene to light the refrigerator for the incoming short-term team. Run to the Post Office to retrieve mail and pay for packages for the team and an unknown CSB student whom I will somehow track down to give it to him. Give delighted children a letter and a package from friends in US. Buy 10 green apples (what luck today!) from my friend at the gas station who tells me that I was “lost.” Realize that “You were lost” means “Wow, I haven’t seen you in a while and I missed you!” and return the greeting that I also thought my gas station friend was “lost.” Am greeted by a cheerful young woman who calls me by name and asks all about me and the kids and teammates, but I cannot recall who she is until I remember that I met her in Kampala 10 months ago in the evening, through a tinted window. Wait with kids in the car while Travis gets money out of the one bank’s one ATM for ministry expenses for the next week. Breathe a sigh of relief when he is only 5th in line and the ATM has money (though it only could not give us all that we requested due to “insufficient funds”, theirs not ours).
11am: Try to find the MTN Mobile Money store that seems to periodically move storefronts where we can put money on a cell phone account to make safer transfers than handling money over longer distances. Park at dukas where flour, chalkboard paint, pipes, fabric, and envelopes can and are bought. Try to explain to sewing lady how to mend a mosquito net so that it is longer and without so many holes. Smile at the many curious shoppers who stop and stare at me and my three blonde children and my many baskets for produce shopping. Navigate the muddy piles of cast-away and rotting produce to find fresh tomatoes, carrots, onions, a few green peppers, gnuts, imported garlic (with chinese writing on them), and small pumpkins for our family and the incoming team. Hand the melting kids to Travis for a return to the car while I finish shopping. Try to count in Lebwisi and make change. Lug the really heavy baskets back to the car for a drive to locate someone with crates of soda.
12pm: Locate soda duka. Am asked by a man for 100 shillings. Feel both crummy and annoyed that I am continually asked for money by strangers, but try to make light of it by doing the African thing of making an analogy/story/joke that does not directly answer the question but gets the point across. Knowingly pay more than should for sodas (really not that much, but still more than usual) but do it because the shopkeeper would not budge and I am hungry and tired. Look out window at the clothes that are spread on roadside tarps to see if there is a striking skirt or funny tshirt. Head to Vanilla Inn, the usually secluded place to have a meal and a cold soda.
1pm: Lilli is bummed that they do not have gnut sauce, but excited that there is chicken sauce. Order that and a plate of beans, both over heaping plates of rice. Two plates for 5 people and we still cannot finish them. Always amazed by the mountain of rice (or another form of starch) that Ugandans can easily eat.
2pm: Drive around while wait for mosquito net to be finished. Are asked if we are “lost” but the meaning is literal as we explore side roads not accustomed to trucks or mzungu. Revisit the sewing lady who has sewn the extension fabric the wrong way so that it cannot be used and must be redone, for us to return to another day. Loud music store blast wakes up Aidan who is inconsolable the next 45 minutes. Decide that we are, indeed, done shopping for the day.
3pm: Bounce home, with near misses the whole way, the crates of soda clanging, Aidan screaming, Patton miraculously napping, to our home with a kitubi full of kids and two young men. Travis greets them, one a friend who was “lost” (the “miss you” sense of the word) and a young man who is in medical school on a scholarship given by donations to the Jonah Kule Memorial Fund. Encouraged by such stellar, civic minded young men after a drive in which I saw most young men doing not much more than hanging out. Unpack the car.
4pm: Bath for Aidan, who has an internal magnet for dust. A look in the fridge to retrieve assortment of left-overs and try to create something edible. Send kiddos out to the trampoline (the best Christmas gift ever from grandparents as it is wide enough for two small kids and only 2 feet off the ground) with snacks and directions to play together and outside...listen to them laugh and wrestle. Throw a football (soccer ball) to the neighbor kids and remind them it is better to ask than demand if they would like to borrow “the pump”. Share math flashcards with the remaining kids in the katubi.
5pm: Send Travis for a run with Bhootu as they both have too much energy. Bathe other kids, feed Aidan, finish dinner, check a quick email. Think through details of arriving team. Check on Travis as he has been waylayed by the CSB farm worker who says that the health center does not have medicine for his infection and another “lost” friend and another scholarship student have arrived. Give him the signal that katubi hours are closing soon.
6pm: Eat, put Aidan down, bribe kids to finish food with their remaining rice krispie snowman. Open Cmas presents from Garrett family in California, a truly perfect collection of thoughtful gifts for each of us. Feel loved across the miles, a gift in itself as I can feel quite lonely (ironic as it is hard to be alone here!).
7pm on: Brush teeth, give malarone, read, pray, tuck kids into mosquito netted bunks, wash dishes. Put remainder of things away. Write this. Call it a day.
So, there you have it, Dr Edward’s office, a day in the life. Thanks for asking! Good night...