Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Things Come Full Circle...Somehow

I find it interesting how so many things in my life here in America take me back to that time when I lived in Uganda.  It seems like I could relate almost anything to my Peace Corps service and yet life here is so incredibly different.

This time last year, I had just finished up my 30 Sites and 30 Nights Project and I was preparing to COS.  Now, a year later I have things that remind me all the time of what I was doing this time last year.

Today I was reading an article that was assigned for my Development Economics class and as I was reading some of the examples in this article, my mind was slowly taken back to a time where I was in the examples and things were much more real.  The article I was reading was about Conditional Cash Transfer, which is the idea of giving poor people in developing countries money on the condition that they will do something.  For example, poor families will be given a supplemental income if they send their children to school.

For some reason, while I was reading this article and taking in all the examples given, I was overwhelmingly reminded of a day I had a little over a year ago.  I had just started my 30 Sites and 30 Nights project and one of the first volunteers I stayed with, Chelsea, took me with her and her counterpart out to a remote village to do outreach at a local health center with pregnant women.  During this outreach, Chelsea's counterpart gave the women a health talk on prenatal care and then those women who were over seven months pregnant got ultrasounds.

One of the first things that I remember really striking me that day was when Chelsea asked her counterpart to ask the women in the local language if they would mind me taking pictures (or "snaps" as Ugandans called them).  I was simply just blown away when her counterpart said to us "They don't know what snaps are."  I did not work in a very remote part of Uganda, but I had also never encountered anyone who didn't know what it meant to have their picture taken.  At first I didn't really believe him.  I thought maybe he was saying it wrong or the women just weren't understanding, but as I took pictures I realized that they were totally unaware of what I was doing.

The other thing that intrigued me that day was the reactions (or lack there of) that some of the women had after receiving their ultrasounds.  One woman was told she was having twins and she showed no excitement, disappointment, or any reaction at all for that matter.  Another woman had been told by her mid-wife that her baby was dead, but the ultrasound that day proved that the baby had a heartbeat and was indeed alive.  She also showed no reaction to this news whatsoever.  And then the very last women who got an ultrasound that day simply astounded me.  Chelsea's counterpart noticed that her feet were swollen and he told her she probably had preeclampsia.  He told her she needed to go to a gynecologist in order to give birth, otherwise she would most likely die in child birth.  Considering how remote we were, I just knew that she wouldn't be able to do that.  So she basically got the news that she would most likely die in child birth.  She was two weeks from her due date.  Again, no reaction!

I know as I tell this story most people will read it and think they really understand.  That's how I felt reading many of the examples in that article I was reading this morning.  But it is because of first hand experiences like this that I know I don't understand.  I enjoy studying development, but I don't like hearing the stories from other people.  They become so much more a part of you when you are there.

In the end, I always think back on that day in Uganda as one of the most memorable experiences I had in my entire two years there and it obviously was not for happy reasons.  But it was at that moment that I felt like I started my long journey to understanding what it really means to be poor and living in such a remote place.

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