On Saturday, June 2…
I’ve been here two weeks to the day today and it’s been filled with getting acclimated to the rainy season (this is no joke…it usually rains at least twice a day), the bucket baths, the Ugandan diet, cultural mannerisms and walking everywhere (some of the hikes we do on outreach are the type of thing I would do for fun on the weekend). I now have two weeks of working at the clinic under my belt and have been able to learn their system and get to know the staff, allowing me to know how the clinic operates on the daily. Although things have been running relatively smoothly recently, there was definitely some adjustment over the first couple of days, with one instance in mind.
The clinic staff has teatime every day at 11am. When I learned of this I was excited that there was time set aside in the schedule for tea because I am a huge tea drinker. My first day at the clinic, I got to the room where the staff eats lunch and has teatime and none of the other volunteers were in there, so I prepared my tea and then stood by the wall eating my chapatti and trying to drink my piping hot tea. All the clinic staff chatted in Lughisu and occasionally broke out in fits of laughter. In thinking about it later, I am sure this is what their teatime looked like every day, and I have no expectation for them to change the way their well-deserved break looked because I was there, but I definitely felt like an outside observer looking in, and not like I was present at all. I typically feel very comfortable conversing with unfamiliar people and I pride myself on being able to quickly adjust in immersive situations or foreign cultures. I feel this way in part because my family moved so much growing up that embracing being the outsider became the only way to get acclimated and thrive in the places where we moved. I had just flown continents over and navigated five airports; I had never flown internationally by myself and that was by far the longest stretch of travel I had ever embarked on, and so that’s why my discomfort during something ‘silly’ like teatime surprised me.
Within the sphere of the clinic, I struggled with the fact that I wanted the staff to just know me and understand my intentions and I wanted to have a strong working relationship with all of them. I didn’t want the friction, uncertainty, and time that came along with developing this relationship. I came to embrace the challenge and the open-mindedness with which they approached me. In the following days, I ensured that I spent at least a day at each of the stations: vitals, consultation with the clinicians, lab, treatment, and pharmacy, and maternal child health, to work alongside and learn more about all of the staff. The people that I was working with that day (and had worked with during previous days) began to chat with me during teatime, and this sometimes sparked the rest of them to ask me questions. When there was space, I’d squeeze myself onto the bench right alongside the rest of them. They still would speak in Lughisu (I did not anticipate nor want this to change) but I felt less and less like a ‘foreign’ fly on the wall. My first week was sort of an acclimation period and I initially felt a little bit like eight weeks would be a long time. This past week has flown by, though, in part because the clinic staff now know me and greet me as “Caro” every morning with smiles and ask if I am going to work at their station with them that day. I am happy I am not here for two weeks or a month like most of the other volunteers, because I would have felt like I only got a cursory sense of the place. I strive to take advantage of this opportunity and be both adequately present and introspective in order to make the most of my remaining six weeks here.