Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Trip to St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund and St. Nicholas Cathedral

Saturday the 25th of April. 

Peter picked us up at 10am and we headed to Namungoona territory where the offices of the St.Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund is located. Peter and Sharon Georges started this organization and live here 6 months out of the year. They are currently back in the states, so we were sad to miss them. But we got to meet Agnes and Frank who work for Peter and Sharon. They were so welcoming! They showed us the report cards that just came in and how they were sending them in the post to Peter in the states. We got to see Henry's report card. He is the boy we sponsor. He is doing very well and was listed as 14th in his class. His sister Sharon, who goes to the Orthodox boarding school is 8th in her class. Henry goes to the local school instead of boarding school because he wants to stay near his brother who has sickle cell anemia. James asked Agnes how far Henry is from his school. Agnes replied, “Oh, not far at all. It's about an hour, well, maybe 45 minute walk is all.”

That's all!

Agnes then took us on a tour of the area around the offices. They are just down the hill from St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral where Metropolitan Jonah presides. He has been quite ill though and hasn't been out and about since Holy Thursday.

First she showed us the primary school just a short walk from the office. The St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund has helped the school financially quite a bit. They are in the process of building a large building behind and there are several classrooms just like this one where they are already having class.

We then walked up the hill to the cathedral. 

Beautiful temple! 

The Church owns a lot of land all around and there is an Orthodox Secondary School and an Orthodox Primary school.

The schools and the hospital are on a this road, pictured left.  

Here is the gate to Holy Cross Orthodox Mission Hospital. 
 Agnes gave us a tour of the hospital. It is a decent hospital. We saw the maternity ward, momma's nursing babes and women about to give birth. It felt invasive being shown around. 
We met Papadiya (priests wife) who is a nurse in the hospital. We saw the children's ward, the men's ward, the women's ward and the x-ray department and also the laboratory.

Outside the hospital building was the canteen and kitchen. The UCI has a similar kitchen set up. They showed us they were cleaning greens to cook, matoke, egg plant and there was a rack of beef grilling.

While we were in the St. Nicholas Children's Fund offices they had 3 visitors. The first was a gentleman that lives nearby and he was asking for help, financial help. They talked for a bit and sent him on his way. Right after he was there a little girl, about 13, came in to ask for help. Her dilemma was that she needed to pay the rest of her tuition so she could get her report card. It was the end of 1st term and the children were getting out of school for 3-4 weeks until the next term. In order to get your report you had to pay your tuition fees. Agnes read a note the girl had that said she had paid 70,000 out of 100,000 shillings. She was asking for the 30,000 shillings. Her sweet little face stared at us. My heart broke for her. 30,000 shillings is $10! She needed just $10 to get her report card and move on.

I so bad wanted to just hand it to her but we knew we couldn't. After she left we asked Agnes about it. She said you have to be very careful because so many come in “deceiving”. If Peter was there he would inquire at the school to the validity of it and if he could he would help her. We should have left the $10 and told Agnes to look into it. I'm regretful. 

Agnes working with Daniel and Frank is scanning report cards for Peter.
The 3rd visitor was Daniel, a student of theirs coming in to communicate his report card to them. He was in Senior 5 (11th grade). He wants to be a doctor, if his grades allow. He is working very hard but struggling. He must have certain level of marks to be able to go to University. If he can't go to University he said he would pursue nursing or something like that. He talked to James for awhile about his work and med school in USA.

It was truly an amazing experience to see all this. Each day is eye-opening. My heart is full. 

We went home, had some snacky food and leftover "bunny chow" for dinner, stayed up late talking.  

A lovely Saturday in Uganda!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

another day at the UCI and some fun

On Friday (4/24/15) I spent a whole day at the UCI with James and it went really fast.
First, Isma didn't show up to take us to work and no one could reach him for hours. I was seriously concerned for his wellbeing. At any rate we didn't get to work until 10am and it all flew by quickly.
I stopped at the UCCF to give them a $50 donation that someone at church gave me. We collected arts and crafts but I also got cash. This cash will be used to buy a dozen new chairs for the children to use in playtime. Next Monday I will begin helping Becky at the UCI children's inpatient ward at playtime. She has written a whole “timetable” of events for the days. It involves reading, playing, movies and “shading” (coloring).
Back at the offices with James he spent a great deal of time problem-solving electrical issues in the new building. Not that he himself does electrical but rather communicating with those that do and trying to figure out why the -80 freezers keep surging.
At one point I was talking to Patrick before we had finally heard from Isma, we were all quite worried and Patrick said, “My day is not going in a straight line.” Ah ha! How true it is most of the time. But the description is so perfect! One of my favorite Ugandan phrases thus far!

I got to use the new facility restrooms today.  Wow!  What an amazing improvement!  Here is the comparison!
Maybe you can't really see the lack of cleanliness in the picture.  The debilitation.  But trust me when I say it's there.
It's just like at home!
I spent a little bit of time sketching a better picture of the repository, making the usable space to scale. I'll show a picture of my finished product when I am done.

We had a very late lunch at the Good Samaritan. I had G-nut sauce with chipati and some veggie samosas. James discovered this chili oil here at the Good Samaritan.  He loves it!

By the time we were done with lunch it was time to go home. We left early from work so we could stop at the Nakumatt for some groceries for our dinner party that evening. Rau planned a lovely Indian vegetarian meal (for us) and a curry chicken and lamb dish for the others in what he called "Bunny Chow" (but I have no idea how he would spell it!).  You take a 3rd or 1/4 of the loaf of unsliced bread.  You make a well in it and fill it with the Bunny Chow.   Delicious! We had one dinner guest, a friend of Sarah', although more were supposed to join us.  It was too late of notice.
And finally John finished the larger sofa on the veranda today.  Along with 2 stool cushions!  Lovely!
Here is the old sofa cushions.
Awesome job, John!

It was a lovely Friday in Uganda!  Tomorrow (which is today and over -I'll post about it tomorrow-I'm behind), we head to St. Nicholas Children's Fund offices!   

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Day at "Home"

After 3 days at the UCI with James and my back being totally tweaked yesterday (still mending) I decided to stay at the Project House today. Most of the time I follow James around like a lost puppy anyway and there is not much to do until the UCCF gets me helping there.

Being here though is pretty much the same thing. I feel lost because there is nothing to “do.” But the definition of “do” in this regard is just foreign to me and like I tell my children all the time, “boredom is only for boring people” (actually I overheard Fr. Barnabas Powell tell his daughter that a couple years ago and adopted it). So I endeavored not to have a boring day but rather relish in my freedom of having nothing at all to do in terms of responsibility. Marion won't even let you wash your own cup without a chastisement.

So I sat on the sofa and wrote or read while Marion washed dishes, did my laundry, made my bed (after changing the sheets), mopped the floors and oversaw the handy-man who came to fix our toilet and fix the cupboards in the kitchen (paint involved and he was wearing dress paints and a dress shirt). The gardener worked on sweeping and scrubbing the outside veranda and metal railing along the veranda, while I decided to explore the gardens (after James urged me to do so). Amazingly beautiful flowers I have never seen before in my life!  All the pictures are in my FB album but here are some favorites...

Sarah hired a gentleman to sew new upholstery covers for the outdoor furniture and he was busy working on that all day. He brought his own equipment and worked right here. All while I sat and uploaded my flower pictures and wrote about them. It was truly amazing watching him work. 

Old sofa to show the old fabric.  Chairs were worked on first.

The chairs are halfway done.
Here the main cushions of the chairs are done! In one day!
And this is how John worked all day!  An old school treadle machine!

I got some reading done, an awesome book called “Practicing Daily Prayer” by Theodora Dracopoulos Argue (whom I think I met once a very long time ago at Holy Apostles in Shoreline). 

Oh I also sketched out a full page sketch of the repository room for James to use later when planning his lab move.

Now I think I'll go sit in the sun for 30 minutes to get my daily dose of Vitamin D while I wait for James to get home (he should be on his way).

While I read outside in the sun, Sebo joined me. We walked around the veranda together. He plopped down in the shade, a much better place to be thought he. 

 It's been an all around good day!  

Wednesday at the UCI and UCCF

We arrived at work this morning and took our big suitcase full of supplies straight to the UCCF (Ugandan Child Cancer Foundation). We were greeted by Ben, Moses and Winnie (I don't know if I am spelling it right). They were so excited to get our supplies. Moses took pictures of us handing the supplies to Winnie. They do this so they can record all donations. They should send us pictures as well.
Before starting Ben explained that he is a christian and how involved in his church he is and how prayerful his wife is. Pretty impressive. He also went on to say they start everything with prayer. So he began our little meeting with an incredibly beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and petitions for all of us and our work. 
James went to work and we chatted and waited for the others to get there. Becky came and we were then given a tour of the new UCI building up on the hill. James and Patrick joined us for this tour as well.
This new building so far houses the pediatric in-patient cancer patients (2nd floor) and on the 4th floor, the “private” room adult in-patient cancer patient. “Private” rooms aren't what you'd expect. First they are only for those who can pay “some” for their care and secondly, they have 3 beds per “private” room. This is instead of the 6-8 beds per room in the general in-patient ward.
Much of the building is still very empty. In the basement/1st floor we saw where the mortuary is and is being used, but the radiology sits completely empty. Funding isn't in place yet.

The 2nd floor houses the ICU and the “theater” which is their term for operating rooms. I know the surgical unit is in used, a nurse met us and stopped us from going in but I'm not sure about the ICU, I didn't see anyone around. The 3rd floor is the pediatric ward. There are 6-8 beds per “room” (3 rooms) and they were all full. They had several private rooms on this floor as well but they were empty. They also have a big area for the “play room”. This is where Becky goes up and holds play times for the kids. I will be helping her with this on Monday and hopefully some other days next week.
The 4th floor is where the “Women's Ward” will eventually be but is currently empty. And the 5th floor is the “Men's Ward” for “private” care. Currently both men and women are there and private care really isn't the American standard of private care.

The facility is really quite amazing compared to the older facility we toured on Monday. Truly amazing. 

This picture is the view from the 3rd floor of the new UCI building.  All the closest buildings you see the roofs of are the older UCI campus buildings.

After our tour up the hill we went back to the UCCF briefly. I met some more new faces, another Winnie. Then Patrick and James gave the 2 Winnie's and Becky a tour of their new UCI facility.
Becky then told me about their incredibly busy week and that she probably won't be taking all the supplies up to the children until Monday. I never did meet with Ben for a “work plan” like I thought he said he'd do. I told Becky though that I would only be there another week and the look that came across her face was pretty much heartbreaking. As I suspected they didn't understand that my stay was very short. I will go in on Monday to hopefully keep busy helping Becky out. 
The rest of the day was spent with James and Patrick. We had lunch at the Good Samaritan again where they have the best G-nut Sauce which is such a perfect lenten (our Wednesday meal) dish. While there the marabou stork visited us.

James had to then go measure the new Repository space in the new building for all of his equipment. I did a rough sketch of the space and wrote down all the measurements while he and Patrick measure. 
Today I will draw up the space on a good sized sheet of paper so he can use that for planning.  

Today, Thursday, I opted to stay home. I will try my hand at relaxing, reading, writing and drawing up those plans for James. It really is somewhat of a foreign idea for me, especially since Marion is here to do just about everything including making my bed, washing dishes and doing the laundry. I can't even wash my own cup without being chastised.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I just thought I'd share some pictures of the changing weather skies we saw today.
This was taken just after lunch about 2:15pm.

Another view after lunch.

This is about one hour later, 3:15pm-ish.

And 30 minutes later.

Storm right over Kampala.  Half getting wet and the other half not.

This looks to me like the light at the end of the storm.
We never did get any rain where we were.  Although we left for home after this was taken but no rain drops for us as of yet.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


2nd day at the UCI: Tuesday

Soon after we arrived at the UCI today we stopped in at the UCCF, Uganda Childrens Cancer Foundation. This is where I was hoping to do some volunteer work and where we will bring the suitcase full of arts and craft supplies that St. Elizabeth Orthodox parish family filled up for us. I met Ben, I think he is the director, and Becky and several others. Becky is in charge of the children and I will work mostly with her. This foundation does a huge amount of work teaching families and their children about personal hygiene and it's importance. They travel to schools and meet with mothers to teach hygiene and show videos. I think I had a hard time understanding everything that he said. There were a few things talked about that were unclear and if I did in fact understand him it's pretty overwhelming. I think they might think I will be here much longer than I actually will because it seemed like he was thinking I'd be a whole lot more involved than I had thought to be. I'm only here a little over a week longer. Again, though, communication was a tad unclear. I will learn more tomorrow. Tomorrow we will bring the suitcase and they will inventory it all and we will set up what he called a “work plan” for me. 

We saw these cute little goats after lunch on the UCI campus. They are tethered up waiting for their owner to come back.

Tomorrow is now today and Isma will be here in 30 minutes or so to take us to work. I'll haul this VERY heavy suitcase to the UCCF and learn about my work plan!

Lord have mercy on me and may He help me be what I need to be to show His love to these beautiful little children.

The Lighter side of my first day.

1st Day at the UCI part 2: Monday 4/20/2015

For lunch on Monday we went to a nearby canteena called The Good Samaritan. We went with Patrick and the Lab Director, Michel (pronounced Michelle). This was my first encounter with a real Ugandan lunch. I had matoke which is steamed plantains that are mashed.
I found it quite good! I also had 2 small chunks of steamed sweet potato. This was not as good. I think the sweet potato is different from what we have at home. I typically love sweet potatoes. I had a chicken stewed in gravy sauce with a chapti (flatbread) and James ordered a g-nut sauce to dip the chipati in. G-nuts are like peanuts, taste just like peanuts, and it was made into a sauce. Patrick told me how to make my own with peanuts at home. This will be a very good addition to the lenten menu.

While we were there we ate out on the patio under a metal roof. When it began to rain it was so loud we couldn't even really talk to each other. 

Right next to the canteena a man climbed up a tree and cut down a jack fruit. This sounded like a 20-30# bowling ball being dropped from the top of the tree. It was a HUGE yellow looking thing. Marion was supposed to buy us some jack fruit because James wants me to try it. ( Marion did in fact buy me a jack fruit. It is the strangest fruit but was very delicious! )

Right before leaving the canteena we noticed a bunch of monkeys running around! In all James' time here he has only seen a monkey once and it was his first visit 8 years ago. I got some good pictures of the monkeys.

Introduction to the Uganda Cancer Institute

1st day at the UCI part 1(Monday the 20th)

Today was my first visit to the Uganda Cancer Institute to spend the day with James. I think all of James' visits to the Uganda and his pictures and descriptions over the last 10 visits he has made have really helped prepare me for this. Maybe. He keeps saying he can't believe how well I am handling everything but really I'm just not sure how I am feeling.

It was really fun to see Patrick and Rachel, two of James' co-workers that have been to the states and I have met. I met so many new people and everyone is incredibly welcoming. Everyone says “Welcome”. That is their greeting. Even the grocery store clerks, everyone you meet, “Welcome”.

First, we got a tour of the new facility. Wow!

This place is going to be so incredible! There are 3 stories plus a basement. The top floor is where all the laboratory research will take place, James' area.
And it looks and feels just like the buildings in the states. High tech everything. Clean and beautiful.

The 1st floor is where the clinics will be, where out-patient care is. The 2nd floor is where all the clinical trial patients will be seen.

There is a new in-patient hospital up the hill. Pediatrics is already there but I haven't been up there yet. (Maybe this is why I'm “handling things so well”, I haven't seen the pediatrics yet.)

After the new facility tour we got a tour of the current UCI facilities. This is where the differences really stand out. The differences between cancer care in the USA and cancer care in Uganda. Any medical care for that matter, I am sure. This is where your heart and soul just ache at the unfairness of life. Real unfairness. My kids think life is unfair because one sibling gets more than what they have or because their best friend got such and such a thing for Christmas, but REAL unfairness is very hard to take in and stomach. This sort of unfairness is what my children need to see to really appreciate their lives a little more. And I don't mean to pick on my own kids, I think pretty much every kid in America is just like my kids.

I love my babies and I thank God for all that we can give them, especially their home and their health care and the food on our table.

I did not take pictures of the cancer wards. It just felt wrong. Invasive. Insensitive. My descriptions will have to do. But first here are 2 pictures of some of the older, still in use, buildings.  The first is taken from the doorway of the current lab where Patrick and others work. This is taken on a clear day after the rain when patients are hanging their laundry out to dry. The building you see behind the clothes is the outpatient ward I will speak about below and to the left you can see a few people and that is where the line forms for xrays I talk about below. 
 This next picture is taken from the 3rd floor of the new building.  In the far distance is the city of Kampala.  The closer buildings are all part of the UCI campus.  Various departments. The 2 closest buildings on the left right behind the cars are the cooking facilities for the hospital. Yes, pretty much outdoor kitchens as there are no actual windows and it's wide open.

The first thing noticed is the long lines at every department. We had a view all day from our offices of the long lines for the x-ray department. People sitting outside just waiting. Around the other side of the building were people sitting and laying outside on the lawn waiting to be seen in the out-patient clinic. They had their mats and blankets, the loved ones caring for the sick. These are pretty much all adults as pediatrics has been moved to the new building on the hill. Although I learned later that some outpatient pediatric care is still done here. Today (tuesday) I saw a little girl about 2 or 3 years old waiting outside under the trees with her momma.  She had an IV site in place.  James said she was probably there for chemo, but that's just a guess.  She may be very sick and still needing diagnosis. 

We stepped inside the out-patient ward. The “rooms” had 4-6 beds in them all with patients being cared for mostly by their loved ones. In the 2nd room they had about 10 doctors and med students doing rounds. I think there were 3 rooms like that but then there were also at least 3 patients in the hall laying on beds or the floor. One with a screen blocking only ½ the bed and a loved one, not a nurse, cleaning up the patient. Something that should be done in complete privacy. We'd never, ever see anything like it in our hospitals back home.

Next we got to meet the one and only Dr. Jackson Orem! He was the first, and for a very long time, the only oncologist in all of Uganda. He is now the director of the UCI.

The next stop was the STC, solid tumor center. We walked into a very large room filled with activity. Six or more beds (in ONE large room) filled with patients, several large rooms off at each direction of the room. We only briefly walked in but didn't stay. It quickly felt just not right to be there, invading in such sensitive privacy. One patient immediately stood out. She had several doctors around her and her leg was exposed to all. It looked as if a very large area of skin around her foot and ankle had been cut away, probably a tumor removed. No privacy...the most difficult part of it all.

The most obvious and difficult things to see and take in; there is no privacy and there aren't enough places for people to be taken care of so they wait on the ground outside or lay on the floors in the hallways.

That is part of my first day here at the UCI. Just the beginnings.

In His Love,
Susan Sophia

Monday, April 20, 2015

First Impressions

I am in Uganda, Africa. 

The concept is actually quite surreal despite the fact that I am really here!  I suspect each day it will feel more and more real.

After 20 hours of actual flying time(3 separate flights) and layovers and drives, door to door was about 35 hours of travel. 
For the first 2 days we didn't venture out much except to go shopping.  We went to a mall that resembled that of one in America with lots of little shops and a big elevator.  A place for the wealthy to shop. 

The roads are bad.  Huge potholes everywhere.  The driving is crazy and that is putting it mildly.  I do not think I could ever drive here.  You must be aggressive.  No rules to go by at all.  You just drive. On the drive from the airport it was dark and Isma, the driver for the UCI, knew I was nervous.  He said, “You are in good hands, just relax.”  You get used to it quickly though.  I'm not so nervous any longer.  We've been out to eat a few times and each one a nice place for the wealthy “muzungu's” (muzungu is swahili for “one who wanders about aimlessly” and they use it today for us white folks). The 2nd dinner out I had a lamb dish and James had pork.  He had a beer and then with dinner we each had a glass of wine.  We paid 60,000 shillings which is about $20!

But you see, after these first couple of days it became very clear to me that one could really live here and have very little exposure to the real poverty that is so great.  One could really live in great wealth and as long as you kept to the malls and restaurants that are created for us wealthy muzungu's you'd see very little and the tug at your heart would be slight if at all. 

On Sunday, yesterday, we went to the Parish of St. George which is in the suburbs of Kampala, about a 25 minute drive.  Here was my first look at some of the slums.  We drove by many and the church is in a pretty rough area.  Fr. Stephen himself lives nearby.  He makes very little as a priest and therefore has a side job, he makes bricks. St. George is a tiny little parish.  There were 10 people in the congregation including the choir.  There were 3 altar servers.
What a lovely and beautiful service.  I loved the 3 young men who sang in the choir, what lovely voices.  It was really neat to hear Christ is Risen in Lugandan, recognizing the melody. 

As we drove to church we drove by these places.  In the little stream/river there were hundreds of these Marabou Storks. 
They were huge!!  From a distance they looked as if they were bigger than Joseph. I just looked, the wing span is 7.4-9.4 feet and they are about 4 feet tall.
You can see in the picture how some people live around here.

This is just the first impressions. I head to the Uganda Cancer Institute with James this morning.  This, I am sure, will be of an incredibly different experience than I have had so far or ever in my life.

Until then,
Susan Sophia

Monday, April 06, 2015

New Adventures

I haven't blogged in a very, very long time.  My life is far too boring and busy with mundane to think about sharing anything.  


It is about to get very exciting and I decided I needed to record the excitement!

In just 9 days I will be boarding my first ever international flight and tagging along with my husband on a business trip to Uganda.  

James works for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Global Oncology.  Here you can learn what his company is doing in Uganda.  

I will be doing some volunteering at the Uganda Child Cancer Foundation.

I will also get to meet our sponsored "son" Henry and his family and go see the workings of the organization, St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund, that does so much for Henry and hundreds of other children in Kampala. 

So, if you're interested and following along on one of the biggest adventures of my life, check back often starting April 15th.

In the meantime, may this Holy Week be productive and beautiful as we walk with Christ through His Passion and as He conquers death by death and as we see His Glorious Resurrection!

In His Love,
Susan Sophia