In With the New (babies, wild puppies, electricity)

It is clear that these six months are a lot different that the first. It’s less about novelty and more about convenience. I have a bike, a three bedroom house near the River Nile complete with solar lights, running water and soon, power. I even have an internet stick that allows me to connect from beneath my mosquito net in bed…is this real life?!

But I pinch myself daily. It still sometimes feels like a dream as I carry on with my day: living, working and breathing my life in Uganda. I have enjoyed being able to settle into it deeper.


First Birth at Clementina’s

Much can be achieved between 7 and 10 centimeters of dilation…

It may come to a surprise to some of you that even with Clementina (the midwife) being such an integral part of S.O.U.L., I didn’t witness my first birth until this time around. Brooke has delivered 12 babies. This is mind-blowing to me. It’s not that I wasn’t ready last time, I guess the opportunity didn’t present itself.

A few weeks ago, Clementina called and said, “There’s a women here. You come.” And that we did.

I felt butterflies in my stomach, not knowing what to expect, but I didn’t foresee it being such a hilarious experience.

When we arrived, it was easy to see that Clementina was busy. Her “waiting hut” was full of family and friends and there were four women in the maternity home: one preparing herself to return home, one had just given birth, and two waiting to deliver. The first up was about 4 centimeters dilated so we figured it wouldn’t be long until the rubber gloves were on and a new life entered the world.

Brooke and I waited outside and chatted about S.O.U.L., pondered future plans and joked about being forty and still living the same lifestyle. We checked on the woman sporadically and found out it was her first birth, generally a sign of a lengthier delivery.

Clementina has developed a keen sense of timing for these things and said she has some time still. None the less, contractions were well underway. At this time, Clementina brought us bananas (the cutest bananas I have ever seen), soon followed by grilled maize (corn) and hot g-nuts (ground nuts/peanuts).

Banana Twins
Banana Twins

Brooke & Clementina
Brooke & Clementina

We enjoyed several ears of corn while wails of pain echoed from the other room. We couldn’t help but laugh. It was absurd and yet so normal at the same time…TIA (this is Africa).

While we ate, Clementina did not stop moving once. She cleaned, washed and tended to all visitors. As always, we asked her to join us, but she refused, saying she was busy.

About an hour later, she checked again, the contractions getting closer together. Now she was at 7 centimeters and the wailing would come and go. Clementina didn’t seem too concerned. A woman had arrived selling dresses so she was quick to try them on, as if looking for the perfect party dressing. She tried on three different dresses which looked like brides made dresses from the 80’s. Blue and red taffeta layered her body. She wasn’t shy to stripe down and out of her gomesi in front of the waiting guests. She looked ravishing, but not one fit like a glove so she passed, lamenting on not having money to treat herself.

Dress #1
Dress #1
Dress #1
Dress #1
Dress #2
Dress #2
Dress #3
Dress #3

By now it had been a few hours and the birth was underway, or so we thought. Brooke, Clementina and I went into the birthing room. Brooke and Clementina suited up in fresh latex gloves. The contractions were only a few minutes apart but the head was not close enough for the delivery to happen.

I was witnessing a more difficult delivery. I have somewhat of a high pain tolerance but I have never seriously injured myself so what I was witnessing appeared to be unfathomable.  The worst part was I couldn’t do anything about it but watch.

Clementina left for some time, then returned with her latest tailoring project she had completed, with much assistance from the spectacles S.O.U.L. had gifted her. This was all happening while a lady was attempting to give birth just a few inches away. Clementina scurried off again as the woman wiggled, chanted and slapped the wall (a cultural practice and form of releasing pain).

Clementina was not unaware of this but rather provides the perfect balance of tough love. As she re-entered the contractions became more intense. She sat down strongly next the woman as she aggressively held onto her. She asked Clementina not to leave her side. Clementina just laughed and remained. Her calmness served as a physical and emotional rock to cling to amidst her pain.

Perfect balance: tough love
Perfect balance: tough love

The contractions had been going on for hours and at times I felt like I could feel her pain. If nothing else, I wished I could have taken some of it away from her. I reminded myself, that this is a natural process, one in which our bodies are miraculously made to survive. I felt equally bad for the woman waiting in the next room over, the next up to give birth. The only thing separating the two rooms was two inches of wall and a floral curtain.

Finally, Brooke said it was time and we got the first glimpses of a full head of hair. With one last push, the head was followed by a surprisingly white looking body. The pigmentation isn’t fully developed at birth, so Ugandans joke that all babies look Mzungu at first.

The baby girl was healthy and beautiful! After briefly being held by the mother, she was taken away to be weighed: 3.2 kilos. Brooke made the observation that women don’t generally want to see their newborn, perhaps for all the pain they endured to get them here. Besides drinking some chai (tea) beforehand (i.e. placebo), the births are completely natural. The only thing they are maybe given afterwards is a shot of Ergometrin to prevent post pardon hemorrhage.

Clementina's birth records...current and dating back to 1974
Clementina’s birth records…current and dating back to 1974

The new mother slowly and carefully made her way to a bed in another room, where she cared for her baby girl and began to breast feed for the first time.

Walking out of the maternity home, I quickly remembered that the world had been carrying on as usual for the last hour or so. During the delivery, I forgot about anything and everything else. All that mattered at the time was the healthy emergence of a new life.

Witnessing such a beautiful process is unlike anything else; it is emotional, painstaking at times and a natural high. Although I have shared part of this experience with you, no words can truly encapsulate the beauty of holding life so new and precious.


Sunday’s Finest Gift turned Social Experiment

On Sunday, June 30th, I enjoyed a morning of solitude in my home. I wrote in my journal, read and laid on my couch, not speaking a word and not disturbed by anything or anyone. Anyone who has spent time in Africa will understand how hard this is to come by.

At about 2:00 pm, I heard the roar of some village boys heading straight to my house. I could tell by the excitement and sound of familiar voices. I took a deep breath in preparation for a quick shift in environments.

I saw 8 or so village boys b lining it to my porch. I was happy to see some of my favorite faces, one of which being Shamushade, my Dad’s student.

I noticed Shamushade proudly held in his hand a small fur ball. He announced he had brought me “embwa” (dog). Since I had come back he had been telling me about a group of puppies that he had found in the bush aka deep in the thicket of trees and shrubbery. I kept telling him I wasn’t ready because I had not finished painting and decorating my house. I hadn’t totally thought through the puppy idea, but this whole plan was taken cared of by my dear friend Shamushade.

The pup was like a mixture of a hedgehog and a baby bear. Shamushade dropped him on the grass; the pup struggled to walk but made his way to my feet, plopped down and remained there for some time.

How could I say no?!

Without a second of conscious thought, I accepted the task. I wasn’t sure what to do with him but give him love and call a vet. A local vet came and gave him some vitamins and calcium and also bathed him with some anti-flea wash. It gave me some peace of mind but I knew a trip to a Jinja vet would be in order.


The first night was utter hell. I found a box and wrapped him in a towel for warmth. He slept most of the day, being so young and exhausted from the journey from his mother to his new mother. Come the middle of the night it was a different story. The reality of his new environment had set in and he was not fine with it at all. He cried the entire night from midnight on.

This was to be expected but trying to care for him that first night reconfirmed that I am not ready to bring a life of my own into this world…at least for now.

News that I had been given a dog spread through the village faster than a bush fire. Everyone and I mean everyone was asking me about my “baby.” This question was followed by incessant laughter and intrigue.

Buja with Lukia

Buja w/Barbra
Buja w/Barbra

As the week carried on, I realized I had walked into a fascinating social experiment. I was happy to see so many people laugh at the sight of me carrying around a pint size bush dog in a messenger bag, but I wondered if it would change any relationships. Owning dogs or pets is not common in Uganda and they tend to fear dogs a lot. Araphat, for example, is scared of only two things, Omlogo and dogs.

Had I unknowingly signed up to change the dog stigma in the village?

They fear dogs because they think they will bite them, but dogs only do this as self-defense since rocks are flung at them upon first sight. As a result, the dogs have learned to stay in the bush during the day and only come out late in the night to try to scrounge for food.


The implications of this adoption went further than this; I was testing the theory of nature vs nurture. Would a bush dog, whose heredity had been antagonized for who knows how long, still grow up to be loving (and rabies free)? I told myself I wasn’t meant to die from a puppy or rabies, despite having a minor fear after hearing a horror story or two.

Being from the bush and a local dog at heart, I decided to name him Buja, after Bujagali. I consequently was given a new name, Mama Buja.

After getting him vaccinated and de-wormed in Jinja, my worries were relieved and I assumed full-blown parental cuddle care. Overall, he is a pretty good pup. He never pees on me, but he does go everywhere else, thankfully my floor is cemented.

I have had him for a few weeks and he seems to know who I am and he comes some of the time on command. Maybe I’m getting lucky or maybe the hard part is yet to come. He is just over five weeks now, too young to have by most standards.

A major plus, the preprimary kids LOVE him and throw him around like a hacky sack, which Buja doesn’t seem to mind. The Mamas think it’s hysterical that I put him in my bike basket, in my handbag, feed him milk, bathe him and generally tend to him like a baby.

Even though he came out of the blue, I have loved having him so far. I have wanted a dog for some time but my lifestyle has made it an unrealistic option. I have already looked into taking him home and surprisingly the U.S. does not quarantine dogs unless they are entering Hawaii or have infectious disease.


Not knowing what life holds for me after these six months, I’m not trying to get ahead of myself. I’m enjoying each moment, without any expectations or even having an end goal. This has been good to do with all of life; it frees up a lot of energy that would have been consumed by worry, expectations and angst.


Sweet baby Buja
Sweet baby Buja

Life is full of surprises, but life is good.


Small yet Significant

I was asking the Group B Chicken group members to sign in for a meeting. The first woman in line looked at the paper and then looked at me. You could tell she was ashamed and nervous. It was clear that should couldn’t write her name.

I told her after the meeting, I would help her learn how to write her name. At first she was hesitant but with some encouragement from the rest of the group, she eventually agreed.

During the meeting, I wrote her name in big capital letters and then below it, made a connect the dots version. Seemed simple enough.

When I brought the paper to her with a pen, I realized it wasn’t that easy. She didn’t even know how to hold a pen. I had Olivia, a S.O.U.L. sponsored university student and current volunteer translate for me. She didn’t know where to start or which way to write.

I tried to imagine life not know how to write my name or perhaps not knowing what my name even looks like.

The whole process took about 15 minutes. I gave her a few colored pencils and pieces of paper and told her to practice.

I only hoped she left the S.O.U.L. Shack more empowered than she had entered.

.     .     .     .

I felt my first earthquake the other night. My bed started shaking, things started falling; it took me a second to process what was going on. I’ve been told they happen a few times a year. A somewhat common moan from Mother Earth but a first for me.


Power or Trees?

BEL (Bujagali Energy Limited) constructed a dam which has since promised to provide electricity to the country but consequently has silenced the raging rapids that once blessed Bujagali Falls. Some now call it Bujagali Lake.

BEL is funded by several multi-million dollar organizations such as Blackstone, World Bank, Bank of France and Aga Khan. They have help fund our two fish ponds in Namizi and Naminya.

As part of BEL’s social responsibility, they attempt to leave villages and affected areas better off than they found them. Bujagali has been an affected area and so BEL has decided to bring electricity to the village.

At first I was ecstatic about this. Not only would I have a shower but now I could have power. I could charge my computer from home and buy an electric stove top eliminating the need of using charcoal or paraffin.

Over the last couple of weeks, this view has shifted.

I have witnessed and had a few close calls with more falling trees than I can count. All along the village paths, old, sentimental, shade providing trees have been chopped down. Some off them even MANGO trees. Who in their right mind would chop down a mango tree…

This is all so they can put in power lines. I understand the need and desire to install power, but is it really necessary? I love the ambiance of eating by candlelight at Mama Ali’s and in some ways the restriction of only being able to use my computer for three hours a day.

cards by candlelight
cards by candlelight

I have heard that in the case of the third world, technology can sometimes skip a generation, meaning that it is easier for the village to access solar and do without power. But solar is still a big first investment and may not pay off until five years. For most, getting a solar panel isn’t an option right now.

The power lines are being installed on BEL, but getting electricity means monthly bills.  The bills are usually pretty cheap yet that’s not to say people will be able to pay them each month even being as low as $5.00.

my front yard
my front yard
my front yard
my front yard

My heart has been aching with each tree I see fall, but more than that I wonder if the village will lose some of its unique pureness. People come here and fall in love with it because of the people and the simplicity of it all. They get to experience life away from the burdens of the first world with all the small yet significant things like cooking outside over a wood fire and eating by candlelight in a mud hut.

What I love about my life here is that no one sits on their iPhone’s at dinner, we sit, we talk, we eat. There aren’t any distractions. I’m not harping on technology or social media, both of which I love, but there is a good balance here (almost everyone has a cell phone). This change isn’t going to happen over night, but with each falling tree, I saw Bujagali taking one step closer to the world I came here to avoid.

In the US, majority have it easy, but we make it complicated. In Uganda, they have it tough but keep it simple.

When the village gets power, will they not be one step closer to the over complicated world of monthly bills, being in debt to corporations and the overuse of electronics?

Perhaps I’m being a bit over dramatic, but with the introduction of power, a shift will certainly begin to ensue. Besides, the U.S. was once where Africa is today. I question why we can’t start with sustainability if the technology is available. Yes, it’s expensive, but I see what our world could be like if things were more sustainable and resources were shared. Power lines and uprooting trees is not in that dream. In a world where money and dominance didn’t matter, I believe this dream could be real. 

Electricity and similar types of development are bound to happen and I’m not totally against it, I guess I just want this little piece of heaven to remain the same. But nothing remains the same. It’s the law of impermanence. The only constant in life is change.

Alright lovelies…keep on being your beautiful selves…keep on changing and letting in the new.

It’s all good anyway .   .   .


7 thoughts on “In With the New (babies, wild puppies, electricity)

  1. Steph:

    Work with that puppy… He can be trained to be obedient and can be a way to demonstrate that animals/dogs do not have to be feared. When you have questions look up on google “The Dog Whisperer”…. Caesar Milan… Caesar has all the answers regarding dogs….Again a great message from Afica.. I really enjoy them … Darrell

    1. Thanks for the puppy advice Darrell, I will certainly be using it. Although, he has still been quite a good pup! He is still only about 6 weeks so he has much puppy time left in him…I’ll check out Milan when needed!

  2. Steph, it’s wonderful feeling like I’m right there with you experiencing what you are doing. Your writing is so expressive and conveys the emotions of the moments that I get engrossed in the narrative and want it to keep on going. Good luck with the dog thing! : )

  3. Wow…what a granddaughter.. you are emerging as a spokesperson for peace and quiet and that is wonderful…precious puppy to love on.!!!!! Grandma loves you

  4. Thanks for the kind words! It’s gratifying that people can connect with the writing…it’s nice to know I am able to share my experience with those I care about, even being so far away, across the ocean and in a different world. In some ways, It truly makes me feel less far away and closer to home!

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