Mzungus Make Masks

During our last week at Bwindi Community Hospital Paul continued with the equipment inventory and teaching neonatal resuscitation and was a second anesthetist for several surgeries. One anesthetic monitor would repeatedly fade to white; the only thing that seemed to fix it would be to unscrew it, unplug then replug all the cables inside and then close it up again. Until the next fade out. On the weekend BCH had had a return visit by an English engineer who regularly returns to check on the small hydroelectric generator the community has but also to tinker with various parts of the hospital.  Even he was unable to repair the operating room tables, the main reason being that the hydraulic fluid had all leaked out in one and the electrical relays were fried in the other. In the process of pulling them apart and putting them back together we discovered the reason for a lot of the malfunctions. After each operation the rooms are cleaned by sloshing copious amounts of water on the floor (something that would never be contemplated in Zimbabwe, especially after 4 pm) and directing it out a drain in the wall to goodness knows where. The rust evident in the innards of the operating room tables was representative of the damage being caused to all the equipment. We had noted previously that everything at Bwindi seemed permanently “damp”, even the paper. So no small wonder the electrical equipment suffered.


I feel like I redeemed myself marginally during my last lecture on anti-fungals for the nursing school. 
On Tuesday Rachelle and I went for a crash course in carving gorilla masks (Christmas present spoiler). This was a challenge for a craft-impaired individual whose preferred artistic medium is cake batter and icing. What could go wrong with a large machete and a chunk of soft wood? Our instructor Gordon was very patient. He would demonstrate, we would attempt it on our own masks, and then he (or another bystander) would repair our attempts. At one point the entire nose on my mask got redone because it was not symmetrical. I definitely felt more comfortable when we exchanged the machete for the chisel and mallet. Even better was the tool for doing the fine lines of fur. By the end we were providing quite the entertainment for the crowd that had gathered to watch. 

Tuesday was the culmination of the Giving Tuesday campaign for Redemption Song Foundation that we were helping with. Thank you to all friends who contributed! We really enjoyed getting to know the children who attend the soup kitchen and being involved in the fundraising over social media was a learning experience for us. Hopefully the target can be reached and a water tap installed.

 One evening we got to sample jackfruit. Paul and I decided it has a texture similar to a lychee and although it smells a bit like old socks it tastes a bit like banana and a bit like vanilla custard. We would definitely choose to eat it again, although apparently it is difficult to serve without getting very sticky.

On Saturday Rachelle, Thea, and I had a basket-weaving lesson. Actually because our time was limited, Christine our teacher thought we should temper our expectations and just tackle making a coaster (Christmas present spoiler). I have so much appreciation now for the work that goes into making a basket. imgp5370That same Saturday ended up being in the OR the most he had the whole month. The scheduling of operations is somewhat open-ended and fluid so it was never always clear when the list  was going to start (but usually after “tea”), what operations were proposed and how many were planned. He mostly seemed to have to wait around and see what patient turned up and when.

I think the place we looked most white was at the church services. I could never get the clapping rhythm right in Uganda. Paul and I found Shona a bit easier to read than Rukiga. We were so happy when they sang Joy to the World at Bwindi. We were graciously said goodbye to multiple times. We felt somewhat chagrined each time as we felt really didn’t contribute a huge amount at Bwindi and there were others staying on much longer than us to actually do the work. This is a positive reflection on the strong organizational foundation built at the hospital in its short history and  the hard work of the full time local (and volunteer) staff. Thus we felt supernumerary at times and certainly not all that deserving of the effusive thanks.

On the last Saturday morning Paul went for a bike ride around some of the “back”roads around Bwindi with the guest house manager, Daniel. Not that the back roads were always much different from the “main” roads. It did feel awkward at times riding recreationally, sometimes through what appeared to be people’s front “yards” (for desperate want of a better word), while they were going about subsisting and surviving. However it was revealing to see a bit more of the region outside of the narrow strip that we traversed in our daily walk down from Nkwenda to Buhoma then back up again at the end of the day.


We had  quite the show for our last night of running the boda-boda gauntlet as we made our way back up to Nkwenda on Sunday evening. We had people, cows, goats, cars, trucks,  bicycles, vans, motorbikes all vying for the narrow strip of road, passing and overtaking each other with sometimes reckless abandon. Fortunately we competed our final “commute” without being knocked down or anything broken.


So a month after our arrival in Bwindi we made the return trip by road to Kihihi. The villages we drove through no longer seemed strange to us and the drive out to the bush air strip was surprisingly short. For some reason the trip from there to the hospital when we first arrived seemed significantly longer. Presumably it was the “launching off into the unknown” when we first arrived. Our flight path out took us up Lake Edward to Kasese at the foot of Mt Stanley on our way back to Entebbe. Just the weekend before there were clashes that resulted in the death of 14 police and 41 tribal militia . Fortunately the unrest had settled. So, while beautiful to see, it was nevertheless anxiety inducing.

We have guiltily immersed ourselves back into the luxuries of western culture all too quickly here in Entebbe: a swim at a nearby hotel pool and pizza and beer on the shores of Lake Victoria. We even took in a movie. That experience also highlighted the large gaps that still exist in Uganda. We were virtually alone in the theatre and were outnumbered by the staff. 

Yesterday we did a bike tour of Entebbe. On our bikes we again ran the gauntlet of the local traffic with the added challenge of negotiating our way through the open market. Our guide assured that the wall-to-wall-to-ground conglomerate of people, bikes, motorbikes and goods was actually still “quiet” and it didn’t get “busy” until later in the day! Our tour guide loves his city and showed us the party street; the highest point in the city; the beloved, but ragged, soccer pitch;the president’s residence; the golf course (oldest in East Africa) and the Lake Victoria Hotel. We learned that the hotel used to be named the Libya Hotel, because Gaddafi always stayed there when visiting the presidential residence across the road. (Have not been able to find a reference to confirm this:)

We ended at the botanical gardens – designed in the late 1800s as a research centre for tropical trees from around the world. The many trees are impressive as are the termite mounds. There are also vervet, colobus, and ring-tailed monkeys. Some scenes for the original Tarzan movie were filmed there and it still feels like a film set to someone from Southern Alberta unused to dense rain forest vegetation. The gardens were a peaceful respite from the din and noise, until  Paul was on the receiving end of a deposit from a Marabou Stork. Apparently it’s good luck if a bird shits on you in Uganda. Good luck for the bird maybe.

Today we visited the Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre which ended up being a unexpected wonder. It’s not every day you get up close and very personal with a rhino. Our very knowledgeable guide demonstrated that they very much like being scratched inside their back leg!

We do plan to do a bit more of a “reflection” with a subsequent blog post which we plan to pen as we pass through Europe on the way “home”. For now we will leave you with some photos of Bwindi, accompanied by some of the singing at BCH morning devotions.

2 thoughts on “Mzungus Make Masks

  1. Mary Ellen

    Thank you for your postings.
    FYI, this morning in High River AB it’s-27 with a wind chill to -37.
    Maybe you want to stay back a while??!!
    Admire your work and the people you are helping.

    1. Thanks MEM. Not sure we helped that much. We plan to reflect on that a little more in the next post. Yes we have seen the forecasts. Thus trying not to complain too much about drowning in our own sweat.

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