Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Malaria prep

I'm very confused about malaria medication. Some medical websites say "Don't bother taking it, the side effects aren't worth it and no malaria tablet can 100% prevent malaria. You're better off using bug spray". Others say "Are you mad? Don't leave home without it!".

So I have been reading through the list of possible side effects of the type I have been prescribed (Lariam) and I am still yet to pop the first pill. The most interesting points to note - and lead me to ask why on earth did my doctor prescribe me these?? - are:-

- Can cause irregular heartbeat (palpitations), racing of the heart, chest pain, fainting: I have an irregular heartbeat already and have been to the doctor about it. Serious heart problems run in our family, doc!

- Can cause changes in mood or behaviour, including crying for no reason, feelings of anger, forgetfulness, agitation, confusion, panic attacks, seeing or hearing things that aren't there, feelings that you want to kill yourself: What the???

- Strange (i.e. messed up!) dreams: I have been told by my friend C that this was the main reason she stopped taking Lariam.

- Ringing in the ears, shaking of hands and feet: I'm going to look like a nutter!

All in all, I'm not sure this is the best medication for me. I haven't had that much of a smooth ride in life when it comes to my "moods" and I have been prescribed 'happy pills' previously so surely my doctor should have seen from my notes that prescribing me something which may or may not make me want to kill myself (nice!) was possibly not the way to go.

Luckily, I have to go a specialist Travel Clinic this morning for my Yellow Fever injection so I will take my Lariam tablets to them and discuss it in full. Seems to me from internet research that all malaria tablets have somewhat similar and disturbing side effects, but it's the "depressive" aspect I want to most avoid. And also the heart palpitations obviously. Really don't want to be stuck out in a village in Uganda with chest pains, hallucinating, and shaking from head to toe!

Sunday, 27 September 2009


I have refrained from looking up "jiggers" on the internet as from what I've learned so far, a jigger is a flea-like bug which lives in the dirt in Africa, burrows up underneath your toenail and then proceeds to rot your foot. That's kind of all I needed to know really *gulp* and is also the reason why I have been asking you to donate your children's unwanted shoes so that I can take them over with me for the kids.

But last night, my ever inquisitive son reasoned that it is far better to be fully informed about these things and researched "jiggers" on Google Images. Suffice to say, he has now convinced me to sleep with my feet in a bucket of diluted Dettol and never ever walk bare foot during my trip to Uganda.

If you would like to see the real effect of a jigger once it has claimed your foot as its own, follow this link: http://www.feedthechildren.co.uk/pages/images/Jiggerseatingtheflesh_001.jpg

And please, keep sending me those shoes for the children!!

Friday, 25 September 2009


Just returned from a fabulous week in the South of France visiting my dear friend C and her gorgeous family. Feeling totally refreshed and ready for the next part of my adventure. Or so I thought!

Whilst I was away, I received a somewhat disturbing email from the website (www.ecoteer.com) through which I found the project in Uganda at Good Shepherd (GSCC). Basically it said that there were allegations of fraud at the GSCC project and they advised me - strongly - not to volunteer there. Whaaaaa?!

When I got back to the UK, I telephoned the lady who had emailed me and we had a long conversation about all of the complaints that Ecoteer had received from past and present volunteers. Complaints along the lines of:

- Money donated not going to the children;
- Volunteers being made to feel guilty that they had not brought money with them for the school;
- Pressure on volunteers on arrival to get money sent over from friends/family etc.

Apparently one young girl is out there at the moment (from America) and was meant to be at GSCC for six months but after three weeks is desperate to get out of there. Poor thing. A second volunteer left quickly and has now moved to a different project further east. What is going on there??

As you all know, money/fundraising was not the intention of my trip. Some friends have donated money in amounts of £5-£10 and I have said "all donations welcome" but I have not asked anyone outright for money and am not planning to do so. I could easily send the school money right here from the comfort of my living room. The reason I am going is to get stuck in with my bare hands and learn about what is needed and take that knowledge and experience back to the developed western world and go from there. If I wanted to make a difference using cold hard cash, I would simply sponsor one of the children on their website. But no, I want to go and assist the teachers, help to plant crops, paint the school huts, build cabinets, sew uniforms, dig new pit latrines etc. I must stress, the children at GSCC are not being mistreated in any way. Although there are accusations of donations not being put into the school in the way they are intended, the children are fine. Past volunteers have confirmed that at least. But still, it does not sound like the kind of volunteer experience I would be happy with.

Following my telephone call with the lady at Ecoteer, she put in touch with a lovely woman called Ann who originally went to Uganda years ago to volunteer and had a similar 'shock' when she arrived and saw the project for herself (not GSCC, a separate one). She ended up walking into a village and asking people if they knew where else she could put her time to good use and they pointed up a dirt track and told her to follow that to a school. When she arrived, the school was very basic and struggling. Long story short, she made a massive impact during her short time there and continued to support them from here in the UK. She has been back many times to assist and has now handed over all management back to the school and they are thriving. She linked me to their website and I was really impressed. You can see that this school really is pouring all of its resources back into the children and the volunteer work. My heart climbed back out of my throat and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The website for the school I will now be going to is here: www.volunteerugandaschool.com

I will be staying with the Director (Moses) and his wife and children, as well as other relatives and their children who he has taken into his home for various reasons. I will be doing the same as originally planned (assisting the teachers, helping with various projects around the school etc). As was the case at GSCC, there is no electricty or running water but unlike at GSCC there is a real community feel and it is within walking distance of a small village where I can even use an internet cafe for my Blog. Bonus! I have been told that evenings are spent on the porch with Moses and his family singing traditional African songs and dancing and listening to the wildlife.

I was telling my sister all of this last night and I was giving her the run down of what the accommodation was like etc, and that there was no mirror in my room. She said "Wow, imagine not seeing yourself for six weeks!" and I suddenly really liked that idea. That adds to my whole "grounding" programme that I am putting myself on. So I made a decision last night - when I pack, there will be no mirror going into my bag at all :-)

The other slight snag in my plans is that my Visa has not arrived from the Ugandan High Commission. I phoned them (three times today) and they confirmed it's not arrived at their end. That's a real nuisance because I wanted to have it in my passport ready for travel. I can get one on arrival at Entebbe in Uganda without problem, but I hate doing things like that - I like to be completely prepared. It's also a pain in the backside because I sent off a £30 postal order with my application and now I will have to fork out that money again. I think I'm just going to do it on arrival in Entebbe this time (as much as that goes against my nature) because I really can't afford for it not to turn up or get lost in the system.

Well, apart from all that, it's all fine, haha. I am due to have my Yellow Fever injection on the 29th (the other ones hurt for a week and I've been told this one is worse) and I must remember to buy a lantern to read my books in the evening. Apart from that, I think I'm set!

Three weeks and counting!!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Cured of my magazine addiction!

I had all of my injections today (except for Yellow Fever which is booked for the 29th) so I'm almost set. I'm going to type this quickly as my arms are becoming quite sore.

I have had a few more emails from the Centre in Uganda, telling me what to expect and the current conditions for the children. It has been explained to me that although they are entering the wet season now and food will be plentiful (well, green bananas - known as 'matoke' - and maize anyway), whether they have enough money to purchase it is something else. And when they tell me that approximately £300 will buy 400 kgs of maize and 250 kgs of beans (enough to feed the 200+ children for months), it makes me sad at how much money I waste on a weekly basis.

I can already feel my thought process changing and I'm not even there yet. I found myself standing in a newsagent yesterday flicking through the magazines but not actually purchasing them as I was suddenly quite horrified that I used to spend £10+ per week on "trash mags". Who gives a crap what Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears are doing this week or how many nightclubs they have drunkenly fallen out of? And why oh why do I feel the need to pay over £1.50 per magazine to know this?! Ridiculous.

Well, I am leaving for France tomorrow to spend some time with one of my best friends, C. Life has been so busy for both of us that we have not been able to meet up in about 6 years or so. In that time, she has settled herself in France and had two beautiful children. I myself have been married, bought and lost a house (boo hoo), and seen my teenage son start college. A lot of time has passed and a lot of catching up needs to be done - preferably over some local wine. One last week of indulgence before heading off to Uganda to squat over a hole (which I will have to find by torchlight).

Back next week!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

All confirmed

Phew! The last 24 hours have been a mixture of crazy and cool. I have gone from emailing both Centres simply discussing how and when I will come, to booking my tickets and buying supplies. Yikes! I am leaving for Uganda on the 18th October and returning on the 30th November. My trip to India is scheduled for January.

I will be staying with the School Director (John) in Uganda. They are arranging for someone to collect me from the airport so that I don't have to spend two hours sat on a "chicken bus" bumping along dirt roads with jetlag and a ton of luggage. For my Bajan friends reading this, a "chicken bus" seems to be the eqivilent of a ZR. Yeah, two hours on one of those . . . eeep.

So far I have bought a few pairs of shoes for myself that will keep my feet protected from a bug in Uganda that lives in the dirt and burrows up under your toenails and apparently rots your feet - geez!! I also now own a mahoosive backpack that I think I am going to have a trial run carrying on my trip to France next week; a double-layer mozzie net (no Malaria for me thank you!); a camping mat (apparently my bed could in fact simply be a "wooden platform"); a wind-up torch (for late night trips to the loo!); a 'day bag' for travelling between villages; a 'body wallet' for carrying my passport at all times (but hidden from sight); and a whistle - my mom made me buy that, bless her. There are so many more things I have to get and I am compiling a list as I read more on the net. I will put my full packing list on here soon. Friends have offered me various bits of equipment and advice (I have a great set of well-travelled friends, thank goodness) so I hope they will scan my list for me and point out any obvious errors. Thanks to my good friend E, I am going to be stocking up on wet-wipes, which I hadn't thought of. Duh.

So - - the flights are booked, as is the coach to Heathrow, and I am sending off my Visa application soon. They should only take about 10 days to come back to me. Tuesday is injection day at the doctor - cue very sore arms. I'm starting my Malaria tablets two weeks before I set off.

Quite a few friends have emailed asking if there is anything they can give me to take for the orphanages/schools and the answer is "yes please!". Please see below:-

- Single bed sheets
- Children's clothing / shoes (all primary school ages)
- School supplies
- SD card for a digital camera (the Centre in Uganda has specifically asked for this)

Please bear in mind that I am carrying all of this myself. If I am required to take an extra bag (which is likely) British Airways are going to charge me £70 (ever heard of charity BA?!).

Well, I have a million things to do and lots of lists to write so I'll catch you all later!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Here goes nothing!

Deep breaths. I am off to Uganda.

It started when my oldest and dearest friend sent me some books, urging me to read them in the hope that I would find some peace after the last few years of craziness. Said friend is very wise and I always listen to her advice. She is never wrong. Sorry to put you on a pedastal P but you know it's true.

One of the books was called "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Maybe you've read it, or maybe you've only heard of it (in which case, please read it). I not only read it, but I digested it. This book spoke to me like only a few books have done in my lifetime and in fact I am already reading it again. It is beautiful, honest, spiritual and forced me to ask myself questions about choices I had made previously and the direction I was heading in now. Suffice to say, it struck a cord and I knew it was time to "get real".

And that's where I have landed my focus. On the get real bit. The last few weeks have been exciting as far as my thought process goes. On holiday with my son and his girlfriend, I did a heck of a lot of thinking and reading. I emptied my mind, basked in the sunshine and had a serious word (or two) with myself. I came back to England energised and excited about a few conclusions I had reached . . .

To cut a long(er) story short, I have always been interested in volunteering in a third world country - this may come as a surprise to some of my friends as it has been a "silent" dream, quietly stored at the back of my mind with various other "to do's" on my list. Growing up in the States and being 'bomarded' with Peace Corp information in schools and on television, and then attending a Montessori school where our teacher was a hyperactive but loveable "eco-warrior", forced me to keep my eyes open to the world. When I explained all of this to my family recently, there were raised eyebrows and a general vibe of "You?! My dear, you would die from lack of room service". Okay okay, I hold my hands up - I do like my creature comforts and my childhood was spent in the All American Dream World of gated communities and private schools. But I'm not unaffected by the world around me or a "plastic fantastic" who won't get her hands dirty; my privilaged childhood does not define me. And I know I can do this.

I have found two volunteering placements that I am very interested in and excited about. One is a school/orphanage in Uganda (cue my mother freaking out - and then me, slightly, when another dear friend informed me that she had been shot - in the face! - when she herself was in Uganda) and the other is an amazing centre juggling women's health and foster care for street children in New Delhi. I emailed both and had responses back saying "Of course you are welcome to come. When?". Wow. That is about as real as it gets.

So at the moment I am busy booking injections at the doctor, fine tuning a packing list, downloading visa forms, and of course reading up on the places I will be visiting. This is all very exciting, and very scary. I'm stepping far outside my comfort zone . . . but I believe it is what I need and I can't wait to get out there!

Keep safe!