Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Breasts, Babies, and Barf

This next tale is a simple one in which finally… nothing bad happens to me. It’s merely something I witnessed that I feel attests to the suffrage filled lives Ugandan women endure. There’s a photo I’ve seen online that I feel rings true, and I’d like to share it with you here:

On with the story… you have to buy a ticket for every seat on a bus you are going to take up. So in general, mothers don’t buy tickets for their children until they are too big to sit on their lap. They just fit the child with them into the one seat they've purchased until it’s a physical impossibility. If a mother has two small children… nothing changes. They try at first to keep the two children in their same seat. One standing between their legs, and one in their lap (The standing child will sometimes have to stand for the entire 10 hours trip… and not complain once…) But sometimes, one of the children will eventually stray and end up in your lap if you are the unlucky bastard sitting next to them.

On this fatefull day I was sitting next to Audrey and Jake on the side of the bus that has three seats…(I know what you are wondering, and yes the buses themselves are the same size, but they have 5 seats across… with an isle… it’s cramped) I had the seat on the isle, across from me was a woman with a baby in her arm, a toddler on her knee and a little girl between her legs… Three children and one woman… in one tiny-ass seat. There was a man sitting next to the woman with a window on the other side, and he seemed less than willing to take of one of the children off of her hands. So for the entire trip I watched this woman juggle all three children. AKA, all three problems. There was no pleasing these children. They were all uncomfortable, hungry, and probably needed to pee. (Ladies, this is why we pee before we leave… ;) read the blog below, then you'll get it!) There wasn't one point where the baby or toddler weren't crying or where the little girl wasn’t complaining.

  Meanwhile the bus is hot because Ugandans prefer all windows shut. The driver is weaving all over the road to avoid pot holes. About half way through the journey I begin to smell a mess in the babies diaper, and by diaper… I mean cloth wrapped about the babies bum. And the smell must’ve signaled to the mother that it’s time to put more food in its stomach cause she proceeded to whip out her breast and shove her baby up to it. With the baby feeding, there is no room for the toddler so she makes the toddler stand in the isle… the only problem is that this toddler had a few more months before she could stand on her own ON SOLID GROUD. Not a rachety bus... so the Mom has to use her free hand to hold the toddler up in the isle.

 At this moment the young girl can no longer take the jerking of the bus and proceeds to throw up all the juice and bread and meat she ate at the last stop. She doesn’t open the window and barf, or warn her mother, or go for the empty plastic bag on the ground. Noooooooope. She just does it in her moms lap and a little on the breast feeding baby. The mother lets go of the baby at her breast and lets it hang on for it’s own life and rest on the metal armrest while she uses her newly free hand to catch some of the puke from falling on her. The girl is still barfing on her mom… she hasn’t turned to a window or at a minimum to the floor… away from people… I’m so confused and the scene I’m witnessing, but I decide it’s time for me to take the toddler into my lap until the mom can manage her again. But as I reach for the toddlers open hand to help her stand, she finally realizes that a pale faced Mzungu is sitting next to her. Her eyes go wide… I can see what’s coming… she starts to scream like I was Voldermort touching her lightning scar. I try to make reassuring noises and help… but my attempts are futile. My help is in fact, no help.

 I give up and retreat my efforts. The only thing left for me to do is give the little girl half  of my toilet paper supply to clean up. And THANK GOD I kept the other half for myself… because the previous story happened a few hours later… yikers.  In the end, everything was fine. The mother just let go of the toddler who fell to the floor and bounced around a little, all in good fun. The girl stopped projectiling and wiped her mouth. And the baby clung on for her meal until she had enough to make ooooonnnne more whoopsie in her diaper before the end of the journey. 

Through all of this, the man next to her never helped, other people on the bus didn’t offer help, if anything a few people got up and stood at the other end of the bus so they wouldn’t have to smell anything (something that could have been solved by just OPENING A FREAKING WINDOW) Someone who hasn’t lived in Uganda might think the people here are inherently terrible people, but it’s much more complicated than that. You are a product of your environment, and I think the people of Uganda are very much still in survival mode. If it doesn’t help you get from this day to the next, then why should you do it?  You are barely getting by on your own, who has time to sacrifice yourself for others?  And while most days I don’t understand and am frustrated as to why things aren’t improving here, when I see a woman deal with those three children all by herself, I can see why the next time she sees a mother going through a similar ordeal she will think “I did it by myself, she can too”

I got 99 problems, and being a woman is 1.

Problems. Period.

                This next story happened on another trip to the capital city… actually as I piece together the specifics of my next two stories… I’m realizing they are during the same trip… wow… amazing what a mind in denial can do. These two stories feel months apart… but as my synapses have just reminded me, they are hours apart. 

                Allow me to start with a small disclaimer; I love Jake Carpenter. He is a very intelligent, progressive, sweet southern boy who may actually save the world’s water sanitation problems some day. Jake and I are in the same Peace Corps training group, and also call the same town home. We share Rukungiri. He calls me from time to time check on me, and likewise. We have a strong healthy relationship…

…homeboy can be clueless sometimes.

On this particular morning, Jake and I agreed for him to come to my hospital and we’d catch a bus to the capital city around 8am. My hospital is on the way out of town, so it just makes sense to catch a bus leaving, or else be put through the suffrage of waiting for hours on a bus in a taxi park in what I’m still convinced is a Mzungu conspiracy.  So about 7:50 I gather my bags (packed the night before), check my house over, lock up and head to the front gates. On my way I get a text from Jake [and do make sure you read anything written by Jake in a Georgian accent, or else you aren’t getting the full experience, and ladies and gentlemen, that is the point of all of this isn’t it? The Peace Corps experience without actually having to live in filth =)] The text read “woke up late, gettin ready now” Hrm… I ponder… this won’t be too bad, boys get ready plenty fast, and he will be here in no time. About 20 minutes later the first bus I could’ve taken passes… flys on by, yes it does. At this time I call Jake to see how he’s doing…. “Hey Khayla, I decided to hop in the shower, hope that’s okay” Not only does this call remind me that Jake has a working hot shower while I bucket bathe everyday… but it lets me know I shouldn’t get up from my seat on the rock anytime soon… hrm okay. About a half hour later, another bus I could have taken flies by.  I know some of you are thinking… Just leave his ass!, and if it were a road trip somewhere in America, hells yes. But it’s Africa. Leave no man behind, even if he is taking so long you are convinced he’s taking the “repeat” of “rinse, lather, rinse, repeat” seriously.

For those of you keep track at home, I’ve now been waiting an hour on the side of the road. About another half hour later I get a call from Jake, and I know when I answer he can hear the exasperation in my voice. “Hey Khayla, I hopped on a bus in town and we’re coming your way” “Great Jake, what does the bus look like so I know I’m getting on the right bus” (all the buses here are painted different arrays of colors and window tint d├ęcor) “Um.. lemme look….” Then I hear the unmistakable noise of a loud thud and crack.  Jake didn’t notice the window was shut and bonked his head, snapping a piece  clean off. I’m just going to chalk that one up to the Karma gods and leave it at that. Jake tells me the bus is green and yellow between curse words of pain. I look up to see the bus whipping around a corner up ahead, I grab my things and sprint across the road waving for the bus to stop. I get on and quickly play the easiest game of “Where’s Waldo” I will ever play. I go and sit next to Jake and introduce myself to the other PCV who is with him named Audrey. She was passing through from traveling down south, she shortly offers some bananas and nutella. So I knew we were going to be fast friends.

As the bus journey continues, I have to sit on the edge of my seat straight up because there is something sharp in the broken back that pokes me if I lean back, and there are no other open seats, and even if there were, I’m not leaving the whities.  It’s bumpy, I’m tired, it’s dusty, I’m starting to get dehydrated… But I dare not take more than a few sips each hour from my water bottle because as you read in a previous entry… peeing on the side of the road during our shortcall breaks would make me nothing short of a traveling circus side show. Every trip is like this, I watch my water intake carefully, and towards the end of the trip I pop two ibuprofens for the dehydration headache I know is coming. Yes, yes, I know, I know… this can’t be good for me. But it’s Peace Corps Africa, and I’m doing the best I can.

About 7 hours in to the trip, with 2 hours more to go I start to feel something. A familiar feeling of terror from my middle school days… and a feeling all women DREAD. 

       I.  Need.  To.  Change.  My.  Mother.  Fucking.  Tampon.

Jesus Christ… this is the living worst. I turn to Audrey, the girl whom I didn't know before this trip, but who’s kindness and nutella has brought us together, and tell her the situation. I immediately read the empathy in her eyes. About 20 minutes later the bus stops for a shortcall on the side of the road where about 10 little huts of meat vendors are set up for business. My eyebrows creased in worry I stand up to face my fears and get off the bus with everyone else. Audrey follows me and offers her help in whatever way I need it. I search for a spot safe from everyone’s eyes. It’s impossible.

There are some people actually moving so they can see me… vendors at the meat hut.
I’m starting to panic, because the bus will certainly leave yo ass on the side of the road.
 Audrey takes her jacket off and tries to hold it up and block the views.

I can’t decide which way to face, is it more embarrassing for the people to see my back or front?

The front dummy. Definitely the front. NOW SQUAT AND GET THIS NIGHTMARE OVER WITH.
I do my business… I fling the old tampon into a nearby bush…I’m sure someone thought I was having an abortion… Why is everything in slow motion?...I’m mortified.

I finish up and run with Audrey back to the bus who where the driver is revving the engine at having to wait on us. The audacity of us… to make him wait… because transportation never makes us wait… grrrr.

I sit down and douse my hands in sanitizer. I use so much it’s dripping off of me on to the floor. Audrey and I get settled into our seats (which for me, means returning to the upright position and making sure I don’t lean back) and I thank Audrey repeatedly for her help. I turn to look at Jake so I can tell him what happened, but before I can, he opens his mouth as says these simple words:

“ Ladies, that is why we pee before we leave ”

It took all the strength I had to not lunge at him right there, I even felt my body tense and my arm cock back slightly into a pre-punch position. If we HAD LEFT ON TIME I wouldn’t have had this problem… I lock eyes with Audrey and we are thinking the same thing. Fool. Damned fool. I couldn’t talk to him for the rest of the trip for fear of saying words I would never be able to take back.

To this day, Jake doesn’t know this story, I’m now considering whether or not to send him the link to this blog post… we’ll see. =) I’ll let ya know what happens.

*Fun update for you other ladies out there, I am now using a Diva Cup. And I would highly recommend it if you are heading towards, or are already in the Peace Corps life.  Google it and check it out, their youtube video explains it better than I ever could. It saves money, time, and worry. It’s worth checking out.*