Everyone else has been back for two weeks now and Mayi and I are just currently returning to the states. While in Europe, I was reflecting on what differences I see in the different places we travel to, mostly Uganda. There are plenty of differences between our cultures and practice of medicine.
As everyone keeps saying, time moves slower in Uganda. People are not always in a rush like they are in the United States. Unless the timing is known to be important, it is expected that someone may show up late. I remember students coming late to class and no one even payed attention to them walking in, whereas in the United States we would be told not to do that again. I feel the United States would be a bit healthier if we occasionally allowed this practice of loose timings, because we would have less stress.
Another thing I learned from Uganda is how to work with what you have when it comes to medicine, which I feel will be an important skill in the future. There are constantly drug shortages in Uganda, and the Ugandans do their best to give treatment despite that. Sometimes you have to get crafty, but this could lead to other problems that I have seen, such as not finishing antibiotic regimens and increasing antibiotic resistance. Even with the shortages we face in the United States, I consider us VERY lucky that we usually at least have an alternative or two, which is not always the case in other parts of the world.
Family and friendships seem to be much stronger in Uganda versus the United States as well. In most Ugandan hospitals and clinics, nurses do not administer most medications and the responsibility is on the patient’s caretaker relatives. We have seen mothers sleeping on the floor on a mat next to their sick child’s bed or sons and daughters sleeping on the floor next to their grandparents to be there to feed and administer medications to the patient. In the United States, most of us are lucky to have relatives still talk to us, let alone take one hour for a hospital visit. I now see how beneficial having the support of family and friends can improve the treatment of a patient, even if they are not the one administer medications and feeding, just being there is enough.
Some things that are culturally awkward or unacceptable in the United States that happens in Uganda has also piqued my interest. One is that men are not afraid to be close with their other male friends. It was not uncommon to see a man lead another man by the hand or have his hand on a friend or colleagues shoulder when introducing them or talking. In the United States, there is still a taboo on men showing any emotion to their friends, especially towards their male friends. Another thing I noticed is women were able to openly breastfeed without covering up and that was completely normal. I understand this is currently a heated topic in the United States, but, from what I could tell, the children were unaffected by this and no men would stare or say anything when it happened. These are heated topics, but I hope this may offer a different perspective to some of you who read this.
I miss all of my friends in Uganda already and how friendly everyone was, even though I am currently not even back in the United States yet! Thank you to everyone who has helped us, taught us, or befriended us on the trip. A special thanks to Winnie, David, Jimmy, Janine, and the students and faculty at Makerere University for putting up with all of us and helping us coordinate everything! I will never forget the trip and what I have learned. For those of you waiting for the safari photos, here they are and sorry for the poor quality. My phones camera is not great.