Roller Coaster Week

The trite analogy of a roller coaster ride is probably the best way to sum up last week’s events. Before I came to Uganda, I knew that traveling in Africa could stir a wide range of emotions and last week was the perfect example.

After enjoying a calm but fun weekend in Kampala, one of my housemates was robbed last Sunday night just a few hundred meters from our house. Three of us were walking together around 9:30 pm in search of a rolex, which is an omelet wrapped in chapatti.  It is a delicious late-night snack and “going to get a rolex” is just like going on a late-night McDonald’s or Taco Bell run in the U.S.

So when two housemates and I began craving a snack last Sunday evening, we left our gated house and went up the street to Nicholas, who makes the best rolexes around. There was a slight drizzle that dampened our trip, but we braved the rain with umbrellas and rain jackets. Unfortunately, however, Ugandans typically seek shelter from the rain, so the normally crowded street corner where Nicholas works was deserted. No rolex stand, no taxi drivers, and no boda guys were there.

Disappointed, we turned around to head home before I heard a scream. Two men had walked up to us and one had pushed Lauren’s head down and grabbed her bag. The thief ran off while his friend watched and made sure we didn’t chase him. I tried to flag down the only boda in sight, but the driver passed me and went directly to the thief, picked him up, and drove off.

Fortunately, Lauren was okay, but the thief ran away with her wallet, the equivalent of $80 USD, her debit card, and the keys to our gate and house. We were very flustered because the mugging took place just a few blocks from our house on a street we walk on at least four times a day. On a normal evening, that street corner is swarming with people and I consider it to be one of the safest parts of Kampala.

But I guess this incident shows that you can never be too careful, even in your own backyard. The next day, we asked our landlord to change all of the locks in our house just to be safe. Because the thieves saw three of the four housemates in one place, it wouldn’t be hard for them to figure out where we live. And if they could get in our house, they could steal everything we owned.

Sunday night, I could hardly sleep. At first I attributed it to the robbery and my worry that people would break into our house at any minute. I kept feeling extremely hot or cold and my body temperature alternated every fifteen minutes. I would wake up covered in sweat and turn on the fan, only to be freezing fifteen minutes later and have to put on an extra blanket. The cycle kept repeating itself until morning, by which point I felt utterly exhausted.

As Monday progressed, I realized that I was very sick. Besides the fever and chills, I had intense nausea and fatigue. After vomiting several times, I decided to go to a nearby clinic to get tested for malaria and dengue fever, two diseases of which I was exhibiting all the symptoms.

After spending five hours at the clinic (four hours waiting, 30 minutes vomiting, 20 minutes getting tested, and 10 minutes with a doctor), I discovered that no one knew what I had. Since it wasn’t malaria or dengue fever, the doctor gave me some antibiotics and told me to feel better.

I actually did feel better and by Tuesday afternoon, I felt like I was ready to play Ultimate Frisbee with the Kampala Ultimate Club. To prepare for the match, I started warming up in my house by skipping and stretching my legs until I skipped right into a door frame.

I fell down hard and thought I was okay until blood started streaming down my face. For about ten minutes, I tried to stop the bleeding with a towel, but it kept coming. Lauren, my housemate and fellow Fulbrighter, took me back to our clinic for the second day in a row.

My experience was slightly different than the day before, but it was still unnerving. Even though my head was bleeding, it took the nurses thirty minutes to look at it. Once a nurse finally looked at the gash on my head, she said, “Wow, this is really deep! Let me go get a doctor.”

The doctor stitched it up just fine and I returned home. Our calamitous three days had ended, right in time for the U.S. elections. I took this streak of bad luck as an ominous sign.

When I woke up at 4:30 am on Wednesday to start monitoring the elections, my fears were confirmed. Ben Chandler, the Congressman I had interned and worked for, had lost his bid for reelection and Andy Barr will now represent the sixth district of Kentucky.

As the morning continued, my luck improved. I went to an election monitoring party at La Fontaine, my favorite restaurant, and saw that several swing states had been called for Obama. Then Senate results started coming in and two of my favorite political women, Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin, prevailed in tough races.

After Obama was declared the victor, I went to the U.S. embassy to watch Romney and Obama’s speeches. As I watched one of the greatest speeches of Obama’s career, I saw Americans and Ugandans crying and celebrating this moment together.

 “Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”

These words resonated with my Ugandan colleagues and made me thankful for our democratic process. Even with billions of dollars poured into this election cycle, the results were ultimately determined by the voters themselves. Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, reportedly spent $60 million in this election to support ten candidates. All ten of those candidates lost, which shows that you can’t buy American votes no matter how much money you spend.

After the speeches, I spoke with a journalist from the Daily Monitor, who invited me onto a political radio show called “The Hot Seat” to talk about the U.S. elections. Although I was still feeling a bit sick from the previous two days, I decided to try something new and accepted the invitation. I knew nothing about the format or what we would talk about, but I spent the afternoon pouring over election numbers and preparing a few notes.

I had never been on the radio before or done any kind of punditry, but I absolutely loved it. I was joined on the panel by four incredibly intelligent Ugandan leaders: Norbert Mao, the chairman of Uganda’s Democratic Party, Godber Tumushabe, the executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) , and two journalists for KFM and the Daily Monitor, host Charles Mwanguhya and Angelo Izama.

For an hour, we spoke about how Obama handled the Arab Spring, what he has done for Africa, and how the U.S./Chinese rivalry might affect the continent. I have a recording of the program and will try to post it to this blog as soon as possible. Suffice it to say that it might have been the coolest experience I have had so far in Uganda. After a rough three days, I was on top of the world, loving Uganda, and humbled that I got to join a fascinating and timely discussion that was broadcast to thousands of people. I only hope that my luck continues and that I don’t have any more skipping accidents soon.


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