This is Peter Chirumbi, intern in the Infectious Disease ward of Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. I met him during my first week when I made a rookie mistake and introduced myself after rounds one day. Apparently all of the other medical students had left before they could be asked to stay and help. As the only provider for a 30+ patient unit (there was an attending physician roughly one day per week) Peter quickly jumped on my willingness to not abandon the ward and put me to ‘work’. I use this term loosely because as a 4th year medical student I’m basically useless.
Peter is a frank individual who enjoys conversation. I quickly found his story to be equal parts happy, sad, frustrating, and hopeful…almost as if he were a living metaphor for Kampala itself. One of my favorite things about Peter is that he would just kind of show up places. By this I mean he would somehow figure out where you were and then he would just show up there unannounced. At home we call this stalking but since everyone seemed to do this in Kampala I think it may be actually be a basic tenet of friendship. On one occasion he picked me up from my house (entirely without invitation) and took me to the neighborhood he grew up in so we could eat some barbecue. I didn’t have a say in the matter, but few people get any say in Uganda so it seemed a fitting experience. A few weeks later he took Casey and me a few hours East to Jinja so we could see the source of the Nile. During this trip he unilaterally took us to his home while also offering a sober picture of what it meant to be a physician in Uganda.
As a side note I must say that I really don’t understand what ‘Nile’ this is the source of as there are seemingly a bunch of ‘Niles’ in Africa with loose relations to each other. Regardless Jinja is dubbed the ‘adventure capital’ of Uganda and seemed an interesting place to visit for a day. We were too poor (and I too afraid) to try rafting the famous level 5 rapids they have, but we wanted to visit nonetheless. We considered a boat ride/kayaking, but the prices didn’t really work for us and the weather didn’t really cooperate. We were just happy to arrive safely amidst some flash road flooding (yay African infrastructure). As you can see it was pretty enough just being there. But we digress…
Soon after meeting Peter I noticed that in between rounds he seemed to be running his own private clinic in backrooms for under the table cash. It is easy to be shocked by this as it clearly violates our American ethical boundaries, but you have to reserve judgment in Africa. As it turns out Peter had not been paid by the government since he started his internship 4 months prior. His co-interns had debated striking, but Peter knew that he needed to complete his year of intern work eventually before he could practice privately. If he were to strike there would be no one to treat his patients AND it would only further delay any progress in his career. On the way home from the Nile Peter took Casey and I took his home (which he had recently built with his own hands) and he showed us his coop with 100 chicks. He had purchased them with the goal of beefing them up for several weeks and re-selling them for a profit. Additionally he had a small plot of land on his property for farming, though it had not been tilled yet. The sheer persistence required just to make it through his medical training is astounding. We often complain about being overworked and under-compensated in the US, but sure as shit none of us are raising chickens and farming on the side in order to survive.
Over the past year I have had to come to terms with the fact that my own path through medicine may simply be different than for others. Easily achieving career and life goals is just not something an Ajeto/Champoux child is programmed to do. Mix this with a medical system filled with people who I simply do not easily identify with and you start to understand my frustration. This all pales in comparison to the difficulties faced by Peter and students in Uganda and likely Africa as a whole. I sit here in my fancy cafe sipping an artisan mocha with my gluten free peanut butter cookie and rage against the lack of opportunities people like me have. Whenever I think things are hard or that I can’t do something all I have to do is picture Peter the farmer with his chicks and I instantly get the fuck over myself. I should rename this blog “Go to Africa…meet some people” …it’s therapeutic I swear.
“Don’t stop now, keep dreaming
Don’t stop now, keep dreaming
Don’t stop now, keep dreaming
I’m on my fifth brew and my rent’s due
Sixth and west roof
I can see it all
Hold on to my hand, that’s my little dude”
– Anderson Paak