Emergency: Ugandan Style

Sunday morning, just before 5am, we awoke to a phone call. It was our neighbour Sherm asking if Tash could come around.

About a minute later there was another call. This time it was Tash calling me. “Please come around and bring all of our medical kit, the sphygmo and stethoscope. Now.”

I went around and was greeted by Sherm. “Keep your shoes on, there is blood all over the floor.”

Apparently Will had blacked out and banged his head on the edge of the bed as he fell. Head wounds sure can bleed.

Sherm was being extremely brave and Will was possibly the world’s most polite patient. He may have been heavily concussed and somewhat vague, yet he still had the presence of mind to apologise for waking us up. He later politely informed Tash, “I’m really sorry Tash, but now I’m going to go to sleep”.

Tash’s response: “No you’re not” (while poking him in the face).

Tash’s main concern was the pain when palpating his spine. She decided we needed to take full spinal precautions. If you are wondering what this looks like, just picture me holding another man’s head in my arms while my wife tickles his toes. Okay, maybe don’t picture that.

We got Will’s head bandaged up while reinforcements arrived in the form of Dr Abby and some of IJM’s interns.

Tash had actually been at the IJM office 3 days earlier doing first aid training with the staff so I told the interns that this was actually their first aid test. I’m not sure that they found this funny.

Polenta neck braceAbby and Tash got creative with zip-lock bags of polenta and fashioned a sort of neck brace which they taped to his head.

Abby managed to track down a working x-ray machine at Lacor hospital so Tash tried to organise an ambulance to come. It turns out though that you need to first pay them 30,000 Shillings before they will come. Yes, I’m not sure how that works either. You also need a signature from the hospital director in order to release the ambulance, but he wasn’t there.

We were going to have to do this one on our own.

I luckily managed to find a large, sturdy plank of wood. The interns joined in to complete a log roll that a paramedic team would be proud of to get Will onto the board. A few bed sheets to tie him down and we were ready.

Except, the plank wouldn’t fit in the back of the 4-wheel drive. Second option: open the back of the tray on a ute (pickup) and let Will hang off the end. Just a little.

So, there we were. Four of us in the back of an open ute weaving down pot-holed Uganda roads, holding a 95kg man tied with bed-sheets to a plank of wood and with bags of polenta taped to his head. As if Ugandan’s needed another reason to stare at those funny Mzungus!

We made it to Lacor hospital where Dr Nick (our Kiwi friend) joined the ranks. At this point Will officially became the most well-staffed patient in Uganda. They went inside to try and find the right people to admit Will and get some scans.

I waited in the car with Will as little old ladies gathered around wide eyed at the spectacle. “oh sorry, oh sorry”.

Will was still very sleepy so I adopted a dual approach to keeping him awake; poking him in the face combined with talking at him – about World T20 Cricket. I thought it was pretty effective but Tash wasn’t impressed and suggested that cricket talk was probably counter-productive when trying to keep someone awake.

Nick, who had previously worked at Lacor, managed to smooth the way for Will to quickly be admitted, assessed and then taken to radiology to get scans of his neck.

This, however, took us straight through a Catholic church service which had begun in the middle of the hospital involving hundreds of patients crammed into the halls and spilling out into the courtyard. The crowd and white-robed Priests were mid sombre hymn but parted like water as Will was wheeled through the middle of them on a bed. Their voices echoed off the walls and Will lay staring wide-eyed at the ceiling.

At this point I was a little concerned that Will needed some quick reassuring that he was not being welcomed by a procession of heavenly hosts. Possibly one of the more surreal experiences of his life.

In the x-ray room the radiographer enlisted our help to lift Will onto the table. He obviously wasn’t used to dealing with potential spinal injuries. Tash moved to support Will’s head during the lift, but the radiographer got grumpy with her for “being in the way”.

A fight ensued. Watching my little 5-foot-something wife yell down older male doctors will never cease to entertain me.

The results of the scans were positive. No broken neck.

Abby and some others had organised a hospital for Will to be taken to in Kampala which could do a few more tests and a MAF medevac was flying in to pick him up. It had been an 8-hour ordeal by the time he got onto the plane. Now he was cleared of spinal injuries and had a doctor, paramedic and nurse with him all the way to Kampala. What could go wrong?

It wasn’t till later that we heard that a delay in the take-off was because the nurse and the paramedic were arguing about whether the amount of meds they wanted to give to Will was the correct dose, or a lethal dose. After the plane did take off Will woke mid-flight to find the doctor (who was supposed to be keeping him awake) leaning over him taking selfies on his phone…

Will injuryI’d love to say that the medical care in the hospital in Kampala was better, but when your neurosurgeon is recommending that post-concussion you should get some good exercise but definitely avoid eating chicken skin…hmmm. It would all be fairly comedic if it wasn’t so serious! I suspect the next medevac to happen will be going to Kenya.

Fortunately, the whole ordeal left Will with little more than a neat set of stitches on the back of his head. Perhaps it will be the emotional scars that will take a little longer to heal! (I suspect he will be okay.) Respect to Sherm for staying so in control through it all. I would have been a mess if Tash had been the one injured.

I have to say that I am pretty thankful right now for the medical system we have in Australia. But also for the community we have here in Gulu.

a “normal” day

It’s hard to say exactly what life looks like for us here. A day in Uganda is about as unpredictable as it is interesting. I thought a snapshot of a day from one of the few entries in my diary might provide a picture…


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Monday for me began with a wake-up call around 7am from Tash. “Obama is here to see us.” In my sleepy state I honestly wondered for a few seconds why President Obama was visiting us. Turns out it was one of the young people who our friends (the owners of our hut) help out with school fees.

I went out to chat with him and our neighbour Lucy and a few others were hanging around so I made tea for them. After a little not-so-subtle prompting from Lucy I managed to find some biscuits for the tea. Tea should have an “escort”. I guess it is lonely by itself.

I talked school fees with Obama while someone arrived to give Tash a hair-cut. Meanwhile one of our neighbours who does a little work around the “compound” (the dirt patch around our huts) for us appeared. Her son was quite sick and she wasn’t able to afford medication for him so we arranged to give her some of the money for her work now rather than waiting till the end of the month to pay her.

So, the money was given for the neighbour. Arrangements were made for Obama’s school fees. Tea was drunk. Haircut was completed. It was almost time to get into the days’ work but then Lucy mentioned that one of the chickens was a bit unwell. She wanted Tash to take a look at it. After all, she is a nurse.


DSC_2025 EDITEDThe trouble with inspecting a chicken is that you have to catch it first. After some time, some team work, and some theatrics that probably provided much welcomed entertainment for our neighbours, we managed to catch the chicken for a medical checkup by vet Tash.

Conclusion: it is unwell. Lucy was pretty convinced that she should force feed it some of her own medication, but Tash managed to talk her out of it. Instead, Lucy decided, the chicken would have to settle for receiving some paraffin (kerosene) on its’ neck (?!). That should fix it.

By this time it was 9:30. The day was starting to heat up and it was time to go to work. Just time to have a “quick” bucket shower, collect our things, and greet neighbours as we headed out to the road to walk the sweaty couple of kilometres to my “office”. But, not before we bumped into a local nurse friend of Tash’s in Lacor centre. We hadn’t seen him for a while and he wanted to catch up. He was on his way home from a night shift at Lacor hospital and kindly insisted that he give us a lift on his motorbike.

My office is an amazing, random little place that you can find after winding down a series of dirt roads, through markets, mud huts and so on. It looks distinctly like a café. So much so that I tend to just forgive all the other people who come and crash.


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The days’ work consisted of Tash prepping for doing training at the health centres she is working with. For me it consisted of editing bylaws and formatting a version of the Early Grade Reading Assessment for an evaluation we will be doing for the literacy project.

In the afternoon we headed back to the hut. Got changed. And headed out again.

This time we called a boda (motorbike) driver to take us to Sankofa café in Gulu for a Superbowl party. Yup. Can’t say that I anticipated I’d be doing this while living in a hut in the middle of nowhere in Africa, but there you have it. Our “normal” day rounded out with beer, popcorn and the Superbowl projected on the big screen (bed sheet).

Someone recently asked me if my experience in Uganda has been what I expected it to be.

Yes. But then, no.

Ugandan Elections

NRM Elections

I just realised that the last time I posted in my now very dusty blog was during the last election in Australia. So, it seems only right to resurrect my blog from Uganda in the wake of the Ugandan elections…

As far as I can tell, Ugandan elections are pretty quiet!

Not much happened where we are in Lacor and many people appeared to get little “holidays” from their work as elections grew close.

There was no social media access to distract you or confuse you with the “spreading of lies”. The police are also very diligent in arresting any opposition leaders who become too noisy.

Even in Kampala it was pretty quiet. “After all”, we were told just before elections, “only one person was killed during today’s campaign rallies.”

Many of our political updates have been coming via Paul: our favourite, politically-informed boda driver (motorbike driver). He is not a fan of Museveni and his party (NRM) who have ruled for the 30 years since they took power by force.

Our gentle neighbour is not a fan either. After Museveni claimed victory she declared, between giggles, that “even if we have no weapons we can still pick stones”. Yes, she said, “bring the war!”.

Change is hard in a climate of fear where the lines of patronage go deep, from the big pay-offs of officials, to the small pay-outs such as free fuel for any boda drivers who wear NRM t-shirts.

Much to our surprise, even Paul arrived one day sporting the T-shirt of the party he hates. Tash teased him a little and they had a laugh but the poor guy must have been embarrassed. On every subsequent trip with us he arrived with a shirt over the top of his NRM shirt! When you are struggling to make a living…hey, it’s free fuel.

Most people I have spoken to just seem apathetic. “What is the point in voting?” “Museveni will still be in, nothing will change.” And, despite our neighbours’ joking (kind of), there is a war-weariness. Particularly here in the north.

This may not be what people want, but at least there is relative peace, even if justice sometimes takes its leave. That is more than can be said for many of Uganda’s neighbours.

My last post about Australian politics had more than an edge of cynicism to it. Still, we truly do have a lot to be thankful for.

voting time


Three days to election time!

As much as you may try to hide it I can sense your excitement behind that veneer of cynicism, frustration and disinterest!

Lets face it, we are all closely tracking Kevin Rudd’s instagrams and Tony Abbott’s race times. And, all the important statements made… Jaymes Diaz’s 6 (or 1?) steps to stopping boats, Stephanie Banister‘s views on the country of Islam, and more recently Fiona Scott’s masterful connection between refugees and Sydney traffic jams and waiting times at hospitals. But perhaps the best was Tony Abbott’s revelation about the suppository of all wisdom.

But seriously, I’m curious, how will you be voting on Saturday? And why? Lend me your thoughts..

perspective 1

Dorothy Elizabeth Lea Pederick (Jones)

Dorothy Elizabeth Lea Pederick (Jones)

On Friday night my Grandmother passed away. She lived a full life of 85 years. I’m glad she is now at peace, but she will be missed.

Last year I decided to ask a bunch of people 7 questions to try and get an eye in to what things looked like from their perspective in life. While I haven’t yet posted any of those conversations, I have spoken with a few people now. The first was my grandmother.

As I reflected this weekend I wanted to share her responses. The answers here are rough quotes, not word for word, but hopefully they offer a snapshot of the life of my grandmother and of what life looks like through the lense of 85 years of life.


1. What are the things in life which are most important to you?

My Christian faith and my family, from my children through to my great-grandchildren, who I see as a direct gift from God.  Also the input I get to have into their lives and prayerful support is important.

2. What is one thing you wish someone had told/taught you in your 20’s?

We started ministry at 21 years old at bible college.  People expected us to know life’s answers for everything because we had training.  I wish at the time that someone had told me what I needed was genuine compassion and a listening ear. Even if you don’t have the answers, if you can offer people a good listening ear and concern you will likely help them to find their own answers.

3. Has your perspective on life changed in the last 10 years?

Most certainly! I’m not only old but I’m alone now and having to make decisions by yourself certainly changes your perspective on things. Age hinders you from doing some things. What is important to me hasn’t changed, but what I do about it has. God opens different doors in life than before.

4. What are the big questions you find yourself asking about life now?

Where is it all going to end??? There is a technology and information overload.

As I watch things happening in life I can see very strongly that human emotions have been effected more and more as technology has developed. I can see technology crowding out human relationships. The TV and the computer have become the important things in life.

5. Is there anything that you are fearful of?

Along with looking at the way technology is taking over, the sin and crime that is happening in the world. I’m fearful about how my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will cope in years to come and how they will be affected by that.

I don’t fear death. My biggest fear is for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

6. Looking back, if you could change one thing, what would it be?

I would have spent more time developing the person God made me to be. When I was young you never ever admitted you could do things. That was proud. Women were expected to be home keepers. I have since learnt that the things God has given you are gifts, not things to be proud of. I have the gifts of singing and preaching but they were things that women never did so I never developed them. I wish I had developed those things.

7. Looking back, what are the biggest things you are thankful that you did?

That I accepted Jesus when I was very young. That I found my life’s partner when I was very young. Also that I had the opportunity to work in such a variety of ministries; rural ministry, religious instruction in schools, work in slum areas, parish work, supporting people towards mission work and more.

hero or villain?


Tash & I went to see Man of Steel. We had delayed seeing it for a few days but Tash was about to pop out of her skin with excitement, so before things got messy we went to the cinema last Friday. I enjoyed it. Tash thought it was incredible.

I have to say though, that it neatly follows the well-worn path of pretty much every action film. Basically, there is the good (looking) guy – the hero, and the bad guys – the villains. The bad guys do bad stuff (i.e. killing people). There is the battle between good and bad and ultimately the good guy wins and becomes our hero, a beacon of justice in our world.

It’s beautiful isn’t it?! Maybe a little obvious, but there is something attractive about this formula. It is nice to be able to look at the world with our neat little categories of “good” and “bad”. The good people do good stuff, the bad people do bad stuff. We know who to cheer for and how to feel about what happens.

I sometime (or often) wish that life worked like this. Unfortunately, there seems to be a whole lot of grey in life. A whole lot of good and bad at the same time.

We all remember the shock of the day we realised our parents didn’t have all the answers.

We remember the day we realised there were legitimate questions about our long-held beliefs or the day we were confronted with the fact that the person we wanted to hate was actually kinda nice. Then there is the day that our favourite and incorruptible star got locked up for getting drunk and punching someone. Or the day we gave our cat to our ever-helpful neighbours to look after only to discover that they ate it…

Life isn’t quite as clear-cut as the movies would have us believe. Yet, there is still a temptation to box things. To become wilfully blind about the things I don’t get or which don’t fit into my worldview.

Apparently Scott F. Fitzgerald (the guy who wrote The Great Gatsby) once said that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

That’s hard.

How do you stop yourself from oversimplifying? Or avoid the temptation to categorise people as heroes to love or villains to hate? I want to learn how to see “another” perspective well, though I guess you could say I am neither good nor bad at this. Just a bit of both.

Incidentally, Man of Steel is neither a good film, nor a bad one. It’s also a bit of both.

to my newest nephew…

Dear Harrison,Harrison

Welcome to life! We’re excited you joined us for the journey!

Tash and I are sad that we couldn’t be there for your dedication. We were there in heart, if not in body. We may not always be close, but we will always think of you and pray for you. And, while it may not mean much just yet, I wanted to give you some advice for the journey ahead…

Listen to your parents. They may not be perfect, but they have walked a few miles in life and have learnt a thing or two. They have important things to teach you to give you the best start in life. And though they will tell you, take it from an Aunt and Uncle who know them, they love you more than they will ever be able to express. If you have kids one day I’m sure you will then understand.

Walk your own path in life. Comparing ourselves to others is a temptation we all struggle with. We also all think it was a dumb thing to do in hindsight. As cliché as it is, you are your own person. There is no one exactly like you. Success in life is not being more like another person, it is learning how to be more yourself. So, walk your own path and hold your head high.

Don’t stop asking questions. There are so many great things to discover and you’ll never meet a person who can’t teach you anything. Questions are your best tool for learning.

Pay attention to your emotions. I know, this is the most un-Australian-bloke bit. Most guys don’t know what to do with emotions. The problem is, ignore them, and they will end up controlling you. Be a victim to them, and they will end up controlling you. Learn to be in control of your emotions, but engage them, and they will make your life so much richer.

Treat everything in life as an opportunity. I don’t mean that you need to pretend like things never hurt or don’t go as you want. But, if you can find an opportunity in every situation, you will soon discover that life doesn’t control you. You will also probably find yourself a step ahead of the crowd.

Learn the art of Joy. Joy is not situational and it’s not found in stuff. It’s found in yourself and in discovery of God. I know, it sounds airy! Getting stuff in life is really nice. Good circumstances are too. But real, deep joy – the good stuff – is something to discover and learn. You won’t find it in things.

Value everyone you meet. Relationships really are what life is all about. The four most important phrases you will ever learn to say are, “thank you,” “I love you,” “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.” They can also be the hardest things to say, but learn them. It’s worth it.

One day you will discover women. You won’t always understand them, but you don’t need to. They can be a pretty amazing gift. If you one day get the chance to say “I do,” just do two things right; show her how beautiful she is every day and help her to discover all that she is capable of being. You’ll have the opportunity to make another person’s life rich, and if you succeed, you’ll probably also discover your life is richer as well.

I think I have filled a page so I better stop. Asking someone to read more than a page is a bit much, even if you try to make it sound all wise. So let me leave you with a blessing. This is us, showing what our heart is for you, and asking it from God coz we believe he wants the same…

May God bless you…with eyes to see all the incredible beauty around you. With strength, to fight for justice and to hold to the things which are important. With grace, to relate with kindness and to transform hurt. With Love, to live life to the full.

With Love, Uncle Dave & Auntie Tash.

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