Robert Weiss, a Cleveland area physician, and his wife Judith studied French in Aix-en-Provence in October, 2013, where they got to know the Hunters. Next Robert turned up in Uganda as a Peace Corps volunteer of ultra-high quality. He’s graciously agreed to let Travels in Africa publish part of his 2013 year-end letter.
As most of you already know, I am in the middle of my year as a volunteer with the Peace Corps and SEED Global Health, serving in Mbarara, Uganda, at Mbarara University School of Technology (MUST). I am one of six physicians and nurses recruited to western Uganda and one of 11 such volunteers in Uganda proper.
Our charge is to provide support to the teaching programs at the various medical and nursing schools, or to create or to remodel such programs as requested by the various school officials. I am the only pediatrician volunteer in western Uganda, and one of two in the country. My duties include teaching of 3rd and 5th year medical students: at the bedside, in formal lectures or tutorial sessions, and in grading their written resumés of the bedside cases.
I am enjoying my Ugandan experience immensely. There are many challenges, to be sure, including the erratic supply chain of medications, oxygen cylinders, and electricity. This last is off every weekend (F-Sa-Su) between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. – not only a challenge for our care of the patients in hospital, but also for the more homely tasks of cooking and using electronic gadgets. (My spare charger has been essential!) The country is beautiful, endowed with rich natural resources and spectacular geography. The animal life is unique. We saw more than forty bird species in a single day on safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park during Judith’s visit last month – not to mention the elusive tree-climbing lion, found nowhere else in the world.
The students are generally a hard-working group, who pepper this old man with excellent questions. I am constantly sent to the medical literature for articles for them – a dicey business with erratic electricity and very slow internet. But with patience all can be accomplished. And the students appreciate my work on their behalf – their reviews of me for the past two quarters confirm it.
Our group of Peace Corps volunteers is very congenial, and we have many dinners, parties and outings together. We also support each other through the trials of learning the Ugandan medical teaching style and unhappily the high mortality in both internal medicine and pediatrics. We also draw strength from our Ugandan colleagues, for whom these are perennial problems. I truly am learning more than I am teaching, despite what the students say.
Next post: An unusual trip: a visit to Laayoune, Western Sahara.