In the past few days, I have been soaking in the vast amount of unique wildlife here in Uganda. For starters, the sounds of tropical birds and monkeys are what wakes me up every morning and the lizards that live in my guesthouse have become some of my closest friends as we often sleep within the same four walls. The locals are so used to seeing all of the different kinds of animals that I feel most like a tourist when I jump in excitement to see a new kind of bird or insect. My foreignness to Ugandan wildlife is why I am the only one who freaks out when a huge cloud of bats fly over our van on the way to a village and why I find it strange when people take no notice of the giant grey flamingos that have made Jinja their home. Even when I inquire about the snake-like creatures which I often spy swimming nearby the bridge during my boda ride to church, I get very casual answers such as “oh, those are just a type of Nile River reptile that are related to the crocodile.” (No big deal, right?) Just two nights ago, I was closing the curtains in my bedroom for the evening, when I spotted two dark eyes staring at me from outside of my window. A large owl had perched itself on the patio railing closest to my bedroom! We sat there staring at one another for quite some time before it flew off into the night. I haven’t even traveled more than an hour outside of Jinja and I have already had the chance to see such amazing animals! Uganda is so beautiful!
This week’s blog is about a 9 year old boy named Brian Waiswa. I have come to realize that the name “Waiswa” is very common in Uganda. I have heard this name used for boys on numerous occasions. The other day, one of our nurses mentioned yet another child named Waiswa, so I asked him why there are so many boys who share this name here. He explained that when a women gives birth to twins, the first born son of the two children is always named “Waiswa.” It is only acceptable to give a child this name if they are an elder male twin. Twins are highly respected and therefore it is an honour to be blessed with the name “Waiswa.” I was then informed that as Ugandan culture becomes more westernized, parents of twins are now reforming this tradition and often call their son “Waiswa” as well as another name of their choosing. (Now that I have recently learned this…I can assure you that I will begin call my brother-in-law who is an elder twin “Waiswa” from this day on!)
Brian Waiswa, a first born twin and son of one of the most caring Ugandan mother’s I have met thus far, has gone through a life-changing last three weeks. Now, Brian is proud to have been supported by the Novice AA Ranger’s minor Oakville hockey team through our 18th man project!
The first day I met Brian was also the first time I had seen a child come into the clinic right after an accident. Brian had been climbing a tree, trying to find dry firewood, when the branch that he was standing on split, causing him to fall to the ground below. The sudden impact broke his left femur and severely cut open his chin. Sadly, this is not an uncommon type of accident for children in Uganda. Kids will often climb great heights to find dry firewood for their mother’s to use when cooking meals. During the rainy season, it is especially hard to find dry wood that is close to the ground. Children put themselves in danger to retrieve wood because they know that if their family does not have any wood to cook with, they will all go to bed hungry.
Brian Waiswa’s story and how he found out about O4A is truly a gift from God. On the day of his accident, Brian’s mother, Florence, was horrified to find her child laying unconscious beneath a large tree nearby their house. She scraped together all the money she could in order to pay the transportation cost for a boda (motorcycle taxi) to take the two of them to the Jinja Hospital. More than halfway en route to their destination, the boda driver was unsatisfied with the amount of money that Brian’s mother was willing to pay for the ride, and left the crying mother holding her son on the side of a busy road just outside of Jinja. Florence sat by the bridge that crosses over the Nile River, about a five minute’s drive away from the hospital, wailing loudly and clinging to her bleeding child.
Coincidentally (and surely by sheer providence), around the same time, one of our main doctors from the Jinja Orthopedic Clinic was driving home after a long day of work. On his ride home, he saw Florence holding her son and stopped the car to see what the trouble was. Being a very educated bone doctor, he knew
without hesitation that this child’s leg was badly fractured and that the boy had to be taken into the orthopedic clinic immediately. He carried Brian into his car and drove back to the clinic along with Brian’s confused and grieved mother.
Shortly the next morning, the O4A nurses and I arrived at the clinic and were informed about Brain Waiswa’s condition. I walked into the room where Brian was resting so I could talk to his mother and fill out his initial assessment report. Brian’s eyes never met mine, almost as though he was ashamed to be lying there so helpless, trying his utmost to show that he was brave. I could clearly see that Brian was in a tremendous amount of pain. I have come to learn that a fracture of the femur bone is one of the most painful bones to break in the entire human body and I could tell the moment I walked into his room that Brian’s type of fracture was no exception. His face had no expression and his half glazed eyes were caught in a distant stare.
By this time, Florence was completely aware of the situation and been informed about the work that O4A does for Ugandan children. She was beyond grateful for all of the help her son was receiving. Although we had never met before, Florence hugged and thanked us many times that first day.
We came in to check on Brian again the following day and Florence hugged us over and over on that afternoon as well. That particular day, was the day that the doctors had to re-position Brian to a different area of the clinic. I watched his jaw tighten as they lifted Brian from his resting place. He began to whimper in pain as they cradled his limp body in their arms and steady stream of tears silently rolled down his cheeks. I felt foolish for tearing up at the sight of him trying not to cry.
Brian remained bedridden at the clinic until the date the surgeon could perform the operation on his leg. He again stayed hospitalized for a few more days following his surgery. Altogether, Brian was at the clinic for over an entire week. During those days, I had the delight to see his mind, body and soul become transformed and rejuvenated. The drastic change in Brain’s behavior from the first day to the evening of his discharge was enormous. I was overjoyed to see his smile become increasingly brighter every new day I greeted him at his bedside. His healing process was completely transformational, both physically and emotionally.
The day that he left the clinic was a true testament to his bravery. Brain is a shy boy and will not begin to open up to anyone, unless he has spent time getting to know them. It was a miracle he even felt comfortable around me as an unfamiliar mzungu (white person). We often put together a short video for our “18th man” teams back in Canada after their sponsored patient has had their surgery but I was a little hesitant about shooting one of Brian. I was not completely sure how he was going to react to the idea of being put on the spot and almost certain he was going to be very camera shy. The same day that we had planned to make the video, I was giving a tour of the clinic to some travelers from Ontario. I wanted to show them how awesome it is for the kids to send videos and pictures back to their Canadian teams, but I was concerned that Brian would be overwhelmed by the attention. I made sure to ask him if it was alright that the “mzungu visitors” watched as we filmed the video clip. With a genuine smile, he responded “yes.” I had been wrong all along! He was happy to receive the attention of the new travelers and excited that he was well enough to send a “thank you” video to his team! I am sure that Brian felt like a celebrity and I am equally sure that the visitors loved seeing Brian answer questions about himself while wearing an Oakville Ranger’s hockey jersey.
Now, only two and a half weeks after his surgery, Brian is doing fantastic! He recently came into the clinic for a review and a cast change and happily showed us how easy it is for him to walk around using his wooden crutches. Brain wears his cast as proud as he wears a smile. The wound on his leg is healing well and the stitches have been removed from his chin. I saw Florence again on the day of Brian’s review, and sure enough, she hugged me too many times to count! Brian has been so courageous and patient during this time of great difficulty and physical pain. Brian Waiswa is a fighter. He is the ideal 18th player for any hockey team. Yes, he is a fighter, but on the ice, his ideal position would be a forward. Brian, throughout his time spent at the clinic, looked upwards to the goal and shot for a great recovery…and sure enough, he scored! Brian is persevering and strong. I know for a fact that he would make a positive addition to his Canadian hockey team. He is a true testament of bravery and an inspiration to us all!
Ugandan Advice: remember this when you want to complain about Canadian winters: pushing a car out of the mud is way more difficult and a heck of a lot more dirty than digging a car out of the snow.