The past week has been the most whirlwind experience of my life – and I have had a number! In the past 6 days I have been on 4 continents and slept a total of about 6 hours. By missing a connection in Istanbul my planned 6-day stay in Kampala turned into 4 packed days that left no time for visits to the restroom, much less for eating. Amidst the chaos, there is one story that has left me contemplating myself and my role in global health.
My story came on the last day of our visit. We had gone to the National Referral Hospital to meet with a doctor about his recent research. As is common in Uganda, he was running late so I was hanging out in the breezeway in the HIV ward outside his office suite. I quickly realized a small girl was watching me. I smiled and waved – she smiled and waved back. She came closer, eyeing my phone. I asked her if she wanted to get her picture taken and she eagerly agreed. So I held the phone up and, instead of standing there with a straight face as most of the Ugandan children do, she suddenly struck a pose. I smiled and showed her the picture – she beamed with joy. She was ready for a fashion shoot. Over the next few minutes she struck pose after pose and we pretended to be in Paris or Milan. I then showed her how to take the pictures herself and she became the photographer, clicking off shots like a pro. After a few more minutes she was happy and said bye and ran off down the hall. I went into the waiting area laughing at having met such a cute kid.
A few minutes later I see her head pop up around the corner. She had gone to get a bag of bananas and was back. I smiled and she came over and crouched next to me. I asked her her name – Winnie. How old? 6. She liked school and fashion. Why she was at the hospital? Her mom was sick. How long had she been there? 2 months. Was anyone else with her? No, her brothers and sisters were back in the village and she, the youngest, was sent to care for the mom. I welcomed Winnie into my lap and after looking through all the pictures on my phone together I opened Subway Surfer – my 6-year-old son loves it, as did Winnie. I tried to show her how it worked – failing miserably time after time – frustrated with my ineptitude, she grabbed the phone and within a minute was well on her way to expert level. Eventually my host came to round us up and I said goodbye to Winnie. I held her in my arms and I told her that I hoped her mom got better and to tell her I said hello. I told her she was beautiful and we hugged. I don’t know what Winnie thought of me – if she will remember me as a strange white woman that showed up at the hospital – but I will never forget her. Kids all over the world are the same – they love taking pictures, playing video games, and shoes that light up. They also need hugs, preferably from their moms. Winnie found me and helped me find myself. Even at work, I am a mom.