First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria

The Book of the Week is “First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria” by Eve Brown-Waite, published in 2009. This is the personal account of an adventurous idealist.

Although Brown’s late 1980’s Peace Corps experience in Ecuador prompted a painful realization about her interactions with a certain adult when she was an adolescent, there also occurred growth. Previously, she had fallen in love with her Peace Corps recruiter, who got a micro-financing job with the international aid organization, CARE. In August 1993, they ended up in Arua, Uganda.

They brought with them two pet cats, a cappuccino machine, a TV and a VCR.  They had to have shots or medication to protect against malaria, yellow fever, typhoid and cholera. Brown was afforded a mentor who taught her the culture of the locals. She was advised not to purchase the cows in the open-air market with no flies on them– those cows had been sprayed with insecticide. Poisonous grasshoppers made holes in the laundry on the clotheslines, but other ones were edible.

Brown and her husband lived richly compared to Ugandans. Instead of cooking over an open fire, they used a propane-powered stove and refrigerator. Her expatriate multi-family compound had electricity from 7-10 nightly– absent a war, political crisis, or thunderstorm. The expats drank gin and played badminton and tennis. Sometimes goats wandered onto the court.

“It was common for men to hold most of the positions of authority in rural Uganda, even thought it appeared the women did most of the work.” The women did the domestic chores and the childcare while the husbands were out of the country on business for long periods. Brown searched in vain for work in her field of AIDS-prevention education. Once, she happened upon an alternative-medical facility. The doctor there believed that AIDS could be contracted through sex, which was curable, or through voodoo hex, which was incurable.  Meanwhile, she did a lot of cooking and shopping. The expats enjoyed culinary diversity that included “…fish, chicken stews, curries, rice pilaf and fresh bread.” The area’s gardens yielded tomatoes, mangoes, potatoes, rice and okra.

Brown’s husband financially supported the kids in the community who begged most aggressively. There were food, clothing, medication and school fees to pay. On occasion, the couple took long road trips and were compelled to take kids to a family member, in the CARE Land Rover. The ultimate destination was an urban area with better medical care than Arua (which isn’t saying much). The roads were potholed, “…clogged with bicycles, pedestrians and dangerously overloaded commuter vans.”

The civil service appeared to consist of lazy bureaucrats. In the month of February, Brown needed to pick up packages at the post office. Those packages had been sent to her back in December. She was told to go to the customs house, reachable by a very short walk. The customs officer told her he needed to go to the post office with her. However, it was 4:42 and the post office closed at 5:00. Ugandan bureaucrats never walked anywhere, and the officer didn’t have access to a vehicle.

In 1996, the civil war in Uganda was serious cause for concern. Anti-government guerrillas were engaged in bombings, hijackings, and chopping off of facial features of villagers. Read the book to learn of whether Brown ever got her post-office packages, about her medical and family adventures, the terrorist incidents that occurred in Arua, and about other aspects of living in a rural village in Uganda in the mid 1990’s, as seen through American eyes.

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