(Thomas Froese photo)
Pictured here in happier times in Uganda, just prior to the global pandemic, are, from left, Paul Mukhwana, Liz Kajik, and Dorothy Kajik. Living in a low-income nation, they’re among the 1.9 billion people worldwide who now have a first-dose vaccination rate of just one per cent.
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, July 3, 2021)
There are always gentle and innocent ways to have your heart ripped open. One way is to talk to someone who may or may not be alive the next time you think of them.
In this case you’re talking with Paul, hands-free, on the road. It’s a sunny June day and there’s no cost, talking all the way to Uganda. It’s 21st-century living.
“Mr. Thom. Please bring me to Canada,” is what you’ve heard from Paul – and others – so many times that you’ve lost count. Today, though, the conversation on the road and over the ocean follows a more desperate request. “Mr. Thom. Don’t leave us.”
It’s the pandemic. In Uganda there’s precious little to fight it. Out of your family’s back pocket, since last spring, you’ve regularly sent shillings for support: for food for Paul’s children and help for others in your circle from when you’d lived there. The issue now is there’s no vaccine.
“People here in Mukono are dying every day,” Paul tells you. “We’re using garlic, lemon and honey as our medicine because all hospitals are full.” It gives you a picture.
Here’s another picture, a photo, from another sunny day, a happier moment in Uganda prior to the pandemic. With Paul is another family friend, Dorothy, along with Dorothy’s daughter, Liz. Liz is named after Child No. 1, that is your firstborn. That’s how close you all are. You’ve also spoken with Dorothy recently. “We are only in God’s hands,” is how she put it.
No, there’s no patio dining nearby. No SkipTheDishes on any Ugandan doorstep. No CERB in the bank. And no vaccine to speak of. Not in Uganda. Not now. Just a tight lockdown, again, without that vaccine light at the end of the tunnel.
Ironically, while talking with Paul, you’re travelling to pick up your father to take him for his second COVID jab. Later, at the clinic, a sparkling new arena, thousands of post-it notes are displayed as a sea of rainbow colours, each note a celebration.
One says, “Thank God we live in Canada.” Yes, thank God. In 2021 we have the wherewithal to create effective vaccines. Just not the wherewithal to spread the love. COVAX, the program where the world’s richest countries help the poorest with vaccine distribution, is falling horribly short. The goal of giving two billion doses by year’s end is now at just 90 million.
Then there’s unfair global vaccine patents. It’s why, for example, South Africans were asked by AstraZeneca to pay $5.25 per vaccine, more than double what Europeans were paying.
Now multiply Paul’s expressed fears by ten thousand. Then ten thousand again. This still isn’t near the number of people – about 1.9 billion – living in low-income nations. This weekend, with Canada Day on the mind, how many of these almost two billion people have had a first vaccine? About one per cent. That’s right. One. And Canadians? About 80 per cent.
So it’s a good weekend to give thanks for the homeland you have, a home given through no doing of your own, really. Recognize it. Live in it. It’s easy to forget there’s a different world outside your borders. It’s easy to forget, also, that, for all the smudges and stains on the window of Canada’s story, this nation remains a place of hope and envy for many people in many places.
This is our world’s disparity. Then again, with viruses, what goes around has a way of coming around.
Another message arrives. An email from Brian. On this side of the ocean he could be developed as an elite soccer player. In Uganda? “I’m running out of food … I don’t know what to do.”
“Hang in there,” you tell him. “I’ve sent something through Paul.”
He responds, “Oh my God. Thank you such much, sir.”
Of course, when you’re here, you deal with daily affairs here. When in a developing nation, you deal with daily life there. They’re two different worlds. You don’t expect one to be the other. Otherwise you’ll lose your mind. Even so, some days, even sunny days, the two worlds can collide and rip your heart open.
Which is not the worst thing, if it shows you have a heart.