doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Category: Photography

Mpigi: My first Ugandan sunset

Sunset seen from the grounds of Sina Village in Mpigi, Uganda.

In Mpigi last week, I had the most incredible views at Sina Village where I was staying — from my own veranda (click here to see those photos), and also from the grounds. As I walked around Thursday evening, smiling up at the salmon-pink clouds of dusk, I realized I’d never seen a Ugandan sunset. Or maybe I had, but I hadn’t paid any attention to it. (I was probably too busy swatting at mosquitoes.)

I’ve seen my share of spectacular sunsets — particularly those in the Sonoran Desert of the American Southwest.

This was different. A more subtle, subdued beauty. But with the backdrop of birds and bugs, their whistling and humming; with the outline of tropical palms and other strange, dark shapes against the faint glow of the sky; this was something special. Something new. Something to remember.

And something to come back to.

Buena veranda vista

Veranda view: Dusk, and a little path leading somewhere …

“Drinks” and “hors d’oeuvres” outdoors.

Yesterday I wrote about my wonderful experience staying at Sina Village in Mpigi, Uganda.

As I mentioned in that post, for an extra $10, I got a private veranda and toilet. It was worth every penny, and then some. I spent almost every spare moment out on that veranda.

The outdoor furniture wasn’t anything to write home about. I sat on a white, plastic chair next to heavy, round table covered with a worn, spotted animal hide.

But the views … the views were everything.

Here are several photos taken from my lovely veranda during the 26 hours I spent at Sina Village.

I wish this were the view from where I live …

Sitting on my veranda, enjoying my view of the verdant countryside, and propping up my feet — in their very stylish shoes, of course — after my palliative care presentation at nearby Gombe Hospital.


The view from my veranda at midday.


The view from my veranda at dusk.

It takes a village

The colorful interior wall of the hut where I stayed at Sina Village in Mpigi, Uganda. Read on for more details about the hut’s unique construction.

Last Thursday and Friday, I was Gombe Hospital to present my palliative care curriculum. There weren’t any hotels nearby. So Thursday night, I stayed at a place called Sina Village in Mpigi, 30-45 minutes from the hospital. It was intended as just a place to eat and sleep, and maybe write or work if I had some energy. These trips away are exhausting, so I knew I’d crash hard Thursday night.

Staying at Sina Village brought me so many smiles.

But it was so much more. By far my favorite accommodations away from Naggalama, Sina Village was a peaceful, rural respite. And by that, I mean as I sat on the private veranda of my little hut, staring out at the lush, green countryside, I actually felt at peace — something that’s hard to come by anywhere, and almost impossible in New York City. I find the sounds of human activity distracting. Birds, crickets, and cows, on the other hand, somehow allow me space to think. Sonic salve.

It did take me a little while to adjust to the environment, though. I checked in late Thursday morning, and before going to Gombe Hospital for my 2 p.m. presentation, made myself some coffee for a little energy boost. As I was stirring the sugar in, an unfamiliar burst of sound hit me like a wave.

Moooooooooooooooooooo …

The sound didn’t register as anything I’d ever heard while standing in my own bedroom. It sounded like it was coming from my veranda, its mysterious maker on the verge of storming my little hut. I almost dropped my precious cup of coffee.

Regaining my nerves, I cautiously stepped onto the veranda and peered outside.

I’ve been around cows plenty. But standing in my bedroom and hearing one moo? That was a first.

A cow.

A cow? Yes, “mooooo,” of course. I knew the sound, have been around cows plenty and heard their distinctive wail, but have never heard one while standing in my bedroom.

I chuckled at my skittishness — a genetic trait I inherited from my maternal grandmother, I am sure — and at my city slicker reaction.

For the next 24 hours of my stay, plaintive mooooing pealed outside at irregular intervals. At each moo, I smiled.

The bottle hut where I stayed at Sina Village, built with recycled plastic water and soda bottles. The lovely veranda is behind the hut. I will post photos of the view from it soon.

The construction of my “bottle hut,” too, made me smile. “Bottle hut” was literal nomenclature. The building was constructed of plastic water and soda bottles, which had been packed with the ubiquitous, red Ugandan earth and laid like bricks with cement to hold them in place. The picture at the top of this blog post is of my interior wall; below are photos of bottle hut exteriors. The gray-toned hut is where I stayed. The earth-toned hut was down the path from me.

Another aspect of my hut’s exterior made me smile. Each hut at Sina Village had the name of a different African country stenciled onto its metal door. Appropriately, I stayed in “Uganda.”

A view of my bed, and of my “private bathroom.”

I spent an extra $10 for a private bathroom and veranda. “Private bathroom” really means “private toilet.” To wash your hands or take a shower, you have to go outside to the common bathroom facilities. This isn’t what I’m used to, but it did not detract from my stay.

These amazing huts are constructed by local people (see photos below of bottles waiting to be packed with dirt, and a partially constructed hut). Sina Village is not only a cluster of little huts for lodgers. It has a mission — to teach entrepreneurship and job skills. This is much needed in Uganda, where so many people are subsistence farmers, and good jobs are hard (to impossible) to come by.

The place was magical. So were the people. In particular, Flavia, the woman who coordinated my meals and other needs while there, was so kind and welcoming. She also made the best beans and rice I’ve had in Uganda.

If I’m ever in Mpigi again, this is where I will stay.

Home-grown exotics

A few days before leaving for rural Uganda, I had an exotic adventure right in my own backyard. I trekked out to the Bronx to visit the New York Botanical Garden, one of my favorite places in the city. It’s always a fun trip, and I walked through some of my favorite haunts, like the ornamental conifer garden. But I made this particular visit to see the annual orchid show, which would conclude while I was out of the country. This week was my last chance.

The show didn’t disappoint. I ooooohed and aaaaahed as I made my way through the greenhouse, stunned by the magnificent and many colors, shapes, and sizes. Some blooms hung in clusters from trees; some strutted in giant pots on the ground; others wound their way like strands of delicate glass beads around a gigantic frame of green bamboo-like rods, a structure which reached up for the ceiling, and for the sun.

My photos don’t do these beautiful blooms justice. But they give you a glimpse at what the show was like:

Outside, the Japanese apricot trees (below) were blooming, as were the azaleas. It was early April, too early for many of the spring bulbs, but some precocious daffodils (also below) and even a few tulips had popped up to say their spring “hello.”

All this green (and pink, orange, yellow, purple, and so on …) was so refreshing to see. It was a pleasant respite from all the concrete and steel that surrounds me on a daily basis. It was also a lovely reminder that someday, I want to have a house again, with a backyard, and my own garden.

japanese apricots



My window to the world

I didn’t get much natural light while I was on my medicine rotation, so I made a point to look out the picture windows near the unit where I worked. It’s a lovely view.

This morning at 9 a.m., my class has an orientation meeting to our four-month research block. When I exit the door of my apartment building around 8:45 or so, I hope to see something I’ve had very little of on my medicine clerkship: sunshine. (The forecast today calls for clouds, but that’s ok — there are other sunshine-y days ahead.) For the last several weeks while on medicine, when I’d leave my apartment in the morning, it was dark. When I left the hospital in the evening, it was dark again.

It’s disorienting. Without daylight, you lose track of time. It happens to everyone in the hospital. I remember seeing a patient in the ED late one morning. She asked me what time it was. I told her it was 11:30. She looked surprised, and told me she thought it was later than that. I quickly realized she thought it was 11:30 p.m., not 11:30 a.m. Granted, she was rather confused to begin with, but the lack of windows in the ED (and the lack of a clock) only made matters worse. I honestly told her that being in the hospital, I sometimes lost track of time too.

I was fortunate enough, though, to get regular glimpses of the outside world that grounded my circadian rhythm. To get from the elevators to the ward where I worked, I had to pass a series of gigantic picture windows. Look straight out, and you got a lovely view of the East River, and one of the bridges in the distance. Turn slightly to the right, and you got a lovely view of the New York City skyline. Every morning on my way in, and several times throughout the day, I would take a moment to look out those windows. To chronicle the various views — of sunrise, snow, and sparkling city lights — I started taking pictures through the windows with my phone. Here are my favorites, broken up into two groups, the skyline view and the East River view.

Click on any of the images to open a larger, slideshow view. Oh, and pardon the glare — you know, those harsh hospital lights.


Skyline view:


East River view:

An end to the silence

I didn’t post here on my blog last month because I was busy with school, and with other things, such as the decoupage serving tray pictured above.

The few of you following my blog (thank you, by the way) will have noticed that I did not post at all during August. Or if you did not notice that fact specifically, you probably did observe that a good while went by without so much as a whisper from me. No worries, nothing is wrong. I’m not sick, I’m not dying, and as you saw from my two recent posts, I have not changed my mind about becoming a doctor.

So why the silence?

Reason #1: busyness.

August was the-month-to-get-everything-done-before-school. And when you have a family, a house, a husband, and other such life elements, figuring out how to manage them on a totally different schedule takes some time, juggling, and preparation.

Reason #2: business.

Yes, I have my own business, called The Artful Diner. As with most artists, I won’t be able to retire off my income from it, but the extra money helps, and I enjoy it. As the name implies, my work has to do with dining. And indeed, I make decoupaged dishware and beaded / wire-wrapped utensils to sell online and at art shows. At the end of July, I heard about a local art fair that I really wanted to participate in. I signed up, paid my fee … and then realized I needed more inventory. So I spent the next several weeks in full production mode. (My dining room — aka my “studio” — still looks like a hurricane swept through it, much to my husband’s delight.) Here is a link to my storefront, and a few photos of my recent work.

My Etsy storefront link: The Artful Diner

Here are some coaster sets I have painted and decoupaged with marbled paper (this is a new thing I am doing now):

Another new item for my online store this season is pillar candle stands. These are flat pieces of glass, with paper (and often vintage ephemera) decoupaged on the underside, on which you can put a tall pillar candle. The wax drips onto the flat, glass surface, and you just scrape it off. Here are a couple photos of those:

A set of six small decoupaged bowls:

So rest assured: I have not been idle with my time. Between the life busyness and my business, posting on my blog fell between the cracks. But I missed writing during that time, and especially writing about science and medicine, so you may also rest assured that I will not let that happen again.