Jennifer Ross, MD, MPH, is a current NPGH Fogarty Fellow living in Uganda. Her research project is on the use of co-trimoxazole prophylaxis for malaria in HIV patients in Uganda and Kenya. She earned her advanced degrees at the Oregon Health and Science University, and has worked for the CDC.
My daughters will be too young to remember our Fogarty year in Uganda – they will be 18 months and three years when we move back to Seattle – but being here as a family completely shapes our experience. Since half of the Ugandan population is under the age of 15, there are children everywhere. We attract a lot of attention on the street as a ‘muzungu’ family, and our kids create a natural connection with nearly everyone we meet. The friendliness of strangers toward our children makes us feel welcome, even if it’s not exactly how the interaction would work at home. Asking after the children is often part of a greeting in Uganda, and people refer to others by the name of their eldest child, so I am “Mama Sonia” to our nanny and our neighbors.
In many ways, this feels like the ideal setting to be pursuing research while also raising young children. High-quality child care is affordable for us and abundant here, and we live close enough to my workplace for me to walk home at lunchtime to nurse my baby. Our life here seems to allow for more breathing room; every once in a while on a Sunday afternoon, after we have played outside and before the time difference allows us to FaceTime with the grandparents, we actually feel a little bored. We haven’t felt bored in years! The other key to our life here is my spouse’s efforts. We consider this a paternity year for him, adopting the example of other countries that support fathers as well as mothers to take time with their little ones. He left a good job in Seattle to take on the task of coordinating our home life here, where, in addition to the children, there’s often something that needs repairing, or a utility bill that must be paid in person. All of these factors grant me precious blocks of uninterrupted time to write and think about my projects.
It is not perfect – I still pull out my laptop to work many evenings after the girls are asleep, I don’t travel to as many field sites as I’d like, and my worrying about how we would manage a car accident or serious illness still keeps me awake some nights – but for now, our arrangement here is working well. Since coordinating a clinical or research career with a busy family life doesn’t seem particularly easy anywhere, I consider this a success. And even if my daughters don’t distinctly remember our time here, living here will certainly impact them. Just this week my daughter came home from pre-school singing Christmas carols with a Ugandan accent.