A long-awaited interview
I’m at a mall in Kampala flipping through racks of clothing and my heart is starting to race. Mike is riding the escalator outside, up and down, up and down with our three small kids. I know that will provide them with about 10 minutes of fun before it’ll be time to go. I need to choose and purchase the outfit I am going to wear tomorrow for my interview at the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council, but I’m having the realization that I don’t know what I am doing. I’m looking at clothing based off of my American interview standards. I’ve never had an interview in Uganda, and the longer I walk through the store the more my overanalyzing turns into indecisiveness.
I see Mike standing at the entrance by the glass doors. We make eye contact and I shrug my shoulders like I am nowhere close to being done.
He hollers back “take your time!”. Nine years into our marriage and I am still surprised by his patience.
I look around. Take a deep breath. The store is huge, modern, fluorescent lights and hip music. There are a lot of people, and we are all in face masks trying to social distance and shop, scooting towards certain items of clothing but also simultaneously moving in awkward circles around each other.
I see a red top that I like.
Hmmm… red in an interview? Probably not.
Then a few Ugandan women walk past me. They are stylish and colorful. A walking bouquet of flowers. I reconsider the red, maybe it isn’t too much? I ask for their opinion.
“No.” One of them says. “They may think you are a supporter of Bobi Wine.”
We are in the middle of elections, and Bobi Wine is the strongest opposition President Museveni is facing. He’s one of the reasons the President banned Facebook. He and all his supporters wear red. I hadn’t considered this and feel even more culturally blind.
“Thank you.” I say, walking away.
In my prior life, I knew how to dress for an interview. I never felt like I was “me” in any of those clothes, but I knew what was too short, too obnoxious, too tight, too homely. Now, I shuffled around in a daze.
Do I wear a long skirt, like in Bundibugyo, or is that too casual? It’s hot, can I wear a button-up shirt with short sleeves, or should I wear a long-sleeve shirt? Is a jacket too professional? Should my clothes be loose, or fitted? Do I wear stockings? Who wears stockings anymore? Maybe everyone? Would it be acceptable if I just showed up in scrubs?
A young man walked over to me and gave me a smile. He had on big black rimmed glasses and tight jeans, with a fitted t-shirt that had a name tag on it, ABEL.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Oh ya. You can.” I told him I had no idea what I was doing. I gave him the whole spiel.
I-was-going-for-an-interview-at-the-Nursing-Council-in-the-morning. I-came-all-the-way-from -America-to-specifically-teach-nurses-how-to-resuscitate-newborns-and-I’d-been-trying-to-get-my-Ugandan-license. I-needed-an-appropriate-outfit. I’d-been-waiting-for-this-interview for-1-year-and-it-was-finally-happening.
“You are a nurse? Then we have to get you something very professional.”
He glided through the store as the clothes leaped into his arms. He was mixing and matching and enjoying himself turning back every so often to make sure he hadn’t lost me.
Half of his choices I questioned, but realized that was more of a reason I needed this person. It was me who needed the help, not him.
I had some reckoning to do in the dressing room as I put on each pair of trousers (pants are called trousers here, and underwear are called pants) and looked from behind. Somewhere between America and Uganda I lost my butt.
I was turning 40 in a few months but it felt like it was happening with each new thing I put on. Are these clothes aging me or have I just not looked at myself in a long time? When did I get a varicose vein on my calf? There is a man outside this door who is telling me what is fashionable, who have I become?
In-between these epiphanies I’d model for him.
“These are a little tight on me.”
“They look to be the right size.” He countered.
“Ya but if I lifted my top you’d see I can barely breathe.”
“Unfortunately we don’t have these ones in a larger size, but I can get you the other ones in a different pattern.”
He ran off.
I texted Mike:
This isn’t going well. Apparently I have a muffin top. Everything is either too tight up top or too baggy down below. And where’d my butt go? Be out soon, hopefully.
When the man came back I quickly tried on the remainder of all the clothes. There were some black trousers and a black button up shirt that felt the most comfortable.
He nodded his head all around, considering the black on black. He’d given me some straightforward opinions already so I trusted him. “The clothes fit you well, and they are professional. The black on black is not my first choice, but it does look smart.”
“Is it strange to wear all black to an interview though?” I ask.
“Not at all. It is totally fine.”
“I’ll just wear a colorful necklace or something.”
“Exactly. And you said your shoes are white?”
When I get to the register I have in my hand multiple pairs of the same black outfit, because I’m feeling all the nerves of the future interview and in the moment it seems wise to have a change of clothes. Just in case something happens. Not sure what, but just-in-case.
As I hand them over to the checker Mike walks up and glances at my purchase.
I justify my choice. “You know, extras in case like I spill or something. Or a button pops off last minute, or it's wet in the taxi…”
Every time I imagine the panel of nurses who will be interviewing me, my stomach twists and I just want it to be done. I’ve been told they ask questions from completely random areas of the nursing profession and that it is an intimidating process. Unpredictable. Then based off the interview, they choose a hospital for you to do an “attachment” (or internship) at, and they can assign you there anywhere from a few months to a year.
I look at the mound of identical black clothes.
“Kace, it’s going to be fine tomorrow.” Mike says.
What if I end up getting placed in Kampala for a year? Or Mbarara for 8 months? I can’t do that. Then I won’t get a license here. That seems problematic.
When I take a moment to believe Mike, to let it sink in and consider that the day could be a success- then one shirt and one pair of bottoms is clearly all I need.
I stay there, with that thought. I hand the other clothes back to the lady. “I don’t think I need these. Sorry. I got too many.”
I leave the house for my interview just before the sun comes up. I’m told with traffic it could take up to an hour to get to the Council, but it only ends up taking twenty minutes. My driver laughs at my outfit choice when I press him for last minute commentary. “All black, like a funeral!” He says. But I’m in too deep now to take it to heart. Plus, he doesn’t work in the fashion industry.
I’m close to two hours early. As I walk through the metal gate I see what looks like a big house that has been converted into a business. The front is a large asphalt parking lot, with multiple white tents set up. It’s actually a rather friendly looking place, complete with a
statue of a nurse out front.
I’m the first one there. It’s just me and the cleaning lady at 7:00 am. I’m sitting outside the office, which is locked and closed. But it has been a feat to get to this day. It has taken monthly emails, phone calls, submitting a lot of paperwork, more phone calls, and an 8-hour drive. It has taken waiting through the pandemic for the office to reopen, borrowing books on nursing in Uganda, and having loved ones pray I’d get to this point.
For this, I don’t mind waiting.
The office opens and they invite me to sit inside. The room begins to fill up with other foreign nurses, like myself. One is from Kenya. Another is from America. A girl with long brown hair doesn’t say where she’s from, but she’s wearing a soft pink dress that has wide arms and makes her look like an angel.
The lady from America is stressing me out. She’s sharing about her life but really just jumping through the highlight reel of every disaster her family has ever been through, starting with a chemical plant that exploded in her hometown when she was a child.
“We didn’t move. And I constantly had lung infections…”
I try to change the subject. “Oh that's terrible. Do you think they’ll ask us a bunch of math questions?”
“I hope not.” She says. “I didn’t study any of that.”
She’s wearing sandals that look almost like flip flops, which seems a risky decision to me. But what do I know.
“You didn’t?” I asked.
“No, I’m just hoping they don’t ask. I haven’t had to do nursing math in forever. So anyway, after we adopted our first son… his birth mother got pregnant again…”
I listened for the next hour. Then the bursar came from behind the desk and informed us we needed to take a paper to the nearest Stanbic Bank and pay for the interview. We had to return with a receipt.
We did this together. It took a while, between getting stuck in traffic, waiting in the bank line, and getting back.
By mid-morning her intense anxiety was beginning to affect me. I felt my insides starting to avalanche from all the input. Rather than being centered and confidant, I was on a mental overload and scrambling to check-out somehow. We had now moved onto a story about her best friends daughter needing emergency heart surgery.
I looked over to the silent girl, still sitting there so angelic and calm.
“I think I need to just close my eyes for a bit.” I said to the air.
“Oh no problem, go ahead. I’m gonna use the bathroom. What would you rate it? On a 1-5 scale, how is it? Does it have tp?”
“3.5 if you don't breathe, there’s tp.” I say, with eyes closed.
I start getting texts and emails from a last-minute prayer request Mike just sent out. He asked friends and family to pray for me right then. I quickly read through the messages. They are balm to me.
“Kacie Forrest?” A woman from a doorway calls my name.
“Walk out this door, go straight, and the panel is waiting for you in the first room to the left.”
As I walk outside the sun is high in the sky, blinding bright. The courtyard is filled with at least one hundred people, nurses or soon-to-be nurses sitting spaced apart in plastic chairs with manilla envelopes in hand.
This is finally happening.
I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t tell if I was underprepared and this was going to flop, or if I was completely overprepared. I’d lost all perspective in the studying and the waiting and the dreading.
I walked up the steps to the room, where a seat at a long slick wooden table awaited me. The interviewers lined both sides of the table, with arms crossed, all wearing face masks and seated in black leather swivel chairs. I’d never been in an interview where I couldn’t read peoples expressions. I’d also never done an interview where I was the minority, and I really hoped they would be able to understand my accent.
“You may sit.” Said one of the women.
It was quiet.
“You are welcome.” Another person said.
“Thank you.” I replied.
The pacing seemed slow, but culturally appropriate. I just took the lead from whoever spoke
Another person introduced themselves as the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council. She shared for a moment about their history and explained that my interview would consist of questions posed by each member, then I would leave the room as they discussed what they heard.
“Are you ready to start?” She asked.
“I cannot wait to start!”
Unintentionally, that made everybody laugh. The room seemed to breathe a little.
“First introduce yourself.” She said. “And please keep your answers brief.”
That comment confused me. Brief for an American? Or brief for a Ugandan? Two very different realities. A brief morning greeting for an American is a quick ‘hi’. A brief morning greeting here is ‘Hello. How are you? How are your children? How is your husband?”…
Be concise. I thought. That’s what she means. But talk enough so they can understand my nursing judgement and experience.
“Good afternoon.” I said. “My na-“
“Afternoon?” I heard a muffled voice respond. “It is still morning.”
It dawned on me that I had been waiting since 7 am, so it felt very late to me. I really didn’t know what time it was. My stomach had been growling. The sun was in-your-face hot.
I laughed, and almost said “well I’ve been waiting for such a long time that it feels late”, but quickly saw how that could come across poorly without explanation of my ridiculous arrival time.
“You are right. Good morning.” I said.
The woman nodded.
“My name is Kacie Forrest. I am a registered nurse from America. I have been a nurse for 10 years. I came to Uganda last year with my family. My husband is a pastor and we have three small children and we stay in Bundibugyo.” (staying is the preferred word over ‘living’)
“Bundibuygo?” someone said, surprised.
“That is far.”
“Yes, it is.” I said.
“Well then let us begin with the nursing questions. Ready?”
“I am, except for one thing.”
“What is it?”
“I just need to know if you can understand my accent with the mask on?” I asked.
“We can. We are used to interviewing Whites like this, it is no problem at all. We understand everything you are saying. Let us continue.”
Everyone got quiet and looked at the person who was to ask me my first question.
There was no going back now.
I felt calm, expectant. A peace settled over me. The room even seemed brighter.
“Tell me…” she said with a long pause. Slowly her words emerged with precision. “How do you resuscitate a baby?”
Could I believe what I was hearing?
Did she just ask me to explain how to resuscitate a baby?
The exact thing I have trained to come here and do?
That first question was tailor-made for me. The words stringing together into the most unexpected but perfectly timed gift. Out of ANY nursing question in the entire world, this woman chose to ask me about infant resuscitation. I couldn’t help but feel God’s pleasure smiling down in that room and it lasted for the entire interview.
More questions were asked by the panel, and I had professional experience and knowledge about all of them except a cleft palate question and one easy surgical question that I botched.
They asked me to talk about common health issues in Bundibugyo, obstetrical emergencies, psych disorders in pregnancy and then surprised me with a Ugandan politics question that was pretty basic.
Overall the experience was like when you are in an airport and your legs are tired from traveling and you see that moving sidewalk and you step on and glide along and feel unusually light and unburdened for just a moment in time?
Afterwards, I sat outside while I waited for them to deliberate where they wanted to place me for an internship and for how long.
They called me back in.
“We would like for you to complete a two-month attachment in departments you are not familiar with. This would include male ward, emergency, surgical ward and so forth. It will have to be in a regional referral hospital, and we are trying to decide right now between Fort Portal or Bundibugyo.”
Fort Portal was two hours over the mountain from where I live. Bundibugyo was not technically a regional referral hospital but I would be able to get the experience they were requiring there.
I stayed very still as they argued their case quietly with one another.
“She has young children.” One of them said. “Bundibugyo is closer. Fort Portal is a distance from where her family stays currently.”
“Fort Portal is a regional referral hospital, but are you certain Bundibugyo is?”
“Yes she can go to Bundibugyo and do her attachment there, while also staying close to her family.”
I was relieved to hear them debating the only two options that were even possible for me. At this point, I knew it was going to all work out. Your prayers were heard.
“Okay.” They said. “Your attachment will be for two months, at Bundibugyo Hospital. How is that?”
“That is wonderful.” I said. “Thank you so much.”
I shuffle through my closet looking for a dress to wear to my friend’s house. My hands go past the black button up shirt and trousers. It hasn’t been long since that day I bought them in the mall in Kampala, only 3 months ago. But in that time I have started and finished my required internship at Bundibugyo Hospital, took another trip down to Kampala and turned in my written evaluations from each charge-nurse in the departments I worked in. I’ve paid the license fee and taken pictures for my ID.
“Your license will be fully processed and ready for you in three months.” The nursing council said. “Please come back then.”
Until then, I wait, encouraged and fortified by a process that at first seemed quite daunting but has actually been faith-building.