Monday, December 20, 2010
But by the time I was waiting to board the airplane, I had changed my mind and was convinced that it was actually malaria. The body aches must not have been just from the strange sleeping positions I’d assumed nightly, and this temperature of sweat just isn’t normal. And, wasn’t there air conditioning in this airport when I got here? Reading my itinerary printed off specially for me at Passport Travel turned out to be not-the-best idea for calming my hypochondria, considering how I traced any slight ill feeling of mine to match any the vague ‘flu-like symptoms’ described for malaria, then moved on to the warning about how putting off treatment is what puts people in life-risking danger. I’ve come all this way and now I’m going to die on a plane or in an airport from a damn mosquito bite.
But the plane was cooler, I got some rest, and now I’m in Brussels, feeling pretty much back to normal. There’s SNOW! I could actually hear Christmas songs now and not feel totally out of place. In Kampala the plastic Christmas trees, foily decorations and advertisements felt like a giant fraud in the midst of the dust cyclones, beating sun and overall heat of the city. But now it feel like I’m back to real life. But then at the same time I feel removed from something I attached myself so closely to, and in such a short time. I’m curious to see what kind of impact my trip will have had on me, but I‘m sure it will be positive in some way or another, to some degree.
I definitely plan on keeping up with Annie and her family, both biological family and the Ttega group which I think is really an extension of her family, as well. Thatt might even be an understatement. People in Uganda will refer to you as their sister, daughter, or whatever family relation they assume is age-appropriate. The entire time I was in Uganda, Freda was endearingly referred to as ‘jaja,’ grandmother. Edith told me I was like a sister to her, and everyone who knew Freda called me their daughter by association. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to privilege of surrounding myself with such a welcoming group of people as a second family, but if I ever do I will consider myself all the more blessed.
As I hear about the happenings of Ttega I will be sure to update. Herman and I set up his own blog which I will post here as well, once it’s up and running and new posts are written. We tried to set up a PayPal account for him also, but unfortunately they won’t even give him the option, regardless of his UK-based Barclay’s bank account. It’s funny that he can set up an account to send payments, but not receive them. I can see how those things frustrate him, how it’s so difficult to tap the right resources just because someone’s living in Uganda. I sense a little skepticism even in wiring money through Western Union, but TIA. It’s kind of no surprise, hearing about all of the internal corruption in the government offices, businesses, even the mail system. Basically, it sucks. It sucks when a person is trying to do something good and there are so many discouraging obstacles. If anyone knows of an alternative for Herman to collect donations from abroad, please do let me know and I will relay that information.
For everyone who’s been reading along while I talk to much about myself, thank you. Thank you for all your support, financial as well as moral, I owe lots of favors from this experience = ) Like I said I’ll continue posting so check in every once in a while, I think there are still plenty more lessons to be learned from the equator.
I decided I wanted to bring a little treat to the kids at the new site’s program on my last day. I got a few packs of biscuits (the closest thing to cookies in Uganda) with chocolate cream, and made a plan to get them soda. Freda said some of the kids have probably never actually had soda!
When the last day came, Edith (the eldest) was keeping busy doing chores and kept asking what time it was. We didn’t really pick up on anything until someone wheel-barrowed an electricity generator down from the internet café a few hundred yards up the hill.
By mid-afternoon there was a computer, old monitor and amplifier plugged in. Josephine showed up with a big box of biscuits of her own and mango juice for everyone. The songs and dancing commenced immediately as all of the sugar set in. There were dancing contests, and I taught my second group of Africans the whitest dance on the planet: the Macarena. Kids from around the village gathered and watched from afar after hearing the music. We waved everyone over, and while some were a little too timid, others did come join us and the group grew to about 3 times the size of an average afternoon.
Some of the kids wrote me letters, and the first was written completely spontaneously by one of my English tutees, Nakkito. It was nice to know that the letters were sincere, and not assignments. They are all very sweet and say thank you at least 3 times in each one. They wrote that they loved me and that I am a good teacher. Surprisingly enough, I actually believe I’ve taught them something in my short time spent with them.
As I expected, I think my relationship with my students was mutually beneficial. They have taught me as much or more than I could ever teach them in English.
Saying goodbye was so sad, but after an afternoon with a surprise party like that, everyone was all smiles. Tonight I am packing all of my letters, thank-yous and Christmas cards with a heavy heart.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Sophie (a newer English volunteer) and I left Friday morning for Jinja, the ‘adventure capital’ of Uganda. I can concur that it is definitely the Mzungu capital, if nothing else. We stayed at Hotel Paradise on the Nile, and for a little over 17 dollars a night it was as close to paradise as possible. It was clean, secure, and had a beautiful view of the Nile. It was a short boda-boda trip away from Jinja town, the source of the Nile, and almost neighbored Jinja Backpacker’s hostel, where we could organize whatever adventure our itineraries (and budgets) would allow.
Friday was kind of gloomy so we though we’d just explore the town, check out the shops and go to Backpacker’s to make plans for the rest of the trip. It was here where I was a little too excited to enjoy some more familiar tastes from home; a falafel wrap and a cold beer.
Then Sophie and I looked into a mountain bike tour. We both ride at home and had mentioned missing bike rides, so this would be fun for both of us. Herman told us Jinja is flat, and our guidebooks also said it’s a great town to explore via cycling. I think these two things made Sophie and I (both exclusive road-bikers) underestimate a 4-hour mountain bike ride through the villages of Jinja, which we enthusiastically booked for the next morning.
First it was fine. We were on paved roads and the traffic wasn’t horrendous. It was still a little gloomy so the sun wasn’t punishing us as it probably would have on a normal day. Then the further we got from Jinjatown, the less-paved the roads became. But we still weren’t on a bike path, either. I felt like a kindergartener trying to operate a jackhammer for part of it where the cracks and bumps were almost unbearable. I was shaking so hard all over, I couldn’t even see straight enough to try avoiding the bigger bumps and potholes.
Then there were the hills. Sophie mentioned wanting to weep at one point and I can’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind as well. While I know it’s physically impossible, I’m pretty sure that over the course of the ride, the hostel we started and ended at must have somehow slid up to a much, much higher elevation from when we began.
But the hills would’ve been much more manageable, if it wasn’t for the rain. Sheets of it, for about the last hour, extended by a miscommunication with our guide. Maybe it’s my American accent but I’m pretty sure “I’d like to go home as soon as possible’ sounds much different than anything that would make him think we still wanted to go on a boat in the River Nile to see it’s source… in a thunderstorm. Anyway, we made it home alright and by that night we were able to find the humor in our situation rather than steeping in frustration. We looked back and appreciated getting to see some of the homes, gardens and hilltop scenes which we never would’ve found ourselves.
We squeezed in a boat tour to the source of the Nile with a guide named ‘Shorty’ later that evening. We were lucky enough to go during sunset, which was possibly our only real window of opportunity for the duration of our trip that wasn’t in the rain or in the dark.
We figured the next day HAD to be clearer for laying out by the pool, and maybe the elusive masseuse who hadn’t been available all weekend would suddenly show up. But, Sunday came with a third day of rain (almost unheard of for this time of the year), and the massage I had been prematurely bragging about all week didn’t happen either. I thoroughly enjoyed toasted bread and cold milk on my cereal at breakfast, then we went ahead and left for Kampala.
I’ve come across a lot of situations here where I’ve reminded myself that no matter how upset or irritated I get, the outcome will only be as positive as my attitude. I think I was starting to lose that mindset at home, so it’s good being tested again in a less subtle way. I hope this will help me be more grounded and mindful while approaching similar problems in the future.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
By then, I was the one who needed a break. And they still asked me for the lesson book and told me they wanted to go through it aloud. So I held up the exercises and the girls took turns. I told them how smart (clever) they are and they loved the one-on-one attention. It’s a totally different learning environment from the crowding at their school and they really appreciated the time I gave them. They really are very bright and beautiful and I loved them after the first day.
I’m considering staying at the new site through next week. I had planned on going on to an HIV education project with Cherryl, but now I’m finding myself more and more attached to helping these students and giving them all the tutoring I can while I’m still here. They do have Freda either way though, so I guess we will see.
As I mentioned before, Jospehine lives at the site with her own children and also shelters others in need. The 4 sisters have just arrived at her home recently and there used to be two different sisters.
About a month ago she took in two muslim girls who were more or less homeless. It’s said that the older sister, at 15 years old, was about to be married off by her older brother until Josephine went to find the girls and invite them to live with her. Unfortunately, a different brother showed up last week at the new site, telling Freda that he had to take both sisters with him, because they were visiting an ailing relative up in Northern Uganda. Josephine and Freda both spoke with him and questioned his actual motives, and whether both girls will actually be back. Especially considering how he wasn’t going to be the one taking them, but someone else was.
When a couple marries, it is the man’s family who is responsible for giving lots of gifts and offerings to the female’s family. We are all worried that the older brother is behind it all and is still planning on marrying her off for this temporary source of extra income. Marriage of anyone below 18 years old is illegal in Uganda, but like many laws, it’s not very well enforced, especially in the more rural northern areas.
The brother who came to school promised both girls would be back January 4th, and unfortunately, there’s nothing anyone can do until then. There’s no way to be in contact with the girls or check up on how they are doing. It’s a sad situation, but one of those things that no one can intervene in. These situations come up kind of a lot, when we think something is wrong and want to change it, but wince we are only outsiders and only here for a short period of time, we have to do our best to let it go.
I won’t be here January 4th, but Freda will be and I will definitely be keeping in touch with her to see how things all play out.
Lungujja primary and secondary school is a very run-down place. I’m not sure if that’s even an accurate description, since it was technically never built up. Like Ttega, Lungujja has no electricity or running water. However the maintenance at Ttega is much better, and Lungujja holds about 7 times as many children,making overcrowding a huge issue and keeping the lace clean practically impossible.
In order to help with overcrowding, a new site has been picked out for the school. However I’m still pretty unsure of how this tiny building is meant to be an improvement. Teacher Joesphine lives at the new site with 3 of her own children, and shelters others. She hopes to change 2 of the building’s rooms into dormitories for volunteers, and to make the last room a classroom. However by the looks of the building now, that won’t be any time soon at all.
Josephine just got a loan to put in floors, wiring for electricity and pipes for water. It is also for plastering the walls and putting windows in one of the rooms. However we are all concerned about how quickly this will happen, if at all. Lungujja is another school that accepts kids who can’t pay fees. The teacher’s salaries are long, long overdue, and payments on an older loan are proving to be difficult to pay, as well.
Here in Uganda, debt is something that people find themselves in a lot of trouble with- even more so than America. Cheryl was talking to me about the mindset of people in this kind of poverty. Here, everyone is worried about the present, only about today. When you have so little, you do everything you can to make it through one day at a time. So, if that means getting yourself into debt, it’s fine, because you’re not worried about how to pay it off later, you’ll figure that out when the time comes. I can definitely see evidence of this mindset, and in other ways than money.
So this is one of those problems that’s too big for any of us volunteers to approach. We can’t change someone’s mindset or way of life, no matter how much we think it’s for the better. So, Freda has started up a program where children can come get familiar with the new site, do arts and crafts, socialize and play games. The kids who live at the new site are there in the mornings and Freda has been giving them English lessons. I think it’s great that no matter how poor the facilities might be or what kind of problems the kids might be facing at home, theres almost always a way to help out and feel like you’re contributing, just because the kids are so flexible and will gladly lie in the dirt if you give them Enligsh to practice and the attention they need to get it right.
A day of swimming was 10,000 Ugandan shillings - less than 5 USD. It cost twice what it costs in Kampala and I would have gladly paid much more. I was really angry for forgetting to bring my camera this day. Pictures from the hotel web site will have to suffice.
I evened out my African farmer’s tan and swam a lot- the pool was spotless. I ate a chicken club sandwich and chips and followed it with a pineapple ‘malt beverage’ that I thought was a beer but actually wasn’t. The excessive carbonation hurt my stomach but I couldn’t stop drinking it. Anyway it was basically a perfect day. It was even worth the 4+ hours of transport in smelly taxis/buses. And considering it was the first trip out I have taken all on my own, I think it went pretty smoothly. As I suspected might happen, I think I’m getting used to the city right before my time here winds down. But for now I’m going to make the most of every day I’ve got left.
It’s so different from what I’m used to, where grief is so personal and private, and anyone distantly related who wants to be heavily involved might even be seen as greedy for people’s pity. Here, people stand on their front porch shrieking and crying so as many people as possible will gather.
Today at the school there were a few people who came to tell the news of the death in Lungujja. Josephine, the teacher at the ‘new site‘, got me a long skirt to borrow from her daughter and we headed over after lunch.
When we arrived around 3pm, the fire had died down and was just a pile of ash. There was a big tent and a couple dozen rental chairs under it facing the house. But most visitors sat in what I guess is the equivalent to a driveway. Around the side there was a fire pit and a huge pot of food cooking for the guests.
We walked up to the front door of the house and I had taken my first shoe off when I saw the feet. I was not prepared for seeing the stranger lying under a sheet in the center of the room. The living room was turned into an impromptu wake. I was really nervous at first since I’ve never been to a funeral and was really uncomfortable being in the same room as the body, but Freda assured me her was completely covered, and everyone else’s relaxed demeanor helped. I tried not to stare and to recite the Luganda condolences to the women sitting in the room and then to the widow, who was easy to pick out as she was wearing a black version of the Ugandan woman’s formal ‘gomez’ dress. I think they were all amused and/or thankful for mine and Freda’s fumbled attempts of “So sad, maam.” (something like ngachitolo nyo, nyabo)
We sat on mats which bordered the bed for a while. It was another occasion where I desperately wish I had known Luganda solely for the purpose of eavesdropping. The widow greeted each visitor as if she had known us for years. From what I could tell she recalled to each person the details of her husband’s death as if it were the first time and she was talking to her best friend, which I assume was basically opposite from the actual circumstance.
Everyone greeted Freda and I with kindness and welcoming. Though we had never seen any of them, much less the deceased, and had no actual conversation to improvise. They asked us what country we were from, just from curiosity, and then we kind of sat in silence while they chatted. With some subtle pleas form Freda and I, teacher Josephine excused the three of us and we left after about an hour’s visit.
Richard taught me about the rituals involving death during my orientation, and regardless of how uncomfortable I might have been, it was interesting to see it all play out in real life.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Here is what I know so far and can use when speaking with a Ugandan:
Odi Otya? - Casual greeting, like how are you
Jendi - response to odi otya, saying youre doing well
Wasuze otya-no, (ssebo or nyabo)?- How did you sleep last night, (sir or maam)?
Bulungi/Bubi - Responses: Well, not well
Kaale - okay
_____ sente mekka? - ______ costs what?
Mpa ku _____ - Give me ______ (apparently the ‘ku’ makes it less of a demand and more of a polite request)
Webale - Thank you
Welaba - Goodbye
Nvudeo - I’m back (response to “Welcome back” which I can’t remember but is very easy to recognize when someone says it to me)
Tuula - Sit down (has come in handy at the school)
Wanji? - Yes? (response for when someone calls)
Ku stage - Stop (for when you are on a bus, taxi and need to get off)
M’zungu, M’dugavu - white, black (person)
- As I escort kids home from school tonsss of kids in the village come out and yell ‘Bye, Mzungu!” and the teachers have taught me to respond, “Bye, M’dugavu!” but I’m not sure if it might be offensive or not so I try not to say it when adults are around, hahah.
Maazi - water (not to be confused with mazii, which means feces)
Smart vs. clever - When you look nice, they say ‘you are smart,’ or when a house is nice or a hotel is new and modern, they call it ‘smart.’ When people reference someone’s intelligence they often use ‘clever’ instead.
Here, a “rubber” refers to an eraser, (not a condom). This startled me a little when one of my students first asked for one.
Pronunciation: The way Ugandans chose to pronounce certain words is sometimes by sounding out every letter. It’s especially noticeable when they sound out silent vowels at the end of the word. For example someone named Irene is pronounced “Irene-ey,” and the word clothes is pronounced “clothe-es.” Since lots of names either have an e or y at the end, they seem to get into the habit of adding the “ie” sound to the end of lots of names, even turning “Brian” into “Brian-ey.”
BUT Ugandans also sometimes choose to omit the end vowel. For example, lots of kids had a problem learning my name because they wanted to call me teacher Luc, no matter how many times we pronounced it for them emphasizing the y.
Sometimes these little quirks get put together and a word or phrase is skewed into something with a totally different meaning. One day I was trying to teach English words for transport and gave the students a sentence about taxi fare. Their selective omission ends up having them pronounce this as “tax fairy.” Even the teachers pronounce it like this. As you can imagine, things like this can make it hard to communicate a Ugandan even if they’re fluent in English.
As I’ve referenced before, they also say “Sank You” because their language doesn’t have the “th” sound. It’s easier for the little kids to adapt and learn the sound than it is for the adults, though.
Another difficulty for them is mixing up R’s and L’s. Everything in their language with an R is pronounced with the sound of an L. Sometimes this confusion translates into English and is even switched around. I was listening in on the kids’ concert rehearsal when a girl named Favour had a solo about wanting to be a pilot, and it sounded an awfully lot like she really wanted to be a pirate. Annie said other volunteers who heard the song heard the same thing.
It’s actually pretty cute when the kids make these little mistakes and once you learn the different way they pronounce things you get used to it and can kind of do a translation from Ugandan to American English. I’m not sure how much of a negative impact it would have on them to speak the “Ugandan English” as far as getting into a University in an English-speaking country or something like that but I hope that by the time anyone gets to the point where they could even apply to a school outside of Africa, they will have learned the proper way to pronounce everything. So I haven’t been super hard on them for correcting these little quirks. It’s especially hard when they’re learning them from their own English teacher, but again, maybe they will learn better later on in their education. That is, if they are able to get past Ttega and afford a secondary school…
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Last week I started my work at the school. My hosts, Herman and Annie, just started the school within the past couple of years. It started with just one school room, and now there are 3-4, depending on what you would ‘count’ as a classroom.
The center has no electricity. They used to fetch water every day but just recently bought a reservoir and a tap outside. It has made vast improvements, even though it is still well below the standards for an American school. Their progress is especially noteworthy because almost none of the students can afford to pay fees. Annie told me their parents brought their children to school with a ‘payment’ of one broom (which is more like a bundle of weeds, hay and long grass used for sweeping) and two rolls of toilet paper.
Since the school was specifically built for children in such financial need, it has become much more than just a school to them. The teachers try feeding the children lunch as often as possible. This might have become a double-edged sword, because the children might not eat at home at all if the parents expect them to be fed at school. So when they are fed, those kids eat a LOT. It’s like they are just taking in whatever they can, while they can. The kids are also bathed properly (or as properly as possible) at school before they go home.
The money my hosts make from taking me in while I’m here is what they try to stretch to support their own family, the teachers’ salaries, the school, feeding the students, and so much more. They have also hired a Rwandan girl as a house servant. In Uganda having a maid is almost the norm. They are very inexpensive, if you can find one that’s trustworthy without an agency. Anyway I’m not sure what her background is besides that she’s from a very poor Rwandan and my hosts agreed to pay for her schooling and give her food and a room in their house in return for her service. She loves school and does her work happily. She’s so sweet and I imagine it’s pretty unlikely that she and her family weren’t effected by the Rwanda genocide in some way.
Herman and Annie are trying to build the school up as best as possible, to attract students whose parents can actually pay some tuition. They still welcome anyone though, promising that the fees are “affordable for everybody!” = ) But I can see where it’s hard, since they struggle to even have the kids’ basic needs met, like clothing, bathing and food.
I am providing Mama Mercy’s children uniforms, and some food for what I hope lasts for a few days’ worth of lunches. But with so many kids and so much need, I’m not sure how far what I can provide will last.
Anything donated towards my paypal account will be attributed to food for these kids in need at Ttega. Literally ANYTHING helps. My pictures of happy, well-fed children will make your day, I promise!
ps: more pictures of the center and it's students to come, i need to put my pictures on my hard drive!
Some Western customs that are kind of going ‘beyond’ what’s expected of us, are expected behaviors among Ugandans. For example, in the US if you have visitors, you might offer them a drink. Here, you have to eat something at anyone’s home you visit. If you don’t have time to eat a whole meal, you have a snack. If you are waiting for any considerable amount of time before the meal is served, you are offered tea and a snack while the food is prepared (this confused me a couple of times because I thought the pre-meal snack was the meal itself).
At home, it’s a nice gesture to help someone carry their things. Maybe a gentleman would do it to impress a woman or a young person would help someone older or less-abled. Here, it is expected for you to help someone carry their things if they have an armful and you cross paths. Even if they’re going the opposite way, and especially if they are your elder. Time here is much more flexible than Western standards, so I assume these kinds of community/group-centered practices are part of the reason. My culture guide also attributes it to the area historically (and somewhat currently) revolving around agriculture.
In the US, if a man says hi and asks how you are as you walk by him on the road, you’re kind of taught to wonder what his bad intentions could be. Here, it’s just accepted that strangers say ‘hi.’ But also, people here don’t creep you out with the WAY they say hi, like some do at home.
There is a general attitude of consideration for others that I really appreciate here. The other day I had walked up the road to a market to buy ‘airtime’ as they call it, to recharge minutes to my phone. This time of year is the end of the rainy season, what they call ’short rains’ and I got caught in one of those showers so infrequent at home, when the sun is shining as clearly as possible while it poured, even hailed, out of nowhere. There was an overhang which I had no problem standing under until the storm passed, but a lady from the next store over came out and told me to come in. I walked into her salon and she told me to sit down in a chair for the customers. Then everyone went about their business. I watched the rain, wishing I could eavesdrop on their gossip (if only it were in English!) for a few minutes. The storm left as quickly as it came, and they just smiled when I left and thanked them.
As simple of a gesture it was, I realized it was something that would have been pretty out of the ordinary in the US, where people just mind their business, or get an innocent laugh out of other people’s misfortune. And considering how little they have to give just makes me appreciate the hospitality even more. I’ve been taught how to be more courteous by example of many selfless Americans, but it would still be nice to be able to recognize (and better practice) these habits as a part of my own culture at home.
For one, the children are always excited to see you. They will wave from a distance and yell “bye Mzungu, bye!” and anyone trying to beg, sell something, or otherwise get your attention will call you by M’zungu, as well. Everyone says it’s really a favorable nickname, which I believe in most cases. Sometimes when I’m in people’s way (this happens a lot in the city ) people say ‘move, Mzungu’ or something similar, in which case I am sure they are at least a little less fond of me.
Secondly, the media has left most Ugandans with a very specific idea of what us Westerners are like. First, they think we all have A LOT of money. To be honest, most of them are probably right to assume that we have more money than they do. However I think our wealth as individuals might be a little exaggerated in their minds. Especially when it comes to students and people like me who had to get help and make sacrifices to get here.
They also think that white girls are ‘loose,’ as my culture guide puts it. Dressing appropriately means even covering up your legs. It’s strange, because to me, it’s just a leg! At OSU there’s practically a ‘no peeks of the cheeks’ rule and that’s it, haha so I thought I came with very modest clothing. But most of what I brought would make people uncomfortable for reasons of either too much exposure (even my V-neck t-shirts I’m a little uncomfortable in) or that I am way, WAY underdressed.
People here loooove to dress up. It’s amazing to me the type of clothes people wear to trudge through mud and dirt and ride and sewage or ride on motorbike taxis (boda bodas) in. Women who work all day in a garden or farm do so in skirts and dresses, and most women even wear some shorter heels.
I think my biggest mistake in preparation so far has been packing my clothes. I thought that dressing nice would make everyone else feel uncomfortable since they would be so underdressed in comparison, but it’s really quite the opposite.
Hence the blue and yellow number I picked up at a crafts market last week, featured in the cooking lesson photos.
Then, there’s personal space. Your personal space here is basically only the space you actually occupy. They shove 16-18 people into taxis, along with their luggage, crops for/from the market, building materials, you name it, into mini taxi buses that clearly state on the side that they are licensed to carry a maximum of 14. Yesterday I was taking a bus home and stood in the doorway, bumping back and forth between strangers who shared that space. It’s taken some getting used to, but I’ve gotten used to it and just laugh it off now.
It’s ironic how dress is so conservative, but friends (even two men) hold hands and walk with their arms around each other, strangers are forced to practically grind on each other on the bus, and the traditional dance is way more scandalous and booty-shakin than anything you could probably find in a Beyonce video.