Monday, December 20, 2010


I almost asked Herman to pull over, I felt so sick. I was sitting in the car, on the way to Entebbe airport, and convinced myself it was nerves, but then I thought it was strange that I would have a more nervous stomach on my way home than my way here. Okay, so maybe it was the combination of nerves, Uganda’s TIA roads in all of it’s potholed, polluted, pitch-black glory. I had also consumed about twice the usual amount of food as I would in a normal day in Uganda, thanks to last-day festivities in Kampala and Busega.
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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The second child we are focusing on helping this season is Lucy. I promise, I’m not being biased because of her great name ; )
Lucy lives, by far, the furthest from Ttega of all the kids who walk to school. When we escort the children home, she’s the only one who we don’t walk all the way. Annie has shown me how far Lucy walks to and from school everyday, and I would say it’s at least a few miles. Lucy is 4 or 5, and I’m glad that the sun always rises so early here, so that she isn’t walking to school in the dark. The first thing I noticed about Lucy, besides her name, is how sad she was to go home. She drops her head half-way while we walk her home, and the rest of the way once we let her go and she continues walking down the road. The teachers will call out to her trying to cheer her up but she doesn’t even look back at us, much less smile. It’s almost as if she’s upset with us for sending her home.
We don’t know as much about Lucy and her home life, except that her mother isn’t around and her father is a medicine man. Here in Uganda, step mothers are notorious for being cruel to their stepchildren, and fathers are known to more or less ‘choose’ their new wives over their own children. Maybe this is because it’s so rare for children to stay with only their father. If a couple separates, the children become the woman’s responsibility. So, one reason the children might be living with their father is if their mother died giving childbirth, or otherwise some time early on. We aren’t sure about Lucy’s mother, but she does have a stepmother and a father who seem to fit the norm for Uganda.
Lucy is happy at school. She and the other kids quarrel over who gets to hold my hand during the walk home, but eventually she learned that since she was the last child to leave us heading home, that she would always get a chance to hold my hand once the other kids had left. Cherryl will be heading out to buy Lucy’s family food (there’s kind of no way around providing for the parents too, otherwise a smaller amount of food given just for her might not make it to her own plate) and with the donations to my PayPal she is going to have something to cheer her up and keep her healthy during her tough months at home.
Thanks again, and a photo of Lucy is also coming soon!


For those of you who have donated to my PayPal, thank you so much! I want you to know that even though school isn’t in session, your donations are still very much appreciated and being put to good use!
During break, the kids stay with their parents or more distant relatives, if the parents need help. Annie said that every time, they return to school in bad condition. She says they fall sick and usually have not been fed well, bathed and otherwise taken care of. Part of this is just because the parents/caretakers don’t know how to do some simple things like bathing children. Annie tries hosting workshops at Ttega for the kids’ parents to learn more skills, but she says many of them who need the lessons don’t attend. So really, now is as good a time as ever to contribute to the children who really need extra help during this break.
This week Cherryl, a volunteer who came from Xenia, Ohio (small world, right?!) is going to markets, buying some clothes and food for a couple of children from Ttega who seem to really need the extra help. The first boy’s name is Dickson. He’s one of the brightest in the school and he’s always energetic and happy. In the class photo he’s one of the furthest from the camera, but one of the first students you notice with his big cheesy smile. He loves playing football and is kind with the younger ones, allowing them to take turns punting the ball and helping them if they fall down, etc. He’s one of the children who thanked me multiple times for buying food for the center’s lunches. He wants to be a doctor.
Because Dickson seemed so stable and healthy, I assumed he was one of the kids who had the better home lives, but Annie told us otherwise. Dickson’s parents can’t afford school fees at all, so Annie and Herman let him attend for free. His uniform has been donated, I assume by a previous volunteer, and his shoes are so small that they have been cut by his mother so that his feet will be able to ‘fit’ into them by poking out of the sides and front. He’s one of the children who routinely comes to school hungry, and has sent Annie into tears asking for more food at lunch time.
Cherryl went into the market yesterday and bought Dickson’s family a lot of food with the money donated to my PayPal. Dickson is one of 6 children in his family. Because of your donations for food, Cherryl was able to buy him some much-needed shoes (a bigger pair for school and another for play) and even some new outfits. I think it’s safe to say that he’s never owned new clothes before, besides his school uniform. Thanks to you, Dickson and his family are going to have a much happier, healthier holiday season and he will return to school in better condition than his family could have done for him themselves. Thank you so much for your help!
I have kind of given up on posting pictures until I get home, but I promise to find a picture of Dickson and post it up here Next week! He’s very sweet and you can tell just looking at him.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My last week

I decided to stay at Freda’s project site for my last week. It’s really amazing how she’s made something out of nothing there. People from the village come with sewing and alteration projects for what might eventually become a self-sustaining tailoring side-job for Josephine’s oldest daughter, Edith. We are a little worried about whether Edith will be able to learn much from Freda about using the ancient rental sewing machine, since she is responsible for most of the housework for their family of 6.

The English lessons are going much more smoothly. Last week a couple of girls showed up with their notebooks and pencils, asking if they could come for extra help as well. There are a lot of traveling vendors who come by trying to sell us anything from second-hand clothing to sugar cane. The fish lady kept yelling something in our direction this afternoon, and once the kids did some translation we realized she wasn’t trying to sell us fish anymore, she was asking if her daughter could come for lessons as well.

Usually we have English in the morning, then the rest of the children come for weaving, coloring and play time in the afternoon. Today after play time one of our usual afternoon-only kids asked us how much earlier she could come to get extra schooling.

So, I think enrollment has gone from 2 in the older “class” and 2 in the younger class to something like 7 and 4, all within a few weeks, almost all from kids coming to us on their own, just because they like learning and they know how important it is for their future. We’re going to have to adjust but I think so far the students have all been very patient and I’m looking forward to getting to interact with even more of them for the rest of my time here.

Like I said I’m finding myself attached already. While I know a lot of that is just me being overly-sentimental as usual, the kids are really special too. Like the kids at Ttega they each have a story, and they’re all so kind and beautiful and I see the potential in each of them. I hope somehow I’ll be able to get news about them and follow their progress towards becoming the doctors, teachers, pilots, etc that I know they are entirely capable of being. These kids are the epitome of resilience.

When I catch myself daydreaming too much about the things I miss from home, I refocus my attention to them and feel like I’m not going to be ready to leave at all when the time comes (which is creeping up on me faster and faster)!



A Weekend at Jinja

From what I understand, most volunteers seem to go away for at least a weekend to do something really cool while they’re in Uganda, like white water rafting on the Nile or bunjee jumping or Gorilla trekking or big safaris, something of that sort. I was also attracted to a weekend getaway, but all it took to lure me in was the prospect of a warm shower, sunbathing and a 15,000 shilling (7 dollar) hour-massage.

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

good news and bad news.

The first day I came to the new site with Freda, I dove right in with a group of 4 sisters, whose mother is in the hospital. They greet us down the path, before we even get to the actual site and hold our hands while walking back. They LOVE English lessons in the mornings, before the other children come for weaving and games. They are so eager to learn, it amazes me. They rewrite and perfect every word or sentence, even if I gave them a check mark and told them not to forget their “full stops” (periods) next time. When I offered them a break they said “teacher, there are still pages left” and held up their little paper notebooks. So I continued giving them little mini-spelling tests and doing corrections with them until their pages were full.
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.

the new site

Since Ttega is out of session, I decided to go to work with Freda at a project she’s helped initiate at her school in the neighboring village, Lungujja.
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.


my luxury day

I decided that I deserved a break after playing costume manager for Saturday’s concert. I couldn’t think of any better way to have a day to myself than at the pool of Lake Victoria Hotel, where Freda and I had had sodas the weekend before. But this time I was actually going to swim in it.
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.

My First Funeral

In Uganda, grieving is a very public process. Immediately following someone’s death, a fire is lit in their front yard by the family, and informal messengers are sent to tell the news to the village. Not only is everyone encouraged to come, but neighbors, co-workers of family members, and anyone of any relation, no matter the distance, is more or less obligated. If you run into someone who’s lost a family member and you didn’t attend the funeral, they will have no problem bringing up your dishonorable absence and making you feel like a bad family member/neighbor/acquaintance.
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

Saturday was Ttega Child Development Centre’s end of the year concert. They’ve been preparing for their big musical every day since I’ve been there, and for a long time before that. There were a lot of numbers, it ended up lasting around 4 hours.

I helped create signage and props for the kids. I became the teacher’s designated drawer because they insisted that they ‘didn’t know how” and I always just laughed, I never did ask whether they meant they’ve never had an art class or they are just not any good at it. Anyway I wanted to help in any way I could and I figured I’d at least probably do a better job than the students could, and the teachers were all very busy.

During the show I became the de-facto costume manager. This was absolute chaos. Each class had at least two different costumes to wear besides their regular uniforms. Most costumes had many pieces and some had different shoes. All of the kids wanted to be helped at the same time and it was very difficult since I can’t communicate with them very well verbally. It was also really frustrating since I didn’t know what songs were next, who was in them or what they were supposed to be wearing. While the kids were waiting to go on stage or change costumes, they mostly fought with each other. There was a lot of hysterical crying backstage which I was really worried was distracting from the show, since the stage was only a few feet away from all of this toddler turmoil which progressed as the show lasted longer and longer.

Despite all of the complications, everyone who watched the show said the kids looked great, and they had no idea there was so much going on inside the school. So in the end I’m glad I was able to contribute and I think I really did help the concert go so smoothly. The parents absolutely loved the show and even the children who attended sat quietly and attentively for the entire thing. I think it was a good showing for Ttega.

It was hard for me though, not to notice all the money that went into the production. There was a tent rental, chair rental, and even a generator to power all of the audio equipment (a mic, amp and some huge speakers). It was so hard for me no to think about how two days prior the kids each had one cup of porridge and no real lunch, or how some of them were still wearing shoes that were so small and had been cut by their parents just so their feet would be able to be squeezed in for as long as possible.

But, this is how things work in Uganda. There are certain expectations for families, organizations and schools. These presentations are supposed to represent how good your group or institution is, and no one seems to think of how the money would be better spent. Weddings and other celebrations are very elaborate as well.

There are two things that justified it a little for me. Firstly, they accepted donations and people really did give. I’m not sure how much and I’m sure it didn’t cancel out the costs, but there was still a little money generated from the thing. Also, I know that one objective for the concert was to recruit for new students, and if they can bring in kids with parents who can afford fees, then it might be cost-effective in the long run. They even had a few skits and speeches specifically asking parents to bring their children to Ttega.

I was sad realizing that the concert was the last time I’d get to see them all together. The nightmare that was the ‘dressing room’ made the separation a little easier at the time but now I’m sad that most of them I’ll probably never see again. I just hope the little time I spent with them had some positive impact on them and that I made a good impression.



Luganda and Ugandan English

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

school's out for the "winter"

In Uganda, school goes from February through November. Since it’s summer all of the time here, there’s no need to have Christmas and summer breaks separate. While they do have a shorter break between school years, they have lots of public holidays. For example, the government institutions and most schools close for Muslim Holidays as well as Christian.
Last week was the last week of actual class. I think I had really good timing for teaching, because I felt comfortable leading the English lessons without worrying about whether or not I would be responsible for them passing or failing their exams which determine whether or not they move on to the next grade. They had already takes their exams by then, so it was kind of like everything I taught them was just extra.
Still, the kids seemed pretty engaged and happy to be at school learning English. I think they wanted to impress me with what they knew, too. And I am impressed at how much they already know, considering that English is their second language.
Our school met for an extra week to practice for the end-of-they rear concert. We got costumes together, mostly borrowed from a school Annie used to teach at. It’s pretty hectic but I’m sure whatever they end up pulling off will make their parents very amused and proud.
The one in the middle’s (English) name is Grace. She is one of the ten children of Joshua and Mama Mercy’s. She’s been coming to school every day for two weeks in the same green christmas dress. Annie said some days she doesn’t even have underwear to wear under it.
Along with her new uniform, today I gave her a few second-hand outfits and 10 pairs of new panties. It kills me to see these sweet kids go without such basic needs like food and clothing, and it’s hard even helping one when I know I can’t help all of them equally and I know I can’t provide anything for them permanently. I hope that my small gestures at least let them know that someone cares about them and that there are lots of people who are willing to help in whatever ways they can.
Rummaging through used underwear and children’s clothing to provide for her what her own family can’t was the first time I got emotional since I’ve been here. I think the chaos of the market forced it out a little too, but I’m glad that in the end I held it together and didn’t draw any more attention to myself than I already was, being the only light-skinned person in the whole place and everyone already grabbing, yelling, staring at me.
Anyway, Grace (I’m having a really hard time remembering her Luganda name) was super grateful for so little and it was so happy and heartbreaking at the same time. The kids here bow down on their knees to thank you and some do it multiple times. When they had their first meal from the food I bought them they each individually came up, knelt and said “Sank You Teacha Yusi for buying food” in their adorable Ugandan English.
It’s those kind of moments that make me realize this work is as much for me as it is for them. It almost feels selfish sometimes how gratified I am for what someone in the US would consider such as small donation.
….. Speaking of donations! ; )



Monday, November 29, 2010

The other side of Kampala

Looking back at all of the picturesque scenes I’ve posted about, I’m realizing that I am keeping from you the other side of Kampala; the city center. I mentioned how Entebbe was different because you can breathe there. I don’t have pictures of downtown Kampala because it’s not very safe to be waving around an expensive electronic in most areas, but I’d still like to elaborate.
The first week here was my week of orientation. It was this week that I was very well ‘oriented’ to the smog-filled, pest-ridden, death-smelling experience that I have unfortunately come to associate with the city center in Kampala.
Traffic: People don’t stay on their side of the road, and there is constant passing between pedestrians, bicycles, boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis), cars, taxi vans and buses. All sharing the same unpaved road. There are no lanes painted, much less stop lights. Horns are the soundtrack to the city’s two taxi parks, which our guide distinguishes as “the two most chaotic taxi parks in Africa.” The roads are so bumpy from the potholes I have nearly hit the ceiling in vans multiple times, using all of the foot or so clearance between my head and the naked metal roof. Navigation is also a nightmare, since there is no actual route for any of the taxis or buses, and the road signs are all covered with advertisements, mostly for political candidates for the upcoming presidential election. The most common perpetrator of this guiltless, overbearing self-endorsement is by the current president, Musseveni, who many say will find his way to power whether fair democratic elections allow it, or not.
Sanitation: There is none. People (of both genders) pee on the side of the road. This is socially acceptable here because if you aren’t at home there is just literally no place else to go. So, this is what the pot holes fill with. The roads, sidewalks, even insides of stores are covered in garbage. There is no collection for waste here. People burn their trash in piles on the grass in front of their homes. When it rains, and it rains often, the entire city is a mud pit. All of this happens around and within the city’s many outdoor markets. Shavings from vegetables fall into the isles of the average Ugandan’s outdoor grocery, and continues to flow down with the accompanying brown mystery fluids. Flies are everywhere. This part really is just like the ‘save the children’ commercials.
Like I said, people usually call Mzungu or something like that but they are relatively friendly. There are a lot of bums, but overall I don’t feel any more harassed than I do walking downtown in Cincinnati.
There's really no way to describe it without photos, or a video, or something. But this is one part of Uganda I will not miss. The funny part is, to get basically anywhere that’s a driving distance, you have to go into the taxi park first. Like I said there are no routes. Busses go more according to villages. They go between the villages and the city center, and the means to getting to and around those villages is always different. It’s not ideal for planners or people who like to be in control of… anything. But for them, it works. And I’m slowly but surely getting a little more comfortable with the way things work for them here.


Weekend Excursions

I volunteer Monday through Friday, but the weekends are all mine. My hosts encourage the volunteers to explore Uganda, whether it’s spending a couple of nights in another city, or just a day trip to see some sights. So far I have stuck to the latter.
The first weekend I just relaxed. I organized all of my things, did a few items of laundry and started looking around for plans for the weekends in the future. Sunday I attended church with my host family and then to a backpacker‘s hostel for coffee and internet with my roommate Freda.
This weekend was much more adventurous. Saturday Freda and I took a day trip to Entebbe, the former capital of Uganda and the city where the airport is located. It’s in some ways the same as Kampala, but in other ways it’s totally different. The shops and types of businesses are very similar. What’s different is the air. You can BREATHE in Entebbe!The town is only 30 miles or so away, but it feels so different. People seem more relaxed and it is much easier to navigate. Freda and I walked around to find a hotel for her to stay at in January for her last night, since her flight is too early to drive from Kampala.On the way up we stopped at a swanky hotel called Lake Victoria and drank Fantas by the pool. They were almost a dollar a piece and we were shocked at how expensive they were compared to the same ones at a market.
Then we continued walking and stumbled upon an internet café were I was able to upload a few blog entries and some pictures. We took our time, had some coffee on the nice, breezy patio and I tried the African’s attempt at Hawaiian pizza.After a little more walking we arrived at Entebbe Botanical Gardens, the final destination and original purpose of our field trip. It was such a great experience, thanks to a volunteer tour guide who knew all of the good spots, plants’ uses, and even showed us where the original Tarzan movie was filmed. Towards the end we saw a dozen or so monkeys. It was a perfect interaction, because they were familiar enough with people to come very close, but not aggressive at all. At first one thought a flower in my hand was a piece of banana, but as soon as I dropped it and showed my hands were empty the mommy sat back up, giving her baby a better grip around her torso.
We also saw spiders, a pack of napping wild dogs that didn’t care about us at all, and our guide broke open a termite hill to show us how they are organized.I kept saying how I’ve never really been interested by plants before, but this was a different experience. There were lots of plants that were indigenous like royal palms, flowers that I think Georgia O’Keefe would have gushed over, and all kinds of leaves. Some that felt like animal furs, some that were like sand paper, and touch-me-nots that folded inward upon contact. Many other specimens were imported, like cacti from Arizona. We learned the difference between the ‘good’ aloe vera, which I rubbed on my mosquito bite, and the poisonous kind which has a different smelling sap. Who knew there was a poisonous aloe vera?! Unfortunately they looked almost exactly the same.Anyway it was probably much more fun in person than I am making it sound in writing, but it was a peaceful, child-free experience that had perfect timing between my two weeks at Ttega. And with my lack of experience (or eagerness to gain such experience) with the African wilderness, I would be happy to call it my most nature-y moment in Uganda.

Sunday I went with Freda and Richard to what I'm pretty confident is probably the most peaceful place in central Uganda. It's a temple for an obscure religion called the Bahai faith. The religion itself reminds me of a cross between buddhism and unitarian universalism. The service was a little strange and not engaging to any of us three, but the campus was so beautiful it was well worth the trip to visit.
The photos don't do it justice, but the view of the city was amazing.
Then we went into town, to Garden City, where all the Mzungus shop. I ate fries and tried the ice cream that was called 'strawberry' but was actually pepto-bismol flavored. Then I found Nutella and all was well again.

I'm sure to have more weekend field trip stories to come =)


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ttega Child Development Center

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!

Welaba, Lucy

ps: more pictures of the center and it's students to come, i need to put my pictures on my hard drive!

Equatorial Hospitality

While Ugandans might have a skewed perspective of Westerners, they’re probably the nicest group of strangers you could live among.
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.

Welaba, Lucy

Life as a Mzungu

It seems impossible to fly under the radar as a Westerner in Uganda.
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.