Comparing South Africa and Uganda is a difficult task. After a meeting I attended on Friday I felt like I was faced with a poverty and hopelessness that didn't exist in South Africa. But each country copes with their problems differently and the violent pasts of both South Africa and Uganda most certainly play a role in current development. In Uganda only 3 percent of the population has access to electricity. The average life expectancy is 39 and less than half of the population has access to water.
In South Africa you never stop at a stoplight without having a child or adult come up to your window and beg for money or food. In Uganda, despite high levels of poverty there are very few people begging on the streets. In South Africa you pay people on the streets who help you park and "watch" you car. Job creation in Ugandan happens in the markets where you can buy or sell any product. In South Africa you find free condoms on every street corner and in every bathroom. In Uganda it is nearly impossible to find condoms and when you do they are too expensive for the average Ugandan to buy. Uganda is the only country in Africa to reduce the number of people with HIV/AIDS (although infection rates are still at epidemic levels). South Africa is yet to successfully tackle the HIV/AIDS issue and government officials still don't openly recognize the problem. South Africa has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world. Violent crime in Southern Uganda is unlikely to occur, and random acts of violent crime rarely occur. It is easy to forget about the crime and torture the northern part of Uganda deals with due to the rebel forces.
I went to the poorest parts of South Africa. The first weekend I was in South Africa I visited an informal settlement where the living conditions were beyond belief. But the people and the children living there seemed content. They welcomed us into their shacks, proud of the little they had and happy to share their lives with us. Ugandans are much more private about their lives and embarrassed to share their homes unless they are above average. They openly speak of the poverty and the problems they face and are proactive in addressing these issues. In South Africa, no matter where you are, there are BMWs, Lexus's, and Mercedes. In Uganda you rarely see these vehicles and very few people own their own vehicles. In Uganda there are hundreds of NGOs formed by different groups of people, but all providing the same services. In South Africa there are far fewer NGOs but they are more developed and provide a wider range of services.
Both countries face important decisions that will shape their success in the future. But recent projections suggest that most African countries will have negative population growth in the new future due to the HIV epidemic. This will most definitely effect the economies. How will these two vastly different countries, deal with the same problems?
The Slum Aid project is a good ten minutes outside of the city and finding transportation there is a challenge. I ended up hiring a private taxi to take me there and then decided to challenge myself and take a regular taxi back. Clare Nkirrehe is the one of the main players in the organization. She has been working for SAP for 2 years and is extremely articulate and dedicated to her position.
The Slum Aid project was created by four female students from Makerere University in 1991. The Slum Aid project works in seven slum areas in Kampala. The vision of SAP is to see that people in slum communities live and enjoy fair and dignified lives. Since 1995 the organization has mainly focused on eliminating domestic violence in the slums. There are several activities included under the domestic violence program including:
The domestic violence program is the most successful of all of the SAP programs. SAP has bought land to build a shelter on and they are currently looking for funds to carry out the operational costs of a shelter. There is currently no shelter in Kampala, thus this would be a huge success for SAP. They plan on opening the shelter at the end of 2005, beginning of 2006. The shelter would initially be able to hold 8 women.
Domestic Violence survivors in the slum communities are able to go to their HRA and receive counseling. The HRA often opens their home to provide temporary shelter to the women. All volunteers trained by SAP live in the Slum communities, thus they are easily accessible. The HRAs are able to refer survivors to the police, or other agencies if necessary. The HRA volunteers report directly to SAP on a weekly basis.
SAP presents an annual plan to its volunteers in January. This plan includes dates for community activities for the whole year. The volunteers can also add additional activities throughout the year. Then SAP meets with volunteers on a quarterly basis to make sure all activities are going as planned.
Another program organized by SAP is the child exploitation program. This began after a report in 2000 revealed that many prostitutes in Uganda are children. Most of these children do not have parents because of AIDS and are looking for a means to support their siblings. SAP tries to help these children realize that they are being abused. They conduct peer education workshops that train the children with life skills. In the future SAP hopes to form groups amongst the child prostitutes. These groups will provide internal support within the communities and give the children a place to turn when facing difficult challenges.
While SAP has been successful they face many challenges that other NGOs that are growing face. The biggest issue they have faced is political differences within the staff and volunteers. This was a major issue in the past election season. SAP also suffers growing pains, needing additional funding, employees, and equipment. A bitter sweet result of training volunteers within the slums is that after providing the volunteers with a job and experience they are able to move out of the slums and on to more successful jobs. Many of the volunteer leaders have gone on to work in politics and for other NGOs.
In the two years Clare has worked at SAP she has been able to see the positive impact they have made on the community. The communities are becoming more aware of domestic violence and not allowing it to happen behind closed doors. It has become a community issue. She has seen an extraordinary change in the way police respond to domestic violence. As police have been trained on domestic violence they have become sensitized to the issue and are viewed as leaders survivors can trust. The police also support SAP. When the officers in the family protection unit see one of the HRAs from SAP they immediately assist them, and do not make the survivors sit and wait. SAP is also working to increase male involvement.
The organization has many projects they plan to implement in the future including building a functional shelter, providing home based care for HIV/AIDS victims, add officers that focus on research and documentation of their work, and strengthen the resources they provide to child exploitation. However, SAP has its hands full trying to deal with the growing problem of domestic violence. Clare believes that cultural differences and the westernization of their culture are major causes of the growing domestic violence problem. She cites western dress and lack of discipline for children as major contributors to this problem. Furthermore, the traditional culture that does not shun extramarital relations and polygamy not only increases domestic violence but also increases the spread of HIV and AIDS.
I look forward to traveling into the slums in the future to assist the field officers wit their activities and learn more about the structure of the organization. SAP is unique because in trains volunteers than live in the communities they work. This is powerful because the volunteers are easy for the survivors to trust and relate to. Furthermore, by establishing community involvement SAP is forcing the men to become accountable for their actions.
Last week I wrote about a meeting I had with the Head of the Family Portection Unit (FPU), Oola Denis. At this meeting Oola invited me back to observe the activities in his office. When I arrived he was standing outside waiting for me. He greeted me with great enthusiasm and we discussed a workshop he has just returned from with all other FPU officers in the country. We went straight to the Head of Police's office. His name is Patrick and he had one lawyer and two other officers in his office discussing the change of a date for a court case. Patrick's office was much nicer than Oola's but still lacked essential equipment like a computer. Patrick was very busy but he took the time to welcome me and learn about my project.
After introductions Oola and I went to the FPU office. There were several women waiting and one child, age 11, sitting in a corner. The office is one room with two desks, a female officer was working with a woman at one desk. Most of the counseling and conversations were done in Luganda. Most of the women in the office already had cases open and were returning to discuss the progress. However, the men were supposed to be in attendance and this was only the case for one couple. With this couple, the man showed up an hour late with no explanation. He was dressed in nice slacks and a very nice button down shirt with loafers. The woman basically had on rags. The counseling session went on for over 2 hours and was still taking place when I left. The sister of the husband was causing most of the problems in their relationship. She continued to harass the wife and tell her brother that his wife wasn't worth what they paid for her. In turn the husband was disrespectful and abusive. One of the main topics of conversation was washing clothes and the sister always rewashed all the clothes after the wife washed them. The husband continued to take his sisters side.
Because the office is one room, all of the women waiting were able to listen to the counseling taking place. In marital counseling all sorts of topics come about including sex and HIV status, two things that would be impossible to discuss in front of an audience. I imagined this setting in the United States and it is hard to believe that the families would separate themselves from what was happening like these women did. Never once did the women who were waiting try to hurry the counseling along, roll their eyes, laugh at the pettiness of the argument, etc. To make the counseling more difficult than it already was the female officer continued to take personal calls on her cell phone and leave her desk to talk to people who came to visit her. It was even frustrating for me to watch, I can't imagine how the husband and wife felt.
Oola was much more attentive to his clients. At times I wondered if he was too attentive - he had soo many people to see and yet he spent quality time with each client. I love to watch Oola work with the women. Each of their problems were important to him and he worked to solve their problems. One man continued to not come to his appointments with Oola and the woman was clearly frustrated. Oola told her he would think of a way to get him to the office, and after much thought and discussion he decided to send a letter to the man's employer.
The women's main complaint was lack of financial support from the man. In Uganda women are dependent upon their husbands once they have children. These women said the same thing over and over; their husbands were not supporting them and their children didn't have school fees and the family was starving. One woman had bruises ll over her face and arms. Unfortunately in Uganda, this does not require the police to arrest the man. They send him a letter in the mail informing him that he must meet with the FPU and his wife several weeks from the date of the complaint. This policy is supposed to benefit the women because the men continue to work and support them (if they were supporting them in the first place). But imagine what the environment in the house is when the man receives the letter from the police. It is certain that if he was supporting his wife he no longer will be.
Adjusting to a new culture is incredibly exhausting. I had waited all week for Friday so I could justify not doing anything but relaxing and settling in to my new home. Alicia and a few other Fulbright Scholars have a routine of going to an Ethiopian restaurant every Friday evening. Calling it a restaurant is kind - it is really a tent in an Ethiopian family's yard. The woman cooks large Ethiopian dishes for under $1 per person. I enjoy the food but really look forward to the complete dining experience. There were two newcomers at dinner on Friday night and we stayed under the tent for much longer than usual. Before we left I decided to go to the bathroom . . .
This is where the weekend begins. Taka the owner of the restaurant guided me to her home just next to the tent. The dogs behind the fence were atrocious and I wasn't too excited about following her but I knew that she didn't have to welcome me into her home; there was no turning back now. I made it past the dogs safely. Taka grabbed my arm and guided me down a long hallway that was pitch black. I couldn't see my hand 2 inches in front of my face! We stopped at the end of the hallway and she said "the bathroom is there." I told her I couldn't see anything and she pushed me forward and told me to "keep walking, you will find it." I slowly scooted my foot across the bathroom floor trying to find something that felt familiar. She quickly added, "be careful not to fall in, there is no seat, the toilet is in the ground." I imagined falling into a pile of feces and decided that I should just be still and act like I had found the toilet and used it. As I was waiting in the dark in order to convince Taka I had used the bathroom I felt something move on my foot. I had no idea what it was but I knew it was time to exit the bathroom. I thanked Taka and headed back to the tent.
Our group continued to talk for sometime. Alicia finally said that she needed to meet someone and I quickly added that I had to leave as well. On our way out I told her that I had not been able to go to the bathroom and I was in excruciating pain. We walked down a dark alley and found a bush. As I was about to go a bunch of men rounded to corner and I decided that it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. We headed toward the street to get a taxi. We stood for about five minutes waiting for a taxi but they continued to drive by full. This was becoming a sick joke - we had never waited for a taxi for more than thirty seconds. Alicia decided to take a chance and ask the petrol attendant if they had a bathroom. Fortunately they did and they didn't even charge us to use it. We quickly walked through the service station to the back of the building to find the restroom.
As I was walking through my foot hit one of the pieces of metal that is used to hoist a vehicle up in the air. I immediately began to see stars and I thought I was going to hit the ground. Several unkind words flew from my mouth. I walked towards the light to see my foot. My sandal and foot was covered in blood. Alicia convinced me to go into yet another bathroom that was pitch black. She said it would help me feel better if I could go to the bathroom. I agreed and was able to see the toilet in the floor this time. However I was in too much pain to bend over and ended up going to the bathroom on my wounded foot. Let me explain what urine on an open wound feels like. It felt like I was dragging my wound along the concrete, it felt like my toe was being cut off, it felt horrible. I limped out of the bathroom and we finally made it onto a taxi. Fortunately we found a fun taxi full of middle aged men who were having a fun Friday night. Otherwise, I think I would have begun to cry. The row Alicia and I were sitting in was full and the conductor convinced me that he was a "physical person" which was apparently a good thing. He wanted to let me know that it was ok if I sat in his lap, and I was in so much pain that I didn't have enough energy to squeeze myself into the seat and so without hesitating I leaned on him. I smelled like urine, I was covered in blood, and this young conductor was still hitting on me; Ugandan men are amazing.
Thank goodness the ride was less than two minutes long. I hoped off the taxi and Alicia went into town to meet a friend. I went straight across the street to get some gauze and Neosporin at a Pharmacy. I spoke to the pharmacist who is as good at diagnosing as a doctor is since prescriptions aren't needed and most Ugandans don't have the money to go to a doctor. He looked at my foot and sent me two doors down to a "clinic".
The clinic was in the market by all the other shops that were just like shacks in the townships in South Africa. The door to the clinic was beads like many of my friend had hanging in their rooms in high school. When I entered there was no one in the small waiting room and I hollered into the next room. A doctor came out carrying a bottle of beer and asked what was wrong. I showed him my foot and then agreed to follow him into his clinic room. The clinic was just the waiting room and one examination room. It wasn't clean, but it wasn't dirty. I know that in any other circumstance I would have left, found a special hire taxi and gone to a hospital. But I was in so much pain this seemed to be the perfectly normal thing to do. Every few minutes everything would go black and I would lose my breath.
The doctor spoke little English but I quickly learned that he was from Alexander a township in South Africa and he spoke Zulu. Through all the pain I remember a few important Zulu words and in what I like to call Zulandish (Zulu, Luganda and English) I was able to explain how much pain I was in and what happened. He left the room for a few minutes and came back with a straight razor blade. I asked him what he thought he was going to do and he said he needed to cut some of the skin that was hanging off. I still had a few of my senses and told him that I didn't know if the razor was clean so he couldn't use it. He returned with a razor that was sealed and allowed me to watch him open the package. He began sawing the skin away. Fortunately everything went black and I fell back on the table and focused on breathing. Once he was done sawing away he announced, "There is a problem". I told him I knew that about an hour ago. He explained that I needed a few stitches. I explained that I had brought a sterile needle kit with me from the United States and I would take a boda - boda to my apartment to get it. He agreed, but only after he soaked my foot in a blue substance that hurt worse than the urine.
I took a motorbike to my apartment and returned to the clinic with the needles. He looked at what I had and carefully chose a needle. I fell back on the table and began remembering the time I busted my head open and my dad had taken me to get stitches. The entire way to the doctor's office he had promised me that I wouldn't have to get stitches. So when the doctor told me I was getting stitches I grabbed my dad by his necktie and pulled it is hard as I could causing him to choke. I wished that my dad was standing there so I could take some of my pain out on his necktie!
Halfway through the procedure I realized two things: 1. I hadn't received any anesthetic in my foot and 2. The doctor wasn't wearing gloves. I asked him, "Hey why don't you have gloves on?" He answered sarcastically, "ahh, you are a westerner, you don't have HIV." I decided to try another question hoping for a better answer. "Do you always do stitches without anesthetic?" He laughed and said, "No, but you walked in here and explained your serious injury to me in three languages; I knew your pain tolerance was high enough to take it." I told him I didn't think that it was fair to test my pain tolerance but I knew that he didn't have any anesthetic or rubber gloves.
He asked what type of antibiotic I was taking for my anti-malarial. I told him Doxycycline and he said that would be good enough to keep the infection away. I explained that it better be good enough because a foot infection would set me back since I have Type One Diabetes. He said, "in that case we give you the king of antibiotics, Cipro." I told him that it still hurt and he explained that there was a small fracture and pain medicine would help. I agreed and left the office with a week's worth of Cipro, 12 pain killers, and stitches for under $9. I began to walk the half mile back to my apartment; it was already 11:30pm. I made it halfway before I had to sit down. I was in an incredible amount of pain. My dad popped into my head again. I remembered the self - help tapes he would pop in the tape player to help me fall asleep when I was young. I remembered learning from Zig Zigler and Bob Griswald that you are in control of the environment you are in and what you feel, "you are the only person who can make or break your day." I imagined I was in my basement at home with my siblings, Conor, and Sunshine. We were filming one of our semi - famous movies. I made it to the University campus and decided that I deserved to make a phone call home. I called Conor and began telling him how my last two hours had been spent. When I opened my apartment door I was able to see that my wound had already bled through the bandages and I had to redress the wound.
I was up till 2:30am working through the pain. The painkillers finally kicked in and I fell asleep. When I woke up Saturday my bandages were covered in blood again and I took them off. I was not happy to see that the wound wasn't as clean as I had remembered it being. I spent the next two hours cleaning out the rust and dirt and washing it with antibacterial hand soap. When I woke up Sunday morning I was in enough pain to take a taxi to the International Health Clinic in town. I explained to the doctor that I had seen a doctor on Friday but it was important that the wound didn't get infected since I had diabetes. He told me that I should not have diabetes at such a young age. I explained to him that I have Juvenile Diabetes and you only get it when you are young, there is no other way. He still told me that I should be careful and explained that I would die sooner than most people. I was in pain and on the offensive. I reminded him that life expectancy in Uganda was only 39 so I had a pretty good chance of making longer than him. He frowned and then told me he liked my feistiness. I told him it was the only way to be when you are a twenty-two year-old woman traveling alone in Africa. He agreed. He was very happy with the job I had done cleaning my wound and said that with the Cipro and an iodine bath everyday there is little chance it will get infected. I am keeping my fingers crossed.
I turned out the lights and stretched out on top of the sheets, I was too hot to fall asleep. I closed my eyes and pondered how strange it was to be so alone in a new country, a new city, and a new apartment. About five minutes after I turned the lights off, I heard a clunk. I got out of bed to turn the light on but I already knew what had happened. One of the five geckos running around on my ceiling had fallen and landed on the table just next to my bed. I laughed - I was alone but I laughed loud and hard. The gecko was in shock as I glared into his eyes. He refused to move either because he was confused from the 10 ft free fall or he thought he was blending with the table and I couldn't see him. I realized that I wasn't as alone as I thought. I don't mind sharing my room with the geckos - as a matter of fact I welcome them. When it is too hot to sleep I turn on the lantern I keep next to my bed (in case of power outages) and watch the geckos agilely move across the walls in search of the next mosquito they will eat. I imagine them as sharp shooters who target malaria infected mosquitoes and protect me from illness. It is funny who I consider my friends when I am lonely; or who becomes my friends so I won't be lonely. I turned out the lights knowing I was safe from malaria - my gecko army was hard at work.
My two hour Luganda lesson was the best lesson I had yet. Things began to make sense and I was able to respond to questions and form sentences in ways I had never been able to before. Herbert, my teacher, and I got in an intense discussion about marriage, the traditions surrounding marriage, and how these traditions illustrate the women's role in the particular culture. Marriage is a very complicated custom in most cultures. It is difficult for me to grasp all the rules regarding marriage in most African cultures. In Buganda, the main tribe of Uganda, there are 52 clans. You cannot marry within your own clan. There are 47 tribes and you can marry outside of your tribe but it really isn't politically correct to do so. The traditional ceremony is called an introduction in which the husband takes his family to the bride's house and asks the father to marry her. This is a planned occasion and the bride invites friends and family. Many Africans also have a religious marriage in a church following the traditional marriage. All African ceremonies are rich in cultural tradition and connect the participants with their heritage. It makes the traditions in American seem less grounded and important.
Sometimes the environment an interview is conducted in is more noteworthy than the actual interview. That was definitely the case this afternoon at the Police Station on Kira Rd. in Kampala. I met with the Head of the Family Protection Unit in his office at the station. Upon arriving at the station I felt uncomfortable and only decided to enter because Oola had been so nice when I spoke to him on the phone earlier in the afternoon. When I worked at the District Attorney's Office in Nashville I had to occasionally spend time at the station by the courts. It leaves something to be desired, but it cannot be compared the station I visited today.
The station is a small building on the corner of a main road in Kampala. The station is responsible for the largest district in the city. The room you enter into is the reception area and there were several officers behind the counter. I asked for Oola and another officer led me outside to the back of the building. The station was obviously not large enough and they had built tin shacks, just like the ones in the slums, that functioned as offices. In the free space behind the building were tons of piled up old bicycles that were once used by officers to patrol.
I was led into a fairly large "office" that had two tables that functioned as desks. Just to the left of the entrance was a rolling partition made of cardboard. This separated Oola's office from the rest of the room. As I walked around the partition I noticed he was speaking to a man and woman. When I introduced myself they immediately stood up and moved to a couch a few feet away. He explained that he was counseling a husband and wife on the problems they were having in their marriage. Any counseling done at his desk could be heard by anyone in the "waiting room" or by the officer sitting at the other desk, there was no privacy! I asked Oola what the biggest problem he faced was and he immediately explained how the lack of resources effected the units ability to function effectively. Beside the physical conditions, the work conditions, and additional support are also poor. Oola only has four officers working for him and he has to be at the office whenever men and women are fighting- which happens to be seven days a week. They are not even provided with stationary.
Oola is in a district that works with the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (CPDV). Thus, he has had much more training than officers in other districts. He definitely sees the impact the CPDV is making. The unit has a mantra the like to follow and it is plastered all over the walls of the office . . . "Less Prosecution, More Mediation". This basically means that all couples are counseled and very rarely is someone arrested. Even if a woman comes to the station bruised and beaten, the man is not arrested. When cases are reported an officer does not rush to the house, a summons is written and then both he husband and wife must respond. Oola reiterated that they do not rush to make arrests. Only the most severe cases when a woman hospitalized lead to an arrest. This is because in most households the man provides the only source of income. If he is arrested the woman has no way to survive. Thus, the police try to hold the abusers accountable by forcing them into counseling. A second part of the program requires officers from the Family Protection Unit to make frequent visits to their client's homes to monitor the effects of the counseling. Oola says that this approach generally works, however the government does not provide the officers with the necessary transportation or funds to pay for outside transportation. Oola sees an average of 30 people a day- imagine the number of families he is supposed to be monitoring!
Domestic Violence is a fairly new concept in Uganda and it basically unknown in the villages where abuse is not the exception. Oola's Family Protection Unit was the first such unit in Kampala, and he has been working there for seven years. He believes that conditions are improving but it has been a struggle. Initially it was difficult explaining the concept of women's rights to officers who themselves were abusers. But generally speaking, once men and women understand the laws they adjust their behavior. A large part of making the changes is educating people of their rights. The Domestic Law will be discussed in April and this will make enforcing domestic violence laws much easier. Currently abuse is abuse, and there is no differentiation between family violence and random violence.
I will be shadowing Oola next week during the day when he is conducting counseling sessions and meeting with new couples.
As fast as yesterday became an "ahhhaaaa" day, today became a blah day. I woke up last night at 1am vomiting. I continued to get sick until 11am this morning. I have bad luck. This is the second time I have gotten food poisoning and I am more precautious than most tourists. I haven't eaten anything from the market and I cook almost all of my own food. Alicia has been here for years and never had food poisoning. At least it wasn't malaria.
I had three interviews scheduled for today. It is hard enough to gain credibility in a foreign country when I don't have a "real" job and I am not getting credit for my research. Thus, calling and canceling with the directors of three NGO's was not at the top of my list. Fortunately they were all very kind and even offered to assist me in any way they could. I kept all of the drugs I received last time I had food poisoning in South Africa. Once the medicine got into my system I began feeling better almost immediately.
Having the day at home gave me a chance to catch up on some reading. A few days ago I began reading a book titled, "The Aboke Girls" by Els De Temmerman. The book documents a tragedy that began in Northern Uganda in 1996. In October of 1996, one hundred and thirty nine twelve to fifteen year-olds were abducted from the Saint Mary's College, Aboke. The rebels fighting for the Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda are notorious for abducting children and forcing them to join their army as rebels. In order to train the children, the leaders often force the newest children to return to their villages and slaughter their families with axes. The LRA believes if the children kill their families they will children no longer want to escape because they will have no family to return to. If the children don't perform the atrocious acts the rebels kill them because they are deemed useless. The girls are given to the commanders as wives and forced to have their children. The children are deprived of food and water and dozens starve and die of dehydrations everyday. Currently there are some 30,000 children missing in Uganda.
The book plots the story of the Aboke Girls and the dedication of one nun from the school who fought for the release of her students. All characters in the story are real and their narratives were cross checked with multiple children before the book was published. Initially the children who escaped were imprisoned because they were considered killers and members of the LRA. However several humanitarian groups worked to set up camps with the aim of rehabilitating the children. When the children arrive at the camp one of the first activities they participate in is the burning of their military uniforms. This is symbolic and illustrates the ending of one life and the beginning of another. One picture in the book shows a World Vision Camp that was set up for the child rebels who escaped from the army. There is a boy sitting in the front row wearing an Indiana Hoosiers National Championship T-shirt. I spent hours practicing basketball in the exact same t-shirt when I was fourteen. I immediately thought of two things. Namely the generosity of the people at home; the same generosity made my clothes and goods drive such a success. Then I began to compare my life as a fourteen year-old with the lives of the children I had read about. As a fourteen year-old I wasn't healthy and often feared for my life and wondered what the future held for a girl who had little strength. But this book put my worst fears in perspective. I had nightmares about what would happen to me if I didn't recover, but these children lived nightmares, many until they were killed by their own commanders or died in battle fighting for a causes they didn't believe in.
One of the commandments LRA leader Joseph Kony enforces is from St Mark 9, 43, 45, and 47: And if thine hand offend thee, cut it off . . . and if thine foot offend the, cut it off . . . and if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out . . .
If the army ran into villagers riding a bike, they would cut their legs off. If the new rebel recruits could not watch the beating and killing of their classmates, families, or friends, they would pluck their eyes out. The atrocities that were, and are, committed by the LRA are disgusting and inhumane.
All of these activities are still occurring in the Northern part of the country. The size of Uganda can be compared to the size of the state of Oregon. It is amazing how vastly different the people of the south live. In Kampala you would never get the sense that such an atrocious war is raging a few hours away. This is good and bad. Good because Kampala and other parts of Uganda have been able to develop in ways the North will never be able to develop into until the war stops. However the division of the North and South is detrimental because the Kampala and other major cities can function without having to recognize the brutalities their fellow Ugandans face. This is a war the entire country needs to take a stand against, and many Ugandans are far removed from the problems in the North.
Finding NGO's is the most difficult part of the interview. When comparing myself to the average Uganda woman who is in search of an NGO I have many more resources. I have internet access to check addresses, a cell phone if I get lost, and the financial means to hire a personal taxi. However, it is not only difficult to find the agencies it is also difficult finding accurate addresses and phone numbers. Rather than getting frustrated when I am lost, I am trying to take the challenge into consideration. Many women who are distraught from abuse find themselves lost, without any hope.
After spending sometime looking for the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (CPDV) I conceded and hired a boda-boda to drive me just around the corner from where I was standing. The Center is located in a populous area. They only serve one district of Kampala, in which they are monitoring their affects and eventually hope to move into other areas of the city.
I interviewed Betty Akullo, the coordinator of the center. As I entered her office I was shocked to see signs hanging on her walls from NISAA, the women's institute that I worked at in Johannesburg. It is encouraging to know that the resources NISAA is producing are being distributed throughout Africa! I quickly learned that the center does not provide direct service to victims. I wonder how many victims arrive at the center after a journey similar to my own, only to realize they have nothing to directly offer them. Betty refers most victims that arrive at the center to FIDA, legal aid, or the police. The center does do an extraordinary amount of work in the community. One sentiment that all Ugandans have conveyed to me is the lack of education surrounding women's rights. Both men and women do not understand what is legal and what is illegal. Many women tell Betty that being beaten is a sign of love. This is an attitude that has been passed along from previous generations. Although it takes time to make changes in such thinking, Betty feels that the center has made an impact on the beliefs and attitudes in the local community. Betty explained that after attending workshops both men and women thank the trainers for explaining laws they had no idea existed.
The center functions in three areas: local activism, strengthening capacity, and advocacy. Focusing on these three areas the organization goes into the communities and plans activities and events which promote women's rights. The following activities are organized.
Local Activism - Organized by 2 staff members and 72 local volunteers
Currently Uganda has no domestic violence law in place. Assault is assault no matter who gets beaten or who does the beating. This is unfortunate for several reasons. Domestic Violence law allows women to feel protected in their homes, a place which should always be safe. Furthermore, it takes into consideration the complexities of violence in the family that are not present in random acts of violence. For example, when a man gets arrested for abusing his wife the woman is in worse shape because she has no money for her and her children to live on. Having domestic violence law would not solve all of these problems but it would be a way of addressing violence in the home and making a priority. Currently these issues are not addressed at all.
The center has recently made additional efforts to involve men in their outreach programs. Their previous programs were a success however they were nearly 100% women. In order to involve men in the education process they are conducting discussions in environments that have a higher population of males. For example, an advocacy leader will go to a barbershop and ask if they can discuss a few topics with the men while they are getting their hair cut. This approach is crafty and has been very successful. The center has approached men in car garages, boda-boda and taxi parks, workshops, etc.
The center works to have some activity planned within the community on a daily basis. Like all NGO's the center has a difficult time raising the funds to complete all of the activities they have planned. Most often they find that sponsors have their own agenda and they are forced to address issues that they would rather not focus on.
Last year an evaluations was completed that compared the community attitudes and police responses in the CPDV with other regions that CPDV does not work with. There was a significant difference in the attitudes of the police officers. Police officers that had been trained were more sympathetic with abused women and connected them with counselors and other resources. Police officers in other districts implied they could help if the victim could offer them money! There was also significant progress in the attitude of community members. Neighbors were no longer silent when a fight was going on next door. They were not scared to call the police in order to stop the violence.
The Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence is very successful at the tasks they are able to take on. Ultimately, not only the entire city of Kampala needs such assistance but also the other cities throughout Uganda need extensive training and activism. I look forward to working with Betty in the future. I will be interviewing the police officers she works with this week and will also be attending several community functions they have planned.
As Oprah would say it was an "aaahhhhaaa" day. Finally I feel like things are improving and I am becoming more comfortable. I wish that it wouldn't have taken so long but I guess that it expected when you are experiencing culture shock. I began the day with my two hour Luganda lesson. I am beginning to pick up words and phrases. The language is similar to Zulu which helps because I understand the concept of noun classes and sentence structure.
After my language lesson I took a taxi into the city. Although I have not entirely figured out the taxi system I am already feeling liberated. If I had to get somewhere I could. I walked through the hundreds of market stalls that are one street off of the main road, Kampala Rd. I walked away from the city until I reached the grocery store. There is real food in Kampala! Or at least South Africa food. A South African chain recently opened a large grocery store that carries a few meats, cheese, cereal, juice, etc. Being able to cook food I am familiar with helps me deal with cultural differences. It is exhausting to constantly have to search for edible food. I came home with chicken, apple juice, bread, crackers, etc. One important product I did locate was "Diet Tango Orange" the first diet drink I have seen since South Africa! I also stocked up on two huge boxes of bottled water. It is important for me to reiterate how exhausting ordinary activities are. Finding a taxi to the city, walking several blocks to the grocery, shopping, and then negotiating the price of a special hire taxi that will carry the groceries is not an activity but an ordeal.
Just as I arrived home and put my groceries away I had to leave! I had an appointment at the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (See interview summary). Once again I searched for transport. It is very difficult finding the different NGO's I am working with. Most have addresses that are Plot numbers. However, the plots are not located in any specific order. Thus if you know the road an NGO is on you could still walk for miles trying to locate it. I eventually took a boda-boda. The meeting went very well and the woman I interviewed offer to set up interviews with the head of the Family Protection Unit at the Kampala Police Station as well as interviews with several police officers. Surveying the different Ngo's is going to be interesting and it will allow me to develop a broad perspective of the services offered to women and children.
Kampala is more of a happening place than you would think. On a Saturday night the streets were filled with people walking from one restaurant or club to the next. We (Alicia, John and I) took a taxi into town and started the evening at Victoria Tavern. This is where the "cool" people of Kampala are. My most memorable moment at Victoria's occurred in the bathroom. I went to use the bathroom and there were two stalls. The one that was open was quite dirty and the door wouldn't lock. I knocked on the other stall and there was no answer. I decided to hold the door to the dirty stall shut with my purse . . . but when I walked back into the stall I saw a man peering over the top of the stall waiting to watch me go to the bathroom. I am not sure what his intentions were but I was angry. I climbed up on the toilet to confront him and he quickly disappeared back into his locked stall. I peered over the stall and he cowered in the corner unwilling to even look at me. I decided to leave the situation but I would have liked to climb over the stall and give this man a piece of my mind. This was a great way to start my first evening out in Kampala. We ventured on to another Pub that was playing the latest American music and made me miss home and Cape Town.
We felt as if we had enough of Kampala and headed back to campus. Makerere University is located in a market area. You can find almost anything in the market and it seems to be open all hours of the day and night. The scene was more fun and several people wanted to chat about my work and why I was in Kampala. I headed back to the apartment before 12am, exhausted and ready for bed.
Alicia had planned a trip to Entebbe to hang out at the beach at Victoria Lake. I spent much of the morning updating my CV and writing the goals for my project in Kampala. We headed toward the beach around 1:00pm. After meeting friends we took our first taxi into the old taxi park. The old taxi park is intimidating with hundreds of taxi's heading in different directions. I need to clarify what type of taxi I am talking about because these are not the taxi's we have in America. The taxi's are minibuses that hold 18-20 people and they are always full. We found our way to the Entebbe taxi and the second leg of our journey began. The drive to Entebbe takes between 30-40 minutes. Once we arrived in Entebbe we hopped on boda-boda's (motorbikes) and headed to the beach. It was nice to sit on the beach and relax. Adjusting to a culture is one of the most exhausting activities and it was time for a break. The return trip was just as exhausting but in the end the trip was worth the effort.
Before catching a taxi back to Makerere, Alicia and I met a friend who practices civil law in Kampala. He offered to take us to dinner and we jumped at the chance. He drove us to a nice Italian restaurant where we ordered real Italian food. When the waitress placed the plates in front of us we both stared- we couldn't believe the food we were getting to eat. We laughed because it seemed as if every muzungu (white person) in Uganda was eating at the Italian restaurant. There were no black people. The other people eating were most likely not just white people, but white foreigners who were craving a taste of home. Although the restaurant is one of the best in Kampala the most expensive meals are $10.
On the way home we realized that in the past week the State Department had sent two warning emails to US citizens in Kampala. One was to not travel on the road between Entebbe and Kampala, and the other was to not go to the factory district (where the Italian restaurant was). Unfortunately we had done both of the activities they advised against in one day. Knowing why the warnings were issued is just as important as following the warnings. We had a safe and relaxing Sunday!
I thought that I was getting a nice tan walking the streets of Kampala directly under the equator. Then I took a shower. At first it seemed that my tan washed off . . . then I looked down and the water running off of me was a light brown color. I wasn't tan, my face was covered in an even layer of dust. Everything is very dry and dusty. The dry season is just beginning but it is already so dusty that when you drive at night with headlights on it looks like you are driving through fog. Don't let upcoming pictures deceive you - no tan just dirt.
Surprisingly Uganda is currently the only country in Africa that has been able to reduce the percentage of its population with HIV. The approach Uganda has taken to combat HIV is unique to other countries who preach "Safe Sex", while Uganda preaches "Abstinence". When I use the word preach I am using it in a literal sense. The born again Christian movement is enormous here. Of the five TV channels that I have, three of them are Christian television channels.
Although the abstinence campaign is working to a limited degree, there are still many Ugandans having sex. Currently it is nearly impossible to get condoms in this country. This is strange coming from South Africa where condoms are handed out for free at nearly every street corner. How can a country that has been torn apart by HIV have no condoms? Apparently there was a faulty batch which caused the government to pull all condoms from the shelves until they are able to get a special machine to test the condoms and find the faulty batch. Obviously this creates a huge dilemma for many couples. A friend who is doing HIV research and I decided to see how difficult it was to find condoms. We went to the local market next to the University and started going to different grocery stores asking for condoms. Surprisingly they were very difficult to find and when we did find them they were asking five times the normal price; a price most Ugandans can't pay.
Sparks flew and it sounded like gun shots being fired and then a bomb being set off. Alicia and I were walking on the street on our way to dinner. We ran and stood behind a wall at a petrol station we were passing. Everyone in the street had scattered as well. When the noises and sparks ended we resumed walking only to realize that a power line had blown and caught fire. The scare was real though. Watching the people on the streets run was the first sign I have had that I am living in a warring country.
The taxi ride was just as exciting as our walk to the taxi. On a roundabout a car in the lane closest to the center decided to pull in front of the minibus in order to exit the circle. I closed my eyes as I saw the car making the turn and when they opened the car had barely inched by. Fortunately we were getting off at the next stop. We handed the conductor 600 shillings. He asked for 200 more shillings saying that the route was 400 shillings a piece. Alicia refused to pay because she frequently takes this route and it has never been 400 shillings. The driver was threatening to take us to CPS (Central Police Station). As he began to drive away several other passengers began yelling because they needed to get off at the stop we were trying to get off at. He stopped to let them out. Fortunately the seating was arranged in a way that we had to get out for the other passengers to get out. As we hoped out of the taxi the driver yelled obscenities at us and drove off.
After eating at an Ethiopian "restaurant" (the restaurant was the side yard of the chef) we stopped to get frozen yogurt. Frozen yogurt and ice cream are two foods that Uganda has difficult making. The vanilla yogurt tasted great - but nothing like frozen yogurt should taste. We waited on the side of the road for one of Alicia's friends to pick us up so we could avoid taking the minibus. As we waited a police officer equipped with two machine guns, one slung over each shoulder, stopped to ask us if we were safe. It was quite apparent that he was drunk. I wanted to tell him that I was safe until a drunk police officer with two machine guns approached us. We had friendly conversation and he eventually moved on to continue "looking for the bad guys" on the night patrol. However before leaving we asked him the price of the trip and he said it was 200 shillings for him, 300 for us. For reference $1 is equivalent to Ush 1750. We were arguing over a few cents but it was the point that counted.
I came home to a huge, dark, empty apartment. I continue to wonder when and how my fear of living alone disappeared. Maybe it is the armed security guard who was standing next to my door when I arrived, or maybe these fears disappear when you travel Africa alone.
I awoke this morning at 6:00am to turn on the water heater so I would have hot water when I took a shower. Hot water is a luxury in Kampala and I am fortunate that my apartment has a water heater for the shower water. The water takes 45 minutes to an hour to heat. The skin fresh feeling when you step out of the shower lasts for minutes rather than hours.
On my walk to the minibus my back is already dripping with sweat. As I climb into the taxi it is apparent that most of the people didn't take a shower like I did. I wonder how often I would shower if my water was cold and not clean, and my bath was outside. However, the amount of dust makes it difficult to tell who is clean and who isn't. Our clothes and shoes all have a sawdust tint to them. The minibuses don't leave until they are full - sometimes this can take an hour but fortunately in the mornings it only takes a few minutes. There is a certain smell in a minibus that I haven't smelled anywhere else in the world. It is a unique smell that no longer bothers me but reminds me of how hard the people of Africa work and the poverty that so many must endure.
I sat in the coffee shop brainstorming different ways to approach my project. I enjoyed my work in South Africa but I didn't gain as broad of a perspective as I would have liked to have. Furthermore, I could not walk into a shelter and get as much out of it as I did in South Africa. The language would be a barrier and I would not be able to connect with the women and children. I've decided to change my field methods and collect information in a different way.
The noise in Kampala reminds me of the noise in New York City except here the streets are much more crowded. Walking around downtown Kampala is intimidating but nothing like Johannesburg. I feel safe just confused because of the language barrier and the hectic transportation system. Today I saw a five or sixth month-old baby wrapped in a dirty towel on the street. There was no mother or siblings in site. I was unsure of what to do but I knew that if I approached the baby I would receive a negative reaction from the people on the street, all native Ugandans. I stood just around the corner and watched to see if the child's mother would come. She never came and I thought through my options. I felt hopeless and confused, and knew that I must walk on.
I met Alicia at 11:15am and she walked me down to the market. It was the first time I had been in the market in Kampala. There are very few "real" markets left in South Africa. There are grocery stores and malls where you buy the essentials and then you go to the market to get crafts. In Kampala everything is sold at the market and there are few stores. This means there are very few packaged or canned foods, everything is fresh. Cooking a meal is always a very long process. It is extremely difficult to find meats to cook besides hotdogs. I made a few purchases at the market including a rug, extension cord, potatoes, carrots, eggs, etc. Negotiating prices was exhausting because I had no clue what the reasonable prices were. We also stopped by the taxi park which I will be using when I begin my work and interviews. It is intimidating. There are hundreds of taxis in no particular order all with different destinations. I do not look forward to the day that I have to brave the park.
When we returned from our morning in the city I was exhausted. There are few activities that are as exhausting as adjusting to an unfamiliar culture. After a short nap and an attempt at making tomato soup I ventured to the market around the corner. The streets were full of college students. All the students dress nicely; the men wear dress shirts and slacks and the women wear nice slacks or a skirt. I encountered a man carrying a large rifle as I was walking down the street. Initially I thought he was some sort of security guard but it became evident that he wasn't when he began walking in and out of shops with a rifle slung over his shoulder. I am grateful that most security guards carry weapons. For instance, there is a man that guards the building that I live in and I feel much safer knowing that he has a firearm.
My house was dark when I unlocked the door. When I lived alone in Nashville I preferred to be on the phone when I walked into my apartment after dark. I was so paranoid that there would be someone in my apartment. It is strange that in a foreign country with an incredibly bad reputation for being dangerous I felt safe and walked in without fear. Baked beans and a potato for dinner, a DVD on my laptop, and it's time for bed. Tomorrow things will be slightly more familiar.
"To awaken in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world." -- Freya Stark
My trip to Uganda can be classified as an adventure. After only 2 hours of sleep (due to staying up late packing, and my nerves) my dear friend Chaba took me to the Johannesburg airport. I was charged $300 for overweight luggage and then told that that payment was only for the first leg of my trip, I would be charged again in Nairobi. However each trip gives me more travel experience, and this happened to be a fortunate error - I wasn't charged for the second leg of the trip- thank goodness I only mentioned my first destination. Leaving Johannesburg felt like leaving home and I wasn't ready for the feeling after leaving my family in the States less than 72 hours earlier. On my first flight I sat next to a pilot who flies to refugee camps all over Africa delivering food. He was extraordinarily nice to me and interested in my project. He described the dire conditions in many refugee camps which sparked my interest in visiting a camp while in Uganda. When I arrived in Nairobi I was quite confused about customs. I was told I needed a transit visa but took my chances since my departure gate was next to my arrival gate.
Fortunately I made a good decision and was never asked about a transit visa. I spent nearly 3 hours in the airport. Considering the size of Nairobi, the airport was small and not at all intimidating. I enjoyed watching people and taking in the culture. The Kenyan people are very friendly and interested in having small conversation rather than just saying hello. There was a small shop that sold drinks across from where I was sitting. They had a TV and the channel was set on MTV. It was strange to watch Britney's latest video in the Nairobi airport. I also went to purchase a bottle of water and found that everything is priced in USD. No matter how far away I am from the United States, I find our culture has successfully permeated into every part of the world. I am also amazed at how many women travel solo. I rarely see a man, who is not a businessman, traveling internationally. However, every flight I have been on has had at least one other women doing similar work as myself.
Boarding the plane in Nairobi was more difficult then expected. Every gate has its own x-ray and metal detector you must pass through. The woman working the x-ray machine was determined to find nail clippers in my backpack. They totally emptied everything and searched and searched but never found what they were looking for. When I was finally allowed to walk through the gate one of the guards asked me what I was carrying. I told him it was a travel pillow. He didn't believe me and said, "Who carries a pillow to fall asleep anywhere they please?" I told him I had been on several long flights but he and the other guards could not stop laughing at my little pillow. On my second flight I sat next to a woman who works in the refugee camps in Northern Uganda. She was raised in Northern Uganda and continues to work there through the violence that persists. Sitting next to two people who work with refugees was interesting. I hope to visit a refugee camp in Uganda and eventually work in a camp when I am in a safer country.
Upon arrival, Alicia Decker, a PhD student from Emory University picked me up from the airport. We dropped off my bags and went to meet up with her friends. Although it was very dark I begin to get a feel for the city of Kampala. All of the roads are one lane which means there is always traffic. The city sits in between several large hills which makes the views beautiful but walking is very strenuous. There are more minibuses, and boda-boda's (motorbike taxi's) than there are in South Africa. While life seems to be simpler here it is also very busy and loud. The streets are crowded with people all day and night. This is vastly different than Johannesburg where everything shuts down when the sunsets due to the high levels in crime. Yesterday evening I walked with my friend from the minibus to my accommodation at 11:00pm and felt very safe - this would not happen in South Africa.
I am still adjusting to the new environment. It is actually more difficult then when I arrived in South Africa because I have never visited Uganda before. Once I find a permanent accommodation and a place to work I will feel more relaxed and will spend time exploring the city. Figuring out the minibus routes will be vital. I will also begin taking private language lessons. The most widely used language throughout Uganda is Luganda, which is a Bantu language. When spoken it sounds much different than Zulu, the language I studied in South Africa however there will be some carryover.
I am looking for work at several places including an orphanage and a NGO called Hope After Rape. It is difficult to contact the organizations now because most African countries take an extended holiday during the festive season. This will give me some time to adjust and find my way around the city.
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Read Uganda Journal, Part IV (June 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part III (April-May 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part II (January-April 2005)
Read entries from December 2004
Read entries from November 2004
Read entries from October 2004
Read entries from September 2004
Read entries from August 2004