When it rains it pours. This old saying seems to be dictating my life at the moment. It is only Friday afternoon and I have decided to begin writing my weekly update, otherwise if will not be completed. After spending the past nine months in Africa I no longer recognize the small details of daily life that are very different. However, this week I tried to be more perceptive. So begins the journey through life in Kampala.
On Monday I met with a representative from UNAID. We discussed the guidelines I will be writing for Ugandan physicians on domestic violence. The planning went extremely well but I left the meeting feeling depressed. The obstacles we are facing to end violence against women seem insurmountable. Cultural norms and traditional values make women second class citizens at best. The most worrisome aspect of this status is the critical role inequality plays in making women susceptible to HIV. Because of this women are contracting HIV at an extraordinary rate. Subsequently, these women are giving birth to children who are HIV positive. Women have no control over their sexuality and therefore are unable to negotiate not only safe sex, but also who they have sex with, how often they have sex, and when they have sex. Furthermore, cultural norms exaggerate this problem. For example, polygamy forces women into relationships with men who have multiple sexual partners. This is extremely dangerous, especially when women are unable to negotiate the conditions in which they have intercourse. Simply asking your husband to use a condom results in a beating because men believe this implies his wife is having extramarital affairs. Yesterday's newspaper featured an article titled, "Why Men Beat Their Wives". The article listed several things women do to "induce" violence. This list included: cooking unsatisfactory meals, not wanting to have sex, not completing housework, etc. Uganda is the only country in Africa to reduce the percentage of the population with HIV. Researchers worldwide have praised the Ugandan government, NGOs, and CBOs for successfully addressing the HIV crisis. But recent statistics show this rate has stabilized. It is certain Uganda's success in combating HIV will not continue without address violence against women and the inequalities women face.
After leaving the meeting feeling horribly depressed I decided I had to do something to change my mood. Alicia, Emily, and I went to the theatre in town. The only movie playing was "Are We There Yet?" A silly movie featuring Ice Cube. It was hilarious listening to the things the Ugandans laughed at versus the things we laughed at. At one point Ice Cube made a joke about naming his children Theo and Rudy. We laughed because we knew he was referring to the Cosby Show. After laughing loudly we realized the entire audience was staring at us. We also went to a nice restaurant because the woman who usually makes us Ethiopian food was out of town. We suddenly found ourselves surrounded by over one hundred white people, the majority from the US. The three of us felt very uncomfortable. We weren't prepared to be thrown into an environment that was just like home. We realized we have fully adjusted to living in Africa.
At the moment I am at the gym waiting to start my boxing class. There is a television in the gym that has cable. The Pope's Funeral is being broadcast and there are about fifteen hotel employees (my gym is in a hotel) standing around the screen watching the funeral. Over half of them have their bibles and are reading scripture. There are two Muslims, four Catholics, and the rest are born again Christians. There are several janitors and waiters, but there are also hotel managers and desk workers present. It occurs to me that this would never happen in the States. Our country is too divided by religion and class for this type of unity; even to celebrate the life of an extraordinary man.
I have had several other experiences this week that I realized would never happen in the USA. The pro-polygamy protests continued this week. As I described last week the Islamic population is protesting against a domestic relations bill that requires a husband to seek permission from his first wife before marrying additional wives. I approached the second protest with caution after being tear gasses at the first one! However this time I was even more shocked by the signs the protesters were carrying. They said things like, "Don't force us to be terrorists!" I felt my heart sink in my chest. The Ugandans didn't seem to be bothered by the threats. I realized how September 11th had changed my attitude. The papers didn't even mention these signs. I imagined if protesters used such language in the USA. The protesters would be lucky to leave the protest alive!
I had another interesting experience on the way into the city this morning. I boarded a taxi and sat next to a security guard who was carrying an old rifle. A few stops later another security guard boarded carrying an M-16. I was suddenly sitting between a rifle and an M-16 on a taxi the size of a mini-van with 16 passengers. I began to feel a bit Closter phobic. Then I imagined boarding the subway or a metro bus in the United States and seeing two passengers carrying guns. I got a brief laugh from this thought! Then on the way into the city I witnessed another horrific accident. An incredibly intoxicated man fell off the back of the boda boda he was riding on. The traffic was heavy and the taxi driving behind the boda didn't have time to stop. I closed my eyes and didn't open them until the taxi was moving again.
Fortunately, there has not been much activity on the front lines of the Taxi War. There is always a story to tell though. Alicia and I still have enemies in the taxi crowd. However, the tides are changing and we have wooed some of the drivers onto our side. As a matter of fact, a few of the conductors have been saving their money for two months to take us to the Botanical Gardens. This says a lot considering how much money they make! I was also greeted with a beautiful beaded bracelet at the taxi stage the other day. When I boarded the taxi the conductor told me he had a "meeting". I asked who the meeting was with. He said, "myself". I gave him a strange look and he said, "we decided that you don't have to pay anymore." Then he pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and wrote FREE PASS 2 BUKOTO. I laughed.
Tuesday was a horrible day. Tuesday morning Alicia and I headed into the city together. At one taxi stage there was quite a ruckus and a woman boarded the seat behind ours, kicking and elbowing us along the way. A few minutes later I began to feel small tugs on my hair. Alicia suddenly began laughing. Apparently, the woman sitting behind me was interested in what Muzungu hair felt like. She took this opportunity to touch my hair. She was literally pulling, massaging, and rubbing my hair! When I finally made it into the city I realized that I was feeling off. In no time I was in the bathroom vomiting. My friends had me convinced that I had malaria. The Malaria strain in Uganda is one of the worst strains in the world and Malaria is one of the top causes of death in Uganda. I was so ill and confused. Fortunately, a friend who is a lifesaver sent a car to take me to his MD. I had a case of "bad bacteria". I have had food poisoning at least ten times since I have been in Africa!
While I love Uganda there are some very frustrating things I wish I didn't have to deal with. I spent a total of 10 hours sitting in the Kenyan Airlines office trying to change my plane ticket back to the US. They finally told me that they couldn't change it from Kampala that I had to fly to Nairobi to change it! Fortunately I am heading to Nairobi this week but I can't imagine having to buy a plane ticket to Nairobi just to change another plane ticket!
I leave on Thursday and I am sure I will have many stories to share when I return. Thanks for the emails and support! Please keep the emails coming. After being away for almost 9 months I had my first real taste of homesickness this week. It was so bad that I resorted to watching home videos! I also realize that many of my friends receiving this email are abroad and feeling many of the same things that I am feeling. I miss you guys, keep up your good work. Just FYI this email will reach: the United States, South Africa, Peru, Uganda, Mozambique, Zambia, Swaziland, France, China, Kenya, Sudan, Ghana, Namibia . . . I love hearing from all of you- your words of encouragement mean so much!
Thando, Nakimuli, or whatever you prefer to call me
A few weeks ago I was talking to a young woman who had been sexually assaulted. She had heard about my project and wanted to share her story with me. Over the past seven months I have had numerous women tell me their stories. It has been one of the most challenging aspects of my trip. I feel responsible for listening to each of them and recognizing their experience as different from the last. I also feel responsible for sending these women and children down the right path towards recovery.
This young woman had been raped by a relative, and had just recently understood that this was illegal. After listening to her story and discussing how she wanted to proceed I suggested she get an HIV test. She was infuriated that I make such a suggestion. I explained to her that as a rape survivor she would have access to the important drugs she would need if she tested positive. She looked at me and said, "You're a hypocrite, because I know that you have never been tested." I paused for a second - I didn't know how to respond. I explained to her that I wasn't in a high risk category as she was, but I realized that the only response she would except was to tell her I would get tested - and so I made a promise to get tested.
I put it off for a few weeks. Then one week I got sick and couldn't shake the illness so I decided I needed to get a malaria test. This would be the ideal time to also get an HIV test. I headed back to the same clinic in the market where I received my infamous stitches the first week I was in Uganda. The waiting room was crowded with women and their children. A woman sitting amongst the patients asked me what I needed. I quickly answered that I needed a malaria test, too embarrassed to ask for an HIV test in front of all of the people in the waiting room. I was ushered back into the only other room in the clinic. When the "lab technician" asked me why I was visiting the clinic today I bravely told him that I wanted an HIV test and a Malaria test. He explained that the malaria test would take ten minutes and the HIV test would take an hour. He took out a needle to draw my blood and I quickly asked him if he had to draw blood (my understanding was that the test could be completed with a finger prick). For the test their clinic used they had to draw blood. At this point I was unsure if I should get the HIV test. I had no needles for blood drawing left in my sterile needle kit. I saw the technician remove the needle from a sealed sterile package but it as been reported that on rare occasion people have been infected through sterile needles that aren't really sterile. People go through the trash and take the used needles, repackage them, and sell them back to the clinics. Fortunately Conor was with me so we had a quick consultation and decided that I should proceed with the test. The chances of the needle not being sterile were very low. Uganda is the only country in Africa who has reduced the percentage of their population with HIV. This would not be possible if they were using used needles.
There are several different companies that produce HIV tests. The two most common tests in Uganda take one hour or ten minutes. The most common test used in South Africa takes two weeks. The technician explained that the shorter the test time the higher chance of a false positive result. There are no false negative results. However if you have contracted HIV in the past three months you will not test positive. The test is supposed to be free to everyone who chooses to be tested. I was charged Ush 10,000 (about $6) though and couldn't be given an explanation when I asked about the new government grant that was to pay for the tests.
I took the test and headed off to do email for an hour. The hour passed quickly and we began our journey back to the clinic. Uncomfortable thoughts began to jog through my mind as we walked past the Wandegeya market. A five year-old boy was the focus of one of these thoughts. On two separate occasions I have broken up street children fights. The second fight was much worse then the first. There were adults standing in the alley betting on who would win between the five year-old and a seven year-old who were fighting and how long it would take until one of then delivered a fatal blow. I grabbed the younger and smaller child who I thought would be easier to manage - he actually was more upset and out of control. As I was walking away from the crowd with him in a death grip in my arms he whipped him head around and blood flew everywhere - including in my eye. My memories continued and the five minute walk felt like I was being walked down death row. What about the time I received IV's in Krueger Park - I was unconscious and could not know if the needles were sterile? What about the stitches I received in the Wandegeya market?
As I walked up to the clinic the lab technician was standing outside. He quickly approached me and stated that, "we need to talk." I agreed and he had someone usher us into a dark bar next to the clinic as he went back to get some paperwork. The bar had no electricity and was semi-crowded. We were seated in a corner, surrounded by tables full of people who would be able to hear the upcoming conversation. Weeks earlier I had sat in the family protection unit in the Kira Rd. police station. During counseling sessions with the police the troubled couples sat pouring their hearts out, revealing their most intimate secrets in front of nearly ten other couples. I discussed the confidentiality issue in a journal entry that now, after having a similar experience of my own, seems distant and unsympathetic.
Conor and I sat down and he did his best to bring my wandering mind back to reality. Five minutes later the lab technician joined us in the dark dreary bar. He began asking me several questions, the theme of which was "faithfulness to God and my partner". After about five minutes I stopped him in mid-sentence and asked him to cut to the chase. He preceded to ask me why I was nervous about the outcome of the test. I mentioned several of the situations I discussed above and he was still not ready to tell me my status. At this point I was agitated and refused to look at the man. I focused on Conor and watched him politely shake his head as the man spewed friendly chatter about relationships and life. His discussion focused on our commitment to Jesus. I found this topic irrelevant and inappropriate considering objective of the appointment. After ten more minutes had passed I could no longer withhold my frustrations. I interjected in his mid-sentence and told him that I was going to leave and get tested somewhere else. He touched my hand, took a very deep breath, paused for about ten seconds, and then decided to say, "Praise Jesus you are negative."
I now had an open floor to release my frustrations (I have been told by my closest friends that I rage like a river when I am mad!). I began by asking him if he was trained for his position and said that he had been trained by the government. I explained that I thought he had done a very poor job and the process was entirely out of order. Shouldn't he have done the counseling prior to the test? Shouldn't he have immediately revealed the test results and then discussed the issues surrounding the transmission of HIV? He admitted that he had done things out of order but he didn't recognize the frustrations I felt. Finally I felt I had raged enough to leave the bar and continue on with my day. I thanked him and he proceeded to ask for my phone number! After this whole lecture on faithfulness! I gave him a fake number and left so quickly that I Conor probably had dust flying in his face.
I walked straight to the Wandegeya taxi stage and negotiated a good price to Bukoto, took a seat close to the window so I could breath, and closed my eyes. Statistically speaking, several people in my taxi had gone through the same process I just went through receiving very different results. A dark bar in Wandegeya would be the last place that I would want to find out I am HIV positive. But I could walk away. I could go to the USA and get proper treatment and support. In no way would it be a death sentence. Many of the women I counsel have no place to turn - to them it would be a death sentence. I feel like a hypocrite.
Hi Everyone. I hope ya'll had a nice Easter. I am yet to adjust to spending holidays alone. But alas, I made it through Easter Sunday and a new week has begun (although Monday is an official holiday in Uganda-Easter Monday. There isn't a definitive separation between the church and state like there is supposed to be in the USA). My time in Africa is passing quickly. It is difficult to believe that it's Spring in the States and this time last year I was beginning my preparations for departure. The rainy season has just begun in Uganda. The flora is thriving and the green, lush countryside is beautiful.
I have been totally consumed by work and apologize for not writing last week. I am beginning a new project with UNAID, the CDC, and the UN. They are creating new guidelines for physicians. The guidelines will be used in psycho-social support groups throughout Uganda. They have asked me to write the guidelines for the section on domestic violence. The target audience will be women who are pregnant or have just given birth. I am supposed to help the women make a connection between domestic violence and increased risk of HIV infection. This project should be completed by the end of this month. At the end of the month I have been asked to work with UNICEF in Southern Sudan. They are beginning community campaigns that will address sexual violence against women and children in a culturally sensitive way. I am still negotiating the terms of this project and deciding if I can work it into my project. I will keep you updated!
Although I don't have a cross-country adventure to report on this week, life in Uganda has remained stimulating and challenging. Last week I began carrying a small notepad in my bag and documenting minor events throughout the day that I would otherwise fail to remember. After a few days I reviewed my notes and suddenly became aware of how tedious living in a foreign culture is. I was able to adjust quickly to the culture in South Africa but Uganda is testing me and I am determined to be victorious. The language barrier is still a major obstacle. After spending an hour in the market one afternoon (where I was forced to solely speak Luganda) I was physically and mentally drained for the rest of the day. Furthermore, as a white person I must always negotiate prices. This task has produced a defensive attitude that I am not fond of, but I am unable to shake.
My taxi experiences are a major source of the defensive attitude. I dread leaving my house and sometimes don't just because I lack the energy to deal with the taxi drivers. Last week I was actually attacked by another female passenger! I met my taxi driver friends at the stage I always board. They put me on a taxi and slipped the conductor Ush 100 so I would only have to pay Ush 300 rather than the Ush 400 I am normally charged. When we were approaching my stop the woman sitting next to me ordered me to pay the conductor. I was confused but had the money in my hand so I reached forward and handed him Ush 300. She subsequently handed him Ush 500 and he gave her Ush 100 in return. Another taxi ride was going sour. She began screaming at me asking me if I thought I got a special price just because I was white. I explained that I was not a tourist I lived in the area and this was the fare I paid on a daily basis. She began screaming at the conductor and then again at me when he refused to respond. I decided to get off the taxi and walk the rest of the way home but before I was able to unbuckle and scoot out the woman twisted her body around and smacked my neck. I have been boxing everyday so instinctually I formed a fist and punched her on her jawbone. All the passengers were in shock and the taxi was totally silent except for a few gasps. I decided this was a good time to flee the scene. The conductor smiled and told me to head home before the cops arrived- I hope he was only joking!
This week I had two semi-dangerous taxi accidents. The first occurred at a four-way "stop". My taxi made a rolling stop while a large truck did not even attempt to stop. The truck smashed into the right side of the taxi just behind the driver. Fortunately I was sitting on the left side of the taxi in the front seat with a seatbelt on. My door wouldn't open and as I waited for someone to help me out I noticed that the driver wasn't moving and two children sitting just behind the driver were not moving. Finally another taxi driver who had stopped at the scene was able to open my door from the outside. He advised me to quickly leave the scene before the police arrived, otherwise I would be at the Central Police Station for hours waiting to give a statement. I was definitely shaken up. By the following morning my neck would barely move to the left and my jaw wouldn't open. I treated myself to an amazing massage ($6 for an hour) and I was feeling better in no time.
Just when I was sure that my luck could not get any worse it did. The following day my taxi dropped me off in the middle of nowhere- they changed the route midway. I looked so desperate a businessman driving a motorcycle offered to give me a lift to the nearest taxi stage. I agreed and he dropped me off with no charge. I hopped on a new taxi and after driving for about ten minutes I figured out where I was. We got stuck in traffic on our way into town. There were five lanes of traffic in an area designated for 2. My driver accidentally scraped against another taxi and took off the mirror of the other taxi. The driver hopped out of the taxi with a metal club that had a hammer on either end. He began smashing the windows of the taxi I was in. There was glass flying everywhere and a lot of screaming. Fortunately I was not sitting in the back seat. The back window did not shatter, it just feel straight into the taxi! I finally escaped and decided that I would walk the rest of the way into the city which took over an hour!
The past two weeks have been filled with hard work and fun with friends. Several new friends have entered the picture and Alicia and I are learning to negotiate friendships we wish we were not in. Here is a sample of a few text messages received from "friends" I have never had a conversation with.
"The party is on. There is much fun but am missing u big time. Carry me a still image of u 2 look at when work keeps us apart."
"Will pass by either B4 or after lunch. Prepare me a meal. If u pliz we shall drop home, see my grandma and later a friend's wedding reception." Well, I promptly set that man straight. I told him that he had the wrong idea about me and that I do not cook for men.
"Just feeling u in my HEART beat! Mentally am remote controlled by yo LOVE and am almost drowning in it yet u're the only one 2 save my life! My hands're widely open 2 receive u in my heart 2day, 2moro n 4ever. Good night my dear n queen of my on command!"
I guess Ugandan women must like this kind of thing, because Alicia and I receive similar messages from any number of random men we don't even know! Weird! The quality friendships we have made definitely make up for all the trouble we go through with our less than desirable friends. It's deeply rewarding to find Ugandan friends who understand and make time for a Muzungu (white) girl who is trying to learn about their country. It reminds me of how small the world really is. However it is very frustrating when some of these friends make comments that quickly bring me back to reality. I had a Ugandan woman who is a close friend ask me how frequently my boyfriend beat me up. When I told her that he had never come close to hitting me she looked devastated. She insisted that this meant that he didn't love me.
There has also been a lot of political activity lately. Last week as I got off a taxi I was caught in a protest and was tear gassed for the second time during my three months in Uganda. The Islamic population, both men and women, were protesting a domestic relations bill that is being discussed in congress. The bill would force men to ask for permission from his first wife before marrying a second wife. This apparently undermines Islamic Law which states a man need not ask for permission.
The new house is still fabulous! There has been a lot of cooking including a Midwest Easter, homemade chicken noodles, a taste of Mexico, and at least three batches of No Bake Cookies. Just yesterday, Alicia and I attended another graduation party however this one was much closer to home! The graduate's mother asked all the members of her husband's clan, Effumbe, to stand. My Ugandan name, Nakimuli, places me in this clan. I was forced to stand and then forced to prove that I know a little Luganda. Alicia and I soon became the life of the party.
The upcoming week looks very busy! I will continue to work on my new project and make a decision regarding the project in Sudan. Alicia and I are trying to plan a short trip to Rwanda but our schedules are packed. And in a week and a half I will be leaving for a short trip to Nairobi! Please keep in touch. I love to receive emails from all of you.
With love from Kampala,
Domestic violence can play a critical role in rendering women vulnerable to HIV infection. Domestic violence eliminates women's ability to negotiate sex. A strategy to combat HIV/AIDS that does not address domestic violence will be unsuccessful.
Traditional practices and cultural norms that put Ugandan women at a higher risk of HIV infection:
Furthermore, women who are HIV positive cannot seek treatment for fear of physical abuse. Women are blamed for bringing the disease into the relationship whether or not they have extramarital affairs. Similarly, the threat of violence HIV positive women receive forces many women to breastfeed. This greatly increases rates of mother to child transmission. In many communities formula feeding is equivalent to revealing a positive HIV status. Women's economic dependence on men also restricts women from purchasing milk.
I hope the week has been treating y'all well. I love hearing from each of you individually, so please keep the e-mails coming! Anyway, on this end, I have had a busy week. Where to start?? I have been extraordinarily busy and traveling. Thus, internet access has been intermittent and has not allowed many emails or journal postings. I have had many complaints due to the lack of updates so I have cmoposed a long but worthwhile account of my weekend. Work is going well although the NGO system is not as involved and offers fewer services than the NGOs in South Africa. However learning what services are not offered is just as vital as learning what services are offered.
On the home front, my new house is getting better by the day. Literally, they are making "improvements" daily- still. Last week, for instance, they fixed the electricity problem that caused me to receive massive electric shocks every time that I touched my computer. Ouch. It took me a while to figure out the source of the problem. The latest task for them is to actually buy the generator that was promised when I moved in. Apparently, it is coming "very soon, just now-now." Ok, right?! Well, on Thursday we lost power for almost 24 hours and I had just purchased meat and dairy stuff. Needless to say, it was pretty gross, so I brought attention to the problem. I told them that if they were slow to buy the generator, then they would have to refund me for my spoiled food. Well, shock of all shocks, they did!! I think that they are now more inspired to get the thing installed. The only real bummer was that I lost a pint of precious ice cream to the thaw. Loss of electricity is very difficult when your home is also your office. I am sure the workers think Alicia and I are crazy considering 97.6% of Uganda does not have electricity. For now, I have power and I am so grateful!
The big story of the week is definitely my weekend trip to the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo, known to many as Zaire). Let me start at the beginning- Alicia and I were invited by a man in the market (Robert) to attend his graduation party at his home village (he had finished a ministerial course). At first, I was a bit skeptical, but then I thought that it would probably be good for me to get out of town for a while. It would be a great experience especially since you can't just go to these places. So, I told him that I would go. On Friday afternoon, we met Robert in the market. From there, we hopped on boda-bodas (deathtrap-esque mopeds) and arrived in the taxi park. Now, the taxi park is unlike anything you could ever imagine (unless you've already been blessed with a visit to Uganda). The park is filled with tons of mini-busses all going to different places. They are arranged in a chaotic pattern that actually works, once you figure out the science of the place. We managed to find the right taxi and were happy to note that we were the last ones in. We wouldn't have to wait for it to fill up, a process that can take several hours on some routes! We were joined by a motley crew of passengers. There was even a boda-boda propped up in the front seat. Don't worry, I took a photo! So, the journey began. Although my knees were crunched into the seat in front of me (seriously crunched), all seemed well. About 40 minutes into the journey, on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere (aka Central Uganda), the mini-bus died. Hmmm- not a lot around. We sat there for a few minutes, Alicia and I trying not to laugh. Finally, some men got out and began pushing the taxi, hoping to get it jump-started. Miracle of miracles, it worked. And, we were off again. While the scenery was beautiful, I was irritated to find that our 3-hour journey took five hours. Five hours without water, fresh air, or a bathroom break! The kilometer markers indicated that we were getting closer and closer to Zaire (DRC). If I had realized that I was going to the Congo border, I suppose I would have mentally prepared a bit better.
So, around 6:30 in the evening, we finally pulled into a dusty but gorgeous little town. The landscape was hilly and filled with large boulders. Everything was lush and green and this was only the beginning of the rainy season. When we arrived we sat down for drinks at a local bar. This is when Robert informed us that the party that we were supposed to be attending that night would not be held until the following evening. In other words, we were supposed to stay there for two nights when we had been told only one. Having anticipated a short stay, I chose not to pack any toiletries or underwear. I figured that I could shower the next day. Umm, well after the dusty trip, I was sorely regretting that decision. Alicia and I figured we could skip the undies if necessary, so we agreed to the change of plans - we really had no other choice. After all, we had wet-wipes.
After a drink and being introduced to several of Robert's friends, we were taken to our "hotel." Although it was called "Promises Inn," I could have thought of a more apt name for the premises. Alicia and I were worried because we didn't bring money for accommodation, only for transportation. Robert assured us that he would take care of the costs. When we were shown our room, we found that it was actually an adjoined "suite." The problem was that his side had the door with the lock. I can't imagine what this would have meant if I had been there alone! Alicia and I are both serious kickboxers so we stretched before we went to bed in case we had to kick some butt in the middle of the night. Alicia was also pleased to find out that I carry and sleep with a Spyderco knife. The rooms were small, only containing a tiny bed with a mosquito net and a small table. The floor was concrete and the roof was tin. Alicia and I would be getting comfy in our close quarters. The toilet was in another part of the lodge; it was a cemented hole in the ground that you had to squat over. Fortunately, it was very clean and there were no flies. The entire hotel was powered by solar energy and used a cistern to collect water. Pretty amazing actually!
After we got settled into our new abode, we were taken on a tour around town. The problem was that the town doesn't really have electricity. So, we walked down dirt roads and tried to imagine what might be there. We were followed by a number of characters, including a band of children and a solitary pig that we were told was "small" but would have won a 4-H blue ribbon at the Indiana State Fair. About an hour later, we returned to the hotel to have drinks. Robert's father and brother had arrived, so they sat together and planned the party. This took several hours, so Alicia and I were free to sit at another table and hold our own conversation. We were given a bottle of Malibu rum (for some reason in the villages water is hard to come by but there is always alcohol available) and a plate a chips (French fries). Later we were brought chicken that had been grilled over charcoal on the streets. We were certain the chicken had been alive an hour earlier as they slaughter the meat at the street vending stands just before they cook it. It was a royal event. In fact, potatoes and oil were pretty much all we ate the entire trip. Literally, we ate potatoes boiled in oil for breakfast (along with oily pasta noodles) and chips for all other meals. We were uncomfortable with the entire situation, since it was not what we had anticipated. But, at least we were together. So, we finished our drinks and went to bed. Once in our room, we got out my video recorder and made a mini movie about our impressions of the place. This was pretty funny footage!
Early the next morning, we were awakened by a loud rooster. Within a few minutes, however, our alarm clock was no more. We heard an awful sound and then the crowing abruptly ended. We had no idea that live animal slaughtering in front of our room was included in the fee. Have you ever seen a chicken running around without its head? Joy. After our "breakfast" of potatoes and tea, Alicia and I decided to take our cameras and explore town. Robert had to go to the village to make sure things were ready for the party, so we had some free time. I can't say that I was surprised that everyone in the village watched all of our movements. We were the strange white women with expensive cameras. But, we felt safe and soon a young boy became our tour guide. He showed us the market, as well as all of the hot spots around town. I managed to capture a great number of unforgettable images. We toured a boarding school that had hundreds of students, some as young as three years-old. It was quite a sight and I wished I had more time to spend there. After about an hour, we decided to head back to the hotel and wait for Robert. It was so hot and we were ready for a break. In fact, it was very, very hot there! We were actually getting a sunburn- this is nearly impossible in Kampala even though we are on the equator because the pollution is so horrible.
When Robert finally returned an hour later, we got ready for the party and left. We hitched a ride from a "friend" of his. As we got deeper and deeper into the village, the grass got taller and taller. Soon, we had to shut the windows because we were being whipped in the face by the elephant grass. The road had narrowed into a small dirt path. Our cell phone service died. But, alas we reached the party in the village. Everything was decorated with flowers and banana leaves. It was very festive. We were thoroughly examined by the locals, and then shown to our seats in the front of the "stage." They decided to separate us, so Alicia was on one side of Robert and his brother and I was on the other. This prevented us from talking and goofing around, probably a smart idea. We both found it interesting that we were seated in the front as honorary guests while the area MP (equivalent to our Congressperson) was in a normal seat. We sat there for quite a while before things got started.
Finally, the master of ceremonies got things goings. Though most of the day was in Runyoro (the local language), he translated a few selected things for us. In 3-4 hours, we received about 5 minutes of translation. Bored does not even begin to describe how I felt. The only relief came with the dance troupe that performed for a while. One of the few things that he did tell us, however, was that we were "most welcome" in their home area. He went on to tell us "not to be afraid of all the black people," since we probably never saw so many in our lives. While "there are some black people" in our country, "you only see them once in a while." So again, we "should not fear" them. Ok, point taken! We had a good laugh at this, since we have both been living in predominantly black cultures for some time.
Did I mention how long the speeches were? Yes, this is the quintessential part of any African party. Even Alicia and I were asked to make speeches. Ours were much briefer, needless to say. Following the speeches, there was an offering ceremony where people could contribute small money to help cover the costs of the party. When that was over, we finally got to eat. Apparently, the people at the back of the tent got to filter out throughout the speeches and eat in the "back yard." We "important folks" had to wait until the end. Part of this "benefit" meant that we got much better food, served inside the main house. I wasn't really very comfortable with this, but there was not much that I could do about it. One of the major things that I've discovered about Baganda culture is that it is highly stratified. Hierarchy-and recognition of it-is critical to social structure. So, I suppose we were playing our part.
I must say Robert's family was so excited that we attended the function. We were thanked constantly for coming and reminded that it was the first time many of them had seen Muzungos (white folks). We also learned that Robert's father had four wives. Each was presented at the ceremony. The head wife (Robert's mother) lived in the main house and the other three wives had huts and land to farm surrounding the main house. This means Robert's father is a rich man. He was also very proud that he could hold such a spectacular event for his son and he even had enough money to slaughter a cow the morning of the event. However we learned that Robert still holds many of his father's beliefs. At one point he told us, "Don't be surprised to find out at the party that I have many children and no wives. In Africa the women are not faithful to the men so we must get them pregnant so we have some insurance that they will stay attached to us in some way." Not the ideal thing to say to a woman on a Fulbright who is getting her PhD in Women's Studies (Alicia) and a woman doing research on violence against women (Me). However we were there to learn about his culture so we just nodded our heads.
After we finished eating, it was time for the photo session to begin. I swear that I felt like a supermodel. I've never been photographed so thoroughly in my life. There was a hired photographer there and it seemed like we were in every photo. The benefit of this was that we both got to take numerous photos of our own. Everyone was happy to be involved. During the photo session Alicia and I slipped out to make a quick run to the bathroom, an experience neither of us will forget. I have been in Africa for several months and Alicia has been here for six years and neither of us had ever seen anything like this toilet. As we expected it was a hole dug in the ground but they had cemented the mud walls together with human feces. Also many of the small children didn't have the coordination to make it in the hole. Wow - we have pictures. When we had had enough and were ready to go, the sky darkened and the rain began out of nowhere. It rained and rained and rained. Then, it was dark and it kept raining. The entire party was forced to crowd under the tent (banana leaves draped over sticks) while the music system alternated between blaring and shorting out. (It was generator powered). Within minutes, the mud was thick and sloppy. It was hard to walk without slipping. It kept raining and eventually Robert came to inform us that his "friend" would not be coming back for us. He was "afraid" to drive in the rain and mud. Ok, great, so what were we supposed to do?? He told us not to worry - perhaps we could get some boda-bodas? We waited and waited. It continued to rain and rain. I started to get cold and crabby. I had reached my "stimulation limit" and was ready to be home (or at least at the Promises Inn). There was no way we were going to agree to stay - we had no drinking water, no malaria medicine, no mosquito net, and no dry clothes! When it became apparent that we were never leaving, Alicia and I decided to make another mini-movie to keep ourselves entertained. This provoked great excitement and soon we were surrounded by dancing and screaming kids.
When we could take it no longer, we told Robert that we were going to walk to the main road (several kilometers away). He hesitated, but when he saw that we were being serious, he went to look for a flashlight. After another ten or 40 minutes, he returned with a torch. We began our journey and I decided to capture it on tape. As a result, we have one of the funniest home videos ever recorded - a mini Blair Witch Project. We walked and walked. It kept raining (drizzling by now) and the mud was over our ankles. Here we were, in the DRC, walking along a mud path in pitch dark. During this walk we were scooted along by a raging bull that made very scary noises when it got angry. We also sang several songs including It's a Small World and several Kanye West hits. When we reached the main road about an hour or so later, we were overjoyed. Granted, we still had a long walk, but at least we were back in cell phone service. The problem was that we had no one to call. However my phone actually began to make honking (hooting for the South Africans reading this piece) noises and the screen said, "Danger Volatile Area". At the time the message and noises seemed quite funny as we were in the middle of nowhere in Congo and the cell phone network was telling me I was in a "Danger Zone". As we walked, Robert continually pointed out the mountains with the torch as if we could see them! I know that he felt bad, but his chattering didn't seem to help me feel better.
Finally, finally, a boda-boda showed up. Alicia and I hiked up our dresses and straddled the bike - this was very funny to the Ugandan men. Three people on a moped in the dark is never ideal, but we were desperate. Though we were told that we wouldn't fit because we had "large as**s," we squeezed on anyway. I have to say, if Alicia and I are both Size 8's and we are "big," what do they think of the Ugandan women?? In the end, we made it back safely. To top it off, Robert kept asking us when we were going to bathe. We wanted nothing to do with the cold bucket showers, plus we had no toiletries. So, we kept lying and said that we were showering when we weren't. In fact, at one point we both went to the shower and splashed around for a while to make it seem like we were doing it. Yes, I think we were seized by the spirits of 4-year olds!
The next morning, we had to get up early to make our 6 a.m. taxi back to Kampala. We just wanted to get the heck out of there, so we didn't complain about the hour. When Robert knocked on our door telling us to take another "shower", I jumped out of bed and headed to the toilets. On the way back, I got more than I bargained for. Robert was naked in his room with the curtains open and the lights on. Just when things couldn't get any worse, the bed started to vibrate. Yes, we were experiencing an earthquake. It was not major, but it was the last straw. We practically jumped into the taxi when it arrived.
On the way home, Alicia and I had the coveted front seats. They have more leg-room, but they also give the passengers a front-row seat of the action. Considering the condition of the drivers and the roads, this is not usually a good thing. Over the course of our return journey, we managed to hit four birds and a large chicken, and pass two horrendous accidents where several people lost their lives (this is not uncommon). Each time we felt the thud, we looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Were we ever going to get back? At one point a women loaded the taxi with several large live chickens. We could cope with this until they started to go #2. Fortunately, the goddess was on our side and we reached Kampala without further incident. We jumped out of the taxi, barely saying goodbye to Robert, and found our way onto another one that would take us to our home. As we walked up the drive, we shook our heads in disbelief at what had just taken place. It was 48 hours to remember, for better or for worse. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day doing laundry and bathing. I felt the need for clean more than ever! It was so wonderful to be home. I burned my scented candles, put on scented hand lotion and perfume, and brewed a Chai Latte. My olfactory senses were appeased.
And, that brings me to today. It is now Monday afternoon and I'm just writing up my thoughts before I begin ironing all of my clothes (even the underwear because of "mango flies"). I have a new dvd to watch, so at least I'll be occupied. It's quiet and I'm alone. I am so happy. Tomorrow, it is back to the bump and grind of Kampala but for today, I am living in my never-never land.
So, enjoy the week! I'm sure I'll have more adventures to report next week, as I'm going to be attending an "introduction ceremony" on Saturday. This is larger than a wedding and officially announces the engagement of a Baganda couple. I'm part of the ceremony and will be wearing the traditional dress. I sense that a good story is coming.
For Angela who is brave enough to choose the latter: "There are two choices. You can make a living or design a life." Jim Ruhn
I met with Grace, a documentary director, after a friend of a friend gave me her contact information. This friend told my friend that Grace produced documentaries on Street Children. After conducting interviews at several NGOs and police stations I thought it would be interesting to see what information Grace could give me. We met and I quickly learned that Grace had not done a documentary on street children but she was still interested in my project and we continued to talk.
Grace explained that she had a close friend who runs a house for Street Children and she called her friend, Angela on the spot. Angela agreed to show me the house and Grace agreed to take me to the house. A few days after the phone conversation, I was heading towards Entebbe with Grace to meet Angela. We had some trouble finding the home because most of the roads don't have names. We finally arrived at the home.
My initial reaction was shock. There were children of all ages everywhere. It was difficult to tell how many children were living at the home. There was a large group of boys in the front yard playing a game of volleyball. When we pulled in front of the house the children swarmed around the car eager to greet us. The children all went to one knee and grasped my hand as a sign of respect. We began to move into the house but the children continued to greet us. Angela first showed us around the house. There are two sides of the house with a living room in the middle. One side houses the boys and one side houses the girls. There are bunk beds piled high to the ceiling and more than one child shares each bed.
Surprisingly there was a TV and computer in the main room. At the computer sat another Muzungu (white) woman. We spoke briefly and I was overjoyed to find out that she was a missionary from Indiana! In the back yard there were several children playing, washing clothes and cooking. There were two large black pots over a fire that several of the boys were looking after. Inside there was a volunteer from Malawi cleaning deep wounds of one of the newest children at the center. Angela offered me a seat and we sat down on a couch in the main room. The children obediently scattered and left us alone to talk.
I had so many questions to ask but I was distracted by the environment and the number of emotions I was unexpectedly feeling. Angela is only 27 and is the founder and main caretaker of the children. When she was young she was raised in a similar environment and knew that she wanted to assist children. She began small and initially stayed in a church with two other children. As the group grew she was able to find a house. The road has been tumultuous and Angela has been greatly disappointed by several people and groups who have promised her and the children so much and delivered so little.
There are currently 120 children living in the home. 72% of children are between the ages of 11 and 15. 21% are between the ages of 16 and 18. 7% are below the age of 10. The youngest child currently living at the home is three years old. They come from all over Uganda, including the warring areas in the North. There are three other caretakers living in the house with Angela. All of the caretakers are volunteers and are not paid. Angela takes all of the children to a government clinic to be tested for HIV. 45 of the children are HIV positive and are enrolled in a new government program in which orphans receive free ARVs. ARVs are a step in the right direction but they are only effective when coupled with a nutritious diet. Angela tries to provide the children with two meals a day but their current funding situation often makes this difficult. There are currently 45 female children, 35 of which have been defiled (child rape). Also, most of the girls have been exposed to child sexual labor at some point in their lives. Many of the children suffer from other ailments such as Malaria and Tuberculosis. Angela does her best to find medical funding for the children. Currently the home is running on inconsistent funds from churches and local supporters. Angela is a born again Christian and faith plays an important role in the Mercy House. The children pray and worship everyday and it is evident that most of the children have the same commitment to Christianity that Angela does. They actually performed several Gospel songs coupled with traditional African dance. It was amazing to hear how strong the children's voices were and how passionate they were about the songs and worship. They go to different local churches and perform these songs in hopes of raising money.
I am always amazed by the resilience of children. Although they face many medical problems it is amazing that they are able to survive through the hardships they face. Many of the children have been on the street for most of their lives. Many of the children are the heads of their family and responsible for raising younger siblings. It seems unfair that they have had to grow up so quickly. Often time police bring the children to the home or the children staying at the home go out onto the streets and bring their friends back.
There is some counseling available and most of the children attend some sort of counseling. Angela has a friend who is a psychologist and teaches at a local University. She brings her students to the Mercy House and they volunteer their time for free. However, there is no way the little counseling these children receive will begin to heal them from their horrible life experiences. Most of the defiled girls do not want to talk and cry for hours at a time. Few of the children receive regular schooling if they are able to find sponsors to pay for the school fees. Many of the children receive vocational training at the house taught by volunteers. They teach sewing, leatherworking, bricklaying, weaving, etc.
The appreciation for life amongst most Africans is enough to bring me to tears. I find it very difficult to keep my emotions in check when I am with young people like the ones at the Mercy House. They love and appreciate life in a way that most grown beings can't even fathom. And with a leader like Angela it is certain that this love of life will only grow. The work that Angela has completed thus far is almost unbelievable. When arriving at the house you quickly see how much the children love and respect her. I asked her how she dealt with discipline problems and she said that she had very few. Most of the children have a drastic change in attitude once they are shown genuine love and care. I only hope that at the age of 27 I have been half as successful as she has been. Her goal for the children is for them to have smiles, hope, food, and to eventually be reunited with extended family. Finally I am extraordinarily grateful for Grace's time. With her connection and generous offer to take me to the house I would have never had this wonderful experience.
Next week I will be taking a load of clothes from the Goods Drive to the children at the Center. I can only imagine that they will be thrilled to receive the gifts!
For Noelina who has dared to dream: "Life tends to respond to our oulook, to shape itself to meet our expectations." Rich Devos
Through a misunderstanding I met Noelina Namukisa, Executive Director of the Meeting Point. I have much to say about her organization, the Meeting Point, but I have just as much to say about Noelina. Noelina has worked closely with a Vanderbilt professor and Vanderbilt even funded a trip to the United States so she could talk about HIV at the University Medical Center. Noelina began the Meeting Point in the early 1990's with a few friends. The organization is mainly funded by catholic churches from Italy. Noelina was kind and invited me into her home for a traditional African meal. I am grateful to have met her and look forward to spending more time at the Meeting Point.
The Meeting Point has a focus on women and children. Most of the children at the Meeting Point are infected with HIV or have lost one or both parents to HIV. The Meeting Point works in the four surrounding slums and most of the children and women at the center come from the surrounding slums. However, the slums are filled with displaced people who have come from North Uganda, Rwanda, and Sudan. The main programs at the Meeting Point focus on medical support, psycho-social support and education.
There are currently 1,021 local citizens who are HIV positive and registered with the Meeting Point. These members receive many services including home-based care. The home-based care is headed by 35 community volunteers whose main goals are to take care of bedridden patients, clean the home and clothes of the patient, and most importantly give courage. The centre also has a Day Care Center where people infected with HIV can gather to make crafts or sing and dance. The Meeting Point has 620 students who are sponsored in schools. There are 430 children who attend the Meeting Point Learning Center on a daily basis. There are 75 girls at the vocational school learning how to sew. Most of these girls dropped out of school from poverty and pregnancy. There are 23 boys in vocational school, all of which came from the learning center. They are too old to continue at the learning center. The boy's school teaches leatherworking and crafts. There are 22 children at the center who were born with HIV. 7 of the 22 children are on ARVs through United States Government funding. There are 54 foster families who volunteer their time and homes to children who the center can not afford to support. The children who live and attend school at the Centre are identified by community members. All of the youth receive group and individual counseling on HIV and behavioral change. If you examine the above network of supporters and clients you get a brief idea of how successful this organization is.
The Meeting Point also has a large women's group. The group consists of women from different regions of Kampala and different tribes and they work together organizing a revolving funds program, dancing, singing, and encouraging each other to end jobs they have been forced into such as prostitution. There are also adult literacy classes every afternoon at the Learning Center. This year there are 70 adult learners.
The main program that Dr. Greg Barz, of Vanderbilt University has been involved in is the Music, Dance, and Drama program. Noelina discovered through her work that music, dance and drama have much more of an impact than lectures of workshops. Those involved in the program go into the community and collect messages from community members about HIV. Then they turn these messages into a dramatization that entertains and educates. They are currently being sponsored by UNAIDS to go to all 52 districts of Kampala and perform these routines in order to end the stigmatization surrounding HIV. The Ugandan Government does not currently support the Meeting Point.
Noelina feels that her biggest problem is assisting all of the women and children who need help. She believes that the abuses are too many and this often makes her feel as if she has failed. She often ends up feeding child headed families in the community that the centre does not have room or funding for. However, Noelina believes she can see a huge difference in the communities she is working with. Some of the children she has sponsored are studying at the University level and others are assisting her at the Meeting Point. She admits that she only manages the stress and large workload because she loves what she is doing. When I attended Noelina's house for lunch I learned that a majority of the 8 children she introduced to me as her own, are adopted children from the center.
After my interview with Noelina I received an excellent tour of the Center. I started at the Learning Center where I met with the afternoon class. The children aged from 8-14. They were learning English, Science, Math, etc. There were probably 25 students lined up on wooden benches. I spoke to the children and my guide translated my words into Luganda for them. They thought that everything I said was very funny. I took several pictures and they climbed over each other to see themselves in the camera screen.
Next I went into the Learning Center and observed two adult classes learning English and Luganda. They were very interested in my project and had several questions for me. Again, my guide translated for me. They wanted to know how the weather in the United States is, what time it is there, how to get there, if there are poor people, if we know how to use shovels or if we only drive tractors, who was paying for my trip, if I was interested in black men . . . . Every time I introduced myself they stood and clapped for me. I felt so welcome and they were so interested in my project.
After viewing the classes my guide walked me over to the top of the slum next to the Learning Center. Ironically the name of the slum is Soweto and it is inhabited by many different tribes from all of Eastern Africa. Most of the slums have no electricity or water. I took pictures of the women walking back carrying large containers of water. It was evident the community greatly benefits from the Meeting Point. All of the community members knew and welcomed my guide.
We then went to the girl's vocational sewing class. This was definitely my favorite part of the day. I wish I had had my camcorder with me because they asked some memorable questions! At first they were very quiet but that changed quickly. They ranged in age from 15-23. The sewing program is a two year program and those graduating at the top of their class graduate with a sewing machine. The girls were also very interested in knowing if I knew how to shovel. I told them that I did and they didn't believe me so they made me demonstrate my shoveling technique. I explained that I was from Indiana, a state that was dependent on farming . . . they just laughed. They wanted me to sing and dance for them. To know about the weather in the US, to know about my siblings and what they were doing, to know if I was a born again Christian and what my religion was, etc. It was actually one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have had in Kampala. The girls were my age and I was quickly reminded of how much I had in common with these young women who seemed so different.
My guide took me to the boy's vocational school next. They were making masks but normally spend their time making shoes that are sold on the streets. They showed me the shoes they made and I was very impressed. Next I went to the foster home to visit the younger children who live at the center. I believe there are 22 children living at the center. There is one caretaker who lives there but Noelina is the primary caretaker. The children were very excited to see me and followed me around during the tour. They have one room where all the children sleep and then a bathroom and place to cook outside.
I learned a great deal from the Meeting Point. They are one of the most successful organizations I have worked with and it is important to learn and understand their practices and why they are successful in order to pass these techniques along to other organizations I work with. I look forward to returning to the Meeting Point and working with the women and children.
"It is not the years in your life, but the life in your years that count." Adlai Stevenson
The rain is pounding against the cement. For the first time in a few days I wipe the sweat from my forehead and it doesn't immediately reemerge. I leave both windows and all of my doors open. My curtains whip back in forth in the wind and the breeze hits my arm like a ton of bricks . . . I forgot that this temperature existed. The first time I visited Africa I left with many powerful memories . . . the most powerful being the smell of the earth after a potent rain during the dry season. I will never forget this smell. A smell of adventure, happiness, and revival. When I speak of my love for Africa I often speak of this smell.
The walls surrounding my computer are covered in pictures, letters from best friends, and quotes. Today my eyes go straight to Nicole. Nicole had been at the shelter I was working at for a week, and during that time I had fought my temptations of making her "my favorite". She was naughty, always in trouble, but her smile got her out of any horrible situation she got herself into. Her smile was contagious and genuine. After working with many children I knew Nicole was special. Most children who had been through what Nicole had been through were unresponsive, had empty eyes and empty smiles. Nicole's smile was real, her eyes quickly became my new definition of life. She would grab my leg and look into my eyes. Her eyes brought me closer than I had ever been to experiencing the purity of life.
One Friday afternoon I was playing outside with Nicole and the rain began to pour down. I was just about to sweep Nicole into my arms and carry her inside when she ran. I was furious. It was pouring and I was chasing her, her arms flying wildly as if she had yielded all control to the wind. When I finally caught her she said, "Auntie, can we stay outside and smell the rain?" I threw her over my shoulder and we stood next to the door with our eye closed enjoying the smell of life. Ten minutes later Nicole was sound asleep enjoying the sweet dreams of a four year-old.
That afternoon I left the shelter fulfilled, knowing that I had learned how to love life from such a small creature. I woke up early the following Monday morning ready to get to the creche and spend more time with Nicole and the other children. I needed the energy Nicole gave me, adjusting to Cape Town was difficult and tiring. As exhausting as it was to chase her around all day I looked forward to spending time with her. At such a young age she had learned to forgive, to love life, and to love herself. When I arrived at the creche Nicole was not there. Halfway through the day I enquired of her whereabouts. She had left that weekend to visit her father and never came back.
I was devastated to say the least. I had no one to direct my questions to . . . could we call someone? Wasn't this the same father whose abuse led Nicole to the centre? Was this a normal problem? But none of these questions could be answered. I was able to capture the life in Nicole's eyes in a picture I took the last Friday I saw her. This life assures me that Nicole is strong and fine and gives me strength to continue on the roughest days.
The best advice I have received in a long time . . . .
"You probably feel a little unsettled. Always remember when you feel that way "I am fine. I am fed. I can enjoy where I am. I must embrace the hearts of those around me to feel the grace of their lives. I am at home anyplace where I can connect with those around me. And always back home, there are those who will remind me why I am comfortable where I am." The people you are with, or the people you will be with, want to help you. They want to be your friend. They want you to share your spirit with them Take a deep breath, close your eyes, take another deep breath, relax all the muscles in your body, and feel a smile stretch across your face as you breath in the richest air in the world . . . . Have fun. This is your time to live and live and live like most people never will. Enjoy it in every moment possible."
I am fortunate to have many people who help me put my experiences in perspective. I refer to this advice when I am disappointed. I love America, I love being an American, but being an American who travels adds additional responsibility that I would rather not have. On several occasions I have thought that I finally made sincere friends. Friends who want to guide me in the right direction and share their lives with me. Being alone, I eagerly give my new friends two of the most valuable gifts: trust and confidence. This period lasts briefly before I am quickly jolted back into the real world, the world of an American traveling in places of poverty that most Americans don't know exist. I am forced to revaluate friendships full of hope after I am put in the awkward position most Americans who travel are put in - "friends" asking or begging for financial support. These friends believe in the common myth that all Americans are rich.
What defines generosity, selfishness, and manipulation? Last year I was introduced to someone who I believe is the most generous person I will ever have the opportunity to meet. He has no boundaries; he has traveled more extensively than most avid travelers' dream of. Before I dug beyond his surface I believed he lived a meager existence. Through his charisma and love for life I learned about a kind of wealth I never knew existed. Affluence, to my friend, is not how much money you acquire, it is how much money you give to people and causes you care deeply about. I wish I was traveling with my friend now, I know he would either make me comfortable with the situation or teach me when to say when.
Now when I am asked for money I can always identify a person or organization that is needier than the person asking for money. I hate defining levels of poverty. I hate having to justify (to myself) living in an apartment with hot water and a generator. I am learning the horrible game of balancing my life and my work, my generosity and my life. Yesterday I met a girl line at the grocery store. She walked up to me and said, "you will pay for my water." I was offended. There were several Ugandans in line and she skipped all of them and chose me. I told her that I would not pay for her water. For the next fifteen minutes in line she shoved the bottle into my spine. Why should I pay for her water? Why was she so rude and forceful without explanations? She was certainly needy, not only of clothes and shoes, but also of water a basic necessity of life. When I walked out of the store I regretted not paying for the water. I have spent my money much less wisely before. But in the back of my mind I still wondered how you know when you are being taken advantage of. I wondered when I allowed my mindset to change. When I arrived in Africa I would have paid for the water. The constant begging, and targeting because I am white has effected me.
Two concepts that have become less abstract during my time in Africa are poverty and happiness. Vanderbilt students are no longer used as my meter for wealth. And financial security is no longer my meter for happiness. I have dug up two beliefs that are firmly rooted in American culture and thrown them out the window. A new friend cemented my new views into place. She is fifteen. She has no parents and is raising four siblings. She would like to go to school. She would like to be a nurse. She would like to have parents. She would like to live like a fifteen year-old. But she is happy. She is alive and well. She loves Uganda. She loves what is left of her family.
"For to his angels he has given command about you that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they shall bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone." Psalm 90:11-12
I just opened a travel book in order to plan for my father's upcoming arrival. I found a card that my mom gave me on December 29, 2004, the day I returned to Africa after my Christmas holiday. This was the bible verse she included in the card. Mom's have such great intuition. I have been sitting at my desk contemplating how strange life is. I am certain anyone who know what happened to my foot last weekend will think this bible verse is fitting!
It has been a week of tests, successes, failures, loneliness and happiness. A week of contradictions - leaving me tired but ready for a new week where I will face different challenges. The survey of the NGOs has left me exhausted and frustrated. Nothing happens as quickly as I would like. I walk an hour to meet one woman and she cancels. The organizations that are welcoming me aren't in line with my focus of sexual violence. When I do complete initial interviews I have to call back a week later to set up additional dates to work in the field. But I am continuing to schedule interviews and I am learning what the women and children who need these services must face.
Exciting/Scary events that have occurred this week: my toe is beginning to heal, I saw a young girl get gored on campus by a grazing cow who lost his temper (she is ok), I saw a man who sells sugarcane on the side of the road get run over by a truck who was pushed off the road by a taxi (he is not ok), I saw a careless taxi driver hit a concrete divider and nearly flip his taxi and come within inches of hitting me, I started a bug graveyard for my landlord to view until he understands I have a serious bug problem (cockroaches the size of my fist), I have over 30 unexplainable mosquito bites, sometimes SPF 50 doesn't work, the geckos don't stick to the walls when it is too hot and they only fall when they are directly over me.
Eye opening realizations: sometimes acting like you know what you are doing is better than asking questions, the challenges I face with my project are not new but the same ones I have faced during the past six months, no matter how uncomfortable I am in a new environment those horrible feelings never last more than a week, I miss my friends in South Africa more than I anticipated I would, I will not get used to waking up every night at 2am feeling nauseous from my malaria medicine, my body has to be below a certain temperature to sleep and this temperature is often not reachable, free time allows for too many deep thoughts and contemplations.
There are many popular myths about America. On the way home from the market today I was stopped by three policemen. They initially stopped me to find out if I was a student. I explained to them that I lived on campus but they used the opportunity at hand to get to know me. It is unbelievable that around the world people do not believe that there are poor Americans. When I tell them that we have homeless people and people who are starving they don't believe me. They have heard about welfare and try to explain to me what they have heard in case I didn't know. These policemen thought that all Americans were trained in the military. They couldn't understand why an American would want to be studying in their country. They wanted me to compare South African to Uganda . . . Will you marry me so I can get a green card and become an American? Who did you vote for in the election? How much does it cost to fly to the United States? What are the police like there? Are there large police forces and are they corrupt like we are here? What do you think of Uganda? How are the people? I talked to them for a half an hour and I am sure that I left them with a lot to talk about!
Friday was probably the best day I have had in Uganda. I attended a women's entrepreneur meeting where the women were so excited to have me they actually clapped every time I was introduced. (Please read organization summary) I learned so much about the link between economic dependence and violence against women. I listened to their stories of poverty and wondered how they could have so much hope. I was invited to the meeting by Margaret, who I met at Hope after Rape. She is on the board there and also at several other women's NGOs. She is a very busy woman and believes that NGOs are the way women should connect and gain power. She introduced me to Beatrice who is one of the nicest women I know. After the meeting Margaret, Beatrice, and I went back to Beatrice's home for lunch. Beatrice has a very nice home and I enjoyed the time I spent there. She has a son and daughter who are near my age and I look forward to hanging out with them in the future. Beatrice reminds me of my friend Fikile in Johannesburg and I miss her dearly. Beatrice has offered to show me around Kampala and the surrounding towns. She will be taking me to Gaba to visit her extended family. Both Beatrice and Margaret called me today to make sure I had a good weekend! I will see Margaret tomorrow at the Female Writer's association poetry reading on peace. I am so fortunate to meet people who take interest in me and my project. There are people all over the world who are dedicated to women's rights and I am grateful to know them!
When I returned home after a very long morning there was a note on my table from my neighbors inviting me over for dinner. My neighbors are from Nigeria. Rosemary is in her twenties and just moved here last week. She just married her husband on Christmas and he has been at the University for one year working on a masters. The husband's father also lives with them and he is a professor at the University. I had a spectacular time with Rosemary. She cooked me a very healthy African meal and we hung out for the next two hours. She shared her wedding pictures with me and even got her wedding dress out. We spoke of he differences in tradition surrounding marriage and just had a nice time hanging out. Next week they are moving off campus but she promised we would stay friends.
The rest of my weekend was less eventful. I walked into Kampala on Saturday and spent time in the bookstore and walked by the Ban Cafe to visit my friends who work there. I spent around $40 on the phone speaking to travel agents in order to book flights for my dad and me to South Africa. It is frustrating how difficult communicating is and also how incompetent these companies are. They refuse to call you back and then they put you on hold for hours. I finally gave up and will walk into the city tomorrow morning and deal with them face to face! But I am very excited about my dad's arrival. He has never been to Africa and I can only imagine how much he will have to take in when he arrives. In know we will have a spectacular two weeks. Oola, the policeman from the Family Protection Unit has invited my dad to visit the police station; this will no doubt be one of the many eye opening experiences he has.
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Read Uganda Journal, Part IV (June 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part III (April-May 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part I (January 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