Email 12: March 19, 2006
From Latin America to falling in love with Uganda....
"Education is very expensive, but ignorance is more expensive." - Sharief, a 23 year old male and Kyambogo University Student in Banda/Kampala.
What is the difference between Teacher Margaret and Teacher Siobhan? Teacher Siobhan is brown and Teacher Margaret is black. - 12 year old male student of mine at Golden Bell School in Kireka/Kampala, Uganda
What is Identity?
Analyzing and determining my own identity is a part of this global journey and ever daily adventure. From more life changing moments like hearing the news of the Hurricane Stan's impact in Santiago, Guatemala to present day feelings in Kampala, Uganda. (Yes, I have crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Africa exactly two weeks ago today).
I have come to realize that one's identity is constantly changing and it is affected by the people you meet, the experiences you have, and driven by both success and failure. I spent a lot of my time in Buenos Aires, Argentina thinking about my future and as a result the future of my identity. What is to become of me? Will I still be the same person I was in Chicago or at Vanderbilt? Does that person ever truly change or do you only modify your personality to new environments? Obviously, with time and personal growth, everyone changes over time. How will these changes affect my past and future relationships, especially the people who are the closest to me? Do I still know them? The bigger question: Do they still know me? For example, if I choose and seek out international job opportunities?should I feel guilty for not returning to my friends and family? Have I abandoned them? But, likewise, if I choose not to stay in the United States for the long- term, I begin to wonder how well the same people know who I am and how this experience has affected me profoundly and more than just a year to gallivant around the world. I have begin to notice "who gets it- the fellowship" and "who gets me."
As I travel, I continue to meet people who compliment my bravery and independence for pursuing such ambitious travel on my own. However, I always say that I don't feel much different than before I left. Yet, after a bit more than 6 months of travel, I realize this is not true. I have changed in so many ways, both big and small. How will those changes affect me once I complete this fellowship and the rest of my life. Already, I am wishing that I had more time? the next six months are going to fly by. After only two weeks in Africa, I am not ready to go home. I have so much more to learn!
Now, that I have provided a bit of insight about how I am feeling at the "6 month marker," I would love to share with all of you about my travels to Cape town, South Africa and Kampala, Uganda and leaving Latin America.
This year I wanted to discover my passion. I always thought my passion was Latin America and Latino issues in the United States or abroad?.. Then, I went to Africa and in only two short weeks fell in love with both my brief 48 hour visit to Cape town and my first 10 days in Kampala, Uganda! As a result, my search for "passion" has become more complex.
In Cape town, I disregarded my jet lag (which was considerably low coming from Buenos Aires) in order to do all that I could do in 48 hours in Cape town. I walked along Long Street, overlooked the city and a magnificent sunset from Table Mountain, enjoyed my first typical African meals, and visited to the waterfront area. However, my favorite part of my visit was my trip to Robben Island. Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held for their struggle to end Apartheid and to fight for freedom for all in South Africa. Long before Apartheid, Robben Island was used to quarantine those suspected with leprosy. Without going through the entire political history of South Africa and Cape town, it was incredible to hear the personal stories and voices of political prisioners on the island during my visit. It is still mindblowing to believe that racism was not only legalized but legalized through policies, legislation, and force to such a large extent in South Africa. It makes you wonder how such events become a reality?even in recent history. (Currently, I am reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography which should provide me with more insight, and as the people at Robbin Island say, it will only make you want to learn about the other two great M's?MLK and Ghandi.) Finally, my visit to Cape town also gave me the opportunity to meet up with a recent Vanderbilt graduate, Jacob Johnson, who was awarded the Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship as part of a Master's program. It was wonderful to meet Jacob and sit down and compare stories, ideas, and future plans.
After two quick days in Cape town, it was time for me to go to Kampala, Uganda after a brief one hour layover in Kigali, Rwanda. My first impression of Kampla was the presence of UN (United Nation) planes at the airport. There were three. After only 10 days here, I have seen many more UN official vehicles. This did not come to me as a surprise, but it was the first stark difference between my experience in Latin America and here. I could already tell the situation in "Africa" was going to be different than the places I already visited. The second first impression and new reality that I quickly came to know in Uganda was the lack of electricity and power shortage that the entire country is currently facing. I arrived to my host family's home (a Vanderbilt family?I went on ASB with their daughter) and while taking a tour of my new guest home, the power died.
Kampala and the rest of Uganda is short of power because of a current draught and low water levels to keep the electricity running from the dam. As a result, we are 24 hours on (with power) and 24 hours off. This is the best case scenario if you do not have a generator. Many people are 48 hours on and 48 off?.and of course, there is the reality that many Ugandans live without power and running water daily.
I have quickly settled into Ugandan lifestyle?. Enjoying the local foods (which include Peanuts/ butter, something I have missed for 6 months, and assortement of other ethnically influenced foods, such as Thai), riding Boda-Bodas,or motor cycles all around town, but I am now sure to confirm the price, verify that they have enough Petro, make sure they know where they are going, and always look out for the many pot holes in Kampala, hearing the word Mgunzu (or white person) from the small children or others, getting lost on the local taxis or vans, attempting to speak Lugandan (the other official language of Uganda), and sharing stories with the many other ex-patriates and meeting new local friends.
In only 10 days, my spirits have been lifted and I am at a new all time "high." I have not felt this surge of energy and happiness since Guatemala! I never thought that I would love somewhere as much as I love Latin America, but then I came here. I could not be more thankful to Kristin (last year's fellow) who inspired me to come to Uganda and for the Fellowship committee who pushed me to leave Latin America and my comfort zone. I have been shocked how quickly I have adjusted to Ugandan life. It actually scares me to think how easily I could live here, (and how I am thinking of staying longer).
However, I would be lying to say that I have overcome culture shock 100% on my own. I have been fortunate to have a Vandy friend here, Lexe Sheller. We both were recent graduates and Kappa Deltas. I have loved getting to know Lexe better, meeting her co-workers/teachers, and most importantly sharing experiences. I have come to love sharing stories with ex pats because at this point in my travels, I believe other ex pats are the only people who understand me.
In addition to Lexe, I've been lucky enough to meet some incredible Ugandans who I hope to continue to strengthen my relationships with them in the upcoming weeks. I have met many of Kristin's friends who are both inspiring, but also a breath of fresh air to hear a new perspective on life. Not only can we talk about serious issues facing Uganda and the world, but also joke around in the same way that I would do with my ex pat friends.
Not only have I met fantastic people, but I am incredibly busy volunteering! I actually found myself over-committed when I arrived and I had to make the difficult decision to re-prioritize my short visit. Monday through Wednesday, I am teaching primary school at Golden Bell School just a short drive outside of Kampala Centre. The headmaster has been incredible and has made it his goal to immerse me in daily activities in class and outside of class. For example, he has invited me to speak at his local district Rotary meeting, we went to an aerobics class together, and I am helping his wife and her Women's Counseling Center and their mushroom planting/income generation activities, and he and his wife ask me daily why I am not staying in their home. I could not be happier with my experience at GoldenBell.
As for Thursday and Friday, I am volunteering at a young NGO. Well, this activity has not turned out as planned, but definitely a learning experience. To be brief, there was a lack of transparency from the organization as to "their reality and true identity." If you visit their website, they sound like an incredible locally run development agency, but in reality, I discovered that it is organization in quite a mess with zero funding, two volunteers, and almost little hope for sustainability without funds. They think I can save their organization by producing a handful of strategy documents. I enjoy learning about the inner workings of an NGO, but we have hit heads a bit as to what they think I can actually do for them. They may need a bit more than just me to help them out in the long run. (There was the idea that I was a consultant from Vanderbilt Univ, not a recent graduate.)
Outside of these activities, I have spent the last 2 Saturdays volunteering and observing a social peer group for HIV + mothers and their children. The group is sponsored by John Hopkins University as part of a larger clinical AIDS study they are doing here. The children have a space to learn, sing, and bond, while the women create crafts and jewelry as a source of income generation.
Lastly, I am going this Wednesday morning until Sunday to Northern Uganda, Gulu, and then to Soroti-Teso area to learn more about the current situation. As many of you may know, the Lord's Resistance Army continues to trouble the North and forces many children to fight or serve as a sex slaves. I will be visiting some of the IDP camps. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be an eye opening experience. Just the thought makes me thankful for so much.
I do realize this is getting long and I need to get home and hope the power is on to finish some work tonight.
I wish you all a wonderful week and thanks for the emails!
Cheers from Africa,
PPS: I have a new roommate, Grace, from Spellman Univ, who is on a Watson Traveling Fellowship (same ideas, principles, etc as mine) We have already shared so many similar stories this weekend!