Saturday, April 22, 2006

The BIG City

Kampala! The capital city. Where to begin? Busy beyond belief. People, people, people, people and more people. I’ve been to NYC a few times and this is comparable to time square. Many van-taxis and mopeds. Not as many bicycles like we see in Luweero but they are there. And people walking over every square inch of the place. There seem to be so many people in Uganda, period, that are just meandering around too. They stand on the side of the road in groups and just talk, but especially in Kampala. A few beggars on the street with deformed feet and hands sitting on cardboard they use for cushioning. And it’s the Ugandans that give them money more so than the tourists believe it or not. It seems like there is even more of a gap in 3rd world countries between the rich and the poor. The rich are very rich and the poor are so incredibly poor. We drove by the foreign embassies today and MAN is there money going into those places! Gated areas with armed guards. I’m going to take a picture of these armed guards so you can see for yourself. The Police, whom you mostly see at the police post and not walking around town, have these massive rifles they carry around with them everywhere they go. There are armed guards at all banks and money exchanges. Armed guards at gas stations. They also spend the night at hotels and churches and banks and anywhere there is money, basically. I want to talk about 2 places we visited in particular today. 2 markets on different ends of town. One near the bus and taxi park called Owino Market and another in a very upscale end of town called Garden City. Owino market. We had heard that there was a place where we could buy second hand clothing in Kampala. Americans love second hand clothing. It’s discounted. It’s fun. You can find bargains there and nice clothes and pay a fraction of the price you would normally pay. Who doesn’t like a sale? I was told that the market was on the other side of a wall we had been walking past for about a block. We had to walk along the dusty city roads, avoiding large holes in the sidewalk, puddles and trash all along the way. We finally found a narrow entrance to what looked like a small shed with ironsheets for the roof, however there were many people going in and coming out of it, plus there were about 100 handbags hanging from anywhere there was space, so we ventured in with Candy, one of our trainers. A dark, seemingly makeshift market with narrow, narrow aisles barely big enough for 2 people to pass with tables and tables of shirts, mostly 2nd hand from America and Europe, trousers, shoes, radios, watches, handkerchiefs, socks, you name it. And we walked and we walked and we walked. Imagine taking hundreds of small storage sheds and putting them back to back and side to side, then removing all the walls and doors and creating a totally enclosed space with a low overhang, then inviting Meijer to put all of their clothing, shoe and cheap electronics made in China inside and you basically have it. It is a breeding ground for thieves. As the dozen of us ‘Muzungus’ (white travelers) walked through we were clearly out of place. We’ve been told to ONLY go here with our trainers and as we walked through what seemed like miles of this place Candy had her arm grabbed by at least a dozen merchants trying to get her attention to their products. I couldn’t tell who was selling and who was buying stuff. People were sitting on the tables where there were clothes and nearly every inch of space was covered with something to be sold. It was really amazing and uncomfortable. You wanted to stop to buy something and you wanted to just keep walking fearing that if you stopped for any time you would be a target. I don’t feel in danger in Uganda at all! But in Owino market it was a different story. So when this place closes they don’t move out all the stuff, they have armed guards that patrol it (like they do with everything else). Then there’s Garden City. After seeing a fair amt of Kampala we ventured up to Garden City. We had heard of this ‘nice’ area in the city where many Muzungus hang out. It was supposed to be an oasis where there were ‘American’ restaurants and nice shopping and internet cafes, so we headed in that direction. What we found was a Kampala version of the Mall of America! It was totally like an American shopping mall. It had a grocery story with cheese, peanut butter, chocolate, snickers bars, real ketchup and a deli! Each of the afore mentioned items are missing from other areas of Uganda. Things you wouldn’t think about missing until they’re gone… So in this mall they also have Ice Cream which is found a couple of places in Kampala. A movie theater, a steakhouse and a pizza restaurant, a Woolworth and other electronic stores where camcorders and big screen plasma TVs are available, and a nice internet cafe. What else is that probably 50% of the people we saw there were WHITE (mostly British, German and American... I think in that order)! And it wasn’t very busy for what a Saturday afternoon in a mall should be! But it obviously was more expensive to shop there. The were working on an addition that would add on a hotel, an ice rink and a go-cart track plus a golf course! So that was our one-day tour of Kampala. It was an eye-opener, that’s for sure!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Marcel's Orphanage (The Children's Arc)

I want to tell you this man’s story. His name is Marcel and in 1988 at the very young age of 24 he made a very big decision that has greatly effected the direction that his life has taken. Marcel is in charge of an orphanage in Uganda where some 90 children live and he looks after another 30 or so orphans that live nearby with relatives. Almost all of which have been made orphans due to HIV/AIDS which has effected nearly every man, woman, and child in some way here in Uganda. We visited here recently when we were touring different health facilities to gain a better idea of which direction we might be able to help in the health field when we get placed in our site. “Have you ever met someone that you just get this really good feeling about,” says Chapman, one my fellow Peace Corps Trainees. “The feeling that this guy is just really positive and doing a really positive thing despite every challenge that has been placed in front of him.” And the challenges are many. Each child goes to school if they can afford to send them. School fees can be has high as $300 per year. He has expanded and expanded the orphanage to accommodate as many children as he can but he’s limited. He originally had a building built that had a nice little dining room and sitting room but now that has been turned into sleeping rooms. Most of the children sleep 2 per bed including the teenagers. Space is limited. Just that morning Marcel had to turn away 2 orphans because he just doesn’t have room to accommodate them. Last week there was a 2 month old child that was literally dropped off at his front door. He has no idea what this little girls name is, who her parents are or who she came from. She was very undernourished at the time. He has taken her in and she has been doing better thus far. Marcel said she’s lucky she didn’t end up in the bottom of a pit latrine…

The facility is small but clean. Only three adults help run the facility: Marcel, a cook, and a matron. It's a facility that is well organized and well run, one is impressed with what they do have. They have a garden where they grow a variety of food including maize, potatoes, and bananas. They also have cows, pigs, goats and a turkey. The food they grow and the pigs and cattle are a income generating project. The cows, interesting enough, are male cows. As we were touring I was thinking how nice a female cow would be so that the children might have milk to drink.

Getting help has been difficult. Marcel has a few individuals who contribute that live in Germany and Italy. “Are their any groups or churches anywhere that are helping you?” I asked. “No,” he says. “Just a few individuals.” We asked him, “Aside from money, what is it you are in need of?” “Beds,” he replied. “The kids and especially the teenagers shouldn’t have to sleep 2 per bed, so if we could get some more beds I think we’d be in better shape.” We’ve done some estimates and have found that bunk beds with mattresses cost around $25 each. We’re trying to put our heads together to come up with some fundraising ideas to raise enough money to purchase 10 beds for Marcel and his orphans. Money is the main thing they need. With money they can buy the beds, afford the children to go to school and can upgrade their facilities. We’re shooting for around $2000 altogether for 10 triple-decker beds plus mattresses. If you or your church or organization would like to help, please email me with a pledge amount and we’ll figure out some way to make this happen.

Before we left I asked him what ‘success stories’ he has from what he is doing there. “There are so many,” he replies. “You pick kids up off the street, some are in their early teens and have never had an education. We get them into school where they learn to read and write. The kids get an education and several get support to go onto trade schools and universities. To see a child succeed that otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance. It really warms my heart and I feel truly blessed.”

If you are interested in helping in some way, send me an email. I will either figure out a way to get money and support to him and if you wish I’ll get an address where you can write to him and be in contact with him. This orphanage is one of so many here in Uganda. There are over 2 million children that are orphans and this is a group of nearly 100, but they, like so many others, need outside help in order to continue.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Day in the Life Of...

Let me start off by saying that WE, collectively, the new group of PCVs in Uganda have decided to do a blog together, so you can get info (hopefully) from a variety of us doing a variety of things in a variety of places in Uganda. Visit Now… how to get a months worth of activities and pictures into a blog?? Let’s just start and see where we end up!! I have this idea where I’ll pick a topic and just rant and rave on it for a spell. We’ll call them Issues. It’ll be things from my home stay family structure to dinner time to transportation to weather and climate to health and sanitation to education. Maybe I’ll even take suggestions from the reading audience… Let me take a moment to say that I miss everyone a bunch, but I’m not at all homesick by any means. I miss things, like ketchup, cheese, chocolate, movies, marshmallows, my bike (the Hero bike I’m riding is only SLIGHTLY better than walking), microwaves and refrigeration. 3 of our group have now left and we’re down to 34. By Peace Corps statistics we will lose 1/3 of our group before the 2 years are up. People leave for a variety of reasons from missing a boyfriend/girlfriend to just feeling like they could be doing as much or more back in the states. I absolutely don’t fault anyone for leaving. When you know something isn’t for you then you just know and there’s no point in being miserable. “Goodbye friends. Wish you could have stayed we do miss you and we wish you all the best in all of your future endeavors! Peace be with you!” OK…so, Africa. Wow! Or as we’ve become accustomed to saying here, “Freakin’ Uganda” Let me just tell you what a day in the life of a PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) is. Each morning I wake up at 5:45 am to the sound of my cell phone/alarm clock and to the rooster crowing. How is it that they crow WELL before the sun comes up and continue to do so well into the afternoon??? I’m usually pretty desperate to hit the pit latrine at this point, that is if I haven’t had to use the bucket in my room that night. My family considers it ‘dangerous’ to be out late after dark, and in the words of my ‘father’ here Rev Simon Kyazze, “we don’t go out at night. It’s not dangerous, but you might be ‘tempted’.” …And I left that one alone. So after a few minutes crouching over a hole in the ground I do my morning devotions and then by 6:30 it is light enough to see so I lace up my running shoes and am greeted my an African morning coolness. I’ve found that whether you are in Indiana or Africa, the morning still smells like the morning. I run down the main road, past children in their uniforms heading to their various schools. Many of the younger children are barefooted and they make it a point to yell “Muzungu” as I run by which means ‘white traveler’. It’s not a bad thing that they are yelling, more like just a descriptive term for you because they don’t know your name and you clearly stick out. I get many stares and many laughs when I greet them in Luganda. “Oliotia” I say or “Nkulamusizza” I stop along the way to wait for the long horned cattle to cross the road. I run past chickens, goats, boda-boda drivers (bike taxi) who have some smart-remark for me like ‘give me money’ or ‘how are you, Muzungu?’ The kids LOVE it when you wave to them. The get the biggest smile on their face and the harder you wave the more they light up. I always end up with 1, 2 or 6 kids running with me. I let them run for a while then I crank it up and out-run them to see if they’ll keep up. After the run it’s time for the bucket bath which takes place inside in basically a shower room. A bucket bath sounds unpleasant, but the temp never really gets cool here so it’s always somehow refreshing. They do heat water when they do have electricity to take warm bucket baths, but the electricity so far has only been on for a few hours each day and that’s every other day… Then on to milk-tea with my father accompanied with pineapple and bread & butter or eggs and tomato. At 8am we begin training. Typically we will spend about 4 hours learning language and another 4 hours doing ‘technical training’ where we are learning about some of the many many topics we can be teaching about when we are at our own site. I’m in the Health group so we’re learning: Water treatment, basic sanitation, sex education, STDs, crop growing, HIV/AIDS, support groups, living positively with HIV/AIDS just to name a few… We also mix in to the day medical sessions and cultural session where we learn about the do’s and don’ts, safety, rape, basic cooking skills and so on. At noon several of us head to the market (now there’s a topic to write about) for ‘chipates’ with egg, tomato, and shredded cabbage! Delish!! Accompany it w/ a fresh pineapple and wash it down with a sometimes cold Coca-Cola (remember: electricity every other day so that means cold cokes every other day) and you have yourself a Muzungu favorite!! 5pm and training is over and we’re free to do whatever, which can include a game of volleyball, 4-square (our new favorite! If you’ve never seen or played competitive 4-square, and I mean other than when you were in 3rd grade, you’re missing out!), studying language, visiting the “Joy Bar” for a few drinks, shopping (if you can really call it that) in Luweero (where we are training), writing letters, or my newest activity: helping my host family prepare supper which is nearly a 4 hour ordeal that begins around 5:30 and ends when supper is served at 9:30!! That’s right kids, 9:30!! They eat LATE here! And that doesn’t include the milk-tea they serve at 7:30 including donuts (they’re not really donuts but they’re closer to that than to anything else). And cooking: the kitchen is outside! In a ‘shack’ that is separate from the house using 2 charcoal stoves, but I’ll save the details for another blog… At night, before the movie, we’ve gotten into the habit of watching movies on my laptop. They LOVE it. Their favorite so far has been “The God’s Must Be Crazy” and tomorrow they’ll see “Hoosiers” for a little culture lesson! Then around 10 or so (whether the movie is over or not) it’s time for bed and we start the routine all over again. We did find out about the NGOs we’ll be working for in our 2 years here. We don’t know exactly who will be going where but there are some interesting ones. One of which is going to be studying the relation of disease from animals (Gorillas) to humans in the far SouthWest!!! Another that I’m hoping to get is working with what I’ve heard is a fabulous organization called “World Vision” that is doing a variety of things from working with orphanages and doing water sanitation. Well, I better wrap up. I miss everyone so much but I’m finding a new home in Uganda. A different home. One incomprehensible before now, but so real and friendly and alive! Cheers!