Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The week in review

Lake Bunyonyi So the Peace Corps has these rules about staying at your sight for the first 3 months of your service. It’s all about community integration and all that jazz. The point is they don’t want you traipsing all over Africa while the neighborhood village people don’t know if you’re a tourist or a doctor that carries firearms. (see Nathan Epp’s blog for an explanation). Sometimes however, you have to just get away (how often we get away, maybe I’ll save that for when I’m done w/ the PC ;) So a group of us spent the weekend at a beautiful lake in the mountains near Kabale called Lake Bunyonyi! (the names in the following story have been changed to protect the innocent, but the pictures pretty much give us all away)

Lake Bunyonyi is possibly the 2nd deepest lake in Africa. It has 29 islands including one called Punishment Island where local villagers, many years ago, would take girls who had become pregnant before getting married and tie them to a tree there. Now this island isn’t big enough for the Skipper, let alone the rest of the cast of Giligan’s Island. And it only has 1 tree on it. The story also goes that if you were a man and hadn’t found a wife, you could go to this island and get a girl there. As Nat put it, “Cool! That’s like buying a used car.” I have no comment on that.

We arrived at the lake and eagerly jumped into a couple of dugout canoes and headed for our lodgings. We wound up staying at a cottage located on one of the small islands. They had several options to choose from for housing from a dorm room to a log cabin to a geo dome which was an open, thatched roofed hut that faced the lake. We took the geo dome due to the coolness factor. We sat around that evening and swapped our Peace Corps stories long into the evening. Volunteers go through some tough times but the stories they tell afterwards are truly priceless. We laughed and were astonished long into the African night.

The next morning we woke up early and jumped into the canoes to do some geocaching!! Now, if you’re not familiar w/ geocaching, it’s like a scavenger hunt with a GPS device. This device tells you your exact location on the earth using satellites overhead. You can also program into it coordinates that someone has posted on the web of a surprise they’ve left for other people to find. Usually it’s an ammunition box with key chains, business cards and the like. We paddled for about an hour and finally arrived at an island. Now we were at an altitude of over 6,000 feet and some freakish cold front had moved in the past couple of days and wouldn’t you know it, as we’re searching this island it starts to rain. Now the GPS is accurate within about 30 feet or so but we couldn’t for the life of us find this geocache, so we huddled under a tree until we were soaked enough we figured we might as well be making headway back to shelter rather than just standing around. Needless to say a lot of jokes were made about ‘It’ll be a cold day in Africa when I…” So it was raining and cold in African in the MIDDLE of the dry season… felt more like the ever-changing Indiana weather to me…

We finally got back and it was time to settle our bill and head for the mainland, only there was a slight problem. Two of us had been robbed. A significant amount of money was missing from the girls bags, and they were FURIOUS! And rightfully so. We were the only ones on the island aside from the employees. There were no other guests staying there that night. Now there were a handful of other people that lived on the island (and they reared cattle, which I thought was a strange hobby on an island. How did they even get there??) but they were on a completely opposite side of the island, separated by only a thin strip of land. The manager was acting dumbfounded that there was any money ‘lost’ as he put it and one of the girls was insisting on calling the police (which…I’m not sure what that would have been like in Uganda). Now, let me take a moment to really give my take on all of this… The girl who had the most money stolen had left her money in her camera bag which she left in an open aired dining hut the entire night… and the other girl (along w/ myself and 3 others) left her things in the open aired geo-dome while we went canoeing. Now, in a perfect world, perfect employees wouldn’t steal from the rich white people… however… when we all leave the island on a canoe for a 3 hour tour and leave our nice expensive backpacks and wallets and money bags in the open… Chalk that up to pure stupidity, on all our parts. And I don’t even think we have a right to be angry w/ anyone but ourselves. And to ‘expect’ justice or to be compensated in ANY way shape or form from the hotel…?? Why is it that as Americans when we’ve been wronged we ‘expect’ to be taken care of. ‘I’ve been wronged so give me something… government, insurance, society.’ Just take your whippin’, it’s your own fault and quit thinking that you’re owed something! We’re only lucky that they didn’t take more!

Breakfast of Champions So on a happier note, Jacob made some fantastic French toast the other day with this awesome cinnamon, banana topping! Wow! Have I mentioned how nice it is to have him living half a block away! The guy can cook!

Tell your people in America that we Love them. On the way up the hill to my house I passed a bunch of little kids playing soccer off to the side of the soccer field where they big boys were playing. And they were playing, not with a real soccer ball, but with a rolled up ball of plastic bags. They crowded around me and to my surprise, one of the little guys knew an awful lot of English. He was this little fearless leader who just took charge and proudly displayed his grasp of my native tongue. He was asking all kinds of the usual questions “what’s your name?”, “where are you from?”, “how do you like the climate?”, “is the climate in America like this?” Of which I was answering him in Runyankore to the laughter of all the other kids. After this short time, we had exchanged our little bit we were going to exchange and I headed on up the hill, upon which he replied in somewhat broken English, “When you go back, tell the people of America we love them.”

I should have asked why. I wanted to later, about half way up the hill. I wanted to hear why he ‘loved them’. But at the same time, I’m sure the answer wouldn’t have been as lingering as his last statement. “…tell the people of America that we love them.”

Rain Rain Rain Whoever back home that has been praying so hard for rain here can ease up a bit!!! It’s done nothing but rain here for the past 4 days!! And this in the middle of the dry season! It’s actually been so good for the people here. So many of them are peasant farmers, share croppers if you will. They only eat what food they grow on their land and then sell the rest, which is exactly what everyone else does so you have everyone selling the same food to everyone else. Can you really imagine only eating what you can grow in your front yard?? And you thought you didn’t want to eat Italian today because you had it 3 days ago…

Disturbance in the force I left my room the other morning and ran up to the Compassion building to grab a piece of paper I needed to finish something I was working on at my computer. When I got back my door was wide open. I hadn’t locked it and it was laundry day so I figured Jacob had come in to hang out, which he’s apt to doing, so I snuck up and jumped into the doorway and yelled loud enough to make anyone jump out of their skin. Much to my absolute astonishment I didn’t find Jacob standing 3 feet in front of me, but a tall skinny Ugandan looking rather sheepish and off guard.

“Uh… can I help you? Are you looking for something?” I asked.

“The outlet isn’t working in the other room so I was looking for power here.”

Now I did know who he was and I had seen him before. He was back from the University on holidays and was staying in one of the offices within my building w/ his brother, and I figured he was the Cannon’s nephew or son or something, but STILL…to find him in my room caught me completely off guard. So I put on my teacher voice, which means I got really upset and tried to sound like Mr Geise and told him, “Look, I don’t care what you were looking for, you are NEVER to come into my place if I’m not here. I don’t care if the door is locked, unlocked or wide open. Do you understand me? Now if one thing is missing from this room then there’s only one person I’ve seen in here and that’s you, and regardless of why you say you’re in here, it doesn’t look good. Am I making myself clear?”

Nothing was missing that I could see. My laptop was sitting open on my desk, my small change was right there on the corner of the desk, but still I needed to make the point very clear. It’s a Ugandan thing that if the door is open you just go right on it, I kid you not! I’ve had my door open on several occasions and people just walk right on in, sit down and just don’t even talk, they just…occupy space, and it drives me CRAZY!! So anyway, nothing has turned up missing I eventually helped them run an extension out into the hallway and then also told the Cannon what had happened.

Home Visits Lastly, Alice the nurse and I did about 20 home visits last week. Some of these kids actually live in really nice houses and I wonder how in the world they got into the compassion program! OK, so maybe their father died but he left behind a wife who has a nice job, a nice paid for house and a housemaid! The housemaid is what really gets me. I almost thing that if you can afford a housemaid then you shouldn’t be in the Compassion program, but that’s just me. Truth is that hiring a housemaid that works all day, every day at your house probably only costs about $15 a month.

I did see the worst living conditions I’ve seen here however, though I know there’s even worse than this though. I’ve included a picture as well. This one home we visited belongs to a little boy named Collins. He lives with his mother, grandmother and 2 siblings. They all live in a room that is 6ft by 6ft. One room. 6ft by 6ft. There is 1 bed. 3 mattresses. One probably goes under the bed and the other occupies a very small space on the floor by the trunks and cooking pots. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this boy bought chickens with the ‘gift’ money his sponsor gave him and the chickens sleep under the bed, and because it was a gift he doesn’t want to sell them! The mother told us that her husband was killed as a soldier, and I wouldn’t expect the Ugandan government to pretend to pay anything to the family for this travesty they have suffered. The thing that impressed me, however, was how organized everything was. They weren’t living as slobs, they had enough things, clothes, etc for a very small house, but it was neatly organized into this room they were renting. That’s what really got me too. I felt like if this woman were given a chance, some land and a house, she could take care of it and of her family the way she had kept up her tiny little room/house.

And here’s the cycle that happens and I don’t remember if I mentioned this in my last post or not but it’s now like this: this woman earns $10 a month from her job. In this country the man is the bread winner, so if a single woman needs support for her family, she finds a man. And what is it that men want?? Sex. And what is it that is a byproduct of sex, among other things? Kids. Which requires more money to support them. It’s a vicious cycle that repeats itself throughout this country.

This isn’t how the other side of the world lives, it’s how the majority of the world lives.

So my project right now is this family. I can write to the board members here in town asking for a new home and land for them. Compassion has done things like this in the past, build homes and buy land for people. I believe that it would cost between $500 and $1,000 for land and a house and it would be like Total Makeover, Home Edition for this family.

I cry when I watch that show. Almost every time, and here’s why. These families receive an overwhelming gift. One they cannot comprehend and could never pay back, only with the words, ‘thank you’ and with tears. Tears of joy, new hope …and relief. That their life of debt and struggle has taken a new term. And it’s a Jesus thing. Maybe the closest Jesus thing that I can tangibly understand. An overwhelming gift (real love and forgiving grace) that was undeserved, unasked for and incomprehensible.

So that’s what life in Uganda has been like the past week. Thanks to Jill for the care package!! It came just in time and I have enjoyed every morsel thus far!! Thanks to everyone for their prayers and cards! I’m getting ready to send out a wave of letters and postcards so brace yourselves!

Lots of love to you from the dark continent!


At 30 July, 2006, Anonymous Jennifer Noble said...

Geocaching is one of my favorite things to do! I've been doing it for almost 6 years now. I have to beg my friends to go because they have a GPS and I don't.

I enjoy reading your stories...they are very inspiring.

I've decided to go back to school to get my elementary school teaching license and I've started a Daisy Girl Scout troop. That's all that's new in my end of the world.

At 01 August, 2006, Blogger Mellissa said...

I loving reading about your adventures. I just rediscovered your blog. Can you get letters I would love to write to you. My mom sent me a clipping about you in the Rushville Republican. Im glad your doing well. I finally got my teaching license.

At 02 August, 2006, Anonymous mom said...

Just love reading your blog! Take care. Mom


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