Saturday, February 03, 2007

Branching Out

Branching Out

At times you just have to get away. My skin was crawling, as they say, to just leave for the weekend. Fortunately this was a 3 day weekend as Friday was a holiday for the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party of which the current president belongs. I decided to ride my bike some 35 miles down a dirt road to visit several other PCVs living around a nearby village. My journey would take me by the Kitagata hot springs which are said to have healing powers over various diseases.

I set out early on Friday morning, not really dreading the 4-5 hour bike ride but not really looking forward to it either. Marcus had made the same trip a few months ago. It took him 8 hours to get here and 5 to get back. I think he decided to walk less on the way back. The biking is through the mountains. It’s beautiful but it’s tough. The air was cool in the morning but not cold and I was all set with my back pack stuffed with clothes and my iPod and my padded biking gloves which are a necessity when taking long biking trips and I’m glad I brought them. The road was paved for the first7 miles or so then I took a shortcut (which was on the map) through the bush. It was really beautiful riding through the mountains. Of course people stop and stare as I biked past. The kids come running, calling behind them for their siblings to come and see. I can’t imagine too many white people pass through these parts. I stopped along to way to buy airtime for my phone in case I would need to reach someone. I hopped off the bike speaking the local language to the shop keeper who was truly surprised at my grasp of the vernacular. By the time I had made my purchase and answered the usual questions of ‘Where are you going? Where are you from? Where did you learn to speak vernacular?’ I stepped outside to find no less than 30 people who had gathered around my bike and at the shop entrance to watch the white man who was passing through their town. “Don’t touch the bike” I snapped at the men around my bike, in part to shock them at my language skills and in part because they always shift the gears in their meddling curiosity. I waved goodbye and I was off again, this time only to meet a cattle herder whose cattle were blocking my passage. So I tried to speak with him with little success as I waited for an opportunity to pass. Eventually I got around and managed to reach the hot springs.

The hot springs were hot, much to my surprise. I was expecting luke-warm springs but they were really hot. So hot infact that I couldn’t keep my hand in the water. There were naked men bathing 10 feet away, did I mention that? They asked me the same questions as the shop keeper had and then they asked me to get in and bathe with them. “It’s too hot!” I explained but they told me it was cooler downstream where they were. I said I didn’t have my bathing clothes which seemed to work for an answer despite that they were bathing naked.

I finally reached my destination. At that point I was begging to be back in the flatlands of Indiana rather than climbing one hill after another. I had my GPS with me and I had averaged 9.7 mph on my journey. I clock along at 15mph on flat ground. I visited with the other PCVs there and eventually stayed with fellow Hoosier volunteer, Marcus. Marcus is really in a village, about 30 minutes from the nearest decent sized city. His house is a duplex that is right on the grounds of a primary school, which I think would be maddening when school is in session with hundreds of kids running around all the time. He says he can’t keep the doors closed because that would be considered rude to his neighbors but if he leaves them open then kids stare in at him. If he shifts to another room then he feels like he leaves his stuff unattended and someone might slip in and take something, so it’s a no-win. His bathing area is a concrete structure that’s outside and he has another concrete structure which he cooks in. Marcus is working as an education volunteer so he has several schools in the area which he tries to assist and train other teachers in order to improve their teaching techniques. We diceded to be adventures for the weekend and bike to a nearby mountain and climb. He knew ‘roughly’ where we were supposed to go so on Saturday morning we headed out.

Never before had either of us used our language skills so much. We got lost along the way and had to ask several people how to get where we were trying to go. Marcus has a pretty good grasp on the language. He’s a real student of it and it proved to be very useful. At a copule of points we were biking on footpaths that we were just hoping wouldn’t dead-end at someones house, but eventually we reached a town at the base of the mountain. We then paid a guy who was working at a bicycle repair shop in this village to keep an eye on our bikes. Of course we were the center of attention once we reached this little town. People came out of the shops and houses to just stare at us. I’m sure we looked something like a couple of Mormons who were here to preach Jesus as we rode up on our bikes. Marcus takes this much better than I do. He waves and greets people whereas I just try to ignore and keep going.

We started up the mountain through a banana plantation and it wasn’t long before a handful of kids was with us. One of which was an older boy, around 13, who knew English pretty well and even was attending school in Kampala though he was here on holidays from school living with his grandfather. We stopped halfway up the steep slope of the hill to catch our breath and get some water when we heard people calling us over to them. There was a group of women on the side of this steep hill, in the middle of grass and weeds who had a garden of millet that they were harvesting. One of the women greeted Marcus calling him Master Marcus, meaning that she knew him from working with the schools. Come to find out that she was a sister of a girl who was a student at a secondary school in the village he worked in but he had never met the sister to his knowledge. PCVs are known if only because they are Muzungus (white people). We talked with them for a while and took some pictures.

Arriving at the top of the mountain ridge we were surprised to find that there were over 50 people who were harvesting millet in various fields! They had climbed up in groups and were working. It was nice to know that they were using that land for growing crops but astonishing at the same time the trouble they had to go through to grow and harvest crops on this mountain (elevation around 6,200ft). Supposedly there was a lake on the top of this mountain but we only found a small puddle about 10x10 where some cattle drink from we were told. Supposedly there are also spirits that live up on that mountain at night or so we are told. We greeted the farmers, mostly women but some men and children. One woman asked if we wanted to share their meal with them. We politely declined saying that we had already eaten. It was a very kind gesture.

Time to go back down the mountain and check if our bikes were still there. They were and we ate lunch in the village. Meat, posho and matooke. Same meal you’d find in any village, but it was good to sit and rest for a while. We paid the man $1 for watching our bikes. I’m sure he was expecting more from us but it was much more than adequate. We biked 6 miles back to Marcus’ house, checking the GPS the entire way to make sure we were going back the right way. Oh, one funny thing did happen while we were visiting Lonnie & Kathy and Honey at the college. A woman that knew Marcus met us and greeted us and asked if I was Marcus’ father! Stupid receding hairline!

Sunday it was time to head back. I learned from my trip that mountain bikes aren’t really designed for distance travel. You’re looking ‘up’ all the time and there’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders from leaning forward over the handle bars the entire time. It’s more reliable than the local bikes though, that’s for sure. The trip back was as entertaining as the trip there with more people staring and curious.

Mama Collins

Some of my family had pooled some money together for one of the Compassion kids and his family. We took that money this week and were able to purchase a nice plot of land, complete with banana trees and some coffee plants. It was on a semi-main road that is close to the school and close to a trading center. The purchase was made with the Local Council I (local government official) and some witnesses who then wrote out in a notebook the purchase agreement and signed and stamped it and that was it. It was signed on the seat of a motorbike of all things. This ‘small’ purchase of $200 US dollars was over 2x what she would make in a year doing casual labor working at the school. Her husband had died in the army leaving no land to her, her mother and her 3 children who are living in a 6ft x 6ft mud room with 1 twin bed. She wanted land in order to cultivate and grow food and eventually build a house with the money that is remaining. The land was purchased from a caregiver of a Compassion child, which is doubly as good meaning that the money helped another family who is struggling. To be able to give someone a new start, especially someone who is hard working and is providing for a family… it moves me to tears, honestly. I’m so personally thankful to those who have made those small sacrifices to help this one individual who lives on the other side of the world and whom you (those who helped) will never meet.


We had another situation this week where one of our Compassion kids was about to be thrown out of his house. His father and mother had separated several years back. He lived with the father for a while but the father then remarried and had children with his new wife. The mother had also remarried and had children. Now in this culture, if there is a divorce which is very uncommon, or if a parent dies, the child can remain with the father or mother but if the mother cannot remarry if she has children. The new father wouldn’t accept her children, so if she does have children they must live with someone else, sometimes the father and sometimes another relative or neighbor if they’ll have them. In John’s case, he was taken in by an elder woman who was just being a good Samaritan. She took the boy in because he was sickly at the time and in all honesty probably would have died from sickness and neglect. This was several years ago and now the family of this woman, a grandchild in particular, are saying that John, who is now 14, is healthy, has been for a long time, and she shouldn’t look after him any more. What is truly sad is that John sought out his mother some time back after hearing where she had relocated and upon finding her, his mother told him to never refer to her as his mother again and to never seek her out…. Can you imagine?? So John has no family other than a step-mother and step brothers and sisters but he’s basically on his own. The father did leave him a nice piece of land when he died and he’s begun to construct a house for himself there. Though he’s young he is capable of taking care of himself. He’ll be in secondary school this year, which is commonly boarding school, so he’ll be away from home most of the year anyway, so we’re trying to write a proposal to Compassion to help him out with building the house.

Go Horse!!

The Colts are in the Super Bowl! The Colts are in the Super Bowl! Man, that’s unbelievable and it just won’t sink in. Every day I’ve been on the internet reading dozens of articles about it, I just can’t get enough. I’m so pumped for the game!!! I’m going to stay up late Saturday night and watch NFL Primetime on DSTV here at 2am for 2 hours and then the Super Bowl pre-game stuff starts Sunday night at 9pm and lasts 5 hours until the game comes on live at 2am Monday morning. A few other hard core PCVs who live around here are coming to watch it live w/ me. The game is then replayed on ESPN International at 1pm and 6pm the next day, so even if the power does decide to go out (and who knows) there is a place in town that has a generator we can watch it on that afternoon. The only thing we won’t have will be the commercials. ESPN International plays the exact same commercials over and over and over and none of them (believe me it’s true) are product advertisements, they’re all ads for other programming shows on ESPN International and it’s TORTUROUS!!! But who cares! As long as I get to see the game!!

Just one more, Colts! You can do it! Make it happen!


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