Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Minority Report

What all the Purdue team did

I went back with the Purdue team to Kampala to send them back home. It was tough to say goodbye. Having them around and seeing them with the Compassion kids was unlike any experience I’ve had here to date. It a word, it was joyous. Their time here went so quickly and they did and saw so much in their time here. While I was in Kampala shortly after they left I ran into another group from Purdue and from the same church (Purdue Christian Campus House) which had gone on a separate mission trip to Gulu, Northern Uganda. They had gone to work with the Invisible Children program. It was cool to bump into them and to share some of their equally life changing experiences. It was just neat to have 2 Purdue teams doing such fantastic work clear on the other side of the world.

Let me try to summarize the entire trip. 14 members from Purdue Christian Campus House (http://www.pcch.org) traveled to Uganda to work with Compassion International, my host organization. I attended Campus House with two of the leaders while I was a student at Purdue. They stayed with host families in groups of 2-3. In their time here they worked with the Compassion children when they came in for their center days, two days a week, teaching them English, science, social studies, math and health education. The other days were used to go out into the village to construct some simple but necessary structures. They fundraised extra money to buy construction materials. In all they cleared land, donated materials and helped to construct 5 outdoor kitchens. They also helped to construct/renovate 3 pit latrines and several outdoor bathing areas and drying racks. When there wasn’t enough work to do they went to the gardens and pulled weeds which was a great help to the caregivers. For Annette, one of our poorest children who lives in a small house with 8 siblings and her mother and father, they gave 4 blankets, three mattresses, 10 iron sheets, saucepans, plates, cups, mosquito nets, and money for food. They also collected donations from Purdue students from their church crayons, toys, markers, coloring books, squirt guns, bouncy balls, stickers, etc to give to all of the 285 Compassion kids. Some of the clothing they brought to wear they left here to give to needy families to either wear or to sell to make money. We took a safari one day and saw a lion, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, bush bucks (deer like animals), water buffalo and mongooses. Many of them have posted pictures of the trip on my Flickr.com account which is located in the upper right portion of this window. If you click on a photo you should be able to navigate around that page to find my ‘groups’ page where there is a group called Purdue-Uganda Mission Trip. Check out the photos…

Northern Exposure

I have to talk about this now, it’s gone on long enough. Boobs don’t mean anything here. It’s a thing in America, but not here. I started up my running club again and this time the girls were there. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t but yesterday they were there. Whenever the girls run, towards the end of their 2 miles, they start taking off their tops to cool down. Granted the sun isn't up by the time we finish running, so it's plenty dark, but still. I’ve come to the conclusion that boobs just don’t mean anything at all here. It’s nothing to walk down the street to find women breastfeeding. Males back in America gawk at women as they walk by, even rating them. They’re ‘window shopping’ or ‘checking out the menu’ as I’ve heard them say. It doesn’t happen here. I find these nuggets of truth here which teach me that some things aren’t just ‘human nature’ but are American instead. We’ve been programmed to think the way we think through advertising and media, laugh if you will, but it’s true. Sex sells and marketers use it extensively and they knew exactly which angles to play it.

Here, an attractive girl walks by with a shapely figure (most of them have shapely figure, hardly any of them are over weight and they wear clothing to accentuate their figures) and the group of men she walks past just keep right on talking with no regards to her, in part, because behind her is another slender, shapely girl, and then another and then another. Shapely figures and breasts are just nothing to see here because they’re everywhere. In some way it’s just part of their culture, not that they go around topless, because they certainly don’t, but there’s no ‘censorship’ which in some way alleviates the desire to see it. But I still have to remind the girls to keep their shirts on. Which just seems funny to me.

My horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day.

There are times when I hate being in Uganda. Yesterday was one of them. I do fine for the most part but sometimes I’m just pushed to my limit. Yesterday started out fine. A trip to Mbarara to deliver messages for my organization. I got there in a timely fashion. Had the front seat in the matatu (mini-van taxi) which is the best seat to have. The driver drove slow but I had a good book with me and slow = less dangerous. I got there and started running the 7 errands I had to run. No problems here either, things were going smoothly and then it started. I was told to go to the bank and get a form for my organization’s tax information. The bank said they didn’t have the forms and that they were at the other end of town, but they gave me horrible directions, so I walked that way, couldn’t find the place, nobody knew where it was and I had to walk back and ask again. The building I was looking for had no sign to distinguish it. I’m now over an hour off my schedule, not a huge deal, after all TIA (This Is Africa) so I go to the next errand, looking for fuses for a voltage regulator. Shouldn’t be a problem. …I had to go to 5 different electronic stores before I found the right one. Five! Sometimes I was convinced that they told me no just because they didn’t want to look through their 10 fuses to see if they had the right one. I’m convinced of this. So that set me off a little more. Then it was back to the bank to give them the newly filled out forms. There is always a line at the bank of around 30 people or more. Sometimes the line goes out the door and halfway down the block. That’s ok. I have my good book and am prepared to wait. After nearly an hour I reach the front of the line and my teller must have been in her first week of working there. She didn’t have a clue what the forms were that I was giving her and I didn’t know what they were because I was just a helpless messenger. There was a place to sign them at the bottom which I was waiting for her to tell me to sign them cause they had to be signed and witnessed by her. Before she did anything I told her I needed to sign them first. She tore the forms out and then asked me why I didn’t sign them. To which I replied why didn’t you check them before you tore them out. Now I’m set back over 2 hours and my organization is calling asking why I’m not back and that they need the papers I’ve picked up.

Finally, I get all my stuff done and get on a matatu to take me back. It should be about a 45 minute trip if I was driving, but these vehicles stop along the way to pick people up and drop off so it takes over an hour, but then sometimes you get on the “Matatu from Hell” and they stop at every town, sometimes turning off the engine and going somewhere, who knows where, and the passengers are just sitting there, somehow patiently waiting for the driver to return. This was like that, only worse. It started when I was picked up at the edge of town, ready to leave, and then the driver turned the vehicle back around to go back into town to pick up at least 1 more person to have a full vehicle, which always makes me mad because I just figure they can pick people up along the way anyway. Then this happens also, 2 guys get out of the van because they’re just occupying seats to make it look like it’s more full so that other people will actually think it’s leaving soon, so we have more people to pick up before we can go. I’m in the back seat in the middle. The guys on either side of me are eating peanuts out of a plastic bag and when they finish they just throw the trash out their windows, which I HATE. This country is beautiful, but there is trash EVERYWHERE! I grew up behind the Rush County fairgrounds and every city in Uganda looks like the fair and the carnies had just left and left their trash everywhere. It’s ridiculously uncouth. I’m already mad so I give these guys lectures about respecting the environment. Then it starts to train along the way and the back window isn’t sealed right so it drips in on me and I have to sit way forward in my seat to avoid taking a shower. Along the way we seem to stop in every little village along the way and the driver then also stops at every roadside vendor to buy his groceries which by now is really making me mad because he can do this on his own time. He stopped once to buy pineapples, another time to buy tomatoes and then when we were literally just a couple hundred meters from town he stopped again, disappeared for 15 minutes behind a building and then emerged with a loaf of bread! I was about to shoot him, seriously. That was the icing on the cake! It took 2 ½ hours for what should have been a 45 minute trip. At one time they stopped to work on the matatu and then had to push start the piece of junk! The passengers the entire time are yelling at him “Tugyende!” (Let’s Go!), but it’s futile. He’s in control and he knows it and he’ll go at his pace. I almost threw the money at him as I got out, but I don’t want to be the rude American like so many tourists can be as they pass through, so I keep quiet. It really wouldn’t have done any good anyway, so I try to be the bigger person and just keep it to myself. (It came out later though with Jacob. Poor guy.)

Dental Work

I’ve been here a year. That means that I have to go to Kampala and get a routine physical exam and my teeth cleaned and checked. The food here isn’t sweet and doesn’t contain much sugar, so it’s not that tough on teeth, but I do drink a lot of Coke here and I was having some sensitivity in one of my teeth a few weeks back.

The dentist was great. I walked into the dentist office with my bright blue Colts NFL Champions shirt on and he said, “Aw man! I’m a Bears fan. You can’t wear that shirt in here.” He was cool. His mother was from Chicago and he studied dental stuff there. He had a thick American accent. His office was about the most sophisticated dental office I’ve ever seen. He was using equipment to take pictures of some of my teeth and then showing me on the computer. It was cool, until he found a loose filling. Then came the bad news: You need a crown and maybe a root canal. A note to all dentists out there. Don’t keep saying, “Oh man, this is bad. This doesn’t look good. Oh man!” Just don’t go there please. Ignorance is bliss and I’d rather not know that it’s so bad. Thankfully he decided that a crown was enough. So they worked away and basically grinded my tooth down until they could fit a temporary crown on it. The real crown is made in South Africa and will be here in a couple of weeks. I was there for a total of 3 hours in tooth hell. A part of me thinks the dentist was just torturing me because the Colts beat the Bears in the Superbowl, but he wouldn’t admit to it. Needless to say I haven’t drunk a Coke since. Trying to preserve my pearly whites.

Small Successes

There’s a free publication that’s available to anyone who requests it called Straight Talk. It’s a monthly publication that deals each month with issues like HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, sex education, sugar daddies/mommies, making positive decisions, health and nutrition, etc. To be honest, it’s almost the same publication each month with almost the same topics discussed, but it’s a fantastic resource for secondary students to read about health topics and they love to receive them. It’s one of the very few things that is published just for them, and it’s free! Recently there was a section asking the readers to read about a problem that someone had written in about, a teenage girl who had an older neighbor asking her for sex, and the readers were instructed to advise ‘Miriam’ on what to do. I challenged my secondary students at Compassion to advise her and one of my students took me up on it. I mailed in his advice and this week, much to my great surprise, he was selected as one of the top 20 winners for submitting the best advice! And if you knew this kid, it would be even more surprising. So he will be receiving a free Straight Talk T-shirt soon! His advice wasn’t published, only the top two were, but his name and school was listed for being the top 20. What was funny was that I hadn’t noticed his name in this month’s letter and he brought me a copy and laid it on my desk. I told him I didn’t want the thing and that he should keep it. Then he pointed out his name in it and I whisked it away to show the other Compassion staff, all of us beaming with pride for Nicholas!


At 29 May, 2007, Blogger NanettePC said...

Wow Brian. To say the least I am jealous! Jealous that you got such a great group to come visit you and jealous that I wasn't one of them! I'm so happy it turned out so great. You are an inspiration for all Peace Corps volunteers.
I almost fell out of my chair laughing at your bad day entry! It's so Africa!! Sadly, I could identify with all of it.
So sorry that you had to go to tooth hell in Uganda. It's bad enough in the U.S. I can't even imagine!
Glad everything is great. I'm looking up ticket prices as soon as I'm done here. I'll let you know what I find.
Nanette in Burkina

At 05 June, 2007, Blogger borderst said...

What a rewarding experience to assist students from your college who were willing to follow your example of making a difference. Best wishes!


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