Monday, June 25, 2007

Guest of Honor

Guest of Honor

I’ve never really thought myself worthy of being the guest of honor for anything. Guests of honor are usually older people who have accomplished great and spectacular things. A 7 time winner of the Tour de France, Superbowl MVP, former President of the USA, etc. Here in Uganda, anytime you have an organized event or special day you have to have an invited guest of honor. For example, we recently celebrated African Childs Day with the Compassion kids and our guest of honor was the Local Chairman 5 (LC5), a basic equivalent to a member of the State House of Representatives. The man didn’t show up and we had to have the chairman of the board of directors for our compassion fill in for him, but that’s beside the point. Also beside the point is that to honor these Compassion children on Africa Childs Day we had them sit through endless speeches for hours on end. Only in Africa.

The point is that I was invited as a Guest of Honor for Sports Day by the local secondary school. The morning of the event I received a short hand written note delivered by one of the teachers inviting me to come. Now I suspect that I was about the 6th guy down on the list and that when the other 5 guys didn’t come I was summoned, but that’s entirely speculation. So as the invited Guest of Honor I had to miss an entire day’s work and watch secondary students participate in track and field events. Never mind that I had quite a bit of important work to do for that day, I was the invited guest. Again, only in Africa. As an invited guest one is supposed to deliver a speech. So I began scribbling in a notebook some things about running marathons and how in secondary school I was the 8th worst runner on the cross country team out of 10 runners, but that I persevered to qualify for the Boston Marathon. As I waited out the day, reading the book I had brought in preparation for what I knew would be a lot of down time, I could sense that I wasn’t going to be around even to give my speech. I had another place to be at 4:30 and things weren’t going to be wrapped up by then. Besides, the seat for the guest of honor was under a shade tree immediately next to a speaker which was cranked up nearly as high as it would go playing local music created entirely with a synthesizer. The speaker was already distorted from having been blown out who knows how long ago. For reasons I’ll never ever be able to comprehend, nobody else seemed to be bothered by this and the event rolled on. The kids raced around a track which was just a field that had been marked by pouring oil on the grass to mark the lines of the track. They had various running events (though I didn’t see any relays), high jump, triple jump, shot put, discus and javelin. Several of the kids were wearing the shoes I had given them for joining my morning running club.

My new roommates

Jacob came over the other morning. He doesn’t often come over in the mornings but he needed to tell me to move the cat and kittens out of his house. He’s moving across town and will be about a 10 minute bike ride away instead of living almost next door. Not more than 2 minutes after he had mentioned moving the cat, she walked in the door carrying one of the kittens in her mouth and proceeded to slip under my bed and head out the door for the other two… Whoever said animals aren’t intelligent creatures. So for the past several days I’ve had 6 week old kittens traipsing around my living quarters. They’re cute. They play a lot. I have a drawer on the side of my bed and I heard scratching around in there one night, opened it up to find 3 kittens snuggled up. Apparently there is enough room underneath for them to squeeze into the drawer, so that’s their little hiding place.


I had never actually felt an earthquake. Indiana isn’t exactly in a high earthquake zone. I’ve felt 2 in the past 2 weeks here. The first time was around 11pm and I woke up and thought someone was nudging my bed because it was rocking back and forth. It lasted for a few seconds and then stopped. This week it was around 9pm and I thought someone was knocking at my door. There is a padlock on the outside which I use to lock the door and it was banging against my door. I asked who was there and when I didn’t get a response I realized that it was more than the lock that was shaking. This last one was stronger, maybe about a 4-5 on the Richter scale, but that’s just a guess.

Jacob’s Move

As stated earlier, Jacob is moving. He’s the other PCV who lives about 50 meters from me. He comes over most nights and we talk, play video games or watch movies on my computer, play guitars or whatever the mood calls for. The school which he rents from recently gave him an eviction notice. After inquiring from the neighbors we thought that maybe they just wanted more money for rent. He pays about $25 a month to rent a nice duplex that has a sitting room, bedroom, bathing area, storage room, outdoor kitchen (a room outside) and a nice latrine. And when I say that ‘he’ pays, the organization he works with pays. That’s how things work in the Peace Corps. It’s the PCVs organization that provides housing. So they offered to double the rent and the school said yes… and then they said no. We finally found out that when that building was built, it was built specifically for teachers at the school. For years the school had complained to the district that they didn’t have adequate housing for their teachers, so they built a few places to live. When the district found out that they were renting out those buildings instead of using them, they were more than a little upset. To evict a white person who is paying and willing to pay a large sum to rent is more than a little deal. So they were in a little trouble to say the least. So, very soon Jacob will be moving across town.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Dear Mr Brian Dunn"

“Dear Mr Brian Dunn” I came home late last night to find a note under my door. It read as follows. Re: REQUESTING FOR A SPONSOR I apply that I, Nagiko Monica, aged 14 years am in Senior 2, am an orphan and also a needy who needs help. Am requesting for a sponsor from American state. I would request you, sir, to help such that I can get a sponsor. I really failed to get a chance of being in a Compassion. Since chance knocks once I would like to use a chance since you’re still in Ntungamo to help by all means that also I can get a bright future. I usually read (the) Bible and I prefer studying, but the waste is, am reaching in different classes and young brothers and sisters are also reaching in upper classes, so my mother will not afford all of us and I dislike to leave school at this age. Am sorry for disturbing you but I am not me. It’s life. I wish you could have mercy for me so that I can get a sponsor. With God’s will I will not fear and I pry so much to God. Nice staying. Thanx!! Yrs…….. Nagiko Monica – It’s not the first time I’ve had kids ask me for a ‘sponsor’ from America, but it is the first note under my door I’ve had. When someone here asks for a sponsor they’re not askinf for a pen pal. They’re asking for someone to pay for them to go to school. If a family has 10 kids and just a little money they’ll only educate which children they can afford to. They get free education through 7th grade and they’ve started free education for secondary but there’s talk that it won’t continue, and even then they parents are asked to pay a small amount. Often PCVs pay for some student’s school fees, but we do have just a small salary and I have other things I’ve given money to. I have this belief that the money I make belongs to Uncle Sam anyway so why should I horde it? I make around $250 a month and school fees are $50 per term for 3 terms. This month alone I’ve given away over half my allowance… What to do, what to do? Shave and a Hair Cut, 2 Bits The first 6 months at site I didn’t get my hair cut. I was under the great disillusion that if I grew it out it would cover up the fact that I’m getting older and my hair is thinning a bit on top. (OK, a little more than a bit) In actuality it just gave me long, thin hair on top which actually had the opposite effect I was going for. But since the first of the year I’ve been going to a local place in town called the Turquoise Salon and getting it cut short. It’s a nice place. They have 3 ‘barber chairs’, a TV going all the time which plays Nigerian films and music videos. It’s well lit and has mirrors all around and when the power isn’t on the run a generator. I used to go in and sit and wait my turn to be called to the chair, but then I realized that the other people there who I thought I was waiting in line with were just barbershop bums that just come in to sit, not even wanting a haircut and that other people would walk right in and sit in the chair for a hair cut, so now that’s what I do too. When in Rome… The guy that cuts my hair does a nice job, with a few notable exceptions. Now granted, he’s never cut the hair of a white man before. He uses the electric clippers, but instead of going against the grain of my hair, like you would normally do, he goes WITH the grain. The haircut looks fine after he’s finished, but once I reach home I can see all of the random individual hairs he missed that are now twice as long as the others. Recently, after finishing my haircut, he started trimming other parts of my face. (This should give anyone cause to be nervous.) He shaved my quazi-facial scrub, which was a bit painful because he went over and over and over the same parts, but I let him finish. Then he proceeded to trim my uni-brow, which I didn’t mind one bit, because it needs it periodically, but then he proceeded to trim my nose hair with the clippers. I had to draw the line there. Another funny thing he did was to take the electric clippers and trim right along the edge of my receding hair line, which, of course, made it look even more receding that it already is and ruined all the work I had done to grow the hair out over it in the first place! Agghhhhhh! I can’t win sometimes! “Watch it, Bud!” Speaking of not winning… I’ve said before that the larger the vehicle the more right of way it takes on the road. Today on my way home I was clearly in the right of way. I had just turned onto the road when a boda (moped) carrying a passenger also turned up ahead of me. As he approached me I was pulling up next to a guy on a bike carrying matooke when this boda drive decided to cut me off and in doing so clipped my front wheel nearly causing me to flip over my handle bars! I was already having a bad morning so I turned around and yelled something about him not owning the road and he was yelling back. For reasons I can’t explain I felt like going back and reemphasizing my point, so I turned around for a confrontation. Of course, upon doing so, the 85 men who are just sitting around without anything to do began to gather around. The guy began immediately apologizing and I was just trying to explain to him that he was endangering several people’s safety by his carelessness, but when the crowd started to gather I felt the need to scram. Crowds here freak me out. Twenty African men, all of them probably somehow cousins of this guy… whose side do you think they’d take in this argument? There’s also crowd justice here where they’ll stone a thief to death. They’ll also stone to death someone who hits someone with a car. They wouldn’t kill anyone for a minor fender bender but I just wanted to err on the side of caution. Crowds also produce thieves. If there are a bunch of people around it means possibly (but not probably) someone will unzip a pocket of my backpack and take something. Once a car hit a truck, killing the 2 passengers of the car and the people rushed ‘to help’ but they actually just took the possessions of the people who had died in the crash! I get real nervous around crowds. Even though I generally always feel safe in my village, I still just don’t like crowds. It’s funny the things I do here. The other day I was passing by a group 12 or so men who were spreading coffee beans out to dry. Coffee is the main cash crop here. These guys are ripped because they haul 110 lb bags of coffee beans all day. They’re seriously buff and they are the equivalent of construction workers in the states. As I was passing one of them started in on the Muzungu bit but then I also thought I heard him swearing at me. Now normally if a construction worker and his 11 friends were swearing at me in the states I would probably just keep walking with my head down and my tail tucked firmly under my skirt, but here I feel an air of… cockiness and of defending my right to not be called Muzungu. Maybe it’s because I’m white and generally respected or maybe because the Ugandans are so soft spoken generally. I don’t know. So I stopped, got off my bike, glared at him for a few seconds and said to him in the best teacher voice I could conjure, “What’d you say to me??!!” “Nothing. Nothing. I’m sorry,” he sheepishly replied. As I rode off I thought about how I would have never, never done that back home unless I just absolutely needed to have my head kicked in. I hope I don’t forget that when I go home.

Rushville Republican Article Here’s a link to the latest article I submitted to my local paper.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mid Service Conference and Child Abuse

Child Abuse

We received a report the other day that one of our Compassion kids had been seriously beaten up by his brother, who is his caretaker since both of their parents passed away. He also happens to be one of our HIV children. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of this happening. The story went that the Compassion boy who is approximately 13 went out dancing one night (which he wasn’t supposed to do). When he came back his brother beat him severely. The punishment didn’t nearly fit the crime. Japheth, the director of Compassion, after consulting with his boss who is the local church leader, decided to take action. Now Japheth watches a lot of these Nigerian movies which are intensely popular among the Ugandans and all Africans from what I understand. They are poor quality and low budget soap operas basically but they are Africans, they speak an African dialect which the Ugandans understand better than American English and American films, they take place in African villages and they involve African themes (somehow). I believe that because Japheth watches so many of these videos that he uses cunning measures to take action in these circumstances. To capture this older brother without arousing suspicion he could have had the police sent to the brother’s house, but he probably would have had to pay for their transportation to get there (which is a bribe). Instead, he called to police and told them that he would summon the brother to the office and then call them to pick him up. So he sent for the brother. He came. Then he acted like he needed to get something out of the other office and he phoned the police They asked if they needed to bring their guns (AK-47 assault rifles). Japheth assured them that this was a simple boy and that he wouldn’t be any trouble. So they came and took him to prison. He was merely detained there for a time and they took a statement from him. (He may have been beaten too, I’m not sure) The entire ordeal was just done to shake him up a bit and to teach him a lesson, but it’s interesting to me that Japheth has enough clout to have him apprehended and taken to jail for ‘suspected’ child abuse.

Breakfast Club

The running club at the secondary school here has commenced. I began passing out shoes on Monday. Over the course of 6 months I’ve had 80 kids run with me, and it’s been an equal number of boys and girls. That’s impressive because the head teacher told me that girls don’t like to exercise and that I was wasting my time by trying to convince them to run. It didn’t take much convincing really. They just came.

When I was home in America I collected shoes from my brother and another friend who teaches. The problem I have now is that I typically have 30 or so runners each morning and I don’t have enough shoes in their sizes. Many of the shoes I have are size 10 and above, which are too big for these small African kids. I’ve contacted Runners World and they’ve sent me a list of organizations to contact who routinely donate shoes to Africa. I’ll keep you posted.

Mid Service Conference – Toothpick Awards

Since my group first swore in as PCVs, we’ve routinely done this thing called the Toothpick Awards. It’s a time when we recognize, not the important things that the others are doing (why would we want to do that?) but the strange, stupid and embarrassing things that our fellow PCVs have done. For example I received an award for the best receding hairline as well as for being Med Evac-ed to South Africa for what THEY called a vacation. It’s a great time to just share some very funny and embarrassing stories about each other. We use a toothpick because of it’s insignificance (ie cheapness) and significance of removing leftover food from one’s teeth.

It was truly great to see everyone and to also share in their other Peace Corps experiences. I’m truly amazed as I hear their stories. Some are starting libraries, teaching arts and crafts programs, directing women’s income generating groups, etc.

Another neat thing we did at Mid-Service was to read a letter that we had written ourselves one year ago at this time when we were still in training. Everyone’s letter was different of course. Mine was simply a reminder of where I was 2 years ago, working a dead end job as a store manager, unsure of what to do with my life. In desperation and frustration I wrote down 2 things on a piece of paper: What am I supposed to do with my life? Followed by: What about the Peace Corps? I filled out an application shortly thereafter. In the letter I also reminded myself of everything I had to go through to get to this point: Selling my house (barely) and truck, leaving friends and family, committing 2 years of my life to this. It’s all been worth it. The other cool thing I did was leave $10 in Ugandan currency in the letter for myself. When I was in college my dad used to write from time to time and I could always expect $20 in the letter. It usually came as I was finishing my last package of Raman noodles too!!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Going Barefoot

Going Barefoot

A lot of people go barefoot here. Mostly people from the deep village who can’t afford shoes. They walk into town from miles with no shoes on. You can also generally tell how well off a child’s family is by whether or not they have shoes as they walk to school. Many times though I think the kids prefer to go barefoot. I think if I could have gone barefoot to school I would have (but not in the winter, of course).

I want to go barefoot. I want to live like the people live and walk like they walk. I want to walk a mile in their shoes, or without their shoes. I’ve also been on this ‘take off your shoes because you’re on holy ground’ kick, like when Moses saw the burning bush. He probably passed the same bush a hundred times before and the ground was just normal before, but because God was there, it was then ‘holy ground’. So this week I’ve been going around barefoot and this is what I discovered.

  • People looked at me funny. They couldn’t understand why a well-off, white person, would be walking around like a poor villager.
  • I had to choose my paths carefully. I couldn’t walk just anywhere. I had to find smooth paths to walk on.
  • Things hurt my feet that otherwise wouldn’t. Pebbles, sticks, rough and hot concrete.
  • My feet were in direct contact with the ground. I felt everything. I felt the wetness of the grass and the dirt under my feet. I felt more at one with the earth.
  • At the end of the day I had dust on my feet from everywhere I’d been.

Sunrise from One Tree Hill

I’ve been here for a year and have yet to watch a sunrise from my favorite hill so this morning while it was still dark I set out to do so. I think it’s been about 10 years since I just sat and intentionally watched the sun come up over the horizon. And the last time I did it it was awe-inspiring and I vowed to do it more often. Ten years later I’m finally around to doing it again.

The air was cool this morning and the grass was wet. It takes about 25 minutes from my doorstep to the top of the hill, one mile away. I took with me my Bible and my Nalgene. There was a layer of fog surrounding the hill. I couldn’t see the top as I started to climb. There’s a new barbed wire fence about 1/3 of the way up the hill for the cattle. I scurried under it and kept going. As I began to get up out of the fog I had to remind myself not to stop to enjoy the scenery because the view from the top would be more grand, but it was tough.

Eventually I reached the peak and it was much more than I could have imagined. The fog around made it look like I was standing on an island with a sea of white clouds below me. There were other ‘islands’ rolling in and out of the fog. The sky was becoming lighter and the colors were changing minute by minute, from lavender to pink to orange to yellow. It was like a Thomas Kincade painting. It reflected off the clouds and painted the whole sky. It was an insult to even try to photograph it. This is art that can’t be captured and by trying I was only missing the real thing. I have to admit I got a little misty. And then it happened. Slowly but surely this bright orange ball peeked over the mountains and flooded the valley with light. The day had begun. It was so beautiful, like watching something being born. The miracle of life. This is how God makes every single day begin and I barely even noticed.