Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A thief, a hug and free school for a year

Here’s a link to the latest Rushville Republican article which was published. In it I’m talking about some of my secondary projects.

To catch a thief

Friday night a thief (or two) broke into where Jacob works and stole 3 of their motorbikes. The motorbikes are locked up in the back which is like a small courtyard in the middle of the offices with a locked gate located between two buildings. I’m not exactly sure how they stole the bikes, but I do know that there were 2 night watchmen. Typically when night watchmen catch a thief, if the thief tries to run they are shot and killed, which always makes me a little leery when I have to go and retrieve my bike from their late at night or early in the morning. As a precaution I go in with my arms up saying, “It’s me! It’s just me and I’m getting my bike.” On several occasions I’ve found the guards sleeping. Let’s face it, it’s a boring job and some of them have day jobs as well as their night duties.

The next morning, when the rest of the staff came in to work nobody had even noticed that the bikes were gone. The guards had even changed shifts. When the theft was noted, and this was the interesting part, the guards that were on duty were thrown in prison! This was done for one of two reasons, first off it was their duty to protect the place and they failed. Secondly, it’s possible (though not likely knowing the trustworthiness of these guards) that they conspired with the thieves to coordinate the robbery. As a result, they’ll be in prison for an indefinite amount of time or unless the bikes are recovered. In addition, two of the staff were thrown into prison for a few hours because on the sign-out sheet they had signed the bike out but had failed to sign them back in when they came back with them, which I’ve been told everybody forgets to sign the bikes back in… Yikes!

Up the ante

Last time I talked about Israel from Israel who had always struck me as a Scrooge character, a real miser, who randomly decided to sponsor a race if I organized it and to give the 4 winners free school fees for a year, totaling around $1,000 USD. Well yesterday, he stopped me on my bike to tell me he had changed his mind. I knew it was too good to be true. I figured he had too much to drink or was in some state of euphoria and that this type of generosity had to have been short lived or only the stuff of a Charles Dickens novel. He said to me, “I’ve changed my mind. Instead of 4 kids receiving free school for a year I want 5 to receive free school for a year. And for the rest of the participants I’ll buy mosquito nets for them. 50 mosquito nets should be enough, don’t you think?” I must have stood there for a minute with a deer in the headlights look on my face because he started to laugh and then punched my right shoulder causing me to stumble back a step. “We’ll have a big celebration at my farm when the finish, too! You just get it organized!” So I told him I would.

On our doorstep

A woman literally showed up on our doorstep last week at Compassion. She was traveling in to town to go to the police because her husband had abused her and thrown her out. She was traveling with 3 small children and a small burlap bag that had all of her and her children’s worldly possessions and she had collapsed at our office, 1 km from town, without even the strength to finish her journey. The husband had 8 wives and this woman was poor, destitute and desperate to flee. The district probation officer had been called to help remedy the situation and after some discussion with the staff we decided that she should take her children and go to be with her mother who lived an 8 hour bus ride to the east of here. We discussed taking the children into the Compassion program which is sometimes a lengthy process, but we thought that more immediate action was needed in this situation. We collected some money amongst the staff and sent her along, hopefully into a better situation.

Husbands can have several wives here. Olivia, the manager at Sky Blue, tries to convince me each time we talk that it’s ok for men to have several wives, especially if one or more of the wives fail to provide him a child. She has told me on several occasions that if her husband chose to have another wife then that would be just fine by her, that men are in charge and are permitted to do so and that it’s the wife’s job to just be submissive and accept it. Talk about a different culture. Her uncle, a Christian man who has 4 wives, has helped to pay for her school fees along the way. He has a good job and is able to support all of his wives, however, many villagers that I’ve seen who have several wives have little means to support one wife plus children, not to mention several. Of course, each wife needs her own house and plot of land. It’s just more backwards logic they have here about family planning, believing that multiple wives and children are a source of pride rather than a financial burden.

Random act of kindness

I was at Sky Blue restaurant last week having a rather bad day to go along with a bad week and a bad month when all of a sudden I felt something wrap around my legs. It was quite a different feeling than my cousin, Dixie, who had a cobra wrap around her leg and bite her in Peace Corps Ghana last month (she’s now the only person in her village to survive a poisonous snake bite). I looked down to find some random 5 year old boy with both arms wrapped firmly around me, smiling at me saying How are you, Brian? I say a random boy because this isn’t anyone I recognized. It’s not a Compassion child, nor any child I’ve had any previous encounters with. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. Occasionally as I’m walking down the street some small child whom I don’t know will wrap me up in a gigantic hug (gigantic for a child that is) and greet me. Instantly my mood is transformed and I wonder what I’ve done to receive such a kind gift. Kids have this amazing way of teaching the rest of us a better way to live sometimes. There’s another small girl I pass on my ride up to my place who, twice, has greeted me and then told me Brian, you are good. You are kind. I don’t know where she picked up this phrase or why she uses it with me, but it acts to serve as a reminder to me. I’m rather hard on myself and forget that I am, at times, good and kind.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Preview of Coming Attractions

  • Ultimate Frisbee Tournament
  • 15km Run. Winners receive School Fees for a Year ($250 each)
  • "The Simple Life" in Uganda

There are a few blips on the radar that I am excited about. First is an Ultimate Frisbee Tournament I’ve organized between 6 Secondary Schools that are each located less than 1 mile from the center of town. Each school has around 300-600 students. The game is maybe best described as a combination of soccer and football but played with a Frisbee. It’s non stop action and it’s very aerobic. The only equipment required to play is a Frisbee, so it makes sense in that regards, and the rules are quite simple. Baseball, on the other hand, has a complex set of rules and a lot of expensive equipment. So for the past few months I’ve spent 6 days a week visiting the various schools teaching them how to play. I’ve made it mandatory to have girls on the team (to which one student replied, “But if we are to have the best team the girls will slow us down.”) The girls seem to like the game but they are a bit slow to come around to it. This is the best part. I’ve found a couple of businesses to contribute some money, so the winner of the competition will receive a trophy (The Nile Bakery Cup), a goat to cook and share, and I would like to take them to Kampala for a Frisbee Tournament held there in February. It will be a double elimination tournament which means each team could play as many as 6 games. There will also be a group there to perform some singing and dramas regarding HIV/AIDS plus I’ll have some HIV/AIDS trivia questions I’ll ask throughout the tournament with small prizes like candy to pass out.

The next thing sort of fell in my lap. I was eating at Sky Blue the other day when a man from Israel (coincidently also named Israel) happened to be having a beer out on the patio. He’s kind of a harsh man in his late 50s or early 60s and he manages a very large set of greenhouses where they grow flowers which are sold to Europe, I’m told. It’s an absolutely huge facility in the middle of the bush and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Israel (the man, not the country) is kind of a tough nut to crack. He’s very blunt and can be very coarse, but at the same time he also insists on my pulling up a chair to join him most times when I see him. Since he found out that I run marathons his entire view of me has changed. This last time I saw him he was almost gushing at me, saying over and over “I really admire you,” and while asking about the Boston Marathon.

Maybe it was because of his harshness that I was very surprised by what he said next. “If you can organize a run to my farm (greenhouses) I’ll pay the top 3 winners’ school fees for a year.” It was like a flash of lightening that came from a clear blue sky! I couldn’t believe my ears! First off, he’s not one to spend money and it would cost around $750 USD to pay for 3 students school fees for a year. Secondly it’s 16k to run to his place. Immediately I saw an opportunity for some of these kids and tried bargaining with him. “Make it 2 boy winners and 2 girl winners and I’ll do it!”

“Done!” He said. “But you organize it and let me know what you come up with.”

The last thing I’m looking at is a bit of an experiment of sorts. I don’t know where the idea came from exactly but I’m really excited about it. I live in a small village in Uganda. I work with some of the poorest of the poor children. I visit their homes and see where they live, but I don’t know what village life is like. I live in a decent home with electricity. I fetch my water from about 30 meters away from a tap. I eat my food from a nice restaurant in town. I don’t fetch firewood or dig in a garden. So I’ve asked my organization to find a poor family deep in the village that I can stay with for a few days. I want to sleep where they sleep and eat what they eat. I want to dig in their fields and fetch firewood and water with them. I remember losing sleep when I was fretting over one poor family we have in Compassion where a mother, father and 9 children were sleeping in a small 2 room house with only 1 mattress. Imagining them choosing a place on the floor on a mat, huddled together for warmth. Now, I want to see it myself. My organization will help me find a family and get ready. I’ll take along a mattress, blanket, camera, books, notebook and bottled water. Otherwise I’ll try to be experiencing life in the village and of course I’ll blog all about it. I don’t know when this will all happen, maybe in a few weeks, but I’m looking forward to the experience.


I’ve almost shaken free from being called Muzungu all the time in my village. It’s now changed to having people say my name all the time. But it’s not exactly my name. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. The way they say it it sounds like they put a ‘d’ where the ‘r’ is and then they add an ‘ee’ to the end. So as I bike through my village I have almost everyone calling my name, whether I know them or not. They want my attention, they want me to just look at them and it drives me just as crazy as being called Muzungu (which I won’t acknowledge). I’ve found that ignoring being called Muzungu gives me great satisfaction. They can’t figure out why I don’t look at them when they are saying it. But with the “Bdianee”, because most of the people who are saying it I don’t know, I have to either recognize the voice or wait for them to say it multiple times before I can look at who it is.

I’ve also discovered that eye contact gets me in trouble. If I look at someone as I’m approaching them or passing them on my bike then I’m almost certain to get a remark or a stare from them. Guaranteed. So here goes the white man biking through the village with his eyes diverted from people and ignoring most people who call his name. Sounds like a real friendly guy, doesn’t it…

My favorite is a little boy whom I encounter as I bike up the hill to my home. Whenever he sees me he runs to the edge of the road which is a small cliff, really, and smiles and waves vigorously as he yells “How are you Bdianee!” I have sooooo many kids say “How are you, Bdianee,” that I usually just give a slight wave and keep going, but this little guy has gotten to me. He’s so consistently there and greets me with such pleasure and then he smiles and runs back to his hut after I’ve greeted him back. It may sound harsh or cold that I’m not greeting everyone who greets me or calls me Muzungu, but the novelty of being one of the only white guys around and the center of EVERY bit of attention wore off long ago, so this is how I deal with it. Join the Peace Corps and find out for yourself.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What's in a name?

A person’s name. It’s their identity. A good name can define an individual and give strength and meaning to the mere utterance of that name. Names carry meaning and are often carried down a family line. Which makes me wonder what people are thinking when they give their kids names here. Not that it’s much different than in the states, I’ve heard some whoppers there too. Let me start with my new co-worker at Compassion. His name: Donnat. Prounounced: Donut! My best guess is that his parents heard the name Donald and tried their best to match it. Every time I say his name I chuckle inside to myself. “Hey Donut! Good morning, Donut! How are you Donut?” Another personal favorite is Gad. Jacob works for a guy named Gad. But it doesn’t sound like Gad it sounds like God when you say it. So he begins several of his stories with, “So, I was talking with God this morning and…” I just have to let it sit and marinate for a second before it sinks in what he’s really saying.

Here’s a list of a few of the names here: Savious (I think this one resembles Savior in some way), Dorcus (A common girls name here. Dorcus is a Biblical name, but in the Bible she’s also referred to as Agatha), Innocent (A guy or a girls name), Dr Alexander (This was a child’s name. Seriously.), Patience, Japheth (one of Noah’s sons in the Bible), Allen (A girls name when spelled with an “e”, a boy’s when with an “a” –Allan), Barnabas, Bright, Constance, Eva (their version of Eve), Fortunate, Happy, Immaculate, Batista (If a guy’s name is John then he’s often referred to as Batista… meaning Baptist), Praise, Kedress, Talent, Jadress, Scovia, Lovence, Federesi, Yosuf, Zilla (What is this? Short for Godzilla?).

Queen Elizabeth

I took another trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park this weekend. My third time there. It’s a neat game drive and I got some great pictures. I saw elephants, lions, cape buffalo, bush buck, warthogs, hippos and mongooses. I think my favorite animal to see there is the elephant. They’re so big and fascinating to watch. An entire family will slowly walk towards your vehicle and just meander and graze while you watch. They have a certain elegance to them yet they are still massive, wild creatures. While we were there we saw a very small mud hole where 2 hippos were. We got out of the car to take pictures. We were being kind of noisy as we peered down as these massive beasts sunk deep into their mud bath. As I expected (and somewhat feared) the hippos didn’t appreciate the interruption of their morning and quickly jumped up out of their little paradise and onto the bank which sent our little entourage scurrying back towards our cars. Hippos kill more people annually than lions do in Africa and I warned my group before anything happened. Fortunately the hippo was satisfied with giving us just a mean stare down. I don’t think you would be too happy either if you had to drag 600lbs of yourself out of your bath because people were being loud and taking pictures of you!

We really had a nice time. We stopped at the Mweya Lodge which is arguably one of the best hotels in Uganda and had some great food there. As we sat and ate on the patio we could look down and see elephants and buffalo who had gathered at the shore of the lake. We also watched as 2 fish eagles (which closely resemble bald eagles) soared overhead looking for their lunch. Toward the end of our meal a warthog came rooting around looking for his meal. Thankfully he kept moving past us in his search for foliage.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Social Injustice

Social Injustice

Home visits this week. Occasionally when doing this we run across caregivers abusing the Compassion children by taking the mattress or other items we have given the children and using it themselves or by treating the children poorly because they aren’t their children. These Compassion kids live with an uncle or maybe not even a blood relative so the child gets treated like a 2nd class citizen or worse. Recently we went out to do home visits and we ran across a blatant case of social injustice on another scale. One of our Compassion kid’s mother was living in a small room behind a school. Her home, which was built by her late husband, was being rented to the brand new school and being used as a girls dormitory. There were approximately 50 girls living in the home, sleeping in bunk beds. The school just happened to have been started on almost the same grounds that the home was on, so the home was basically part of the school. The money that was being paid to the woman by the school for the use of the house was around $12.50 a month, meaning that each boarder was paying $0.25 a month to live there. If this woman were to rent this house out herself to each student, collecting their monthly rent, she could charge them each upwards of $4 a month or collectively $200 a month. The school was paying her $12.50 a month and essentially keeping the rest. Blatant social injustice. This woman, as a peasant farmer, just didn’t have the clout or the leverage (or so she thought) to combat this so she just accepted what the school offered and made due. Meanwhile, as you could imagine, the girls living in the house are treating the house like any group of teenagers who are renting a place would treat it. They’re destroying it. Not blatantly, but by living in it and not treating it with the same care and respect that an owner would. So Compassion is intervening on her behalf and dealing with the school to either increase what they are paying her per month, buy it completely or she will rent the place out herself to the students which is my recommendation thus creating a sustainable and fairly substantial income for herself for years to come.

Random Factoid

Speaking of incomes, I read in the local paper that Ugandans monthly who earn 400,000 Ugandan Shillings (Ush) or $250 US dollars are subject to 30% taxation. That’s about how much I make as a PCV and it’s a very modest salary, but for a Ugandan it’s fairly substantial. When you take into consideration how few people make that sum of money it clearly represents the upper tax bracket in this country. In learning more about taxes, the people who line the streets to sell bananas, meat on a stick, and bottled water to buses when they stop all wear the same color jacket (more like a lab coat). They wear them to show that they have paid taxes for their earnings.

Birthday Wishes to Ella!!!

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Not so hot

Not so hot

I can’t go through 2 years and pretend that everything’s wonderful and that I don’t ever think about quitting and just going home. There are times when I feel incredibly underutilized by my organization, that they just keep me around to type documents because I can type fast or to fix their computers because they don’t know how to. I really feel this way when I work hard to create or develop something only to find it tossed aside once my back is turned. “Why am I here?” “Can’t I be doing more and be more appreciated somewhere back home?” “I know I could be making more money.” Of course the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. One volunteer had a rule that if he woke up 3 mornings in a row with intense feelings that he wanted to go home then he would. It never happened but that was his sounding board. I felt like going home all last week. Without a doubt all PCVs think about it. There’s no punishment for leaving. It’s not a dishonorable discharge or anything. In fact, if you’re not happy you’re better off going home, and so is the community that you are serving. You’re not going to do much good if you’re unhappy all of the time. The fact is we all have bad days. It’s when several bad days are strung together that it begins to gnaw away at you. It’s tough to fight depression when so many of our usual coping mechanisms aren’t readily available. I can’t pick up a phone and call another volunteer because the phones here charge per second and it adds up very quickly. I can’t escape to see a movie. I can’t treat myself to a nice meal or ice cream. I can’t buy some expensive new toy. It’s even difficult to talk to a Ugandan to garner sympathy. I think of how my problems pale in comparison to earning less than a dollar a day like so many people around here. How they would love to have my problems for a while. I think about the months leading up to joining the Peace Corps when I would have done anything just to be here, out of my dead end job making a difference in the world. I do run every day and that helps, but even my runs are filled with people shouting ‘Muzungu’, uneven dirt roads which cause sprained ankles and vehicles that speed along narrowly missing me. The trick for me is to keep myself busy, focus on what’s important (other’s needs instead of my own, God and my faith) and to realize that this is a temporary home. When I get back this will all seem like a distant dream and there will be times when I wished I was back here in the warm sunshine, rolling green hills and have the ability to leave work just about any time I want to just get a way for a while.


I spent the weekend in Kampala with all of the other PCVs. We had an All PCV conference, so it was the first chance to meet the newest PCVs. There are 48 of them. They are where we were a year ago. They’re trying to feel their way along right now, trying to find work to do within their organizations and struggling to pick up the language.

I took my 3 kittens to the conference to give away. It was quite an adventure riding 6 hours on a bus with a small box of kittens who were desperately trying to get out the entire time. They destroyed the box they were in from the inside. Jacob and I traveled together and every time the kittens meowed he would cough to try to cover it up. Not that it mattered, those busses have chickens, ducks and goats on them from time to time. Three guys sleeping in a hotel room with 3 kittens and no mother cat proved to be quite difficult however. It was their first night away and they cried all night until at 2:30 Jacob crawled out of his bed and scooped one up and brought it back to bed with him. The kitten stopped crying but the other 2 were now reaching new decibels of crying. So I grabbed them and put them in bed with me. Some time later the one with Jacob must have left his bed to join his siblings because when I next checked I had all 3 kittens. So they slept with me from 2:30 until 6:30 when it was time for my run. They didn’t cry but I slept so lightly that it was almost like not sleeping. The next night I had to repeat the ordeal, otherwise the kittens would have kept the entire hall from sleeping. We’re not talking about a hotel with nice soundproof doors. Concrete floors are very conducive to carrying sound. Fortunately it’s also conducive to cleaning up after kittens… We also asked the housekeeper not to turn our beds in an attempt to keep the kittens under raps. Quite frankly I don’t think they cared.

Herbie the Dentist

Does anybody remember the clay-mation Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer movie where Rudy’s friend the little blonde elf named Herbie wants to be a dentist rather than make toys? OK, well that’s my lead in to visiting the dentist on Monday. People may wonder what medical and dental services are available for PCVs. I’ve had only good experiences with both though my cleaning last month was a little rough. I had a temporary crown in and got it replaced with a permanent crown. The procedure was rather simple. I wasn’t there very long and it wasn’t a very complicated or painful procedure. The tooth had to be molded in South Africa, so I had the temp for about 3 weeks with no problems.