Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Touch Football, A Strike

I think I ate more this Thanksgiving than in all the years past! Despite not having the luxury of a conventional oven, consistent power, or a nearby grocery store, we were still able to successfully have a superb Thanksgiving dinner this year including Turkey Bowl II, a rowdy game of touch football. Instead of the usual turkey, we instead had fried chicken (of sorts), stuffing, mashed potatoes, potato salad, beef stew, along with no-bake cookies and apple pie for dessert. The chicken prepareation was especially interesting as Lonnie put a broom handle over the head of the chicken and then yanked up on it’s feet to, in effect, de-head the thing. I wanted him to put it down in order to see a chicken run around without it’s head, but it was to no avail. The chicken just flapped while he held it instead. The blood did squirt onto Marcus’ face though. All in all it was a great time of feasting and being thankful with a number of friends, some new, some old.

On Strike

I went on a school visit this past week. We visited a Catholic secondary school way out in the bush. This particular school has a female head teacher. 3 years ago when she first arrived, the students protested to having a female as their head teacher. They organized a strike for when she arrived. She arrived, however, during the Easter break, so the students organized their strike 3 weeks after her arrival. Later I asked what it meant to have a strike here and Japheth informed me that it wasn’t pretty. The students, 600-700 of them form a wall in front of the school and won’t let the teachers enter. If this particular female teacher would try to enter by way of a car, the students would light the car on fire, break out the windows and remove the teacher, stone and kill her!

What about the police? I asked. In the deep bush, there may be only about 5 police men stationed at a post and they would be essentially powerless to stop a group of 700. They cannot use lethal force and they don’t have the luxury of tear gas or non lethal crowd control.

Eventually, somehow, this female teacher was able to enter the school peacefully and she’s been there for the past 3 years. She now has a night watchman guard her house and the staff quarters. Women’s rights have come a long way in Uganda, but you can see that there are still problems. There are currently 2 women head teachers at the 6 secondary schools around my village.

12 Days of Christmas. How to save money for Christmas while living like a Ugandan.

#5. Own only 3-4 outfits. When I bought my first house I was surprised by the tiny closets. A hanger wouldn’t even fit in there without tuning sideways. I was told that, back in the day, there were only pegs on a board in the back for the clothes. That’s how it is here. Kids have only a few clothes. A school uniform, an outfit for church and travel and play clothes. Adults may even have fewer depending on their income level.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Invitation to stay

I was invited by my organization to extend my service this week. The overseer of Compassion who is also the church leader and my neighbor came over to my house and asked why I couldn’t stay… for another 2 years. When the Compassion board met they discussed that it would be best if I stayed to continue the work that I was doing. I admit that I let out a few chuckles under my breath. I couldn’t help it. I tried to explain that in 6 months my 2 years would be up and that it would be time to go home. I like it here. I’ve enjoyed my PC experience and I’ve enjoyed immensely working with Compassion International, but at the same time I’m ready to go back to my homeland. I’ve considered doing the Peace Corps again, possibly in another continent, but right now I’m just ready to come home.

Right and Wrong

If there are 3 things I despise, it’s lying, cheating and stealing. They’re all the same in my book and I hate them equally. So when I found out recently that my organization was lying about conducting their home visits to the children I was irate! Each project is graded by Compassion. They pull out the children’s folders and look to see if the information in the folder is up to date. In each child’s folder are copies of their school reports from each term, medical records and doctors visits, photographs, family history, as well as records of when they were visited by our staff. Projects get graded on a number of things at each project and the children’s files are among them. So, when grading was approaching in April (when I was in the US for vacation) they forged a number of the home visit forms to appear that the children have been visited. This would NOT have happened if I had been here. It’s deceptive and it cheats the children first and foremost while my organization protects themselves instead of taking one on the chin for NOT visiting the children. Now, granted, it’s time consuming and can be expensive to visit each child’s home. About half of our kids are supposed to be visited yearly and another half every 6 months. The 8 children who have HIV are supposed to be visited monthly. I would be glad to do the home visits myself but I can’t effectively communicate with the caregivers so I would be limited in what I could do. First of all I would have a difficult time finding the homes without being able to ask or understand directions. Secondly I wouldn’t be able to accurately assess the needs of the family without being able to communicate with them. Have there been any sicknesses lately? How far do you go to fetch water? Are there any immediate needs that you have? I could only look and observe, which is at least something. I was so upset that I had to leave the office for a time to cool down. Granted, also, they do visit the children unofficially. I know they do. But sometimes it’s not documented which leads to inaccurate information about who has and hasn’t been visited! Oh, Uganda!

Home Visits

On Thursday I did go to visit 4 homes with Japheth, the director. We’ve been advised to visit the children in pairs because of a recent incident that happened in another village. A pastor of a church was visiting some Compassion families when the mother of one of the children hit the man with a brick! She then claimed that he was trying to rape her. So, now we’re in pairs.

The reason it’s so important to visit the kids’ homes is for this reason. We visited Sarah’s home. Sarah is a sweet girl. She’s in P4 or P5. She always comes to Compassion looking smart and clean, however, upon arriving at her home you see another side entirely. Her home has been visited before by the staff, but never by me. Some of our children have never been visited in the 5 years of the project. Sarah lives with her grandmother and grandfather. A very elderly couple. She also stays there in a small house with an older sister (maybe 12) and a younger brother. This family really has nothing. The old man can barely walk. They have so little that they can scarcely go into town to get things because of the distance (about 5 miles). Once we have visited, we can monitor the family more closely. We will know the situation better and will better be able to care for them.

As a volunteer, many times, my hands are tied as to what I can do. For many reasons. Because of language. Because I’m an outsider. Because I just “don’t know” the African way of life.

Ah well. Re group. Re organize. Remember why I’m here and reform the angle at which to attack the problem. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” as they say.

12 Days of Christmas. How to save money by living like a Ugandan

#6 Bike everywhere you go with your wife and infant child riding side saddle on the bike rack. No need to worry about rising fuel costs. Everyone here has the same ‘Hero’ bikes, so there’s no complaining from the wife about getting the newest model. When biking, the fresh air and scenery are better than when driving. Plus, if you have a hefty wife, think of the great workout it’ll be…

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Look what the cats dragged in


A volunteer friend of mine was telling me about events within his organization. They provide assistance to groups of the poorest people deep in the village, but in order to do so they rely on native volunteers to report to them who is in most need of assistance. Recently they found out that these native (Ugandan) volunteers were charging these poor people to be on the list to receive support! -Social Injustice. Another way this organization supports poor children is by donating block grants. Instead of giving money to a school, for example, they donate items in exchange for a certain number of orphans to attend school for free. Recently they found out that the head teacher received these items and was also charging the students to attend the school. –Social Injustice.

I hate to even have to tell this story but my running kids, upon receiving donated shoes that were sent from the US, quit running. They had to run with me 10 times to receive the shoes but disappeared after receiving them. I had to go back to the school and explain to them that they were given to them to run in and then threaten to take them away if they didn’t run again with me a certain number of times. Upon explaining this to my Ugandan friend, he exclaimed, with a smile, “Ah, you forgot that this is Africa.”

You forgot that this is Africa? What is that supposed to mean? I didn’t forget that this is Africa, I was just hoping that people would be more honest than that. The fact that he even said that got me fired up. By saying You forgot that this is Africa it just excuses people to continue to behave that way. When does this stop being Africa and start being a civilized society that loves thy neighbor as thyself.

I hate writing about corruption because that seems to be all that people hear and thus think about when talking about Africa. I even ask myself what I would do if I were in the same situation. Making very little money and using whatever means necessary to get ahead in life. It makes it difficult to work in such an environment. It makes it difficult to trust anyone. There’s also the “Muzungu price” which is to say that white people get charged 2 and 3 and 5 times the regular price of things because they are assumed to have money.

I guess I think that is why staying is so important. Fleeing is the easy answer. Leaving and saying, “I can’t deal with people who don’t want help” isn’t the right answer but instead, staying, struggling and creatively solving the problem is a better solution. There is a whole lot of help that is needed here and giving up won’t alleviate the poverty situation.

Where I work

I haven’t seen any corruption within my organization in the year and a half I’ve been here. When I first got here someone was taking some food items (sugar and flour) home with them from our storeroom, but it was stopped right away. There are a lot of checks and balances in place within Compassion to keep those things in check. They have frequent internal audits plus checks must be signed by several individuals before they can be cashed or banked. There’s a lot of red tape but in a way it’s good.

“I was just trying to be a good mother”

That’s a line from Into the Woods. That’s how I felt last week when my cat brought into my bedroom the 2nd half-dead rat to teach her babies how to hunt and eat meat.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Another Saturday when the Compassion kids came and another rainout. We have such a need for a building. Meeting outside isn’t the solution. The rain forced us into our small offices and our day’s plan was then discarded. Fortunately we had power and I was able to show them my friend Shelly’s video she made on Life Skills, specifically learning about the facts of HIV and making healthy relationship decisions. Then that was followed by The Gods Must Be Crazy, so I guess it wasn’t a total waste of a day.

Here is a link to the recent article I submitted to my local paper regarding fundraising for our new building.


12 Days of Christmas. How to live like a Ugandan and save money for Christmas.

#7 Pay-as-you-go Phones. It’s hard to mail a phone bill to a mud hut on a dirt path. So instead, people buy airtime ahead of time. You buy a little card and scratch to reveal the pin number. Phone conversations typically last about 10 seconds because you’re charged for each second you talk. Incoming calls, however, are free. There are no free nights or free weekends and you can’t call network to network for free either (though one company did have that promotion going on for a while). I was paying $75 a month for my cell phone. Here I pay about $15 a month.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Movin’ on up, to the East Side

My wash lady is moving soon. My sister is now paying for her daughter’s secondary school fees which has freed Justine up enough financially to escape the poverty trap. She now owns an acre and a half of fertile farm land which already has a small banana plantation along with a decent house. She had told me that she needed land to grow crops which she didn’t have at her previous home. She also said she needed land where she could be buried when she died. They don’t have cemeteries here; people are buried on their own land. If they don’t have land then they’re buried buy relatives or friends. As I walked the property with her she was telling me all of her new plans for the place. She’s already adding a sitting room and has plans for a new kitchen. It’s like anyone is when the buy a new place. They see the possibilities. They are filled with new hope. And hope springs eternal… or is it ‘hope floats’… something like that. At any rate, I’m extremely excited to see her with her own place where she can eek out a decent living.

Attack of the white ants!

In Moses time, they dealt with plagues of locusts. Here we have grasshoppers and white ants. It’s not exactly a plague, but it can seem like it at times. Every morning I go outside and I see their discarded, white wings on the ground under the outside light. I rarely find the bugs themselves on the ground so I don’t know what happens to them. Power has been funny here last week. It’s been on and off. One night it was off and I had my lantern cranked up so that I could read. These white ants, which aren’t ants nor are they white, were swarming my room. They are attracted to light and they were finding cracks in my door and windows. There were dozens of them in my place. They have 1” wings and they look like a long, skinny cockroach. Fortunately I have 5 exterminators at my house. My cat, Akamogo, and her 4 kittens. They chased and ate every single one of the ants/cockroaches. It was actually fun. I walked around with my headlamp and knocked the bugs down and the cats would pounce on them and crunch them up. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. I recently found one of our Compassion kids who had caught a number of them crawling wingless across the ground on the way to the center and she had stashed them in her mathematics set (something like a tin pencil box). The locals cook them and eat them as a snack!

12 Days of Christmas. How to save money for Christmas by living like a Ugandan.

#8. Walk almost everywhere you go and carry things (up to 80 lbs) on your head as you do so. You not only save money but you gain strength through exercising as well as reduce overall pollution. For an extra workout, tie your infant child to your back. Unlike adults, kids like to be swaddled. When they’re all snug and cozy they sleep like a… baby.