Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The struggle & about being 'trained'

I received a phone call the other day from Olivia, a Ugandan friend of mine who used to manage the Sky Blue restaurant. She was calling to tell me that she had succeeded in raising just over $100 for her post secondary school fees. A majority of that came from her uncle. Her mother died in an auto accident over a year ago and her father is a peasant farmer. She was calling to ask me if I would give her some money. I had already given her some, but she needed more if she was going to be able to attend school. She probably needed an additional $50.

That’s life in Uganda. I’ve received several such phone calls and letters from people asking for ‘top-up’ money for school fees or other things. They come by way of not only phone calls but text messages and notes under my door. Once a man came into my office because he heard there was a white man there and he proceeded to tell me that his wife was sick and he needed money to get her to a hospital. I generally give away a fair portion of my Peace Corps income each month. I don’t really feel like it’s my money. It’s your money. Tax payers money. And it’s such a small amount that trying to save it up to ‘get ahead’ would be like trying to fill a swimming pool with a thimble.

It’s even futile to get a job and try to work to save up money. The going rate for a worker in a restaurant is about $1 a day and if you go to school and try to work in the evenings it’s even less than that. Many school students eat beans and rice for every single lunch and dinner (our equivalent of Raman noodles?). Breakfast is similar. Not to mention that if you’re a female then you’re subject to sexual harassment which runs rampant here with very few laws to protect women, not to mention the general stereotype of women’s inferiority. The belief here is that if a woman wears the wrong clothing (pants or a skirt that shows her knees) then she is asking to be raped and that it’s HER fault if she is.

You know, I think on these things and I always go back to what a land of opportunity America is. How despite what we would consider high unemployment rates, there are jobs available for people willing to work. There are opportunities to succeed and get ahead.

Nutritional Supplement

Jacob moved across town several months ago so our chats have been sporadic. No longer do we just sit around with time to kill talking about anything feasibly interesting and terribly mundane. The other day, however, he came over looking for a particular type of tree he had seen before. This tree has very nutritious leaves. The leaves can be mixed into a number of meals. By weight, he said, the leaves contain 4x the Vitamin A as a carrot and 4x the calcium of milk, thus acting as a nutritional supplement for people whose diet is mainly rice and beans.

Drama Kings & Queens

Our Compassion kids recently competed in a drama competition that was held for the Compassion centers in this region. I was very impressed with the way in which it was organized. Instead of shipping 20 or so kids from each center to a central place to have all of the dramas, which would have been a costly ordeal, albeit exciting. They instead drove around and video taped each 10 minute performance. The kids were to write a drama about “What general thoughts do you have about Compassion.” Or something like that. I tried to volunteer to work with the kids to do dramas but I was told that I wasn’t qualified and they needed a ‘trained’ person to teach them. OK, I thought to myself. I don’t know if all of Uganda is like this but I’ve run across it a number of times. For example, we have a lady here who comes and teaches the kids when they are here. She’s a wonderful teacher, especially with younger kids which I think takes a special talent. However, she isn’t a ‘qualified’ teacher. She isn’t ‘trained’, though she’s one of our better teachers. So, when it comes time to hire teachers next time around, I’m quite certain she won’t be among those hired, because she isn’t ‘trained’.

Back to the Drama Kids. They won the competition! They were the best group, and it’s no surprise. They are amazing, bright kids with loads of talent. Give credit to their ‘trained’ drama teacher. Maybe there is something to hiring a ‘trained’ person after all…

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Pickpockets and Kenya Elections

Pickpockets in Kampala

I spent Christmas with my friends in Entebbe. It was incredible to say the least. I had pizza on the beach of Lake Victoria one day and then stuffed the most amazingly rich food into my face the rest of the time all the while enjoying the peace of not being called Muzungu for the first time in several days.

Getting into Kapmala, was another story entirely. I had my backpack stuffed full and as a white guy I’m, of course, a target for pickpockets. I was careful to not pack any valuables into pockets that were easily accessable. I had even put my phone deep into my backpack to get it out of my pocket.

Kampala was PACKED with people on December 23rd. Everyone trying to leave the city at once to go visit their loved ones, who all seem to live in the bush. As I made my way through the bus park to the taxi park to get to Entebbe, I noticed a 13 year old boy wearing a read shirt, following me. My walking strategy is to quickly duck and dodge in and out of people, leaving a difficult trail for someone to follow. I glanced back a second time and saw this same red-shirted boy who caught my eye this time and then proceeded to look all around like he was looking for someone in particular. I reached back for one of my side pockets and found it open. (I had cleverly put my underwear in those pockets to surprise any pickpocketers.) I just stood there and pointed at the kid while staring him down. He got the message and bolted.

That was pickpocket attempt #1. The second came as I was about to board the bus back to my village. I was bargaining for my bus fare (this was before the Kenya riots and hiked gas prices) when a laughing and seemingly friendly man who was trying to befriend me, casually reached into my pocket where my phone was. It was subtle, but not so subtle that I didn’t notice. I jerked back and put my hand in the pocket and half pretended that I didn’t notice. I don’t want to react too much in such a situation. I’m the only white guy there and who knows how many of his friends are around. Not that I don’t feel safe, I just feel outnumbered and I’m never sure who would pick to be on my side in case fisticuffs broke out.


As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the election in Kenya has been in the news. The current president is being accused of rigging the election as early results had reported the opposition leading by a million votes before the current president miraculously pulled out a victory.

Since that time 600 people have reportedly been killed and 100,000 have fled their homes. Here in Uganda the effects have been felt. Uganda is a landlocked country that is dependent on Kenya for use of ports in Mombassa. The scuffles caused the import of goods, namely gasoline, to cease which then caused fuel stations to ration their petroleum and for some to run out all together. Once the filling stations ran out those who did have gas were reportedly selling it for upwards of $20 a gallon. Public vehicles are charging upwards of 4 times their usual rates, which are already hiked due to the multitude that travel during the holidays. Fortunately for PCVs, we use bikes and thus haven’t been as effected by the petroleum shortage, but we have also been ordered to stay at our sites.

Here's the latest article about running the marathon.