Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bruno and the Gorillas


My little friend, Bruno, used to be a waiter at Sky Blue Restaurant. He is the most hospitable little guy I’ve ever met. He’d just do anything for you. That kind of hospitality is sometimes difficult to fine in Uganda. Customer service seems so far from people’s minds, but not Bruno. It’s just how he’s wired.

Jacob and I along with another 2 people have helped pay Bruno’s school fees for him to follow his passion, studying tourism. Currently he’s interning in Bwindi Impenatrable Forrest as a Gorilla tracker! He’s been tracking the gorillas and taking tourists to see them. He came back this weekend with a number of stories and tales to tell. He knows the ‘grunts’ the gorillas make to say “I’m OK, you’re OK” and the noises they make when they’ve eaten something they really like. He even said he’s been kicked by them a couple of times…!!! Though my PC salary is small (a couple hundred bucks a month), it’s still more than I need living in my tiny village where there’s really nowhere to spend money, so it’s good to give it away. It’s taxpayers money anyway and not really mine, so I feel like it needs to be given away. I’m just glad to help and glad to hear the excitement of Bruno’s stories and to realize that they may never have happened unless a few people got together to help.

New Volunteers

Reinforcements have arrived!! There are 2 new white people living in my village, just a stone’s throw from my house. They are the 2 new PCVs (a married couple) who will be replacing me and Jacob once we’re done, but for the time being they are here to learn the ropes. It’s great to have some new faces here and to help them habituate to the surroundings. They are a great couple with a lot of great ideas about what they want to do here. They also seem to have the attitude about things which is nearly essential to survival here. They’re ready to ‘make lemonade’ as my VSO friend Chris likes to say. I’m looking forward to hearing about their successes in the next 2 years.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Win $5,000 and help Compassion!

Rushville Rotary to Raffle for Compassion

My time here in Uganda with the PC is nearly complete and I’m happy to announce that I’ve got a very exciting thing to pass along to you!! The Rushville Rotary is conducting a raffle to help support needy families in the Compassion International project specifically in my village in Uganda!!! I spoke at one of their meetings a year ago about PC, Uganda and Compassion International and they said they were in need of an international project to sponsor, so a partnership was made. Their goal is to raise $10,000 and to give HALF of it to us here and the other half will go to the winner of the raffle! That’s right, the winner will receive $5,000!! The other $5,000 (which could triple to $15,000 through matching grants from Rotary International) that goes here will NOT be going to the building project, but rather to our neediest families for a number of income generation projects, such as goats, cattle, garden projects, clean water collection projects, etc to improve the health, sanitation, income levels, and general living conditions of our Compassion Families, which have already been identified as being the neediest of the needy in this community. Most of the household incomes of the families which we deal with is around $1 a day!! The goal is to tangibly help and support the community through income generation projects while the community center building project is also going on which will support the community in another way.

I’m super excited that the Rotary has taken this project on! It’s a GREAT opportunity for you to help these needy families here as well as a chance for you to make some money for yourself!! Raffle tickets are $50 a piece (or 5 people could all pitch in $10 to buy one and then split the winnings $1,000 a piece). The raffle will be held on April 19th. Tickets are limited. Tickets can be bought from any Rushville Rotarian, so they can call Markus Strobl or any other member of the Rotary Club in Rush County. Markus’ phone is 765-938-5110 (business), or 938-3424 (hm), and the email is: itsjustglass@verizon.net.

Please consider helping this needy cause!

Caroline’s Story

I heard this story when I first arrived but some new developments have arrived. Caroline is a 14 year old girl. She was found in the bush by a cattle keeper after she had been abandoned by her mother when she was an infant. The cattle keeper took her to his sister who raised her along with her own children. In the following months this new caregiver of this girl talked to local government officials and churches to identify the parents of her. Nothing came of it.

About 4 years ago a wealthy man came forward identifying Caroline as his grand daughter and said that he wanted to take her into his home. He claimed that is son fathered the girl by a house girl they had at the time. This house girl was of an ‘inferior tribe’ and in relative poverty and thus the boy could not marry her.

Caroline has known for some time that she wasn’t born into her current family but that she was found and raised by this older woman. They live in dire poverty. The grandfather and even the father are trying to claim Caroline reasoning that they can provide her a better life. They have money to afford secondary school and to provide for her needs. The grandfather reasons that he has all this money and why should one of his granddaughters be suffering in poverty when he has the means to help her.

The current caregiver, however, is reluctant to let Caroline go with them claiming that she doesn’t know who the parents are and wonders why they are just now stepping forward to claim her. Caroline has a striking resemblance to both the father and grandfather and she would receve more opportunities with her birth father. The situation was even brought to the police to have them resolve it but they said without DNA proof that the girl is related to the father the could not intervene. So, if the father & grandfather wish to continue to pursue this matter they’ll have to go to Kampala for DNA testing, but even so, trying to convince this poor, uneducated caregiver woman about DNA testing, what it is, how reliable it is, etc, may prove to be another bridge to cross.

Caroline has yet to be asked what she would like to do, but I believe that Compassion is going to do that soon.

Stolen Scale

We had a scale stolen from Compassion recently. The scale is used frequently to measure a number of food stuffs that are brought into the office. I didn’t realize it but the scale costs over $100. We have 2 cooks that work for Compassion who have been here the whole 2 years I’ve been here. The staff has told me that small amounts of food seem to disappear from our store room all the time and they have always suspected the cooks, both men. The cooks are paid around $30 a month to cook and work around the office. Sometimes, depending on what jobs need to be done, they earn $50 a month.

When the scale came up missing the cooks were immediately suspected and one in particular started acting funny. He went to the local radio station without being told and took out an ad asking for the return of the stolen scale. He also thought that the cooks should work together to replace the stolen scale. Nobody has admitted to stealing it, but it looks somehow suspicious and right now it looks like the more suspicious cook is going to replace the scale.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Leaving Soon, A Friend Visit, Post PC Plans

I’ve been away from blogging for the past few weeks, so I apologize. It’s been a combination of things. First, we had our final COS party to bid farewell to our fellow PCVs who will be leaving in May. It was a theme party where we all dressed up as movie characters. Fortunately there is a plethora of second hand clothing all over this country so piecing together a costume isn’t terribly difficult and is actually quite fun and feels quite ‘normal’, as in it’s a break from the daily routine of what always feels the same. The party was great. It was held at a Turkish restaurant near Garden City called Effandy’s. It wasn’t just my group that was in attendance but a number of other PCVs from the other groups to bid us farewell and also for just a reason to party.

The party also served as an opportunity to show a slide show video set to music of our past 2 years in Uganda. I begged, borrowed and stole over 4,000 pictures from my fellow PCVs and put it to 45 minutes of music. Songs ranged from “Find Yourself” by Brad Paisley to “Africa” by Toto to “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by Animals. I just tried to take the pictures and music and create a range of feelings and experiences that we all felt and experienced over our 2 years. 45 minutes of pictures may sound like an eternity of hell, especially if you’d compare it to Aunt Helga’s vacation videos or something like that, but it was different. It was a chance to see everyone’s point of view, their villages, their experiences, their Ugandan friends and families.

Friend Visit

My friend, Nanette, came and visited for a week. She had served in the PC in Burkina Faso, so she was already “Africa ready” once she arrived. We traveled around a bit and saw my village. We also visited her Compassion Child who lived in one of the slums of Kampala. I’d never been to the slums. It was moving to say the least. People living in cramped conditions. It had just rained, so you can imagine the mud, muck and whatever else we were traipsing through. We visited her 8 year old girl’s home where 7 people slept. The girl’s father had died, presumably of HIV. The mother was HIV positive, but the 3 children were negative. The mother sold tea to neighbors to earn a small living and the step father drove a car owned by another man as a special hire taxi. It’s a difficult way to earn a living because motor bike taxis are cheaper and can maneuver Kampala’s frequent traffic jams quicker and easier than cars. The step father earns around $7 a day but sometimes comes home with no earnings. This ‘home’ they live in is only a single room that is 8 ft by 12 ft. There are 7 that sleep there including the mother’s 2 siblings. Nanette’s girl often sleeps with her grandmother who lives about 1 km away but who also lives in a single room. They share a bed. The grandmother whom we also visited, says that she enjoys her grand daughter’s company and that she’s a hard worker when she comes over. The slums are compounded by the fact that Ugandans have no regard for trash disposal, so they just throw their trash outside and expect it to just wash away or magically disappear.

The Compassion staff accompanied us on our visit. They were so friendly and kind. We really had a nice time with them. Each Compassion center has 4 staff members that work there full time plus a handful of teachers that come once a week when the kids come to give them supplemental education and care. This particular Compassion was a new center. When I first arrived I was told there were around 155 Compassion centers around Uganda, but on this visit I was told there are now 212. Each center has around 280 children. That equals a total of around 60,000 Ugandan children who receive education, clothing, a mattress and mosquito net, free health care and social services in addition to Christian education that would otherwise be without. And the children are identified by community members as being the poorest of the poor and the neediest of the needy.

Nanette went on to comment on how drastically different Burkina Faso and Uganda are. Burkina Faso, she said, is extremely hot year round, even at night and it’s very dry and dusty all over. Uganda is lush and green and the temperatures are comfortable and even cool in the evenings, at least in the mountainous south west. She also said that there are very few tourists or touristy places in Burkina, where as Uganda has a number of tourist attractions including the Nile River, a number of National Parks including Gorilla Trekking.

New Volunteers

Jacob and I are both getting PC replacements for our organizations for when we are gone. There will be a small overlap due to when training was scheduled for them. We met the new couple. It’s a married couple. The guy is going to work with Compassion and his wife is going to work with Jacob’s organization. My village is a nicely sized place with a decent array of restaurants and decent electricity plus it’s nestled in a beautiful valley with scenic mountains all around that are begging to be climbed.

We had a great visit with them. They seem anxious to just get here and get started. They also just seem to have a great attitude about what they want to do and what their expectations are. That is so essential to being a PCV. Living a simple life, the ability to ‘make lemonade’ when you are given lemons and the willingness to just kind of go with the flow. Those elements can make or break a PC experience. It sounded like, mostly, they were just ready to get here and to start working as a PCV. Typical. Those weeks of training seem to always drag on as the fantasy of the real PCV life looms where you are free to come and go as you please and free to get your hands dirty and start working on your own projects. It should be a great next few weeks that we all spend together before I leave.

Leaving Soon

Speaking of leaving, I have 8 weeks remaining in Uganda. To be honest, I’m ready to go home. I know that I’ll look back with very fond memories, but for now I’m focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.

This whole 2 years was supposed to give me an idea of what I was supposed to with the rest of my life. What I’ve found instead was that it was the same 2 years of uncertainty that I would have had in the US, just in a different place. Without actively searching out purpose, it’ll never be attained. So, about a year ago I actively tried to tackle that exact issue. I searched deep within myself as well as far beyond myself (thanks internet). I decided, after much thought and prayer, that after the PC I’ll be going into campus ministry somewhere, hopefully around May of ’09. I looked back on all my work and life experiences in addition to my own gifts and talents and I feel, and have always somehow felt called to ministry though have also felt like I had to find myself first and pursue my own objectives. I’m reminded how Jesus didn’t begin his ministry until the age of 30. I wouldn’t trade my experiences, in fact, I believe they all shaped who I am, from teaching to working construction and working at Applebee’s to being in Uganda. I feel I have more to offer and am more equipped than I otherwise would have been had I jumped in straight after college. But I also feel like I’ve taken the role of Jonah and have tried to flee from a calling, if you will, and that fleeing has led to general unsatisfaction in the careers that I’ve pursued. They just didn’t jive with me, so to speak.

So, the plan in full is to ride my bicycle across the US from June to the end of July to raise money for a building project here for Compassion (http://bikeforcompassion.blogspot.com) and then to move to Knoxville to work with my friend and former minister Mark Nelson (http://standingonthedesk.blogspot.com) for 10 months, training and learning how to minister and manage a church before taking the plunge myself in May of ’09.