Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dear Donators to Uganda,

"Be sure you give the poor the aid they need the most. There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve." --Thoreau

I know that your intent is admirable, and in some extremely rare and isolated cases, I believe that your money actually produces the results that you have intended to bring about. Without question, there is a lot of good things that money can do for this country, if it is done correctly. The other 95% of the time, however, your contribution's most significant impact on this country, and from all accounts, this continent, is the creation of a begging culture. Receiving foreign aid is no longer a blessing, but an expectation; no longer an increase of livelihood, but a necessity for life. By trying with an honest effort to relieve the hardship of others, we have created permanent conditions of disparity.

If I have ever thought about quitting service with Peace Corps and ET'ing (Early Terminating), it is because I fear continuing the mentality that has been laid down, hardened, and paved into the streets of this country. Perhaps in vain, I spend an average of 1-2 hours each day turning around and approaching the child or group of children that greet me with a "you get for me also a soda/chips/bike/money." No, kid, you are NOT going to receive a shilling from me. You have not earned it.

I hide away from projects that I may have spurred when recognition is given, fearful that my community will attribute all progress in my 2 years to my presence within it. It wouldn't be at all true, and it would be a shame. Every project that I have been apart of in Uganda has had people in it that are motivated, are capable, and have DONE the grunt work, details, and the logistics. It is not fear that they recognize my true amount of impact in this community, but rather that they unfairly augment it, and scratch out the work of many to a conclusion of it being a result of a visiting Imusugun. When I do fear that I'm getting too involved in the process, and too many people in the community are calling it "my" project, I back off. I stop work altogether, and see who steps up and picks up my slack. Then I give him/her the credit they deserve, and give them my expectation of having them lead the rest of the way.

Please, for the good of the country of which you think you are trying to help, make sure your money is going towards ending the need for your donations. The idea of foreign aid should always be to lessen the need for foreign aid down the road; not to set up permanent shop, giving handouts to those who don't deserve it and begin feeling entitled to it. If your donation simply creates another step from which to fall from, or another broken borehole which nobody has taken ownership of, or reinforces to a kid to believe that only through others will he/she be able to succeed in life...please. Keep your money.

I would be happy to give advice, if you would like to donate money to Uganda, on ways to ensure that it goes towards the goals you would like to see completed.

Paul Theroux, former Peace Corps Volunteer (he was kicked out, great story) and world traveler, wrote about his overland journey from Cairo to Capetown. He explains my feelings better and more thoroughly. Below is a quote from his book on this very adventure, called Dark Star Safari:

"The conceit among donors is that the poor or the sick or the hungry will take anything hey are given. But even the poor can be particular, and the sick have priorities, and the famine victim has a traditional diet. The Germans had built houses that did not resemble any others in Harar, did not allow for the safety of the animals, and had the wrong proportions. So they were rejected by the lepers, who chose to live more securely, with greater privacy, and--as they must have seen it-- more dignity in their mud huts by the road. The German buildings, more expensive and new by badly maintained, were the only real slum in Harar.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Present, Absent, Escaped"

When I first started thinking about applying for Peace Corps, the only thing I was sure about was that I absolutely 100% did not want to be a teacher. Having failed an uncountable number of times as a Math tutor in Middle/Highschool, I had a pretty solid belief that teaching in a different language with less supplies than normally would be allotted would be a TERRIBLE idea for any/all affiliated parties. I wanted to come in and build things. Make a difference.

Of course, now Peace Corps has infiltrated my thoughts, taken out the words efficiency, speed, tangible, and inserted words like co-facilitator, capacity building, winnable victories, patience, and sustainability. I used to think building a school, fence, well, latrine were the absolute pinnacles of success for a Peace Corps Volunteer, and more generally, of development towards a better community/country. Now after seeing so many once beautiful (I'm sure) schools in their current, delapidated and uninhabited state, I've come to abhor the very notion of what I might describe myself as; "an agent of virtue," trying to do good things and yet causing a whole country and I fear continent towards a mentality which could be described by an image I see everyday. It is of a small boy with an outstretched hand, syaing the only words he knows in English: "Give me money." He's probably been taught these words by his parents, who have been taught by experience that it's the best thing white people come to offer. I can't help but think about Hilton Head Island, where we were told to beware of the crocodiles (alligators?), because as a result of too many people feeding them, they had become trained to approach people.

Anyway, along with this new mentality has come an acceptance, if not gravitational pull towards helping out nearby schools. Ironically it is these kids who are proof of my importance in this country, because of their interest and yearning for information. You should have seen the look of the kids when I brought in a map of the world. It was probably one of the very few times in my time in Uganda that I was sure that noone was staring at me. (While writing this, I flashed back to some MTV Awards Ceremony, back when J-Lo wore that crazy green dress clasped with a single button, and David Duchoveny (sp) was walking beside her to give out an award). After 6 months of being J-lo, it was nice to be David for a couple minutes.

I am now connected to 3 teachers in the US, and am in continual contact (some more than others) with them through their paired classrooms.

Yesterday I passed out letters written from Georgia to the kids here in Uganda. To speed up the process, the kids emailed me on an E-pals account, which I printed out, cut up, and stuffed into handmade and labeled envelopes (Thank God for my Mom and Craft Days). You should have seen these kids! I've never seen 10 year olds move so quickly as when I called their name to inform them that "They've got mail". Most likely, for one of the only times of their lives.

One thing I found, and was interested in, was the number of kids that weren't actually there. The previous trips to school, I had always come in the morning; this time I came in the afternoon after lunch. What I found was that over 25% of the students were not present, and only a couple of so were actually decreed "absent." The rest were labeled (the class had learned to chant together every students status) as "escaped." these students have gone AWOL because they had to go home to eat, and it's not possible to eat and come back in time for afternoon classes. Yeah, Not in Kansas anymore.

Today, the kids had written letters back to their newest friends from America. Some were quite good, and I'm thankful that I saw only a couple traces of kids asking for money (which, not surprisingly, came from the letters where the vocabulary and grammar seemed much more like a parent than the student). Even so, it was awesome, and I'm psyched to let these 10 year old American's get to see a glimpse of Uganda.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Karate, Wrestling, and Bacon

After a short medical trip, a successful meeting about an upcoming boys empowerment camp, and getting to help train some of the PC neophytes, I have returned home. There are few feelings that I know of than walking into a room where everybody immediately jumps up and hugs you after being gone for more than a couple days. So happy to be back home.

Taking it easy tonight; tomorrow I will be cooking with the parish priest for the ladies of the parish (international women's day!), which I'm super pumped about. I, of course, will be cooking grilled cheeses. I'm also going to be writing a LOT of letters to my newest American classroom, which has already been a lot of fun. One lady who wrote me gave me her likes, and it seemed to me to depict America so perfectly in only three words...thus the title of this post.

If anybody has any cool ideas to help get these kids in Uganda thinking creatively, holler. I am starting up egg drop competitions, paper airplane objectives, trebuchet building days, etc. etc. etc.

My number is now specifically +256757817300; the rest are more than likely going to be off from here on out. Just so you know.

The moment that I got the final score (5 am my time) I went outside and jumped over an old lady with a fire going to cook breakfast. She wasn't impressed. I sang the fight song. She stared. I jumped over again. She left the fire completely, deciding to cut her losses and to let the looney have his day. It isn't exactly Franklin Street, but it felt like home.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The 4-G's Grilled Cheese

I've had a fairly miserable couple of days. I busted up my toe while on the assembly line of brick making, which has sidelined me from my self-proclaimed "X-tremem February" where I've tried to be apart of, if not leading, evertying manly and physically strenous in Ngora. That same day my little piggy was attacked, I decided to go shirtless; two hours of equatorial sun against shoulders that haven't seen the daylight in 6 months...flawless victory for the sun. Pain for me. Things I should have packed: Solercaine, steel toed chacos.

With the combination of mandatory rest (as decreed from a yelling counterpart nurse, a raging suburned back, and a whiny swollen toe), no power for 7 days, and a library full of already read, quoted, and summarized books on my library...things were getting a bit desperate. After failing yet again to make a proper lom for the compltion of a new style hammock, and cursing back to my house after accidentally kicking a rock with my stupid toe, despair was being penciled in for the word of the day.

After a bit of sulking, even more pised in how under-whelming the short story "curious Case of Benjamin Button" is, I realized it was my time for the 5 o-clock snack. I go into my kitchen (stomping grumpily), and silently complain abotu another triple decker p-nut butter and honey sandwhich. I look around with no conviction of expectations of anything, but sitting beside the month old egg, I spot it. Cleverly coded in Hindu or some other Non-Amurr'kin tongue was a can portraying an image of CHEESE. I can't stress both how much cheese I eat in America and also how rare it is here. It's a LOT, and it's REALLY rare.

I guess I can.

Anyway, I open the can, using for the first time my Target can opener bought specifically for Africa (thanks "packing list"). I spill...I strenously knife out (same knife I've used every day for my PB & Honey sammies...yet to have been cleaned) all 4 thousand shillings worth of the 3-days-shy-of-a-year-old-cheese.

10 minutes later, literally humming "taps" because it was the first thing that came to mind and I'm impestuous, I placed down the charred to perfection grilled cheese on a never before used plate, gurgling with molten Egyptian or Chinese or Iranian Cheese brimming every edge of the Clearly unprepared bread slices designated as captors.

11 minutes later, I realized how happy I was. how glad I waited 7 months for my first grilled cheese, and proud to of found my newest defense mechanism against an otherwise crappy day.

And how good cheese is.

Darkness Falls

...And stayed there for around a week.

After my computer charger got fried (again), the power was at least nice enough to ease the blow and cut itself off for a solid 7 days. Now the power is back, and I'm on the Parish Priest's computer (Thank you, Computers 4 Africa) for the time being. No big deal.

I have done a lot of writing. As a result of said loss of power, an annoying accident involving an oversized brick and my big toe, and another annoying accident involving the equatorial sun and shirtless shoulders has left me in the shade for the large portion of this week. I will organize and get them up here when I can.

For now, The Danny Green UNC jerzey has been adorned; it won't come off again until after the Dook game. Looking forward to some payback.