Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kids

Kids. Perhaps it has been due too many movies of protagonistic kids who come from broken homes, bad neighborhoods, or distant lands with little opportunity and who end up changing their community, their country, and becoming an inspiration to all those around them. It is also, perhaps, due to my respect for them, seeing these children walking to school, sans-shoes, 6 kilometers from their home, to sit all day without food or water. It is definitely due my idealistic nature and utopian hopes of empowering these youth and giving them proper skills to see the opportunities that are so (SO) abundant in this country.

For whatever reason, though, I had lost sight of the fact that these kids are just kids. They are selfish, egocentric, jealous, lazy, opportunistic, cruel, unforgiving, generalizing, and irresponsible. Just because they have different house chores, different scales of what a good and bad day is, and other different qualities of live to what an American kid goes through...that doesn't mean they aren't still as "kid-like" as the average pre-pubescent brat in middle class America.

Also, as in America, there are going to be some kids that simply "don't want to". Although I'd love to work with them in my projects, although I'd love to empower them and have them take charge of their own destiny...if these kids don't want to, then it simply isn't going to be possible. I don't mind working to encourage them; I realize that it's my job to remain diligent in not counting out any of these children. But, at a certain point, is it right for me to sacrifice time with kids who are driven, who come to ME, who don't except "ok" for the kids who don't give a darn one way or another? If there is any lesson that would be important for those kids, wouldn't it be that, especially in the world that they were born into, if they don't actively seek out the help that exists (in plenty) in this community, in this country, then it's simply not going to be there for them? It sucks, but there is not going to be someone to hold their hand through this world. They have to grow up quick. To ignore that is, to me, to be unrealistic and possibly the worst kind of teacher of all.

So here it is, kids of Ngora: I am here. I have ideas. I can be a change agent for you, and I can give you information on almost anything you want to know about. If you come to me, I promise you with my full heart that I'll work as hard as I can to insure we accomplish our goals. The door is right there. But if you don't turn the knob, then there's not much I can do. And I'm going to stop feeling bad about it. Help me. Help you.

Class is open.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

For (Cheap! Ugandan Made! Towards a good Cause!) Hammock Inquiries...

... Email the company at NgoraParishHarmackCompany@gmail.com. Give them an idea of what you are looking for, and ask about costs and all of that. I am trying to teach my kids to work on their writing skills, and this email is one of the avenues that we are using to learn. Anything you want to ask for is fine; anything that gives my kids the chance, or mandates, their use of creativity and problem solving skills, all the better.

Thanks,
Matt

Through the looking glass

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks or so in a blur of travel. Planned trips, holidays, and good friend coming to visit converged into a blitz of moving around that I hadn’t expected would be so…tiring. I also learned a lot from it, though.

1. Life here is crazy. I commonly give up reassurances of safety without thinking, mostly because there is no feasible alternative. Also because I’m more confident about my own ability to control my own safety. Drivers don’t speed when I’m in the car anymore, because I won’t let them. When a boda is coming upon me at a speed unwise, I jack out my arm in their direction, then at the last moment swerve my bike to the opposite side, thereby creating more space and also giving him all that I can. They all hate this, of course, and that’s fine. “Opolot, erai ijo stubborn” No problem. I’m not getting clipped by you anymore while I’m riding to Kumi, so it’s all good.

2. Moving with a man who isn’t used to Uganda, I’ve realized how dirty my life is. Dust is everywhere. I have no idea what my skin color actually is anymore. My house has over 15 geckos and lizards in it at any given time, and 3 times as many spiders. I invite the openly; THEY don’t have the disease that is the biggest killer in Uganda inside of them, and more, they kill the things that do; mosquitos with malaria.


3. Seeing other Peace Corps Volunteers sites, I’m struck by how different everyone’s experience is in country. Some people have house girls/boys that come every day to mop, wash clothes, cook food, and clean the house. As a result, they spend more time doing the things they came here to do, and I’m left thinking that they are actually less selfish that I am; I am washing my own clothes and cooking (a little bit) because it’s something I was hoping to learn how to do, as a way of growing. For other people, their focus is solely on Uganda, and they don’t want to be bogged down by menial tasks that will take them away from that. I hadn’t thought about it like that until then.

4. I was also struck by a realization when a PCV was reading to a group of us a small biography he had written for a Ugandan friend of his. He is attempting to have his friend accepted into a 3 week seminar that takes the Ugandan to America and has him visit congressman and entrepreneurs in the country. Amidst reading the nomination, you could tell that he was fighting back the tears of emotion. He was unbelievably proud of this man, and filled with such a respect for him. It’s the kind of feeling that at some level seems strange; when you have such a level of respect for a man, it is odd to think that your word could help him. It would seem more appropriate to be the other way around. Anyway, I found all of the Peace Corps Volunteers looking at the man reading with knowing eyes, with expressions that said “yeah, I know how you feel. There’s a friend that I’ve got at my site (home), too, that I feel the same way about.” It’s a cool feeling, and it’s good to know this country has those leaders in more places.


5. I’ve become extremely condescending and critical in my nature towards “shorties”, or short term volunteers, and it isn’t always fair. These people for the most part mean well, and the only way they are going to learn the effects of what 95% of the foreign aid that comes into this country actually DOES for this country is if they come and see it for themselves. Even still, they annoy me like crazy with their disrespecting clothing, pretentious diction when speaking to Ugandans, and general beliefs about coming here for 3 weeks in their summer to “fix” Uganda. Give me a break, kid. Oh, and just because you didn't actually SAY that, if you are thinking it in even a subconscious way that Uganda needs to be fixed, you are worse than I'm describing. Come with an open mind, prepare to take notes, and expect to have your mind blown. Or don't come.

6. I love my home. Being away from it for more than a couple of days really starts to bother me. It isn’t altogether a good thing; getting breaks away from site are important, to be able to look at what needs to be done in a more rounded, less tunnel-visioned light. Coming back home to Orelia (the parish chef’s 2.5 year old daughter) running up to me saying “welcome back” in the local language and hugging my knees…it doesn’t get much better than that.

Perspective

When the sun rises, I go to work,

When the sun goes down, I take my rest,

I dig the well from which I drink

I farm the soil that yields my food.

I share creation. Kings can do no more.

In response to my own mind becoming more and more pessimistic, I’ve tried to tone down my efforts of bigger picture accomplishments, and focus more on the here and now. I try not to think about 15 months from now, or 6 months from now, or about next week’s goals. It’s not that those goals have gone, nor does it mean that I’m not conscious of them, but focusing too much on accomplishment and tally sheets is simply not feasible in this culture. It’s not what I’m here for; it can’t be. It can’t be simply because it is not what the community is wanting, not what they’re asking for. And if they don’t want it, it simply won’t be done. Period.

That is pretty disheartening at times. Forget disheartening, it downright pisses me off sometimes. There are things that I could teach these people that could really make a change in this country; I believe that with whole heartedness. Some of them even recognize it to be true, but their resolve remains unchanged; it is a dream that they simply don’t share. Development, I’ll say. People have different reactions. For the older, more wiser people in the community, they’ll remain silent. In their hearts, they’ll ask me why. Why develop? Why work harder on something, with the chance that it will succeed or fail, than remaining the status quo and be sure to survive? Their parents did it this way, their parents parents. When something good enough comes to change our world, it will be shipped to us (old versions) for free, and other people will call it charity. The kids here are a bit different. They all play the part of being interested in wanting to become “modern,” they say all the right words, talk about sustainability, development, and gender equality. In the end they are exactly like their parents, just ignorant of what they are saying and what it entails.

So what’s my play? Is it my job to be acting as a fundamental element of change for these people? Is it even possible for me to do that? I hate it, but I see their point. If I was born into their world, I would be a huge proponent of staying exactly the way I am. I’m laughed at 20 times a day because of my weird notions, because I don’t believe in witchcraft (which is APALLING to these people, even the catholic priests), because I’m harvesting water from my roof even though I have a tap, because I’m trying to dehydrate fruit even though I have money to buy things year-round, regardless the price. Laughed AT; this is something that I’ve become used to, and have developed thick skin for; it is even a source of pride for me these days. Thus for me, it doesn’t matter; I’m already an outsider, I have the freedom to do as I please because it’s what is already expected of me. I get a free pass. But for these kids, being the oddity is the equal to death. They are in the circle; the culture of monotony has engaged it’s talons into them. For these parents, being innovative means you’re desperate, dumb, and disrespectful of the way “things are always done.”

Bottom line, I am starting to believe that my role is to be the person that people laugh at. Laugh at me all day long. For every 100 people that come, speak pretentious insults about my ignorance under their breath in a language that they THINK I don’t understand, there are 30 that are inspired. 29 are inspired not because of the idea, but because I’m white, and what’s more, a white American. But that 1 comes to me with a demeanor that neither reveres me nor dismisses me, challenges me on the feasibility of my idea, gives credit at times and is critical at others, and walks away with something to think about, with something that maybe worth his time. And that’s the person I get the number of, that I be sure to go and meet his family, drink his tea, and offer insights about the difference of our cultures, countries, politics, etc. That’s the person I came here for. It’s also the person I came to learn from.

And so the days continue.