Monday, July 23, 2012

Writing Angry

Representatives of an NGO came by yesterday, for a couple hours total.  They gave out presents, made promises, took pictures.  I cringed.  Just now I had 3 kids (if you can call them kids; they were probably 22 or 23) come and knock on my house.  They didn't even greet me (super bad manners in Uganda), and asked me for bread.  Or eggs.  Or sweets. Or a shirt.  No?  What about school fees, then?  "You give me school fees."  Unfortunately, I had to act like I was disappointed in them for asking me such things.  In the local language, I gave a detailed explanation of how it makes me feel, and the bad manners they are having.  Afterwards I shooed them and slammed my door, sending them scampering away, falling over each other in the battle of who could get the furthest away.

As pissed off as this gets me, it is the good version of this scenario.  At least, in this instance, somebody is here to counteract the pretentiousness of a few.

Playing bad cop sucks.  You think I don't want to give them food or fees for their education?  Of course I do.  But I respect this village and the children that make it up (because over 50% are actually children, by the official statistics) too much; I know that if they are going to be successful in the country they call home, it will have to start with a belief that its up to them.  It will then have to follow with a feeling of worth large enough to believe they CAN do it.  People come here and see kids that need help, instead of believing in them to help themselves.  People come here and give this air like they're doing such amazing things.  What they're really doing is instilling dependency, turning problems that they see into permanent conditions.

Every time someone comes here with the intention of making themselves feel good with pictures and a few handouts, my legs get cut out from beneath me.  If you want to provide support, find somebody that actually knows what they're talking about; preferably someone who's been here longer than a 3 month tourist.  If you don't, or if you can't find that, then help the country by NOT providing support.  Finally, whatever your goal is, if you are sending money or materials over to Uganda without proper research, without ensured accountability, without a person on the ground who understands what is going on, without concentration on sustainability and ENDING THE NEED for what you're supporting, then it is you who is doing so much to ruin this country.  Stop.  We--the people who know better--are not impressed.

This is one of my posts from 11 months ago.  It is perhaps the less jaded version of what I just wrote.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Breaking my own rules

The seminarians are currently all on break, and several of them are staying at Ngora Parish while they relax and prepare for their next term.  We’ve been commonly enjoying evening discussions about life, religion, astronomy, and whatever else pops up. I can put on my shorts, and take a last look at the previous discussions’ unanswerables so that we can start where we dropped off.  The conversations are especially interesting when the parish priest joins in, who is by nature extremely curious and continually playing devil’s advocate (irony).  Anyway, these conversations are always a treat to me; the Vin-diagram of knowledge comparison between a 25 year old American and a group of 20-40 year old Catholic, Ugandan Seminarians and Priests would tell you why.  I’ll talk to them about the stars, about costs of living abroad, about different foods and the ways people eat.  They’ll talk to me about magic worshipping, country stereotypes, and the wars that at one point were destroying their lives.  By the end of the night, I’ll have 5-20 questions that I have to look up.  These nights are sometimes the only thing I’m looking forward to. 

Last night, the seminarians were bummed because the local ajon lady didn’t have but ¼ of a jerrycan of local brew.  This would last for probably 30 minutes for our group, which doesn’t work for the usual 2 hours we are outside.
People are only known by one of their names.  85% of people in my village know me strictly as “Opolot.”  Unfortunately, there is a lot of overlap, stemming from one of the most dense countries in the world as well as only having about 15 different tribal names.  Thus, many people’s names adapts completely to the job they are working.  “Nakapolon ko Ajon” is the name we all use for the lady who makes the ajon.  There are people that I’ve known my two years, and have good relationships with, who I call “askari” (literally-security guard) or “Honourable” (someone who works in the district). 

So anyway, I offered to buy everyone who was around beers for the night.  For 10 bucks I bought enough beer to serve 7 different people for the night.  The boys were pretty pumped; they very rarely get to taste actual bottled beer (although, I think in all honesty they would admit to liking Ajon more.  Drinking from a bottle is a class thing more than anything else), much less the Good kind (Eagle is crap beer at 6.5% that is the “villager’s beer,” as opposed to more expensive, less alcoholic bottles like NILE, CLUB, and BELL). 
As a rule, I neverrrrrrr submit to paying for items, much less offer to pay for a whole night’s rounds without provocation.  Even more, I brought out my mosquito repellant (worth its weight in gold to me, so much that I use it no more than once a week as a treat to myself) for everyone to use, AND my computer to play some of my music.  Not only was I possibly being ostentatious with money, but I was sharing my limited resources and showing off a brand new computer that I’d bought in my previous trip to America. 

It’s not something I’ll make a habit of, but letting down my guard in this way with some of my best friends in country was really refreshing.  I get so worried about not being THAT volunteer, that I realize I lose my ability (on some small scale) to have fun with people I genuinely enjoy being around.  After all, each and every one of these seminarians have invited me to their homes where we’ve shared food and drinks in their own home.  It’s nice to know that I can make gestures of appreciation as well.  Besides, talking about southern culture is much easier when you’ve got “wagon wheel” playing in the background.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This and that

This past week, my group and I traveled to Munyonyo to have our Close-Of-Service conference.  After 23 months being in Uganda, we’ve found ourselves as the most senior class still remaining in-country.  We started as 45; at the conference 34 and I remained.

Not sure what my future will hold.  As more definite information comes, I will try and let all of you know.  If any of you have specific questions (or any positions, for that matter), let me know through email.

Out with the old…

As my mind becomes more and more filled with an uncertain future, and where I will find myself even 6 months from now, a new volunteer is planning on starting his own journey in Ngora.  Aisa Radio Station has gotten clearance for their first Peace Corps Volunteer.  It’s a pretty special thing for me, having helped the station get started.  There are soooo many things that are still left to do to make the Radio Station what it can be, and I’m pumped that there will be a volunteer able to devote his time and work with other committee members.

As the new volunteer comes in, I’m presented with a new challenge.  My bubble of Ngora Mission has been mine and mine alone for the past 2years.  I can’t help but feel like the older son, having to welcome a newborn.  Sure, I’m excited.  I know its what the community wants, and I’m confident that he (the new volunteer) can do good things.  At the same time, though, this is MY community!  I don’t want to share it!
And so approaches a new chapter.  I have no idea what it is going to hold.  Before Peace Corps, perhaps, this would have worried me.


The Ngora Parish Harmack Company waits with baited breath about the results of the U.S. Embassy Grant that we have applied for.  For sure, with a project approval would come a completely new kind of Company, with all kinds of new challenges and demands.  As we wait, however, we find ourselves busier than ever before.  In one weekend, over 65 orders came in from the companies we supply to.  At the same time, we’re expanding our product through successful work of the RD&D department; not only are we making fabric hammocks, but also hand woven string style (sprang) hammocks.
Too cool of a story.
Backing up to these sprang hammocks, I wanted to talk about how they came to fruition.  I actually tried to make this hammock before the group was created, or before we had even started thinking about making hammocks commercially.  I failed.  Completely.  I spent 3-4 days doing nothing but making tangled masses of twine.  After 4 or 5 months with the harmack company, I once again brought up this possibility, and we tried it.  We FAILED.  Completely.  I was trying to help, the kids were trying to do it, the elders were trying not to laugh.  Everybody failed at their objectives (especially the elders.)
A few months later on, group of ladies and men came to me asking to join the harmack company.   Because of our current structure of the company, we do not need a large group of people working; after sitting and talking with the chairperson and treasurer, it was clear there was no place for more people.  We instead offered them the option of making the sprang hammocks themselves, which if they could master we would purchase off of them directly, package it, and sell it to our pre-existing markets. 
The group was excited, and they inspired me to have hope that perhaps this would be the time.  We tried, and we tried, and we tried.  We always failed.  Tangled messes. 
Going through my town, I always stop and talk to the Indian Shopkeeper ( I capitalize this because I feel extremely bad that I don’t know his name.  He’s given me such great advice and we’ve talked so much, that I feel it’s not possible at this point to admit that I’ve forgotten what he goes by.) about whatever.  This is the same man who I mentioned awhile back, in the post regarding cricket.  The hammock company came up, and he asked questions poignant enough for me to realize he knew what he was talking about.  I asked him about this, and he mentioned that of course his wife has a hammock in the home.  She sleeps in it most nights, he says.  Yahtzee, I say; he looked confused.
As I boarded a plane for America, the Indian Shopkeeper’s timid wife was being invited and reveled as the new group’s teacher.  When I came back, 2 weeks later, they had 4 hammocks to show me, each one better than the last.  Amazing how cool of a village I live in.  Working on how to dye the skeins now, in order to make Ugandan flag colored sprang hammocks.  THAT will be something to see.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Foreigner in a Strange Land

 Walking into Entebbe airport and immediately trying to find the nearest restroom to prevent 1)throwing up everywhere and 2) pooping in my newly machine washed boxers, I couldn’t help but think it an appropriate “welcome back” from Uganda. 

My trip back to America was very many things.  Here’s a couple of the more prominent feelings I gathered from it.

Inspired.  Seeing my brother get married to the perfect woman for him was extremely touching to everyone that was able to see it.  It becomes easy to define success, when you see such happiness between two people.  My brother has always been someone I’ve looked up to, and getting to see him in such a rare mode of outward exuberance was something I won’t soon forget.

Proud.  So proud of the country where I come from.  America is great because of the people which reside in it; people are emotional, honest, and most of all, proud of themselves and where they are from.  Not just locally, but also as a whole.  Immediately I found the mindset of self-reliance and independence, and more so  a knowledge and empowerment from the two ideas that a) no one is going to help me succeed in this world and b) I wouldn’t want them to anyway, because I can do it myself.  What an amazing way to live; I no longer take that mentality for granted.  Come to Uganda and you’ll know what I’m talking about---and you’ll be upset as I am that it’s not here.

Nostalgic.  Obviously, right?  America is a pretty cool place, and seeing a couple of my old stomping grounds was pretty tough on my “Can’t wait to get back to Uganda” mindset.  It was a bit strange being in Chapel Hill for as long as I was.  It seemed to cycle between being the place I knew and loved, a place that seemed familiar, and a place as foreign as Amsterdam every 5 minutes.  I still haven’t figured out if I loved liked or hated my time there. 

Healthy.  Getting to eat calzones and burgers and proteins and greens and ranch and bleu cheese and mayonnaise and ice cream and donuts…man it felt good.  Surprisingly, my body loved every minute of it.  I never had any food-related illnesses my entire trip, which is pretty crazy considering the change in diet.  It wasn’t all about deficiencies from a foreign land, though; my whimsical nature in walking 2 or 3 kilometers in Downtown New York with all my bags let me know Uganda has trained me well.

No question, I did feel a bit strange on my first days in New York.  The number of cars was staggering.  The fact that everyone veers to the right while walking, instead of the left, caused many sidewalk collisions on my behalf.  The amount of options for ANYTHING was absurd.  The amount of beautiful people was also staggering (and a little intimidating).  In the first hour I saw more exposed knees than I had in my entire two years in Uganda.  I quickly realized that picking your nose in public is not common practice, nor acceptable when you are mid-conversation.  This doesn’t mean I was able to stop doing it…but I did realize I was breaking norms.  Clothes that people wear actually WERE a declaration, either big or small, of whom they were.  People either did not smell, or smelled amazing.  Staring is apparently considered rude.  Rolly suitcases makes sense.  Public transport is FAST.  No one greets before getting down to what they want---they just ask for what they want.  Doing otherwise, confusingly, actually upsets the other person.  People are happy to help but not to sacrifice.  Privacy is paramount.  So many cars. From the first day to the last, I could not handle a grocery store.  I became anxious, got lost, was constantly overwhelmed.  I eventually just gave up.

Thanks so much to those who took me in, showed me around, bought me a drink, or gave me a call.  It is an incredibly warm feeling to know that I had so many amazing friends in different places all throughout America.  It is easy to forget when you are on the other side.