Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On Earning My Stripes

Written June 13, 2009

Hello again. I hate to start on a negative note, but there have been some roadblocks in getting everything settled in terms of work. To recap, I am working in a high school and in an NGO called Kamwokya Christian Caring Community. I have already taught one lesson in the school. I have not, however, began working in the NGO. And I really can’t say when (or if?) I will. I’ve unexpectedly realized that although I thought the more slow-paced African lifestyle was right up my alley, it is not in all cases. I have come to better appreciate and even miss the fast pace and sense of urgency of the United States that makes things happen. There are of course pros of a relaxed, optimistic, unrushed atmosphere, too. Like anything else, it is a tradeoff.

Like I said, I have taught my first lesson at Ahhamadiya Muslim Secondary School, and I was pretty happy with it. To recap again, the goal is to teach kids about HIV/ AIDS while also teaching them skills to relay their newfound knowledge to their friends and peers. The topic of the first lesson was “what is peer education?” My class is made up of the school’s “S.3”’s and “S.5”’s (S for secondary). There are about 30 kids and they range in age from about 15 to 20. I teach by myself, although I might have an “assistant” from now on. I was a little intimidated going in at first. I think they were a bit hesitant at first, but by the end of the hour-long class, everyone was participating and seemed engaged. I really like the fact that at the end of class, a lot of kids come up to you to shake your hand and say thank you for coming.

There is a chance I’ll be working in another school too. There were supposed to be six interns working on this project but we only have two. So Jo and I are hoping to devise a plan that will allow us to deliver the program to all three schools. We’ll have to be a little crafty, hopefully giving each school three days a week.

I am proud to say that I am well on my way to becoming an expert Kampala-navigator. I am earning my stripes here. With the frustrations I’ve alluded to about the work not getting off the ground, I’ve committed to not letting my days go to waste. On Friday, I went to the Uganda National Museum. Pretty cool. They had a special exhibit on climate change, although I spent much more time looking at ancient African artifacts. Arguably, the more noteworthy fact here is that I managed to get there, by taxi, on my own. A small but meaningful accomplishment that means I will be a tried and true Kampalan in no time. Let me describe the taxis:

They hold about 16 people at a time. There is a money collector who sits in the front and leans out the window, summoning weary travelers and ensuring that every seat in filled at all times. When you get to your destination you say “stage” and get out. They’ll stop anywhere along the road. They are crowded and hot, but they get the job done. It costs the equivalent of about 50 cents to get from my home in Bukoto to the Kampala city centre. Perhaps one day I’ll learn to negotiate prices, but for now I happily accept whatever I am charged (it’s usually fair).

So after the museum I taxi’d to downtown Kampala to give myself a self-guided tour. Self-guided with the exception of the guidebook I borrowed from Jo. I managed to check off a few “must-sees” from the book, including the Parliament building, the National Theater, and a great national craft fair to which I will definitely return. I found a cute cafĂ© to eat lunch in and ordered fruit salad and… a slice of orange cake (ah, cake!!).

I was quite satisfied with my outing and realized that despite being upset that I had to “waste time” all day, this was actually a great opportunity that will be rare once I start working. And I boosted my confidence about navigating on my own about 10 times.

It is fun to see the reactions of Ugandans when they ask me how I get around Kampala and I say by taxi (no, not a “private hire”). And also when I tell them that I do so on my own. Honestly, since I’ve gotten here, it’s kind of been expected and the norm—so I didn’t think that I was doing anything particularly noteworthy. But there has been many more than one occasion where people act surprised and impressed to hear …Brush it off :P. The transportation I have yet to master is the “boda boda.” These are motorcycle-like vehicles. Single passenger. More expensive (and arguably dangerous), but the “door-to-door” service and the ability to dodge traffic may be worth it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I had my first boda boda ride through Kampala today and it was actually really fun! I was with a Ugandan guy (an AIESECer). We were trying to get a couple of boda bodas, but whenever he tried to negotiate, he’d be overcharged, presumably because they saw me and my skin color. So in the end, I stayed back while Wakib negotiated, and then once the deal was set, he called me over. Surprise!

In other news, I proudly held my own in a 2 on 2 game of basketball with Abraham (one of “my brothers”) and two university students that we met on the court. On one of my free days, I headed with Isaac’s brothers to a sort of recreation center for mostly university students. I was a minority there on two accounts, but I think I temporarily forgot. I even scored the winning point… only one point after it was determined that the white girl had to make the last shot. Good motivation.

Before wrapping it up, this weekend I participated in an AIESEC national conference in Entebbe, Uganda… a “beach resort” right on Lake Victoria. A great opportunity on a few accounts. I met all of the other interns. They are from the US (6 from Yale, plus another from North Carolina), the Netherlands (2), Canada (2), Brazil, and Japan (2). Someone just arrived from Egypt as well. Lots of people from AIESEC Uganda and AIESEC Rwanda took part in the conference. Perhaps about 60 people in all. So there was a good world representation. In fact, on the last night, each country was introduced and each group (or individual) sang its national anthem. My vocal chords and I were grateful that the US was well-represented. The conference ended with some goat-roasting, singing by a campfire, and a dance party. Two of my favorite things and one thing I’d never done before. Guess which is which. Overall, the conference offered a good chance both to have serious conversations with interns and AIESECers about the structure of AIESEC and about cultural issues, and to let loose and have fun. AIESECers are a fun-loving group of people; no doubt about that.

That’s it for now. Until next time,


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