Written July 6 - 11
Things are going quite swimmingly now. I have become accustomed to 10:00 dinner, taxi rides, bargaining with boda boda drivers, and my permanently dirty feet. I am still not used to cold showers and I really miss iced coffee.
I have not written in a long time and have lots to say (note the time span above). For the skimmers out there, enjoy the subtitles.
KAMPALA MEETS UNITED STATES
Uganda turned into the Unites States for a bit on July 4. Happy Independence Day everyone. I went to an event at the American Recreation Center. There was a barbecue and fireworks. With the exception of the tribal dances we watched as entertainment, I felt like I could have been at home celebrating the 4th. Hotdogs and hamburgers, a kid with a football (no, not a soccer ball), and mothers spraying bug spray on their kids. Very American. Jo came along. Imagine… they let her in even though we were celebrating our independence from her own country…
Actually the United States’ presence is felt almost every day thanks to the African roots of our president. I still find it hysterical to see… “Obama Supermarket,” the “Obama Hair Salon,” and my personal favorite… the “Barack Obama Street Ghetto.” (the first are actual names; the last is graffiti). I’ve bough chapati from “Obama Smart Takeaway” and have had a soda opened with an Obama bottle opener. Then there are the Obama bracelets, belt buckles, and scarves. I may try to determine the most ridiculous item and then take it home as a souvenir.
TRIP TO JINJA
To finish off the July 4 weekend, I went with Jo and Isaac to Jinja in the East. Highlights were seeing the source of the Nile, visiting the absolutely beautiful Bujagali Falls, and experiencing a 3-person boda ride to get from one to the other (certainly illegal). The lowlight was the 2-hour taxi ride home where about half of my behind and three quarters of my back had a place to rest. Did I mention the resting part was on a metal bar and the ride was bumpy… Something that made me laugh out loud was that just when you thought this little taxi was filled to capacity (actually, officially past capacity), the conductor opens the door and lets a mother, her baby, and her toddler on. I think I exclaimed, “You have to be kidding me,” pretty loudly. When it comes to public transportation, though, anything goes. (Did I mention how many people we almost ran over as we drove down the shoulder of the road to bypass traffic?)
WORK AT VISION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
On to work… I am so grateful for the NGO I ended up in. It is seriously perfect for me. We have done very varied work. No day is exactly like any of the others. As I mentioned earlier, they describe themselves as a family and I have been welcomed with very, very open arms. Jo has now been welcomed too. She joined me working there recently. These people are not only an inspiration due to their vision, but also some of the most hysterical, charismatic, fun people I have ever met. A superb combination.
Selected things I have done so far:
I’ve visited many schools with the team to discuss HIV/ AIDS and life skills. The character of the schools vary. Some large some small. Some primary some secondary. Some groups clearly more knowledgeable than others. The largest group I’ve encountered so far I estimated to have about 175 kids. A good challenge.
Speaking about HIV and AIDS in primary and secondary schools is enlightening. Judging by the questions we get, there are so many misconceptions. Some deal with the US and the western world. For example: “Where was AIDS manufactured? Is it true it was manufactured in Florida, America?”
The hardest thing about the schools is the language barrier. Although all the kids we work with know English for the most part, many of them, especially the younger ones, either prefer Luganda or have a really hard time understanding different accents. So a lot of the time, I need to have a translator. When the language keeps changing, sometimes it is hard to keep up with the flow of the class.
In other words, condom demonstrations for large groups of boda boda drivers on the streets of Bwaise. I was surprised to see how little these guys knew about condoms. Again, I was unfortunately more of an observer since the conversations tend to occur in Luganda. But body language and tones of voice told me that they were eager to learn.
I have met various people with various medical and personal conditions. There are many but I will illuminate two of the stories. One is a 12 year old boy named Willy who was not only born with an intestinal condition that resulted in him having a hole on his side instead of the usual place, but also has Down’s Syndrome. He is the sweetest kid you’ve ever seen. It’s frustrating discussing the best ways to help him. His issues are simultaneously medical and social. He is not in school now. According to the story I’ve been told, when he was in school, the kids made fun of him and he had to leave. We visited the hospital the other day and the doctor said that a) despite what his caretaker had thought, there is no procedure that can help him right now and b) he strongly advises schooling. But he will have to attend nursery school with 3 and 4 year olds. In my non-expert opinion, neither nursery school nor school with other normally developing 12 year olds will be ideal for him in this complicated situation. But the type of support he really needs in not available to him. When you can’t have everything, which part do you sacrifice?
Another story that touched me is that of a woman and her adorable 9 and 10 year old boys. All are HIV positive. But all were so upbeat and happy. The boys, I was told, know of their condition, but don’t necessarily yet know the seriousness of it. One moment that stuck with me was when I got a chance to look at one of the boys’ school notebooks. I had been told he was very bright. As I looked through and saw the neat handwriting and the perfect grades on homework assignments, I thought, here’s a kid that has so much potential—has everything he needs to go far in life… plus one thing that will definitely hold him back. That suddenly became a very overwhelming reality.
FINDING MY CALLING AS A RADIO PERSONALITY
Okay, this is probably not my calling, but Jo and I did get to speak on the radio recently. In a couple of weeks, Jo and I are traveling with Vision to a northern district called Kumi. Kumi is a very impoverished area—closer to what you might call the “stereotypical Africa.” Currently, there is a famine occurring there and lots of people are dying of hunger. As Vision has done in the past, we are going to travel there with donations. We used this radio show to get publicity and encourage people to give what they can. When we got there—Surprise! Jo and I are the ones presenting. So we discussed our cause and got interviewed on air. Finally, I can check appearing on radio off my life to-do list.
I have officially turned 21 in Kampala! I had a fun couple of nights celebrating. I went out with some of the AIESECers and celebrated at midnight. Appropriately, we entered to a casino where I lost exactly 21,000 schillings to blackjack (you know, the game where you count up to 21…). So appropriate. The following night, on my “actual” birthday, the guys from Vision threw me the nicest birthday party. Complete with some traditional Ugandan flair. Lots of speeches and stand-up comedy (Did I mention they are hysterical?). A big local feast, cake, dancing, presents that were presented in a procession. And the highlight of the night: the presentation of my Ugandan name, Mukisa (means “fortune”). Definitely made for a memorable birthday.
That’s all for now.
Mukisa Meghan S. (as it appears on my Vision ID card)