Monday, July 20, 2009

"No boyfriend? I guess that means there is no one to miss you."

Thanks again George. I like to think that there are people other than a boyfriend that would have missed me while I am here. Like my friends, or family... but I guess not.

As the summer draws to a close (one week left at the site and then one week left for exploration), I realize that I have missed many people while I've been here! But I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. Unfortunately, I feel like it has taken 4-5 weeks to get completely situated here, and now there is not enough time left for all of the things I want to do, but I'm at least glad I got to this point.

It took me about the first month here to realize that I would need to be in Uganda for a lot longer than two months to affect these people in a way I could deem meaningful. Don't get me wrong - I didn't actually think I was going to save the world in two months, but I hadn't realized the small scope of what I would actually be able to accomplish. It was at that moment that I knew I would not be able to help the people here as much as I wanted, but that didn't mean that they couldn't help me learn.

By the time I leave I will have conducted an HIV test, visited patients on ART in their homes, seen the challenges of microfinance initiatives first hand, and felt the pain of a grandmother living with 9 dependents. I can’t say that I changed anyone’s life – but I know that these people here have affected mine.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"100% Indian? But you are so pretty."

Last week was particularly hard in terms of my nausea. Not too bad, but enough for me to cash in my "mzungu sick cards" and sleep in a couple mornings. Which wasn't so bad. The time alone afforded me some much needed personal space and the walk to work was almost serene.

And being by myself on the way to work gave me the opportunity to speak up. I greeted all that passed me and was overcome by the friendliness of the people here. I will definitely miss that. I guess since I was also by myself, I worked up the courage to conversate with the police officer standing near Bukasa at the road check. Everyone tells you to be wary of the police here, so I was never quite brave enough to say anything other than "good morning" with my head down as I hurried past.

On Tuesday I stuck around a little while after the standard greeting, and after explaining that I was American, but my parents were Indian (amazing, I know), we started speaking about Uganda. I think it's really funny how some Ugandans cannot fathom what I could possibly like about this country, when I've come from America. I've been asked so many times that I now have set responses. I love the greenery, the cheap & fresh vegetables, and most of all the pace of life. I'm never really stressed like I am at home, but I still feel like I am getting a lot accomplished, in general. After he invited me to buy land here so I could stay forever, I finally worked up enough courage to ask him about what he was doing there. He said that they stopped the matatu's to make sure they were not overcrowded and the trucks to make sure they were not overloaded. I wanted to know the punishment if the vehicle did not pass, but I decided I had pressed my luck enough for one day and scampered away before he could tell me that I was overloaded.

Thursday, the police block was up again, but this time with different officers. After I assured madame police officer that she did indeed look very smart in my shades, we began to converse as well about my ethnicity. That's when she dropped the one liner "100% Indian? But you are so pretty." Ugandans' concept of what Indians are is very funny to me. Since there is only one type of Indian that lives here, and I am not that type - people have trouble believeing that I am Indian at all. Reuben the boss man once told me that the texture of my skin proved I was not Indian - my hands are smooth and apparently all the hands of Indians he knows are very rough. I'm pretty sure George fell out of his seat when he learned that I was akin to the Bollywood movies they watch here. hahaha, oh well at least all of my conversations about my ethnicity are never boring.

Since I felt that I had sufficiently broken the ice with this madame police officer, I went ahead and asked her what she would do if someone's vehicle did not pass her test. She said they fine them 60,000 ush. $30 might seem like a cheap ticket in the US, but considering a reasonable month's rent here is 40,000 ush, that might provide you with some perspective.

Reuben told me once that he never drives with his license, because if he gets pulled over then he just tells the cop that his license is at home. Wow, that would never fly in the US - but I wondered how madame police woman could write someone who had no identification a ticket. Since I didn't want to press my luck any farther that day, I decided that was a question I'd save for next time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ups and downs

Uganda so far has been a variety of things to me. It has been a place where it takes 45 minutes of staring at the bar to NOT send an email or post a blog (hence this is my first post), a place where I've possibly never been happier, a place where frustration emanates from a lot of sources, a place where friends have been made, and a place where the only order one can rely on is that there will be disorder and unpredictability in the future. Every day seems longer and yet before you'll know it, you will have a few weeks left to salvage a bit of accomplishment for the summer. We each came with our own somewhat idealist expectations of what development would look like and how it would be practiced, and I'm sure I'm not alone in having whatever I thought turned on its head.

To be more specific, NGOs are not all created equally. While at first glance, it seems like there are a million NGOs in every town because there is a lot of need for them as well as a hefty collective Ugandan conscience, perhaps part of the less rosy reality is that there is no private sector outside of Kampala to employ qualified graduates. To compound this apparent contradiction, NGOs, as well as enterprising businesspeople in general, tend to want to enter an already saturated tourism industry at a time when global tourism is down in mainstays in South Africa, let alone Uganda. Perhaps what is more disappointing is that the skills that many seem to be garnering from universities do not seem to be sufficient to compete with immigrants that settle in Uganda (Indians) or the global economy at large. Business's outside of Kampala lack basic judgment in very intriguing and unique ways. No one, whether in NGOs or upper middle class hotels, tends to do performance standards to check if their product is meeting client demands or their NGO is operating in an efficient manner. Perhaps the largest culture shock interns should be told to expect is the very anti-American way things operate here in Uganda. Fresh off of our teeming final exam university lives, it is very difficult to adjust to the lack of urgency NGOs show in achieving objectives.

I think this internship, much more than others, really allows people to be thrown into the Ugandan environment to get a look at how things actually work in another country. While other internships that run strict, pre-set American programs may further encourage the American idealistic feelings that we each showed up with, I believe this internship is superior to others offered by UNC because, in forcing us into adverse environments where there is no structure or pre-planned program, it makes us respect the huge task that confronts development. While some internships may set up a health clinic and let students get experience treating patients or give students experience teaching entrepreneurship through a project set up by previous interns, AGRADU makes each intern evaluate the resources at a typical African's disposal when confronting a problem and gives us perspective on the less savory aspects of the society.

And for the reality this internship gives me, I'm thankful to have gotten the opportunity to be here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

so soon

As the summer comes to an end I find myself getting progressively sad. I have fallen in love with 90 amazing kids and God has shown me so much about myself, about others and about the world and this amazing place known as Busia, Uganda.

Today I got a true feel for Uganda and it's problems. I teach at Howard Secondary school and although I'm teaching some of New Hope's students the majority of my class is made from other local students. Today one of the students got called out of class and it was just a mess, so I ended up asking him what was happening and he said that they were forcing him to leave because he hadn't paid any school fees for this term yet and they won't let him continue without them. He said they gave him a week to find the money or he would have to wait until next term to continue.. then he also told me that both of his parents have died and he lives alone and he works to try to pay for rent, a tiny bit of food, an an extremely expensive school fees... I couldn't believe it! I realize that all the kids in Africa have a hard time and I was prepared for the ones at New Hope because I came in expecting it but this other boy who was not a New Hope resident and who acted just like anyone else in class has this incredible task to overcome to even attend school. I wasn't sure what to do but I didn't feel okay doing nothing so I brought him to the director of New Hope and asked him to listen to the boy's story. I should have more details next week, but hopefully he will be joining the program or at least be receiving support from the program starting next week. They have to check his story and background and see if its all legitimate, so we'll see, but I'm hopeful :) On top of that however, one of the girls from my class today told me that her younger brother died last week. I never realized how strong these children here are... they are strong strong children and they never cease to amaze me.

I hate to be leaving so soon but I am certain that my stay here isn't over for good. I have never really felt so connected to a place and not been so sure of why. Some places I am connected to because they draw me in but Busia as a whole is not an attractive place, I suppose it's the community, or the people. Imagine me.. saying that I love children. No one would have seen it coming and certainly not me. I love these kids.

I just hope that I can make the most of my time left here. Keep these incredible people in your prayers because they are certainly some of the most amazing and most deserving people I have ever met.