Friday, July 15, 2011

The Heifer Project Continued and Month One in Kyetume

For families with less than three orphans, the project provides a goat in place of the Heifer and as with the cows; families are obligated to pass along the goat’s offspring if it’s a female and sell it if it’s a male.

Primary and secondary schools are also recipients of Heifers and goats. The goal of donating these animals to local schools is to teach the students valuable animal husbandry skills that they can teach to others in their neighborhoods and also to generate income to fund school projects.

Week One At Kyetume Community Based Health Care Programme

Week one at Kyetume revolved around identifying and contacting orphan families and schools that need/want Keyhole Gardens. Most of the orphan families selected were already involved in various projects with Kyetume while the majority of the schools on the list did not have any affiliation with KCBHCP. David and I settled on the ambitious goal of constructing 30 gardens in 2 months, 7 of which would be at primary and secondary schools and 23 with orphan families. There was a slight preference for working with schools over individual families as students are more apt to spread their knowledge of Keyhole garden construction to a wider base than would orphan families.

Before heading out to Kampala to purchase the seeds needed for the gardens, a general consensus was reached at the office suggesting that we purchase at least five different types of seeds to include Collard greens, Eggplants, Carrots, Watermelons and Onions.

My week concluded with a delivery of 6 goats to 6 orphan families. The first 5 had been bought by KCBHCP using donated funds; the last and smallest goat was the offspring of a goat that had been given to an orphan family. It was incredible to witness the amount of work that goes into delivering each individual goat to a family. The day began with David driving at least an hour away to purchase the goats; the animals were then brought to the office, added to the record and then the difficult task of delivering them to each family started. The latter task would have been difficult enough were the roads paved and in good condition, but here in rural Uganda, one is hard pressed to find a tarmac road so that the delivering of the goats necessarily involved hours of driving on dusty and bumpy roads to destinations that were so remote, the driver needed to stop and ask for directions when he got to the town where each family resided. In this manner, the delivery of 6 goats over a distance of less than 60 miles took almost 6 hours. But perhaps the greatest relief to the hunger and exhaustion all of us felt at the conclusion of each delivery was the bright eyes and wide smiles spread across each of the recipients’ faces as they received their goats.

“Farming is hard work, mahn”

As with most things one watches an expert do but has never attempted him/herself, I totally underestimated the skill and energy that goes into farming. My first time lifting a hoe was met with many jeers and laughter from the community members I was working with as I managed raising the hoe only half the height appropriate to make a deep hole and then proceeded to drop the it so close to my toes David cringed in horror. After watching the others and understanding that one raises the hoe high above their head and places a considerable amount of distance between where the hoe will fall and their feet, I was finally able to move on to the next lesson. Lesson three dealt with the spacing of each hole dug so that the hoe fell right where the previously dug hole had ended creating a row of holes.

The first keyhole gardens we built were at a beneficiary’s home and a primary school called Jesus is Alive Education Center. After explaining our purpose to the beneficiary and confirming that he had requested a Keyhole Garden be constructed outside his home, David and I went about the business of clearing the site of grass so that we could all begin digging. The clearing of the grass was a pleasant enough task save for the fact that the beneficiaries opted to watch David and I work rather than join us. David must have sensed my frustration as no sooner had I decided to join the watching party as he commented that the job didn’t need any supervisors watching over others but that we should ALL join in so that the grass could quickly get cleared. After that, everything went much more smoothly and we completed our first keyhole garden in less than 4 hours.

Building a keyhole garden at Jesus is Alive Education Center was perhaps the most fun I have had while toiling the earth. The students immediately joined us once we started clearing the land and those who didn’t have hoes used their hands to pull up the weeds. The students’ hard work was a welcome change to the lackluster motivation we had witnessed at the first beneficiary’s home. As we were digging, some of the students commented on how they would love to have keyhole gardens in their homes and that since they now knew how to build them now, they would only need bother about acquiring seeds. It was at this point that David turned to me and commented that there was a need for seeds, especially since some of the seeds we had bought could easily be harvested for four years straight as long as the beneficiaries/schools were taught how to properly care for them. The students’ statement was encouraging to me, as I had always hoped that community members and especially students would embrace the idea of keyhole gardens and spread their knowledge to others. But now I was confronted with the fact that while they embraced the idea, we didn’t have enough seeds to distribute to everyone who would have wanted to plant some.

Ghaddafi’s Little Bodyguards

Another interesting topic that came up while building the keyhole garden with students from Jesus is Alive Education Center revolved around Ghaddafi’s women bodyguards. As we were digging, I noticed that some of the girls were arguing about who among them was the highest ranking member of their make belief bodyguard team that guarded Libya's Ghaddafi. One would say that she was a lieutenant and another would immediately chime in and loudly declare that SHE was the general of the elite group of Ghaddafi’s protectors. It was during this exchange that it dawned on me that while the rest of the world viewed Ghaddafi as this raging maniac bent on maintaining his power irrespective of the number of human lives lost in the process, little girls in a remote village in Uganda viewed protecting him as the ultimate honor. For all that was said about Ghaddafi, he had done his small share in empowering girls to imagine a future different from marriage, housework and child bearing and rearing. As lieutenants and generals of Ghaddafi’s elite team of bodyguards, these girls were imagining a future where they held value and were revered for being the best at what was predominantly a man’s job. The point is not lost on me however, that this respect was achieved through service to a man.

“No one told you? You have to have a heavy breakfast before you come out here digging”

The next keyhole garden we built was at the home of a heifer recipient who was raising his deceased son’s multiple children. The man was excited that we would be helping him construct a keyhole garden as he had saved enough with the money he received from the sale of milk to buy 3 acres of land but had no seeds to plant in the land. Before our arrival, the man thought he would only be able to plant banana trees both to sell and for food but since we had brought him various seeds, he would be able to have a diversity of crops. David and I left the man’s house excited that the nutrition of the orphans under the old man’s care would be greatly improved by the keyhole garden we had just helped construct.

Building a keyhole garden at the next beneficiary’s home was perhaps the most tiresome and rewarding experience I have had so far. After starting our day later than usual and skipping lunch so as to be back at the office before dark, we arrived at the madam’s house around 2pm. We were immediately struck by how strongly the sun seemed to be shinning that afternoon and I almost had the mind to suggest we return the next day but was dissuaded by the long, dusty and bumpy ride I would have to endure (again) in order to make the trip back. I decided since I was already there, I might as well deliver on what I had been so excited to do the previous night. As luck would have it, it had rained the previous night, which for us meant that the dirt was loose and we wouldn’t need to exact a lot of force to dig. As we continued our digging and David and the beneficiary carried on their conversation so calmly that one would have thought they were sitting in cushy couches with their legs up on ottomans, the only thoughts on my mind were how much larger was this keyhole garden going to be and when were we going to eat?

Eventually we finished and the woman invited us back to her home to share in what she termed a small “snack” as that was the only way she could show her gratitude. The word snack apparently carried a different meaning for her than it did for David and I. For the “snack” the woman spoke of was a large plate (think a serving plate) of cooked bananas, beans, soup, and avocado with a side of passion juice. The food was so much that David (who has been known to hold his own when it came to chowing down food) asked for a smaller plate to divide his food into. I on the other hand could do nothing more than sit there staring at the food and complementing God on his incredible sense of humor; I wanted food, well, here it was.

“Don’t be rude when someone is showing their gratitude”

After eating, (I also divided my food into a smaller plate) we all sat around the woman’s small living room for an hour listening to her speak of the orphans in her care and how they fell ill so frequently and took long to recover because of poor nutrition. Upon hearing this, I immediately felt guilty as it dawned on me that this woman had probably offered us food that was intended to feed her large family for two weeks. On the long, dusty and bumpy road home, I asked David if it was okay that we ate the woman’s food knowing that she didn’t have a lot of it and when we (David and I) could have just driven down the road and bought food from a restaurant. David said to me that for that woman, that meal was the only way she could have thanked us and our refusal of her food would have been tantamount to riding into a remote village in an expensive car and giving out candy to kids all the while making sure not to touch their hands. Needless to say, after this conversation with David, I had no problem eating food and taking home gifted fruits from beneficiaries.

Reflecting on my experience so far

To date (July 15th, 2011), David and I have built 19 keyhole gardens 16 of which have been with individual beneficiaries and 3 at primary schools. Through out the building of these gardens, I have witnessed inconceivable poverty and living conditions so terrible they could easily drive one to madness when one imagined how many resources are available in this incredibly beautiful country. But through it all, Ugandans have been resilient and refused to allow the lack of this or that or shortage of this and that, harden their generous hearts. We have yet to construct a garden in a home where we weren’t afterwards invited for dinner or lunch or where the beneficiaries didn’t gift us with something they had. One beneficiary even offered to buy us sodas in addition to the two bags of passion fruits, mangoes and jackfruits he had already gifted us. We kindly refused the sodas although it took a bit of convincing to get the man to call back the child he had sent to buy them.

I have witnessed incredible love as families opt to live in poverty together rather than abandon relatives who fall victims to HIV and AIDS. I am still at awe at the closeness strangers in Uganda share; a human bond so tight that our driver took a mango right out of his mouth and pulled over to give it to a child who was crying after receiving a whooping from his mother. The driver was sure to remind the child to apologize to his mother and to never repeat the offense that was the cause of the whooping. Only in Uganda!

Should I need more convincing as to how much the word community (this includes animals and even plants) means to Ugandans, there is always the day I watched David help a random cow give birth. We happened to be constructing a keyhole garden around the same time and in the same area that a cow owned by the local school was struggling to give birth. Without a moment’s hesitation, David rushed to the cow’s aid after noticing that the calf was not positioned correctly for a normal birth. I will spare you the details on exactly how David assisted the cow calf but needless to say, my eyes remained shut for the majority of the delivery and I tasted my lunch more times than I would have cared to.

“You can speak Luganda…. no… you speak Luganda to me”

One of my most frustrating experiences in Uganda has been the anger that some men have directed towards me for my inability to speak Luganda. My first encounter with this was in Jinja on our way back from a weekend rafting trip. While at the taxi park, a man in his twenties began speaking to me in Luganda to which I replied in English that we were not boarding the taxis but were instead going to wait for a bus. All of a sudden, the man began hurling what I recognized as insults (due to the tone of his voice and an inkling one sometimes gets about such things) claiming that I could speak Luganda but was pretending I couldn’t because I was with white people. I was able to understand that this is what he was saying because Luganda shares more than a few words with Kiswahili and Kikuyu, both of which I am fluent in. While this man didn’t manage to get much of a rise from me, the bus driver definitely got me going when he said words to the same effect because I had failed to respond to something he had said. But perhaps the worst insults came from a driver in Kyetume who was convinced that I was pretending not to speak Luganda because I was in the company of Georgia and Kristen. The man was so upset and yelling so loudly that Georgia, Kristen and I became worried and began to quickly walk away. He refused to offer us his services on the count of my PRETENDING to not speak Luganda.

The whole experience has just been puzzling to me since only people in central Uganda speak Luganda and many in other regions of Uganda cannot speak a single word of the language. Everything in me begs to ask, “Do these people think that blacks can only come from Uganda, as if the neighboring countries are not inhabited by black people? Furthermore, don’t they know that there are black people in this same Uganda who cannot speak Luganda? And if I knew Luganda, wouldn’t it be to my benefit to speak it since I would be better placed to negotiate for cheaper prices? But I try and remind myself that there are those Africans who don’t think other Africans can be successful to the point of being able to afford to travel to other countries. And even if they were able to travel, these people imagine that successful Africans would not want to come to travel to other African countries let alone a small village like Kyetume. It is also not completely lost on me that there are those Africans who after becoming successful resent others who are not as successful and even act like they can’t speak their language so as to disassociate themselves from the poor and “backwards” and link themselves with the “advanced” by using their languages. Still none of these explanations can completely erase the sting of being labeled a “sell out”.

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