Molly in Africa

Friday, November 24, 2006

Weekend in Kampala, Malaria and CRO work… busy week!

As many of you know, I LOVE details and have a very hard time telling (or writing) short concise stories. I am going to try really hard with this post. If you would like the detailed version, feel free to send me an email, but for now here’s the short version:

Weekend in Kampala: was WONDERFUL! I stayed with my friends Krista and Gabe in their guest house and that was nice. Friday night I had dinner with them and Katie (another SIT student) at one of their regular dinner spots in Kampala and that was really fun and just nice to relax with them.
On Saturday, Gabe and I went to the wedding of one of Esther’s friends. [Esther is the woman I’m staying with in Mbale.] The wedding was pretty similar to American weddings, so not too exciting and it was in Luganda which was a huge bummer and meant that I just did a lot of daydreaming. On Saturday evening, I met up with my friend Eric for sodas. Eric works at CRO in Mbale, but is taking a short course in Kampala these weeks and it was really fun to meet up outside of the CRO context. After that, I went to a birthday party for two of the SIT students at the house that they are renting just outside Kampala. It was really weird to be with that many white people again… all ten of them! Just imagine how hard it is going to be for me when I’m back in America! It was also hard for me sometimes because many of them are having very different experiences than I am with their practicum. Many of them are doing mostly office work and then they go out to party each weekend (or sometimes even every night)! Many of them are staying in a really nice house with toilets, hot showers and they eat mostly American food. I, on the other hand, am still living with a Ugandan which means I eat mostly Ugandan food. I don’t have a toilet- just a fancy pit latrine- and I only have cold showers. My job is also very hands on and I am constantly faced with new challenges here. Also, I have made friends with many Ugandans and I don’t spend any time with Americans. Many of the SIT kids have made a little muzungu network in Kampala and are not making Ugandan friends. I LOVE the way I am spending my practicum time and in no way am I jealous (well maybe the hot showers and toilet…) but it’s just hard to relate to them or for them to relate to me.
On Sunday, I didn’t feel good in the morning and so I had a pretty lazy morning. I met up with Eric again for lunch before leaving Kampala and then took a taxi for the four hour trip back to Mbale.

Malaria: On Monday, I didn’t feel much better than Sunday and I ended up staying home from work (other than a quick one hour visit to set some things up for Tuesday). On Monday night, I was really not feeling good- really bad stomach ache and headache and then just missing home because when you’re sick you just want to be as comfortable as possible and for me that means being 3,000 miles from where I currently am so that was frustrating. Anyway, Esther insisted that we go to the clinic because she was worried that I had Malaria. Many of my co-workers had mentioned that as well, so I figured I should go. The labs were closed, but the doctor (who is a friend of mine) clinically diagnosed me with Malaria and started me on treatment for it (which included an anti-malarial medicine, a medicine for my upset stomach and a medicine for body aches). By the next evening I was feeling a ton better- definitely not 100% but way way better. I had even gone to work on Tuesday for the full day! So I’m still on the meds, but my last dose is tonight and I’m already feeling normal again.

CRO work: Last week I mentioned that I had done a lot of boring typing and thankfully that has stopped for the time being, but I’ll probably do a little more of it next week before I leave just because I’ve almost finished all of it. Last Wednesday, I spent the day with the nurse at CRO who I really enjoy- Nurse Esther. I sat in the clinic at CRO with her for the morning and then around lunch time we paid a visit to the hospital where one of the new CRO kids was taken the night before. While the lab test results were not back yet, she probably had TB. We talked to her for a bit, then to her mother and older sister and then Nurse Esther bought some medication for her and paid the hospital some money for her care. It was really an interesting experience seeing the hospital there. At some point, I hope I can talk more about that.
Then on Thursday, I went with Teacher Nicholas and Thomas (one of the Norwegians) to visit the local schools to check on attendance of CRO sponsored students. The attendance was really good and it was again interesting to see the schools here. I think the kids enjoyed having two muzungus asking about them at school too- we may have elevated their social status! Hahah.
On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the staff has been out on staff retreat, but CRO has still been in session each day. I’ve begun my interviews of the kids for my big practicum paper and the interviews have gone really well. I’m interviewing kids of all ages and just asking about their experiences and about CRO. I hope that next week when I get back, I can interview maybe ten more kids and then some staff but for now, it will do for writing a big part of my paper.

Some thoughts about your financial support- I’ve heard rumors that some people from home are interested in supporting CRO financially and I’m really excited about that. I would actually like to suggest possibly setting up a special fund at CRO because I have found some specific areas that could use more financial support than others. Specifically, I’d like to see if there would be a way for many of us to combine our money to start some kind of scholarship fund for university students through CRO. There isn’t much money for university level studies and it’s such a shame that some of these kids who have worked so hard and really deserve the chance to go to university and have been accepted are not able to go simply because the money isn’t there. So, if you’re interested, please send me a quick email so that I can get an idea of what kind of support there is now and how much further fundraising would need to be done. Hopefully when my parents come, we could talk to CRO together and figure out more details. If you would still prefer to just give CRO a general donation, that’s fine too and I will look into how to do that best.

Finally some thoughts about some friendships that I have here:
- Thomas and Eivind (the Norwegians): I’ve really enjoyed working with them and being able to share our reactions to events that we see. We’ve definitely formed friendships beyond that as well and that’s been fun. Last week, they had me over for dinner one night and made Norwegian waffles which were delicious and this week, they came over for dinner at my house.
- Emma (short for Emmanuel): is a new friend I’ve made this past week. He is a former CRO kid, but he’s studying at the medical school at Makerere University. He’s on government sponsorship which means he did really really well in secondary school. He’s home now because of the strikes at Makerere which caused the school to close early for holiday. He’s a really intelligent guy and has a great personality too so we’ve enjoyed each other’s company this past week.
- Charles: It has become increasingly difficult to be friends with someone who is in a completely different economic bracket than I am. His hut was broken into last week and so many of his things were stolen and he really has no money at all and is just down on his luck. I went with him to the hospital on Tuesday because he had some eye pain and it turned out he had an inflamed iris. I paid for some medicine for him which I was happy to do but it’s such a weird dynamic to always have to pay for things for someone else.

Ok, this is another long post, sorry about that… but I just had a lot to say I guess. I’m in Kampala now and celebrated Thanksgiving last night with my fellow Americans. We had turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, so it was a decent substitute. In addition to the fourteen SIT students who came (two were not able to make it home from practicum), some of the SIT staff joined us and it was great to see them again and share one an American tradition with them after they’ve shared so much of their culture with us. I definitely missed the Hogan festivities that surround Thanksgiving- this is the first one I’ve had to miss. Even when my dad had eye surgery so my parents couldn’t go, I remember taking a train with David up to Delevan with my trumpet and his guitar beneath our feet. I’ll be happy to be back in America next year to be with family again.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that everyone travels safely this weekend!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

More from Mbale

The newness of CRO is wearing off which has good and bad aspects. The good is that I know a lot of the kids names, I am able to interact with them comfortably and I enjoy the time I have with them because we're finding ways to communicate with one another more easily despite language barriers. I am also much more comfortable with the staff and I enjoy both silly and serious interactions with many of them on a daily basis. The bad is that I am less stimulated in this environment now and because the staff is used to my presence, they no longer go out of their way to help me find things to do each day. This week, that means that I've just found myself in the little muzungu office (I share it with the two Norwegians) typing monthly reports at the computer. I am able to appreciate the fact that I can type so much faster than any of the staff here so I am really helping them out, but at the same time, it's hard to only have unstructured free time with the kids. I finished another report yesterday, so I am hoping that at least for the rest of this week I won't have to type any more. Unrelated to the amount of time I've spent at CRO, my closest friend on the staff, Eric, is on leave from CRO now because he has meetings to attend in Kampala. This has just been a bummer since I enjoyed his company at CRO and he always helped me find things to do, whether it was go on home visits or sit in on counseling.

Interesting events from this past week:
- Last Wednesday, I went with a social worker and one of the formal school girls (she's in S3 which is American equivalent to sophomore in high school) to the police station. When this girl was younger her stepmom used to beat her and her younger sister and that's what drove them to the streets in the first place. Once they got hooked up with CRO, CRO helped resettle them with their grandmother who is disabled. On Tuesday night, the grandmother had sent this girl and her younger sister to their dad's house to ask for some help with food since there was no food at the grandmother's home. The father wasn't there, but the stepmom was and she began to beat them. The younger sister noticed a knife in the stepmom's hand and encouraged the two girls to run home, but the older girl didn't get out fast enough. The older girl was beaten and even had a cut on her left wrist where she bled onto her clothes. Once the girl got out of there, instead of running home, she ran straight to one of the social workers' houses. She and the social worker reported to some kind of night police and then went to a local hospital to have a report filled out. On Wednesday, we were just doing a follow up visit to the police where more paperwork was filled out. The police said that they would write a letter to the local council leader in the area of the stepmom demanding the stepmom's presence on Friday and if the stepmom doesn't show up then she will be put in jail. I was not around for most of the day on Friday so I am not sure how that has resulted, but I will give a small update to let you all know when I know.
- Last Friday, I went to a graduation ceremony for a local vocational training institute. They are a sister organization to CRO and many CRO kids go there for formal vocational training. Also, the CRO choirs were going to perform- both singing and dancing. It was a really interesting event to witness- very African, despite some abnormal English formalities. The kids were great in their performances- I think the CRO choir was better than the choir from the institute which was fun. The dancing was amazing and I wish you all could see it because there is no way I can do it justice here. I took some video footage of it on my digital camera, so I can share that with you all when I return home.
- On Saturday, I went to an introduction ceremony. An introduction ceremony is, as I learned on Saturday, the event where the families of the bride and groom to be meet one another. Family is really important in Africa, and many people base their opinions on people largely on the behavior of their family. So, it is very important to have this ceremony and have it be successful so that the families will bless the wedding fully. The ceremony is hosted by the girl's family and the man's family travels in one huge caravan to wherever the girl's family lives. It's a rather lavish event and a large part of the event is that the man's family brings "some" gifts as they were called, to the woman's family. I believe these gifts are what fed the guests for the rest of the day- two large bunches of matooke, basket after basket filled with everything from fruit to sauces to potatoes, crate upon crate of sodas and there was more! Everyone in attendance wears African formal wear- either a Gomez (sp?) or a Kitangi. I wore a Kitangi which I had made last week and it was very nice- or "smart" as I was told over and over again that day. Hopefully Thanksgiving weekend when I am in Kampala, I will be able to visit the wireless internet café and put all my photos up online so that you can all see what I've been experiencing these past three weeks. I really enjoyed the introduction event. I should mention that it was very ceremonial- the guests all sat during the entire event and there was an area where all of the activities took place right in the middle that everyone watched. As I told my parents when I talked to them on Monday, I really liked the concept of the event and meaning behind it and would kind of like to have one for myself when I get married- a much less expensive version though that probably wouldn't include gifts- just a chance for my family to meet my husband-to-be's family before the wedding. It's a great way to show how important one's family is.
- On Sunday, I was sick, so I didn't leave the house all day- just a bad stomach ache and a frustrating headache, but enough to keep me from church in the morning which was a bummer. I was going to go with Esther, my new host mom, to her church which (as I've heard from the two Norwegians who went last week) is quite interesting- people fainting, getting saved, getting spirits expelled from their bodies… really entertaining.

I could probably spend a whole post on religion here in Uganda, but I'll save that for a rainy day. For now, I'm off to continue this crazy adventure here in Mbale. Thanks to all who continue to post and or email- as my mum posted, I really do enjoy hearing from all of you and knowing that you're keeping up on my life! Lots of love to you all!

Oh, just a preview of what's to come: I am going to Kampala this weekend to visit friends and to attend a wedding with Esther. I'm excited because it's a Catholic wedding and it will be really nice for me to be back in a Catholic church and because Esther has invited my two friends Gabe and Krista (who came to visit me two weekends ago) to join us!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

more about Mbale (pronounced mm-bah-lay)

Another week has gone by and it is time to update my blog again.

Life here in Mbale is treating me very well. I am loving my time at CRO, enjoying the new friends that I have made and I am fascinated by the new questions that this experience is raising for me. At CRO, I have become more situated and genuinely feel like I belong at the staff table each morning and afternoon which is cool. The other day, I was getting in line for lunch with the staff and one of the male staff members said, “visitors first” and indicated for me to join the line. Another male staff member turned to him and said, “she’s not a visitor!” then he turned to me and said, “but ladies first.” I so appreciated that distinction being made.

I am getting to know the kids more and that has been really fun for me. I am learning more names each day and the kids are more and more comfortable with me. A few days I have walked to and from CRO with some of the kids and that has been enjoyable. I especially enjoy the question “are they all yours?” when I pass a certain store with 2-4 children in tow. Now that I have a better sense of what I’m actually doing here, let me give you a run down of a regular day for me in Mbale-
6:30/7 wake up, shower (in my cold water only shower), eat breakfast (with tea)
8:00 take a bicycle boda to CRO- this means that there is a seat and cushion above the back wheel of the bike and I sit there (side saddle of course because women aren’t allowed to ride any other way) and the boda driver bikes me to work.
8:30 morning devotions with staff- this means singing and clapping, praying quietly, sharing about the bible, sharing testimonies and then a brief time for any announcements from the project manager.
10:00 tea time- no joke, everyday we have tea… and for those of you who didn’t know, I never drink tea in America, so that’s taken a lot of adjusting too, but I’m doing well… now.
10:30 walk the streets with at least one social worker to look for new street kids- we continue to find new kids each day which is just unbelievable to me! At this time, we’re also able to monitor to make sure that the kids that CRO pays school fees for are not on the streets.
11:30 either sit in on some counseling sessions or go with the kids to this huge field that is just about a six minute walk from CRO where we play football (American soccer) or netball (combination of ultimate Frisbee and basketball)
1:30 Lunch
2:00 sometimes help with music, sometimes just play games with the kids in the courtyard, sometimes go on home visits with one of the social workers… the afternoon is always a surprise!
5:00 walk halfway home with my friend Charles, then get on a bicycle boda for the second half of the trip since Charles breaks off to go to his hut at that point
5:45/6:00 arrive home for a snack and usually some reading
9:00 dinner (with tea)
9:30/10:30 go to bed

My buddy Charles and I have spent a lot of time together this week and that’s been nice because I’ve learned a lot more about him, including more about his time on the streets. I also learned that he’s 19- not 23 as he originally told me! Hahah. It’s really interesting to have friends here that are former street kids because I’m even more touched by the hard times they go through. Even now, Charles can’t find work and I can’t help him find any because the way finding work in Uganda goes is all by connections- I don’t know anyone and unfortunately, street kids don’t really know many people either because their parents (if they’re still alive) usually aren’t in social circles with people who work. I often wonder what I CAN do for these kids and I am so aware of how wealthy I am in comparison to these kids. The truth is, my money could take these kids a far way, but the essentials are actually already covered by CRO. So then I wonder what the next thing they would need is and I don’t know where to start. I also get asked for money all the time. When the kids ask, it’s easy to say that I am not going to buy them anything, but when the older boys ask or when the STAFF asks, it’s a lot harder- especially if the person doesn’t ask me directly, but asks through someone else. On Monday, one of the staff members asked (through Charles) for 320,000 shillings!!! That’s approximately equal to $150 which I can’t afford to give away. So I am really disliking the effect money has on relationships here. By no means is that the overall feeling I have at CRO, but with one staff member and one of the older boys it’s just a little uncomfortable now.

Things I’m really enjoying about my time here in Mbale:
- Playing games with the kids either in the fields or in the courtyard at CRO. The other day I was playing a game of “touch” (a really fun game that I will teach to little kids when I return to America) and it began to rain, but we just kept playing and it was so fun! There we were, all barefoot on the gravely/cement ground and the girls all in skirts (including me) running around in the rain. Then, yesterday, I went and played football with a group of about 40 boys on the field near CRO. Again, I was barefoot, in a skirt, playing football- so much fun!
- My interactions with the staff at CRO- they’re such a great bunch. I’ve really opened up in the past two weeks and they fully appreciate my energy and positive attitude. I’ve become friends with some of the staff and that’s been really nice for me. The youngest social worker, Eric, and I have spent a good amount of time together and we’ve laughed a lot which is so fun. The two teachers of the rehabilitation classes have been really welcoming to me and very helpful. One of them is older- probably 38 and the other is 27 and I’ve had really interesting conversations with each and their presence at CRO helps me to pass the time in good company. One of the two nurses at CRO, Nurse Esther (different than the Esther that I’m staying with) is so fun! She has a very playful nature and we’ve had a lot of fun interacting with each other- sometimes even just making faces at one another across the table at staff meetings in the morning.
- Being a source of affection for these kids. Some of these kids come from abusive homes and corporal punishment is alive and thriving in Uganda so even non-abusive homes according to Ugandan standards are still more physical than most American homes. Most kids do not get any positive physical attention in their lives- hugs do not appear to be very common here. This whole non-hugging thing does not work well for me and some of the kids learned that about me this week and have appreciated it greatly! I greet people with high fives, hand shakes and hugs each morning (hand shakes are the Ugandan norm) and throughout the day I give lots of hugs and sometimes even some cuddling- if I’m lucky!

Well, that’s probably enough for now- I’ll write more next week. This weekend I am going to introduction ceremony which is the official introduction of the man to the woman’s family so that they can then get married. This is a huge function (so I’m told) and I’m excited to see what it’s like. All of the CRO staff was invited so I will be with my co-workers which will hopefully be fun.