Molly in Africa

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.


At 9:16 AM, November 09, 2006, Anonymous Aunt Katy said...

Amazing. You wrote a post the day after the US elections and didn't make a mention! Did you know that we 'threw the bums out'? I'm wondering if you get international news in Mbale. . . The Congress - both houses - went Democratic as a result of Tuesday's elections. Rumsfield's out, too!(Altho his replacement is a carbon copy, policy-wise) I guess I'll have to mail you some articles; It is a moment we can celebrate. Then of course, it's back to work. I'm not under the illusion that the Dem party label automatically means a mindset that is willing to turn away from the US vesion of terrorizing globally. ANyway, take a moment to celebrate the US voter, who stood up this week - finally.
Take good care, thanks for the details, we soak 'em up over here!
Love to you, Aunt Katy

At 11:49 PM, November 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

THanks so much for sharing your day. One moment I am chuckling at the image of you riding side-saddle on the back of a bike, and the next moment I'm sad for how rough live is for so many children in our world, and then I am in such awe of your ability (or at least worthy attempts) to synthesize it all and give your bubbly, loving self to the children.
Love you,

At 12:11 PM, November 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


What an experience. Oh the places you're going! it seems to me that the CRO kids (at least the older ones and staff)might benefit from starting their own enterprises with the support of micro loans. That way, the money question is one that can be about what they can do rather than an uncomfortable exchange. (It can also be about someone else's money, not yours!)

we love you,

Dr. Suess


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