Blogging, when writing is hard

Writing in KampalaI have been trying to wrap my head around all the reasons its been hard to write about the many experiences and events I have observed in Uganda and Tanzania.  I have come up with just a few reasons.

When I observe something to share, I need to spend time understanding the situation, so I not only give you an adequate picture of the situation, but so I am also fair to all the players.  When I want to talk about the education system in Uganda, or how the World food program distributed food in Gulu I want to read what these agencies have said about the situation.  Talking to people on the ground here helps me to know the public opinion, and sometimes the events, though knowing the history and the context in which these agencies operate, help me to understand the nuanced nature of aid.

Some of the people in the situation read this blog.  At times I find myself questioning the motives of myself and other people here to help, learn, or whatever.  I question motives an/or actions, and sometimes both.  I want to be fair but I need to be honest too.  Living with this has been difficult. Living with the inconsistencies of what we are told and shown, versus what is experienced here is difficult.

I was speaking with another volunteer about this, especially about the face of poverty.  Before we arrived the picture of poverty was malnourished children losing their hair, stomachs distended, lying listless in the arms of their mothers.  While I have definitely learned to identify the more subtle signs of malnutrition I also see these kids running and jumping. Laughing with their friends as they play soccer with a crumple of plastic tied into a makeshift ball.  Now we can see the breadth of life, not just its darkness, but its light. This is hard to convey.

There are also so many moment’s to share.  My feelings of exhaustion have kept me company for the better part of 2 months, have nothing to do with the temperature, or being jet lagged.  Its just all my senses, smell, sight, sound, and heart are all being bombarded, as if I was trying to sleep in Times Square or in the bus depot in Kampala.  The noise, light, and people are just too numerous trying to isolate just one short circuits my brain. My brain sometimes feels like a mid 90’s computer, slowly working through whatever simple function, it will eventually reach a solution, you just can’t rush.

What I know for sure is my heart has been expanded by a whole continent and that kind of expansion is amazing and tiring.

Driving school and McDonald’s

Instant Brake Driving School

It’s not surprising how we search for the familiar in the unfamiliar, what I find funny is how intensely we search.  Yesterday I suddenly realized, as we drove along the highway, that I hadn’t seen a McDonald’s and I have been assured by my guide that there is no McDonald’s in Kampala, not even a vague copy. Now I don’t usually frequent the golden arches at home but when I realized I hadn’t seen a single arch it surprised me. Why I should be looking for something I don’t like back home has become an interesting example in learning to find my grounding in a place so starkly different to anything I have ever seen before.

A familiar site, that I find incredibly amusing considering the state of traffic here, are the numerous driving schools.  I see their cars weaving through the streets along with the hundreds of boda boda’s (motorcycle taxis) and Matatu’s (minivan buses).  When we pass them you could easily replace the student’s nervous grip on the wheel with any teenager back in the states.

For the first time on this trip I’ve noticed that the sights and sounds of other trips have started to become part of my familiar dictionary. The sounds of the muzzein call early in the morning(calling muslims to prayer), the women in hijab, and the Islamic centers remind me of my trips through the middle east and while Muslims in this country are mostly Somali’s, with a few Indians, the mosque’s look the same.  A favorite item I have picked up along my travels is the drink of choice, orange Fanta (or lemon Peligrino in Europe).  Nothing can beat the lovely sweetness as a break from the endless water bottles I have already accumulated.  English tea has also followed me through the world.  The play of children on the street and the laughter of friends after a long day of work is the same the world over.

When sights from previous trips become comforting, I think I must now be a part of that class of people who find the world too intriguing to ever stay home for long.

To read more about the adjustments that muzungu(white people) here in Uganda and Tanzania need to make, read this great post by my friends in Tanzania.  I will be visiting them at the end of my trip.


Sunrise Over Africa

Sunrise over Africa

The sun is setting on my 2nd full day in Uganda.  On the flight to Uganda I watched the sunrise somewhere over Ethiopia. The clouds turned their requisite red and orange, slowing letting the deep blues of night fade away for another 12 hours.  That moment it occurred to me, as if it was new, that no matter how far I fly the sun will always rise in the east. (Except if you travel to the poles, during which time the sun will not set at all during the summer equinox and not rise at all during the winter equinox, but these are just details.)

Its funny how much we expect things to be different when we travel.  When I arrived I knew it would be different here.  I catch myself needing to remind myself that I am in Uganda and that I am on an entirely different continent.  Perhaps this is because I never spent much time imagining what Africa would be like or that I would visit someday.  There are so many observations it feels premature to write anything of significant substance, so I am just including some brief observations.

I’ve loved watching the huge Marabou Stork (1.5 meters tall) soar above the sky of Kampala and crash through the trees.  Kampala with 1.7 million people has only 5 working stop lights. The roads are a mix of paved and dirt roads.  Most have massive potholes.  The Mzungu(white person) is a prized friend. At the open air fruit and vegetable market someone actually grabbed my hand and took some persuading to let me go.  Having a personal driver and guide seems like a luxury that I am both grateful and hesitant.  I am grateful for someone to take me safely and quickly through the city, giving me a personal view of the city they love.  Though I feel a bit like the protected child not allowed to wander.

The massive congestion ceased today, it seems everyone was in churches all over the city and at home with their families.  The Pentecostal movement now claims nearly 20% of the population and you can hear their loud speakers throughout the city.  Lots of businesses pride themselves on being called the “Grace of God” or “God is good” then add whatever service. My favorite are the butcheries called the grace of God butchery.  As a vegetarian it seems so antithetical to the grace of God.