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A Barkcloth, A Spear and A Chair

June 5, 2011

“A barkcloth, a spear, and a chair are what a man receives when his father dies,” said my host father as he brought his favorite chair out on the porch to read his bible. It makes me think of what is important. Symbolism is beyond doubt cross-cultural. The fundamental importance of objects and practices makes me think of what is important at home. There are specific values and traditions here that emphasize a simpler type of happiness. Whether it is sharing a meal to simple chores, like feeding the livestock, which makes one, realize the importance of each day. Personally, this is a feeling that tends to get lost in the metropolitan grind of the Northeast US filled with excess consumerism and long lines of automatons in the mall looking to get the new iPhone. To be fair, these things definitely exist here, but in Kimaanya village I see a different type of living. Every day I learn something new. This region is packed with culture. From greetings, to style, to the loud vuvezelas that scream when the Uganda Cranes win a match.

Where did these two weeks go? Living here is surreal and I am officially in total immersion. There are times that I wake up and forget where I am. This is followed by the sounds of squealing pigs and the wind throwing palm trees against the roof. I look up to see myself shrouded by my mosquito net. I remind myself: this is not a dream.

Let’s run through a typical schedule. I wake up at 6. Run or do some chores. (I’ve gotten really good at hand washing some of my clothes.) Shower. Eat and drink tea. Walk thirty two minutes (exact) to work. Go to work. Take tea like 3 times because it is insisted. End around 4:30/5ish. Meet some interns to de-stress then walk home. I usually then greet my parents if they are home, read some, maybe do some research, take a shower, eat at like 9 then pass out hard.

Last weekend was spent relaxing and helping out around the house, and exploring Masaka some more. Sadly, all my host brothers and sisters have left for Kampala after the weekend so this week has been a bit quieter. We decided as a group to go to Masaka’s only nightclub that everyone always talks about: Ambiance. I think I impressed some of the Ugandans considering many probably didn’t think this Westerner could get down. The club was full of pretty creepy drunk dudes that really loved many of the interns. I attained the role of communal boyfriend for the night. I really am ‘pimping all over the world’ as the ever talented Ludacris would say.

Some of the conversations I have had at work are just too great. This week a man called me the son of Obama. At the pharmacy someone asked how much dowry I would pay for her. And the list goes on. My first week at TASO was filled with a mixture of getting to know the people in the organization, trying to find my place and surveying what TASO works with. To my own frustration there was a good amount of downtime. Let me note, I’ve never been a person that is okay with downtime. I get anxious, nervous and feel so unproductive. I tell myself, drop the mentality you need to adjust. Throughout the week things got easier. I would ask to help out, ask lots of questions and just get to know my coworkers. Three days this week my insistence to help led to long pharmacy shifts taking inventory (aka counting pill by pill). I admit, not fun. But, I feel that some sacrifice is necessary to get in to any organization. 

On Tuesday, I got to leave TASO and go with the organization to set up their Outreach clinic. Every Tuesday and Thursday, TASO packs up all their services to go to four different trading posts about one hour away on a bumpy road to provide for those who cannot reach Masaka. In addition, they also do home visits. At the outreach, I helped with some paperwork and got to see a group counsel session with mothers living with HIV/AIDS. The counselor first briefed many of the women on PMTCT, nutrition, safety and some other topics that are relevant to those living with HIV/AIDS. During the meeting the women were very timid, but definitely responsive. The problem for many of the women was that they were surrounded by others and the clinic did not have an adequate space for private counseling sessions. In addition to counseling, the clinic provided CD4 counts and prescriptions for those eligible for ART as well as other treatments. The rest of the day, I tried to use my best Luganda to talk to kids. In response I got shy smiles and responses so quiet I needed a stethoscope to hear. Maybe the big mzungu is a little too intimidating for now…

In these villages there are so many problems to be addressed. The major topics are common around Sub-Saharan Africa; poverty, proper nutrition, sanitation, transportation, stigma, and access to treatment are all common themes. From observing this week I know that I want to work in one of these rural villages to somehow increase the people attending these outreaches and to reduce the strong stigmas that still exist with HIV/AIDS. I noticed at the clinics that mostly women were attending and men were absent for a variety of reasons. When talking to some employees and even a few community members they mentioned that jobs, a strong sense of pride and not wanting their other families to know about their condition is preventing many men from getting tested and treatment. I am not sure yet, but my biggest concern so far is developing my project. Over the weeks, I have seen so many amazing projects already established by Gettysburg students and other FSD interns. Alternatively, there are also many projects that failed to be sustainable. I can only hope that I can create a successful project in the next few weeks. It is the lingering worry that is always on my mind. At TASO this first week I was able to speak to many employees and personally see gaps. Still, I have yet to have a proper connection to a specific community as my consultant. Sustainable development at the core is the connection and seed that is planted in the community, rather than the vast problems the Mzungu sees. Hopefully in the next weeks I will have the opportunity to make that connection. The employees at TASO are very welcoming and I can already feel the family connection. I have around three different names that range from Mikaeli, Mugumya and Agabba. Since many of the employees are from Western Uganda they call be Agabba, which translated means “God Gives”. 

On a side note, the more I talk about culture and politics with local people, I can see more and more that the people here are really not happy with the federal government. The power goes out ever single night. And while people are dying in hospital beds while their family surrounding them on the floor, the new MPs (district reps) are receiving new Mercedes SUVs. Musevini’s current appointed prime minister was a criminal in the US and was exiled for monetary extortion. The parliament rejected his position. How can a country have a prime minister that is not respected by the UN or World Bank (especially for a country that receives so much AID for these institutions)? In addition, there was the creation of 38 new districts in Uganda. The president seems to be diluting the government so that the parliament becomes redundant. Moro, a counselor I work with, was telling me that in the beginning President Musevini did great things for Uganda. Now, it is his time to leave and bring in fresh blood. Instead, he is heading down the path of many Sub-Saharan African leaders. Alright, I am done with my little rant. Congratulations if you made this far! That is all for now. I added some more pictures!! Enjoy!

Fun facts: Ugandans are very open about joining the party. Example, a few of my new found friends decided we were going to go to the pool at a hotel this weekend. My boss overheard and decided he wanted to come. For the sake of the girls just wanting to relax and not worry about a 30 year old delving into all their personal lives I rescheduled for a lunch today. My workmate decided to bail and now I am having a date with my boss. Project progress or another awkward life moment to add to the long list? You decide.

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