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How many people can you squish into a Sedan

June 15, 2011

My answer is at least 12 people. Welcome to Ugandan Public Transport. It’s hilarious. Today I was seated in the row of a car with four people and two children. And when I traveled on the bus to Queen Elizabeth I sat in three seats with Elana, myself, our two huge backpacks, a pregnant lady and her two kids. You really just have to laugh at it sometimes so as not to worry yourself.So a common theme of my time in Uganda is I have no idea where I might be on a daily basis. In brief I went from Thursday morning at an official organization meeting of the Lutweete Farmers Cooperative where we dug deep into organizing the construction of a water harvesting tank, along with setting up the first date for a women’s health seminar that I will conduct on the next Thursday. By afternoon time I was at a funeral for my host father’s cousin. The following morning I was on a bus to Queen Elizabeth Park, and the morning after that I was tracking Chimpanzees in a gorge jungle with two lovely ladies (Margot and another intern named Elana) with our trusty guide Benedi who had no map, no compass, no tracking system, just a mobile phone. And it was freaking awesome. Waking up too three chimpanzees banging on tree buttresses while you try to stealthily chase them is way different from one’s normal cup of coffee. The running through thick jungle bushes was completely worth it when we happened on to six chimpanzees including one baby. The trip to Queen Elizabeth Park was a much-needed break. We were lucky enough to come across a lion and her three cubs, lots of elephants and Ugandan Boks. We actually met an incredibly nice Taxi Driver named Mustafa who, after dropping us off at the hostel, rushed back twenty minutes later because there was a lion sighting and he just wanted to show them to us. Apparently seeing lions in the park is not that common. There aren’t that many of them. We were able to also take a boat ride along the Kazinga Channel where we got to see tons of hippos, more elephants, buffalo and birds.
Despite my brief touristy weekend, I am thoroughly enjoying my time at work. My organization is slightly different from the other interns because I have no office. I travel to two different farmers cooperatives two times a week, which literally means that I take a taxi to a village, wonder over to the chairperson’s house, and hope that I will find the people I am looking for. But these people are incredibly fun to spend time with. These ladies are such powerful characters. They may spend the day taking care of their farms, feeding their families and looking after children, and not to mention that many of them make these beautiful crafts as a side income. But they also make sure to make time for this group.. And with all the skills they have over me, they welcome me so enthusiastically to be a part of their community. They trust me already so much that they told me that they will call me personally all the way in the United States when they have a problem with their water tank because apparently they feel my passion, and trust that I care about them. They said they don’t want other people coming along just throwing money at their water tank projects. That’s something that I think I should take away as a lesson. If what I am doing is I suppose service work, it should not be done in a fashion where I believe that I have all the answers and that I can only help these people because they don’t have the knowledge. How can we work together cooperatively if I don’t believe I am on the same level? What is wonderful about this opportunity is that I show up in these villages and I am fully aware that I lack the dual language skills, the muscle to hack away at matooke tree limbs, and the stamina to carry water for up to 5km, while at the same time handling children. I can barely be responsible for myself. But both I and the cooperative members understand that if we work together we could really make a productive change to daily life, that will hopefully bring some better health conditions and more time in the day for the farmers.
My goal in my water harvesting tank and health seminars project is to empower women by convincing these wonderful ladies that you cannot be empowered if you are not healthy. We all need to take care of ourselves. By opening up time in the day, and providing easy access to cleaner water, women can focus more on themselves. And if the mother is happy this will have positive effects on the children as well, in theory.
The more time I spend in this country, the more I realize there is a bit of method to the madness of daily life. I have faced more fears here than I have ever before. This internship is challenging me to take responsibility for a realistic project. It is a completely different responsibility than writing a paper in a class. I really really want to provide any help I can with whatever resources I have to give to these women. I shouldn’t forget that there are male members in the group. I actually love this fact because instead of shying away from these women’s opinions, these men want to be a part of a community group that will help both their village and their own homes. This has already been shown with one of the male members donating bricks and sand to the water-harvesting tank. Taking responsibility for a water-harvesting tank and attempting to teach about taking care of your body, feels both daunting and thrilling to me. I really want to make this project successful, but not to just fulfill the requirements of this internship. What is important to me is trying to do what I can to fill a gap in some peoples everyday life.
As much as I am excited to go ahead and do this project, it is also a struggle to get it off the ground. Builders do not like to have their phones switched on apparently. My second community group, the Kkingo Kyangoma Farmers Co-Save, want to build on Friday but they aren’t prepared with any of the materials, and people don’t always show up to meetings. It can be so frustrating, but I am sure everything will work out in the end.


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