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Jungle to Jungle

June 27, 2011

Currently reading: What is the What? –David Eggers

Currently listening to: Battery Kinzie – Fleet Foxes

Currently blasting next door and actually listening to: Nwa Baby Ashawo (Something about Prostitution) courtesy of Nigeria


Africa. This massive landmass is usually grouped together with sweeping generalizations. Fascinatingly, there are the massive expectations that exist from the two parties. I think both continents need to sit and have a talk about what we think of each other. From numerous accounts, many think of Africa as poverty stricken, beautiful, filled with blood and sweat covered field workers with enough tribes and clans to leave your head spinning. As you travel up the Nile into this continent’s Heart of Darkness, there exist massive jungle beasts, killers and a conflict filled past. I’ll let you know that many of these things are spot on. Like most sweeping generalizations there are always two sides. Many don’t realize that, relatively (2,470UGX =1 USD) many people here are wealthy, have house help, a heap of food, and relatively peaceful lives.

Let’s talk flip side. America. Land of the Free. Home of the Brave. Master of the SUV. Inventor of the Showtime Set It and Forget It! Rotisserie. Kicker of Butt. We live in a land of opportunity which light shines heavily over to Mamma Africa. Remarkably, this light shines a deceptively bright as the struggles for immigrants from Africa can last for generations of families. Currently, I am reading the account of Valentino Achak Deng (What is the What?), a Sudanese refugee who’s journey through the Second Sudanese Civil war and one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. The hardships of this refugee’s journey are immense during his travel through Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia. But in addition, his life in the United States proves to present different dangers, prejudices and financial hardship. In the autobiography, Deng accounts that the Dinka elders warned him that to be weary of African-Americans. The concept of race remains very interesting as I see the interplay of native Africans and African-Americans. A few of my fellow interns are having a much different experience than I, as many Ugandans don’t believe that they can be an African American. Many say, “…but where are you really from?” My friend always tells me she’s uncomfortable saying because the farthest she can trace her ancestry back is to Alabama where her distant relatives were slaves. This is just an observation, but a tad of tension may exist. Deng in his account mentions that many feel betrayed by their native countries who may have sold their families to slavery. I think of my ancestry and immigration. My great-great grandfathers and grandmothers came to America by choice to escape persecution and live the original immigrant story. Europe to America though was a much different path than Africa to America. Does this tension exist? Still, many colleagues say, “Bring me to America” or “I will see you in America” or “How come it is so hard to get to your country?” Now don’t get me wrong, I loooove America. When I come home I’m painting Red, White and Blue on me and going streaking through the quad. But, there is a great amount of false hope that exists in our land that has relative poverty, homelessness, financial hardship, discrimination and culture shock for immigrants. (See Gettysburg Heston Interns’ blogs for further accounts) For a country that could cost a lifetime of savings for Ugandan to come to, all in all they may be happier staying here. In contrast, this isn’t true for all and much of the programs here such as TASO are heavily influenced and funded by USAID and the CDC both American heavy hitters to note.

This week was pretty tough. It was a prime example of what I’d like to call going though the “development grind”. The whole week was spent preparing for a seminar on clean water and group engagement for the community in Kijjabweme. After all the pamphlets were translated, workshop planned, and transportation accounted for, it was time for the meeting on Friday. Following a two hour delay and so-so attendance, the first part of the workshop was great. The group had organized and was ready to work together. The second part was a big old fail. Earlier, one of my facilitators had assured me that the community just needed some clarification. It was clear that this was not the case. This community did not want a project to help them access clean water. Without bogging you with details, I can summarize that the project was not realized for the short term. And the financial engagement that is required for the community could not be met. Not even close. These people are struggling to gather 1000 UGX (40 cents) a month for any projects. The women didn’t want to contribute so much to benefit one a couple in the group. I understood. How can one put money into a project when she is struggling to send her kids to school? Still, these types of projects for the time and money available must be realistic. The women were convinced that I would do a piggery for them. But, how are these women going to raise pigs if they don’t have the money for feed or vets or shots? A hard decision has to be made. Who to help? Get sucked into a project you don’t really believe in and stay with the people who may be counting on you or go to a project that you know the community will appreciate, participate and benefit?

As much as I want to help this community, their engagement is not possible to make the project sustainable. I have to move. It is a lesson in “the grind”. One can never know what is best for these people but themselves. However, the decisions we make for ourselves are not always perfect or even good for both parties. In the end you have advice from local experts vs. “national experts” vs. local people vs. your organization vs. your other organization vs. family vs. government vs. the world. After taking all this advice, I suggest digesting with a Tums (a lifesaver in Uganda). Everyone’s expecting something, but you do your best find the best balance. This next week I start fresh with a new potential community after a nice trip to Lake Nabugabo. Wish me luck!


P.S. If you think Facebook stalking is bad; let me tell you about Sofia. According to Sofia, we met in Kampala where we exchanged life stories and numbers. Sofia calls my just about every other night asking how my day was, what I’m doing later and when I may be stopping by for a visit. I don’t remember meeting Sofia but she is pretty insistent on our friendship and despite my clarity of no recognition she ensures me that she will continue to call from different numbers. At least I’m popular right?

P.P.S. Ugandans are very polite but inquisitive. At one point this week a girl from Kitgum (Northern Uganda) doubted that I would ever eat Matooke. I countered in Luganda that I do eat it and have learned to love it. She then asked me if I was from Italy. Confused, I said No, I’m from America, why do you think I am from Italy. She then came closer to me and grabbed my nose. However inappropriate that might have been, I found it absolutely hilarious. I told her I’m a Jew from New York, so her first conclusion wasn’t too far off.




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