Monday, July 28, 2008

Time is moving quickly.

Hello all!

I just counted 16 posts. In five months, that's only about three per month. Not too many, so I figure I will right another one now and try to bring it up to three and a half.

I only have a week and a bit left in Uganda. Then, I'm going to head back to Kenya for ten days before leaving for Amsterdam on Aug 19. It has gone by so quickly I can hardly believe it. I'm already starting to think about home, but I know I will miss Africa terribly. There will definitely be an adjustment period.

All the friends I've made here and the things I've done with them have been incredible. There is always something different and exciting happening. Celebrations, trips, activities, and of course work. But my work is guiding trips and teaching amazing, well-behaved and eager-to-learn children, which is hardly a downer. So when I have downtime, I of course have to spend it thinking about negative stuff. While there is no doubt that I am doing something here, chipping away at the cultural and educational issues in Uganda, I can't help but wonder if there are more pressing problems that I should be thinking about. Here almost everyone has enough food, and a place to live and we can concentrate on things like teaching students creativity and self-esteem. But when I know people are dying of AIDS and starvation and living with war or as refugees, I wonder if I am doing enough.  I guess nothing will ever be quite enough.

I've had a lot of conversations lately about these things, reached a few conclusions and come up with a few conundrums. For example, should someone feel guilty spending more in a weekend (on food, a few drinks, transportation) than some people make in a month? Especially people who are your friends. I know I feel guilty, but its not my fault. And should I stop living my life because other people can't? I don't know. Similarly, when someone asks me for money (on average a couple of times a day) I say that I will pay them for something, but I don't give it out for free. When the street kids come by with baskets of bananas or mangoes, I buy them, but I don't give money. Is it fair of me to demand something from people? Just because I have the money, do I deserve it more than them? Do I have the right to decide who should have it and who shouldn't? I mean, you can say you're teaching them business values and ultimately contributing to development, but what makes me think that I can be so high and mighty as to assume I can teach lessons to people who work at least as hard as I do in worse conditions and still end up in abject poverty?

As great of an experience as I am having here, sometimes I feel guilty and I can't help it. My friend Laura said that we should just live our lives and give back as much as we can and not feel bad for what we have. But how much is as much as we can? Is it possible to live our lives and give back as much as we can, or are they mutually exclusive? I ended up in tears that night cause I couldn't get over the feeling that if I agreed with that, I would be making excuses to make myself feel better. In the end, I concluded that I didn't have to give up everything I have and live in a little hut somewhere for the rest of my life, but that it's not a bad thing to want to do more than I am. What if I decided I have done enough? I've ticked all the boxes and now I can just sit back and feel good about myself. Even though that is a feeling I really really want, the idea that there is always something more that I could do will continue to motivate me, and what could be better than that?

And now that I've barfed out everything on my mind, I would welcome any comments people have on this subject. I know most of you guys who are reading this are very socially conscious, and working hard for things you believe in. I welcome any insights.

In other news, I hiked up a mountain last weekend. Its called Muhavura, it is a 4127m dormant volcano with a cater lake at the top, and it sits on the border between Uganda and Rwanda near Kisoro Town. 
The ascent was fun, with some incredible ecosystems which changed drastically every 500m or so, similar to Kilimanjaro. we all got mild symptoms of altitude sickness - fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, headache -  every step felt like a five minute sprint. It was quite funny actually. cause we all felt a bit drunk, and had to stop every few steps to catch our breaths with heart rates of like 180 bpm (yes, we counted).
We ate lunch in Rwanda. I was trying to get everyone to speak French there, but it didn't catch on. There are enough languages here without adding French. 
On the descent, a fellow volunteer, Biggi, tried to learn the Canadian National Anthem from me. He didn't, but it led to each of us singing our national anthem to the group, which was quite fun. Among the 8 of us, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and Slovenia were represented. Quite a variety. 

On Friday, we went to a concert with a popular Ugandan band. The Mzungus all ended up dancing on the stage with the band in front of hundreds of people. Except me cause I was getting a beer when they went up. That was pretty funny. Once again I am amazed by what we can get away with just because of the colour of our skin. 

This weekend I am heading to Jinja to raft the rapids at the source of the Nile. Supposedly it is one of the most fun things you can do in Uganda and I am really looking forward to it. Next year, they are planning to build a dam there to provide some much-needed power to the country, so this will be my only chance. How can I not? 
After that I'l' be in Kampala for a couple of days and then I'm coming back to Kabale for a few last preparations before I return to Kenya. I'm sure I'll have lots of stories then, so tune in next week for another exciting entry ;).

Happy August.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Finally another post is up!

Hello all. It's been a while since my last post and I wanted to let you all know about my most eventful week. Actually I think it's been more like two weeks now. I've been trying to post this for a while, but the power and internet have had other plans.

Anyway, it all began the Thursday before last, shortly after I returned from my trip to Tanzania. As I may have mentioned, I have begun working with the Travels (cultural tourism) program at Edirisa, where I am guiding canoe treks on Lake Bunyonyi where I live. That Thursday, I went trekking with a group of teenagers from an international high school in Kampala. It was an interesting canoe trek, with a much more high school type atmosphere. Plus many of them came from rich families and were more... lets say sheltered than the other people I had met there. There were definately some interesting people though, inlcuding a half Canadian girl who had grown up in Kenya and a kid from Sudan who had not seen his family in nine years. There was about ten of them, including two teachers, and they had two guards with them, one of whom was armed and the other in plain clothes. I wish I could show you pictures because those last two men looked like they meant business. At the time, I assumed that they were there to guard the students, but it turned out that one of them was the king of a kingdom in Uganda called Batwara. He had been the prince, but recently his father was assasinated and now he is the king. The guards were for him. I didn't find this out until a few days after and I absolutely couldn't believe it. He was such a normal kid. I would never have guessed... I still can't believe it. The worst thing is that the plain clothed guy, who said he was a friend of this kid's father, asked for my number so I could come and visit them in Kampala. I assumed he was hitting on me so I didn't give it to him, but in retrospect that would have been quite a neat connection.
The Sudanese kid who hadn't been home for nine years turned out to be the son of the former President of Sudan who is now dead. I am not going to mention any names, because they are both clearly in hiding. It still feels strange thought that I spent two days with these kids, talked to them, played football with them, and I didn't even know who they were. Maybe it's better that way, though. Otherwise I might not have treated them normally.

Back at Edirisa that Friday, it rained so we didn't get a chance to go into town for our usual Friday festivities. On Saturday, however, me, fellow volunteer Hannah, two student doctors who are operating a temporary clinic at the lake, and Dennis, the first black Mzungu, paddled out to Bushara Island where I had lately discovered a gigantic rope swing. Again, you will have to see the pictures. There is a platform there and the rope is tied high in a tree so that you have to swing out over some land, the reeds and out over the water where you let go and fall into the lake. It was amazing fun.
That night, a pregnant mother turned up at our dock in a canoe with a newly born baby. She was semi conscious and bleeding profusely. The student doctors ran down from dinner and hooked her up to an IV drip, and wrapped her in blankets to protect her from the cold. The placenta had not come out and they tried to help her, but were worried about tearing an artery, in which case she would have bled to death. The called the only ambulance in Kabale to come out to the lake and pick her up. The slope from the lake up ot the road is very steep with make-shift dirt steps that make you out of breath at the best of times. In order to get her up to the road, we had to use a door that the guys had found somewhere. We all helped to carry it up the crazy slope, those who could not reach part of the door pushing the people who were carrying it. We were exhausted when we finally got up there. After some time, the ambulance, an old white van with the Red Cross symbol on the side, zoomed around the corner. In a hurry to turn around, it drove off the road and down the slope. Had it managed to stop a foot later, it would have tumbled all the way down to the lake and probably been destroyed. We all stood there frozen in shock as some of the local guys attempted to push the ambulance back up to the road. It lurched a few times and threatened to run them over. Then finally it was back up. After it turned slowly and carefully, we loaded the woman in and her friend with the baby and they left at top speed to Kabale Hospital. We gathered all the blood-soaked blankets and burned them and Caroline, one of the volunteers, bleached the door and the dock. Blood contact is not a good idea in Africa.I am happy to say that the midwife at the hospital was able to get the placenta out of the woman with little difficulty. She stayed at the hospital for a few days to recover and then went home with her baby. It was definately an intese evening.

On a happier note, on Sunday after church, we started up a Mzungus vs Muchigas football (soccer) game. The pitch at Bufuka is totally uneven, with half of it at a 45 degree upward slant, and all of it uneven with holes and patches of grass. It was really fun though. We played for hours, and of course the Muchigas ran circles around us. We managed one goal, scored by Tomaz, one of the student doctors, and even when we recruited Dennis and Comfort, both of whom are honourary mzungus, we were unable to get ahead. The game ended, with all of us stiff and exhausted, when Comfort took a ball to the face and ended up with a bloody nose. It occurs to me how lucky we are to have doctors around.

Last week around Wednesday, a group of about ten new volunteers arrived and about six left this weekend. The changeover has been fun. And sad, cause some of the people I have become friends with are now gone and chances are that I will never see them again. In honour of the week, we had an open mic night at the lake. We had some people read poetry, tell jokes and stories, sing, dance, etc. It was a very high energy and fun atmosphere and we all had a really good time. I took a bunch of footage with someone's camera and I plan to get a DVD of it to bring home. I won't try to capture it here cause there is no way it will be the same. A couple of highlights were a Kabale rap done by the volunteers from Teach Inn, the mzungus from the lake trying to do a traditional Bachiga dance, and Comfort dressing up in drag and doing a strip tease with Caroline. After that, we had a camp fire where we danced to the locals' drums and music and sat around talking for ages. I had a great talk with a new volunteer, Linette, who is from South Africa. There are a lot of interesting people who end up at Edirisa. Sometime after midnight, a bunch of people decided to go skinny dipping. I opted out cause I was just getting over an ear infection (once again someone got well thanks to the doctors) and I didn't want to push my luck. In any case, it was a late night for everyone.

On Saturday night, in honour of many people's departure, we went out to the local bar, Match and Mix, where we drank Waragi (gin made from bananas which tastes beyond aweful) and danced to popular local and American music. Then we slept on the floor of the Edirisa hostel cause there were no beds left. In the morning, I left on another canoe trek with 8 of the new volunteers and 2 Canadians who were along for the trip. We had a really fun time, although a few of us were quite tired (and possibly a little hung over). I am well versed enough with the trek now that I feel like an actual guide, which was enjoyable. I even got paid a little money for this one (40 000 shillings which is a bit less than $30. 'mrich!)
I also got to know the new folks a little better as we talked and sang in the canoes, trekked up a mountain and visited several villages and communities around the lake. Every time people leave, I think the next people are never going to be as fun as the previous people were. But they always are. I can't wait for the next couple of weeks.

I know that was a lot of info, and if you guys got through all of it, congratulations. The internet has been tempermental lately, but I will do my best to update you again soon. As always, there is more to say. I hope you are all enjoying your summers back home. I can't wait to see you all in six weeks when I get there.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Rest

I'm back. So, I had a few more things to say about Tanzania for those interested parties. The first thing was that after that amazing workshop day, Moses (Bobo, but he asked to be called Moses in front of all those Mzungus) was inspired to start up some socially conscious work of his own. Of course, he had never done anything like that conference before, and he told me after that he had talked to the people from Training for Life, and he wanted to start up a similar program for the street children in Chuda (Mombasa). I like to think that we inspired him a bit as well. As I said, it was good energy that day.

The best part, and this is a good story, is that he and his friends at Ruff Howz already have a registered organization. In Kenya, one can be arrested for being idle. In fact, a few people I knew got arrested for sitting around while I was there and Bobo and some other people had to go and bail them out. In any case, some time ago, the Ruff Howz gang decided to register themselves as an organization so that when the cops came around, they could say they were having a meeting. Then when they demanded to see the registration, they would actually have one and no one would get arrested.

So Bobo said he's going to talk to Jay, who is their chairperson, and incidentally has some counseling experience and see if they can actually use the organization for something. He asked if I would help and I said absolutely. I'll keep you all updated on how that turns out.

Anyway, that weekend we went to Dar es Salaam for a few days and visited people we knew. I met some friends of Bobo's and went to see the Minhases, some family friends from Vancouver who moved to Dar about a year ago. It was interesting to talk to them, especially the children, most of whom had spent the last year attending African schools. They have definitely struggled with it, but they are all awesome kids, and all the more mature from that experience.

I also got to meet a very big deal music producer from 41 Records in Dar, who is an uncle of a friend of Bobo's. I want to write an article about the Tanzanian music scene for the online journal here at Edirisa. Bongo music as it is known is popular all over East Africa, and it's a lot of fun. I know it from the radio and clubs and stuff in Mombasa. I left Ambrose my e-mail address and hopefully I'll hear from him sometime. I'll let you guys know what happens with that article as well.

Currently, I am back home in Uganda. It felt like too short of a time to stay in Tanzania, but I couldn't justify taking more time off. I was a few days late as it was, cause I accidentally left my passport in Moshi and had to get those guys to ship it to me. I couldn't leave until I had it back, and I ended up taking a plane back two days later for an exorbitant amount of money.
I've now started working for the Travels (cultural tourism) program at Edirisa because we have a bunch more volunteers here now who came specifically for teaching, and Travels needed help. I will keep teaching when I can, but in the meantime, I am assistant guiding on various treks and helping with organization and prep. There should be some good stories from that, but it is getting late, so those will be for another day.