All posts by Alison Prater

“I am fine. Here is proof” From June 14th

I haven’t blogged in a long time. But I have been journaling and now that I am back I feel like I can finally put them on the internet. Here it goes…

From June 14th:

Those who know me well, probably won’t believe that I am at a loss for words. And have been for a few days. So like the advertisements, signs and tattered shirts that speak for the wordless people here, I would like to try to speak through the words of others that made me think

Gaby said, “I don’t know what I am going to say when people ask, ‘how was Africa?’ There are no words.”

I replied to Gaby, “or too many.” Maybe I am speechless because I have too many words.

Carol said, “Africa has a way of lifting you up and slamming you back down.”

And truly, there are some hours that I have had in Africa that are the happiest of my life. But then there is always something that slams me back into my reality. For example, we went to play soccer with some village kids recently. The kids lived in huts, had bare feet and wore ripped shirts (if any at all). I was so happy though. For a while I felt like I was in a movie or maybe a storybook or something. I was lost in the game.  But then I noticed that the kid I was taking the picture of with the sling shot was wearing a Jonas Brothers T-shirt. It was like getting punched in the stomach. I was dizzy. Breathing was hard. I made a forced connection to the world that I live in. The are too many words.

Boy with the slingshot and Jonas Brothers shirt

Another example came from our trip to Abia. Which O’Keefe told us was, “the poorest of the poor.” I was laughing and happy on the bus after a long day of music and singing when I saw him out of the window. He was a four year old boy wearing a Packers jersey. Another connection and another punch in the stomach. There are too many words.

The boy with the Packers Jersey. Photo taken from the bus as we were leaving Abia

Even in writing this I think my words are insufficient. But I know some people who are worried about me because I have not been blogging. “I am fine.” Just learning.

“Colour Your World”

Colour your world is paint company slogan that is everywhere here. I have seen it multiple places and multiple times each day we have been here. There are tons of paint advertisements here and ironically few buildings are painted with anything but advertisements.

I would like to amend something that I said a few days ago. I think that my claim that “Uganda does not change” could be misconstrued. I would like to make a distinction between change and progress. Although I don’t have the time or brain capacity to explain it here (long day) there is a difference between change and progress that parallel’s Aristotle’s distinction between chance and luck. Progress is a form of change, but not all change is progress. Progress has the special quality: it needs to be instigated by a rational being. Change does not. Like O’Keefe said, “Kampala changes overnight.” When I woke up the second and third day and even from a nap on the bus ride to Lira, it was like I was stepping off the plan all over again. Heidi enlightened me to the fact that Uganda is about the size of Oregon. I have never been to Oregon, but I am confident in saying that there is so much more dynamic, more life and more change here than there is across most of the United States (this might just be because I am used to the U.S. today though). I think that what I really meant to focus on… was the concept of progress. And still, I am going to take the stance of Socratic ignorance on whether or not the change that is embedded in Uganda is progress. I don’t know. And I don’t have the time to observe that in two weeks.

What I do know is that I have changed. And I do think that change is progress. I feel myself smiling more, seeing more, talking more, and thinking more. Maybe it is because of what O’keefe said to me today. “The one thing the poor have that we don’t… is time.” Maybe what I needed was time. Time away and time cramped. Time apart and time together. Time to think and time to watch. Uganda and Ave Maria, thanks for the time, the change, and the colour you gave to my world in just 3 days.

I can’t wait for tomorrow.

“One Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa”

The advertisements here are shocking. I have taken enough journalism classes to know that there is something called a target audience. And it is clear that Africa’s target audience is world’s away and world’s apart from the one that I am used to. I have decided to focus on the advertisements and signs that I have seen. Sadly, I can’t take pictures of all of them, but I have written them down. One billion reasons to believe in Africa is a Coca-Cola advertisement that I have never seen anywhere but here. I find it strange and somewhat sad that people need advertisements to believe in their own continent. Or rather, that they exist. There are entire stone buildings that are painted red with white coca-cola slogans above them. I don’t know what is in the buildings, but the people that sit and stand on their door steps don’t seem to have the money or the inclination to “enjoy” a coke. There are metal coke signs similar to the ones that I collect back home hanging from buildings that can barely support themselves and in places where people wear tattered clothes and have bare feet. Who hung these signs? Who painted these buildings? How did they do such a thing? And who told them to?

So, because of my life long love of Coca-Cola and my frustration at its infiltration and exploitation of these people, I have decided to give my own list of billion reasons I love it here mixed with reasons that I can’t stop asking questions. (Except I can’t write a billion, so I will give you a handful.)

  1. I saw a gecko in my bathroom. I thought it was a sticker until Teresa pointed out that it was three-dimensional. I later saw it near my suitcase.
  2. There is trash everywhere. I learned that is what we smell burning. They have no public trash collection. Plastic bags are mashed in the dirt and garbage is piled in the alleys between houses.
  3. Women sweep the streets with little brooms made of sticks. Even in downtown Kampala
  4. The nuns in Uganda wear white. The nuns back home where black.
  5. The juxtaposition between the red dirt that seems to stick to everything, the green of the vegetation and the bright clothing against black skin is breathtaking.
  6. There was a 3-6 month old baby lying on the couch of the hotel bar/club that we went to .
  7. Ugandans clap during mass. After the homily and during the presentation of the Eucharist they clap because they are receiving a gift.
  8. I bought a necklace for 18,000 shillings. That is approximentaly 9 dollars.
  9. There are no stop signs or stop lights here. Only round-abouts.

10. People here carrying everything on their heads. Everything. Shopping bags, bowls of mangos, stacks of linen and six-foot long piles of sticks.

11. I had a banana a few days ago. I am boycotting Dole when I get home.

12. I fed a baboon from the window of the bus as we crossed the nile.

13. Despite the poverty here, no one begs. There are no homeless holding signs about their own depressing situations and no one has asked me for money despite the fact that I stand out like crazy with my white skin, blonde-ish hair and giant camera.

14. I saw a tank (like yes, a giant military tank) outside the soccer stadium in Kampala. It was labeled “Ugandan Police”

15. There is a bird here that sounds like Kevin in Up. I don’t know what it looks like but it woke me up a few days ago.

16. I played percussion today with an African named Dennis. He taught me how to play a mini-marimba.

17. I saw a chicken cross the road for the first time today.

18.  Two nights ago I walked down the stairs to the pool area to read. It was about 10:00 at night, but I figured that because the hotel was gated I would be okay. As I turned to walk down another flight of stairs I almost ran into a man in a trench coat that had an AK-47 hanging at his side. He was lurking in a doorway. I should not have been scared because we see them everywhere here. But I had never been that close to one. I kept walking down the stairs and when I sat down to read I heard a swishing noise. I looked up to see that the man had followed me and was staring at me from the stairs. Heart stopped. I said hello and he acknowledged me. He slowly turned to walk back up the stairs. I have not left the group since.

Kingdom Kampala

When I first arrived in Kampala I was enamored with Africa. Maybe it was because I was still loopy from all the benadryl that I had to take on the KLM flight that insisted on serving almonds (I am allergic), maybe it was because I was glad to step on any ground after 27 hours of flying or maybe it was because I just liked how warm it was here. But more than anything I think it was the smell of Uganda. Chase told me that it was going to smell different here. When I asked him what it would smell like he said “sweat,” which certainly isn’t far off. Uganda smell like a mix of campfire smoke, roasting meat and sweet sweat that hangs in the humidity. I love it.

After my initial fascination wore off I began to realize that I was seeing the same scene over and over. The same child standing alone by a dumpster or playing with a waterbottle. The same mother selling clothes or washing clothes of hanging clothes out to dry. The same man pushing a bundle of sticks or wood or a bag of sand on the seat of his bike. The same small house with a metal roof. The same red dirt and green palm tree. Everywhere. Uganda, despite an undeniable life, does not change.

After I caught on to this congruency I noticed a sign. It was in downtown Kampala somewhat near the Simba Casino. It said “Kingdom Kampala: a work in Progress.” I wish that I would have gotten a picture of the sign, but I didn’t have my camera out and we were in the bus. It was painted on a green sheet metal wall in large letters. To me, progress implies change, movement forward and steps in a new direction. But more than anything, progress implies that the new habits, outweigh the old. But, Uganda is both being built and falling apart. There are buildings that are under construction that eerily (as Patrick pointed out) might never be finished. (Yesterday I saw a crane with weeds growing on it). And there are buildings falling apart that eerily, might never be saved. I guess the question for Kampala is: does the construction and growth outweigh the number of things that fall apart? Does the new outweigh the old?

Runaway Bunny

When I was little my mom told me that I was always asking questions like “what if” and “how is that made” and “where does that come from.” She told me that I was so curious that I would leave her side in a big crowd just because I wanted to look at something new. Apparently as soon as I could walk I wasn’t afraid to let go of her hand, put her out of my line of sight or run into a group of strangers.

I would be arrogant or maybe naive to say that I am not nervous or even a little scared to go running into a whole new country on a whole new continent… but I think traveling is more about my nature than it is about my goals, plans or wants. When I was little my mom used to read a 1940’s book to me called Runaway Bunny. The book was originally written about solidiers leaving their mothers to go to war, but the concept remains the same. I think that leaving home and exploring new places, people and continents is something that I need to do. In the book it says that no matter where the runaway bunny goes, the momma bunny will follow it. To this day, my mom calls me “Bunny”.

“I’ll become a fish in a trout steam and I will swim away from you.”

“If you become a fish in a trout stream, I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

“I will be a bird and fly away from you.”

“If you become a bird and fly away from me, I will be a tree that you come home to.”

I think that for me, Uganda is about what I want to be and what I want to become. I know that if I don’t continue to explore and fulfill my curiousity, a part of me will disappear. And I know that when I am older, I want to look back at my life and say that I did all that I could to learn about the world around me. And that I did all that I could to use the knowledge I gain “to become the change I want to see in the world” (if I am allowed to cheesily quote Ghandi). Ideally, if I can become some type of adventurer, I will be paving a new path. And ideally if I can make a new path, someone will follow me.

Cover of the book.


Meet the Team: Alison Prater

Hi! My name is Alison. I just turned 22. I am a political science major at Creighton University with minors in Philosophy and Music. I grew up in Apple Valley, Minnesota and miss the lakes/rivers up there very much. I love adventures, superheroes, coca-cola and palm trees. I’m too curious for my own good and I sleep a lot.