Tag Archives: africa

“Every Meal is a Story” From Wednesday June 20th.

I got really sick this morning. I tossed and turned all night and kept waking up freezing cold, which admittedly was strange because it was about 80 some degrees and there was no air conditioning. I remember touching my forehead and feeling that my skin was hot, but there was nothing that I wanted more than a sweatshirt or even an electric blanket.  This was the one morning that I lay awake waiting for Sara’s alarm (usually she would have to convince me to get out of bed and I would end up scrambling to make it to breakfast or the bus on time). When her iphone apple ring alarm went off I whined, “Sara, I think I have a fever.” She inhaled really quickly and shot over to where our beds met in the center of the hut. After pulling up both our mosquito nets she felt my forehead and said, “yeah you’re burning up.” Luckily Sara had brought tons of individually wrapped different medications and knew to give me ibuprofen. She then threw on some clothes and went to Carol’s hut.

Carole came in about 15 minutes later with her hair wet. She told me that she was sorry she didn’t come sooner and felt my forehead too. It started to set in that I was going to miss the safari, which was early that morning. Carole explained that I really shouldn’t take my antibiotic unless I had actually gotten sick, which I hadn’t. But at this point, my body ached so badly I could barely move and I had thoroughly convinced myself that I had malaria. About two hours later, after lots of cold washcloths and water bottles, I did in fact get sick. The trick now was to keep the antibiotic down. The Safari Resort was about one hour away from any other building and about a six-hour drive from Kampala. Fever. Dehydration. Malaria. Whatever this was, I needed it to get better.

Two hours after I took the anti-biotic I woke up sweating and knew that my fever had broken. Now I just had to pick myself up and endure the six-hour bus ride to Kampala, about half of which was going to be on a dirt path that made the bus rock back and forth like the Indiana Jones ride. Sara gave me her pillow for the bus ride. It was sitting in my seat when I clambered on. I immediately thought of Teresa. She had taken my pillow home with her to Colorado and I wondered where it was now. Needless to say, I felt much better by the end of the day and was even able to eat some toasted breadstick crackers at our favorite pizza place in Kampala. Carol had spent at least half of her time in Africa taking care of students. I wish that I knew how to return the favor, because I am so glad that I was not missing the safari while sick and alone with the water buffalo and baboons.

The rest of the students and I deduced that I got sick from the drink that I had the night before. We invented a drink called a Waka Waka. It was my favorite Stoney ginger soda mixed with whiskey and ended up tasting quite a bit like a Dark and Stormy (Rum and non-alcoholic ginger beer with a lime). Because one of my favorite drinks is a Moscow Mule (Vodka and non-alcoholic ginger beer with a lime) I thought that I would try some Smirnoff with my Stoney at the bar. We came to the conclusion that the vodka must have been watered down with bad water. I had a rocks glass with a double shot and couldn’t even taste the vodka, not to mention that the drink had a strange stale flavor that seemed a bit odd. After two of the drinks I was sure that it was watered down because I wasn’t feeling anything. Sara and Gabby both tried my drink and were both not feeling well at all on the bus ride to Kampala the next afternoon. After all, why would the resort use expensive bottle water to cheapen a drink? Lesson I learned? Only drink colored liquor when in a developing country.

Stoney ginger soda. Produced by Coca-Cola. I really want to try to find this in the United States.

“Part of You. From the Start.” From Friday June 15th.

I hope that it doesn’t sound naive to say that the moment I landed in Africa, I started planning how I would move there. I have complete intentions of spending at least two (but maybe more) of my remaining years in Africa. I think I started planning this initially because of the life, the smells and the fire that I experienced in my first hour their on night bus ride from Entebbe to Kampala. In TriDelta (I am now an alumni member but was once a founding mother of the Epsilon Mu chapter at Creighton) we talk about why we joined and more importantly, why we stayed. I think that the same conversation should apply to Africa. Yes, it is important to talk about why we went there. But I think it is more important to talk about why we will go back and my reasoning certainly goes deeper than what I saw out of a bus window at 11pm.

On our second day in Abia I was really torn up about everything that had happened with Teresa and her mom. After being surrounded by death on a second degree or even third degree level for the week beforehand (knowing that 1/3 of the kids at Ave Maria had HIV, seeing emaciated stomachs and bare feet and looking at the children who wore down coats in 90 degree weather because they had malaria) it was utterly and completely jarring to actually hear it on the telephone and hold it in my lap. For some reason I felt the need to stay strong and completely repressed everything until later that night. But there was a moment in Abia, when a little boy in a green shirt held my hand that I caved a bit and let some emotions through. Patrick and I had volunteered to do some b-roll while everyone else was interviewing. We were attempting to get images of the huts that the people of Abia lived in when this little boy (about seven I would say) came up and shook my hand, but didn’t let go. With his other hand, he grabbed Patrick’s and still didn’t let go. So the three of us stood holding hands for a couple of minutes. I can’t imagine that this boy knew the emotions I was feeling, but the toothy smirk he gave me made me feel like he knew mine and I knew his. When I remembered that I needed my hand to film I took my arm and put it around his shoulder. He lifted his arm around me. A few tears escaped my stronghold and after a large breath I managed to exhale out “apwoyo,” which means “thank you.”

Photo Credit: Sara Gentzler. Apparently this boy went around holding everyone's hand. Not just mine and Patrick's. I borrowed Sara's photo because it captured his grin better than any of the one's that I took.

The next day I decided to get a tattoo when I got home. It says “apwoyo matek” which means, “thank you very much.” My hope is that the boy in the green shirt, the life, the fire and the desire I have to return because of those things will be with me until I do go back. Maybe then I will be able to say something more profound than “thank you,” but I certainly can’t think of anything more fitting.

"Apwoyo Matek" or "thank you very much"

“Moonlight Butchery” From Monday June 18th.

Africa was scary and enthralling at night. It was my favorite time to ride the bus and I secretly hoped that our day would last long enough that we would have to be out at night. One of our days in Lira, I went with Jason, Joe, Patrick and Sara to an outdoor concert downtown with Sybil, Tim, Herbert and Moses. I think that Tim was going with the hopes of getting some b-roll of some younger, modern musical performances, but the rest of us just wanted to get out and experience African night life. As we drove down the 5 minute long dirt path from the Farm View Hotel to the main road that lead into Lira, us 5 students talked about the LRA and how terrifying it must have been to have, as Patrick and Jason put it, “a boogey-man that was real.” We talked about the stark fear that must have dwelled in the children’s minds who were surrounded by nothing but a grass hut as they lay awake knowing that if someone with a gun came to take them, they would have to kill someone in their village and would be dragged out into the wilderness to kill more people. The conversation quickly transitioned to a lighter note when Jason told me to turn around and I literally jumped two feet at the sight of a man with a hand hoe about one foot from my window. But I think that the thoughts, and the concept stayed with us throughout the trip though. We compared it to the fear of the inevitable that you experience on a hayride or in a haunted house. It’s just simple fact that someone is going to jump out of the dark. The question is: when, where and in front of who?

Another more light-hearted example African darkness and its impact occurred at Murchison Falls. In the Safari Resort at the game park, the electricity always turned off at 10:00pm. There was no fence between our Resort and the game park that surrounded it, so there were warnings on our huts about the dangers of water buffalo and baboons. In short, the signs said that they did not wish to scare the guests, but rather to inform them. They continued to talk about the dangers of water buffalo (to quote our guide Herbert “they kill you because that is what they do. They smell you and charge to kill you”) and emphasized the preference to have resort staff escort you around after dark. Our last night in Murchison Falls, Chase and I were outside of Sara’s and my hut talking when all of a sudden the power shut off. Although our bedroom hut light was powered by a solar panel and would stay on for about another 45 minutes, outside was the darkest black I have ever seen other than the time I toured Crystal Caves in Southern Minnesota. We quite literally could not see our hand in front of our faces. I instantly felt bad for Chase and Jason remembering that they had a five minute walk back to their hut with nothing but a mini flashlight that allowed them to see about three feet in front of them. About ten minutes after they left our hut, Sara and I heard noises outside. I am used to hearing coyotes in Minnesota. But this was more of a low-pitched throat sound accompanied by heavy feet and grunting. The next morning the boys told me that they made it back to their place about five minutes before a pack of baboons and water buffalo strolled past their hut.

I love the phrase “moonlight butchery” because once past the layer of comedy that arises from the juxtaposition of such strange words, I think it perfectly grasps the combination of terrifying intrigue that African darkness superimposes on those that stay up past dusk. Despite fear, there is an undeniable wonder about what happens in the dark areas around the fires, in the houses that don’t overlook the road our bus travels along and in the wilderness that creeps right up to our huts.

 

This Commercial Break

Being a typical American, I’ve found myself watching a lot of T.V. Whether I be watching shows to pass the time or watching something that generally interests me, the only thing that is guaranteed is that I will be at least interrupted from my viewing pleasure by a few commercial breaks.

They are the definition of annoying.

Yet, since being back in the United States for about 2 weeks now, I can say that the overall concept of commercials is interesting to me now. Besides the fact that commercials are meant to break up a program and try to sell you something, I’ve noticed a difference in commercials here in the states compared to commercials back in Africa.

Here, commercials are lending themselves to more humorous types of ways to make you buy things, like having a baby try to sell you stocks on Etrade.

I love that baby. He’s hilarious.

However, in Africa, more modest, inspirational commercials are being played, videos that tell the people of Africa this company is working with you to make the community better, rather than just wanting you to buy their product.

Take a look of this example of a commercial played by Coke:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb6yctYKfhs

This commercial was easily played every 30 minutes. Yes. Coke has a large presence in Africa, and most certainly a larger presence than Pepsi does (does anyone even drink Pepsi anymore?), but I don’t think that is the reason why this commercial was played so much. No matter what, people are going to buy Coca-Cola, so it isn’t really an issue to play  so much advertisements for the soft drink.

I think this commercial was played so much because of the message it has. From watching this commercial, I get a sense of belonging and entitlement. It tells me that everything in your life is going to be okay as long as you just believe in your community.

We don’t have these commercials here for the most part, which is disheartening seeing that our country is so big and calls itself home to people from all over the world.

I love you, Africa.

Cheers.

 

From Sioux Falls to Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls

It’s crazy to think that a girl like me had the opportunity to travel all the way from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to see the magnificent Murchison Falls in Uganda. Even stranger is the fact that someplace across the world could remind me so much of home.

We went at the perfect time. Earlier in the day we had taken a boat cruise down the Nile toward the bottom of Murchison Falls. Now it was evening and the sun was barely as high as the mountainous terrain. The sky was starting to fill out with dark clouds – threatening a perfect African sunset.

I was terrified. Yes, terrified because of the tsetse flies (which conveniently inhabit a large portion of mid-continental Africa and carry various nasty tropical diseases) swarming our bus on our trek to the top of Murchison Falls. And if the fact that these things carry less than desirable diseases wasn’t enough to scare you, they were conveniently immune to any amount of bug spray I had been careful enough to douse myself in. But clearly Murchison Falls was worth the threat of disease.

Lucky for us, the tsetse flies weren’t too fond of the misty air surrounding the rapids. And the view — indescribably beautiful. And if the mist from the falls wasn’t enough to keep the tsetse flies away, the rain that came down shortly after our arrival at the top of the falls was sufficient. It was the perfect set-up for the perfect picture of how ironically beautiful a place can be even after not too distant parts of the country had seen years of violent war, hunger, poverty and death.

“Water is Life” from Friday June 15th

I think that it was O’Keefe that said someone should blog about time. Maybe he meant how it is the only thing that the poor have that the rich want. Maybe he meant how easily it can be warped by lack of sleep, rushing or waiting. Or maybe he meant how strangely they deal with it here. I am not sure. But what I do know is that today I was unstuck in time. Yes, like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughter House 5. I was thrown into the future and slammed backwards into the past (things that until today I had forgotten in Africa) and I drifted in and out of the present like I was dreaming.

But still, I want more time. Time to cope. Time to comprehend. And time to process. I feel selfish and greedy wanting something that is ripped away from so many people and that is the only possession of so many others. But I don’t think that I am alone when I say that I am not the only one who would trade anything for more time.

I saw a sign today that said “Water is Life.” It was right after Teresa went left for her long trip home. It was painted in white on a blue wooden shack that had water pumps outside. I had also seen this phrase on one of the boats at the mouth of the Nile River. As much as I love this sign. I think that it is wrong. Water is not life. Life is water. Life is what is flowing, slippery and beautiful. Life is powerful, potentially messy, and drops of it tend to huddle together to create something more. Something bigger and better. Life can stand still and life can rush and roar. But mostly, life is water because it can never be destroyed. Rather, it just changes form.

Today the drive to Abia was filled with thoughts of Bollywood music, footprints in the sand and friendship bracelets. There were fields of Sunflowers that were more abundant than any I had seen before. I left my vermin in a lone sunflower by the chapel in Abia.

This is my vermin in the sunflower by the chapel. I wonder if it is still there.

“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.

Ave Maria, Full of Grace.

Most days of the week, I’m not sure I really believe in God. Moments like today though, well, read on.

Today we were treated to several performances put on by the Ave Maria Vocational School here in Lire. Some were funny, most were catchy, but all were entertaining. It made me remember something I learned in the music and dance class I took in Limerick: music and dance, in almost every culture, is a method of defining a people, a way for them to be entertained amidst whatever may be going on in an individual’s life. People gather, dance, make music, laugh together. In particular, when a group of people are in conflict, this becomes absolutely necessary.

Community

To the Irish, music and dance became especially important during the numerous British subjugations where families were forced out of their homes and thrown on the streets, left to starve. Through all this turmoil, the people needed something that allowed them to come together, laugh, and forget for a little while about the troubles facing them. It gave people a sense of community and familiarity amidst a threatening surrounding.

Today we visited a school of over 350 students. I learned that a third of them are infected with HIV, most are orphans, and who knows how many were terrorized by the war and Joseph Kony.

Yet through it all, these people find a way to make music, dance, and have the happiest looks on their faces when they do. They invite us to dance with them, hold our hands and give us hugs, ask to take pictures with us, and wave at us as we leave.

As well, today I witnessed a rare moment where it was difficult for me not to believe in something greater. It started raining, and one of the priests told us that in Uganda, rain is seen as a blessing from God. It started raining as the kids were finishing their final dance, and continued as we took pictures with them and received hugs.

Now, up until now I thought I was ready for everything. I was ready to see starving people sitting on the ground, ready to see little kids carrying even smaller kids on their backs, ready to see tragic and terrible things. But I was not ready for this. I wasn’t ready for the level of kindness I was shown after the performances were finished. I wasn’t ready for a complete stranger, a kid, take my hand, and lead me around the dance floor, give me a hug after, and ask to take a picture with me. I wasn’t ready for all of the kids, as we were leaving, to give us hugs, ask to take pictures with us, and tell us we are always welcome. Why should these people do something like that? We haven’t done anything for them. We haven’t made their lives any better. Yet for some reason, they show us a kind of kindness I haven’t seen before. The kind of kindness that I was not ready to see in this country where a third of the kids we met won’t be here in a couple years, or even months.

In a moment like that, despite everything I believe to the contrary, it’s hard to believe that there could be evil in this world. It’s difficult not to believe in something as thin as “goodness.” Which, I suppose, is kind of the point. Especially in my current journey in
trying to understand what “goodness” is.

I still haven’t come to a conclusion, but here’s what I saw today: people who live in a country where for the last few days, I’ve seen overwhelming poverty. I saw these people gather together, make music, laugh and dance and sing, and invite us to join them, give us hugs and tell us we are always welcome there. I saw a people that, from my extremely thin and shallow observation of them, are a people who have every reason to be angry, bitter, and sad, take the time to show us hospitality, and say and do some of the kindest things I’ve ever seen. Today, I saw something I was not ready for, and I’m still processing it.

TL;DR: I might have seen something good today.

“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.