Halfway, Volunteer Life, Uganda

Uganda - The Volunteer Life - By Karen Graaff:

Halfway, Volunteer Life, Uganda

So I’m about to get to the halfway stage of being here, which is crazy in all kinds of ways!

Compared to all the excitement of our hike and trip out to Kisoro, it’s been a pretty quiet week! Schools are mostly writing exams, so our teaching load is pretty light right now and we’ve mainly been trying to set up some new programmes that’ll keep us busy for now and during the next few weeks of school hols (they last until 25 May, so it’s a whack of time that we’ve gotta keep ourselves entertained!) Apologies if this is a boring entry! ;)

I started giving classes on nutrition to mothers at a nearby health care centre which, as always, was both tough and rewarding. The Health Centre asked us to come in on the days they have immunisation sessions for the mothers and their kids, and give classes on nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, and reproductive health + family planning (potentially a bit late for that one, no?) Anyways, so it was teaching a room full of mothers with their (mostly crying) babies in tow, all having to be translated into Luganda as we go. Hard to know how much of it was taken in or just ignored but, as always, if only one or two women in the whole room learnt something about nutrition for their kids, then it’s a good start!

After that, we hung around outside for another hour or so, chatting one on one with some mothers who arrived a bit later. That felt like it had slightly more of an impact, as most of the mothers spoke English, and could also ask questions and get a bit more involved in discussion about it. They do seem think I’m some kind of nurse – all these women kept asking me questions about their babies – some of it pretty crazy medical stuff, which I found kinda funny since they’re already at a health clinic and have a whole whack of doctors and nurses sitting inside! But the mzungu must know the answer!

Another part of having lots of time on my hands is getting more chance to just watch people here and notice a whole bunch of cultural oddities for the first time! One of my funniest things here is that, for some reason, people love Westlife karaoke. I do not know why, but if you go into pubs, you’ll often have a big screen or TV with music videos playing, and there’s almost ALWAYS Westlife karaoke playing. No one’s singing, but it’s playing like normal music videos. It’s really funny to remember that, once upon a time, 5 pretty boys standing around singing as if they’re just hanging out with their friends was actually considered cool! There’s also some really funny local songs that get overkill on the radios – there’s a song about Obama (as with the rest of Africa, Uganda has pretty much decided that Obama was born and brought up in an African village) – it’s basically this cheesy song, with one or two clips of Obama in the music video. But we all love it and sing it often, which all the kids get a kick out of – “Obama *hey hey* he is a real African hero” (etc etc). There’s also the Bread and Butter song, and the dance involves acting out buttering bread while singing “bread and i-butter, bread and i-butter”. Dad, really good lyrics, hey? ;)

There are also some great sayings that people have when they speak English. Things like saying “that will be very great-ful” (ie. Full of great-ness); “I have ever met him” (as in, “I have met him”, in contrast to “I’ve never met him”); if someone hasn’t seen you for a while, they say “you were lost”; and if something is tasty or good, they say it’s “sweet” (including things like beer, meat, and lemons!) People apparently also have an interesting idea of what has alcohol in it and what doesn’t. We went for a drink with a guy yesterday, and he said he doesn’t drink alcohol, but would have wine or Smirnoff Spin. We had to point out the little alcohol % on the side of the bottle to show him that Smirnoff Spin had more alcohol in it than beer! Even funnier was when he ordered the Smirnoff, he asked the waiter if it had alcohol in, and the waiter said no! We felt a bit bad enlightening him, since he didn’t want to drink alcohol for religious reasons, and we had to point out that he’d been coming up a little bit short for quite a while! Apparently they only really think of beer and spirits as “alcohol”.

Uganda being a standard post-missionary country, they take religion pretty seriously here, so Easter was a long weekend. The funny part was, it was raining on Easter Sunday (it now being the rainy season), and Ugandans tend to refuse to do anything when it rains. So a whole whack of people just didn’t go to church cuz of the rain. All about dedication there, folks! On Friday, me and a bunch of the other volunteers went into Kampala to this amazing Ethiopian restaurant for lunch. Seriously, the food was SO good! We all dutifully stuffed ourselves stupid, and then waddled on home, taking up more than our fair share of space on the taxis ;)

On Saturday, I took my two guys for another swimming lesson. We went to one of the public pools, but found out it had been booked out by a nearby highschool for some function for the day. Not to be put off, we waited for the swim team to finish training, and then swam in amongst the roughly 300 teenagers all dressed up in the usual highschool event finery. It reminded me just how un-cool I was back at school (and now, to be honest!) They also had a beauty contest going on (Mr and Miss Interact – Mr Interact included a freestyle breakdance competition, which was pretty awesome to watch); and the usual awful array of kids singing and dancing to recorded songs. But my absolute highlight of the day was that not one person even seemed to notice me being there. I didn’t even hear the word mzungu all day; and not a single person stopped to stare or point at me. When you’re in a country where every single person has to point out how different you are everytime you walk by, that’s a pretty amazing experience – being able to be in a crowd, as opposed to being stared at by the entire crowd!

Upcoming: two of our volunteers leave tomorrow, so it’s gonna be a fair deal quieter here from now on. Also, I go into Kampala to vote for the SA elections (special votes happen a week early) which I’m pretty excited about. Even though the result’s a foregone conclusion, I’m a big believer in the importance of people voting when they can! So, as always, all those Saffers who actually will be in the country next week, get thine asses down to the polling stations!! Oh, and it turns out one of our chickens is a skank! Or, as both the Aussie and New Zealander put it, a “dirty little stop-out”. She disappeared a few days ago, and then came strutting in this morning, with a giant cockerel in tow! Go Spruce the chicken ;)

Anyways, so that’s my less-than-hectic update. As always, love getting everyone’s news, so feel free to keep me posted on everything. Super 14 updates would be most appreciated, since I have no real rugby access around here!

Written and contributed by Karen Graaff via Global Volunteer Network