Uganda, The Volunteer Life, Week 3

Uganda - The Volunteer Life - By Karen Graaff:

Uganda, The Volunteer Life, Week 3

OK, our internet’s been down for almost a week now, so you all get a double dose of updates, since I couldn’t put last week’s posting up (lucky you!)

So, weekly happenings: I saw a public caning at one of the schools I teach, got asked loads of questions about homosexuality (it’s illegal here, but more on that later on), most of the country’s had no internet for the past week due to “satellite upgrades” by one of the main service providers, someone followed me home (almost 30min walk) to ask for money, I watched a local football tournament, saw a couple of GIANT fish strapped onto a boda, and had my first real experience of feeling at home in my village.

So yes, the internet has been down since last Sunday, and apparently it’s down for a lot of people across Uganda because one of the main service providers (UTL) is doing upgrades on its satellites. As always, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s rumours, so I have no idea if that’s true or not, but it’s a bit of a bummer – means our internet’s down, along with the only internet café in the village. So gotta head into Kampala and find someplace that doesn’t use UTL! So as always, I apologise for being out of touch with everyone – really not on purpose! I also haven’t really seen any newspapers, TVs or radios recently, so I’m completely out of date on any kind of world news. Someone please send me some updates! I’m also still trying to track down the SA High Commission in Kampala so I can vote in the elections! Will be seriously bummed if I can’t!

Everyday here is a series of ups and downs. One thing that kinda shocked me – saw a public caning at one of our schools this week. I arrived, and the whole school was standing in the yard, and the headmaster was berating someone and waving a stick around. He then got 3 or 4 kids to lie face-down on the ground in front of the school, and proceeded to administer a couple of whacks to each. I couldn’t see what was happening (someone took me round one of the corners and was talking to me) but I heard a couple of thwacks followed by screams. Nice. But then, walking home through the village, I had my first experience of actually feeling like I’m at home here. I stopped to chat to some people and buy some food, and I just suddenly had this sort of “click” feeling…I don’t really know how else to describe it, but it was pretty cool.

Teaching itself is a whole series of ups and downs all in itself – today I had a 2hr class at a Muslim vocational school (which is a bit like a technikon, so most of the students are in their 20s already) – I was doing a class on gender roles and culture. The kids got really involved and were having full-on debates (pretty unusual here, because most of the kids just sit and stare at you and are too embarrassed to say a word) – one guy was saying girls shouldn’t get an education because they don’t have the logical reasoning skills to learn, and because they’re lazy (!!!). A lot of the girls got pretty worked up, which was pretty fun to see. Then we started talking about HIV and safe sex, and the first thing one of the girls said was “You don’t eat a sweet with a wrapper on, so why would you use a condom?” Once again, these are kids (some of them adults) who have had so many classes on HIV, and know all the info backwards, but don’t agree with it at all. A couple of them have also started getting the idea that having HIV isn’t so bad, because you can just take ARVs and be fine for the rest of your life. It’s a bit difficult to know how to respond – you don’t want to tell them ARVs are bad for you or toxic (I’m not the SA government, after all!) but you also don’t want them thinking ARVs mean it’s OK to get HIV; in the same way that you don’t want women thinking abortion is a multi-use birth control method.

Another tricky one that comes up pretty often is homosexuality. It’s illegal here, and people tend to look on it pretty disapprovingly. I had some kids in one of my classes (on peer pressure) ask what they should do if someone tried to “force them” into homosexuality or lesbianism (people mix up their Rs and Ls here, so I took a while working out that “resipian” actually meant “lesbian”!) Basically, I’d have to hang my head in shame if I ever told these kids that homosexuality was wrong; but I also can’t tell them to go ahead and go with it because they can be arrested and jailed for it. These are kids who already think that telling them about condoms means I’m encouraging them to have underage sex, so you have to be really careful what you do or don’t tell them to do!

I’ve also had a couple of times where people have walked up to me and outright asked for money (one guy chatted to me for a good 20mins before asking for school money; and then told me he wants to make friends with lots of white people so that they’ll give him money!) Kids ask us to buy them food; school-kids ask for school-fees, and some parents ask us to organize visas for their children (do I look like Home Affairs to you??) As always, it’s tough, because as you all may know, I haven’t exactly been earning a solid salary in a long time, so it’s not like I have much expendable cash. And I’m not here to provide school-fees to every kid who comes my way. At the same time, relative to most people in this village, I know that I have a lot of money. So it feels a bit weird to tell people I can’t give them money because I don’t have it, when they all think (or know) that I do.

So onto more fun things – we’re doing a triathlon in Entebbe on Sunday, which is pretty exciting – I get to go swimming (for the first time in 3 weeks!!) SO looking forward to it! I also had to laugh yesterday – I went running with one of the local guys, and a boda came by us with these 2 GIANT fish strapped onto the back – seriously, like deep-sea swordfish type size! It was crazy – and these guys caught the fish in the lake! I’ve seen giant fish strapped onto the roof of a taxi in Zanzibar, but strapped onto the back of a motorbike was a new one! I also went to a local football tournament today, which was pretty fun – your standard side-of-the-highway football pitch, with more dirt than grass; and two soldiers having to keep the crowd from invading the pitch through the goalposts (no net). But our local school won, so that was fun to watch

OK, gotta go – let’s all hold thumbs that I find my way into Kampala tomorrow, and to an internet place (quite an ask for someone with an absolutely useless sense of direction!) And let’s all hope that it’s not using UTL and therefore out of commission (potentially for the next MONTH!!!) As always, love to all, from a sweltering Uganda

Written and contributed by Karen Graaff via Global Volunteer Network