A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Education in Uganda

I attended a workshop for teacher development on teaching in English. The man leading the workshop would continually look to me after making a statement and wait for my affirmative nod that what he spoke was truth. A few times I had to correct him like when he told the teachers “mophology,” was the study of words instead of, “morphology.” I chalk that one up to the language barrier and Ugandan’s having a very difficult time saying their “r’s.” As the workshop continued on the man confused prefixes with suffixes, spelled a total of 10 words correct, misused his tenses repeatedly, and many other English mistakes. All while leading a workshop of teaching English.

Many PCV’s complain about the Ugandan education system and it really is a travesty. The ministry has good intentions and their curriculum could be effective. However, there are several factors that limit the effectiveness of the education system. One problem being the classes are too large. This seems to be a world-wide complaint but in Uganda, where many classes are 100 plus students, it is a real problem. Another problem is that teachers colleges tend to be where students go who do not make it to University because of their academics. This means the country is being educated by many teachers who do not want to teach, they just didn’t have any other option, and also by teacher’s who do not have the academic aptitude in the first place.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Manna Wange

Francie is the love of my current life. She is the sweetest bowlegged 2 year old you could meet in Uganda. Francie was named Francis at birth because her mom thought she looked like a boy with her high forehead. She is a little homely but over time I have come to find her the cutest African child. Maybe it is her enthusiastic greeting every time she sees me. Or, maybe it is the running waddle on her bowlegs to wrap her cubby little arms around me. When I walk away from Francie I hear her tell those around her, “Manna wange.” This means, “My Amanda.”

A few days ago Francie had an accident with her porridge. I think she was running with it, I haven’t gotten a clear story, but somehow she spilled boiling hot porridge on her face. It burned her skin and now she has a thick white line from her lips to her ear. It is completely rubbed raw and her once beautiful, flawless, black skin is now scraped and white and pink with blisters. When I asked if she cried some of the students told me yes, but not as much as when she was caned for spilling her porridge and crying in the first place.

There are many frustrations in Uganda. Discipline and corporal punishment is the one that breaks my heart the most.

I am constantly being asked for money or help. Everyone seems to believe white skin means big money. When someone says, “Give me money,” I have come to say, “Give me your shoes.” This usually quiets the person and I move on. Last week I was at a school signing in and when I asked the man at the gate how he was (which is part of the polite greeting) he said very poor because he needs money. I had never met this man before. We had no previous relationship. When this happens I become less friendly, express my sympathy and move away quickly. I then usually stew over being seen as money and not as another human being. At times it is very hard for me not to be upset with people when they see me as money. I just want to be accepted for who I am, not for what people think I can get them. After this particular incident, I tried to keep perspective and think if I was trying to survive and believed there was a race that had lots of money, wouldn’t I too take every interaction/opportunity with one of those people to ask for help?

I am trying to work on my patience and understanding with people and not let these comments and interactions get me worked up. Here we go . . . .

Thursday, June 18, 2009

All in a day's work

I dropped a new role of toilet paper down the latrine this morning. I never understood how it is possible for so many people to miss when they are using the latrine, leaving spoils around the hole and on the sides of the hole, and then perfectly aim their belongings down the hole. I am here to tell you, it is very easy. Toilet paper in Uganda is fairly available in many dukas (stores) though the quality is not so great. I try to buy a large stake of good toilet paper in Kampala. This was a brand new role and my last. This is my greatest disappointment of the day.
I teach a methods class at a teacher’s college in Kampala on Wednesday’s. Yesterday in the midst of my lecture on measurable objectives in lessons, four goats wandered into my open classroom. One very bold goat marched over to a student’s desk and began to eat the student’s paper. I had to just shake my head and laugh as some students grabbed the goats by their necks and dragged them out of the classroom. One of these goats was disgruntled with having been moved and stood outside the window bleating for several minutes after this incident.

After having grown up on the farm in MN, then living on the East Coast and working in the urban areas around Boson, I have experienced the juxtaposed position of socio-economic levels and grappled with the sometimes seemingly hopeless situations they provide. My time in Africa leads many of the same thoughts and struggles. Last week I went to 2 schools that met under mango trees. Both schools had a very small and dilapidated building that could not inhabit all the students so they were more comfortable meeting outside. In another school I visited I found that the majority of students did not have shoes. Many of the schools are not providing lunch for their students and if they are it is only a small cup of porridge or posho, a cooked maze blob. I found that even at the school I live at a little less than half the students do not receive lunch because their parents do not pay for it and the school doesn’t have the money to pay for all the students. A school I was at on Monday was in the midst of telling their students not to drink the water there because it was bad and they were almost out of water anyways, when I got there. They told students they needed to start bringing their own water. They know was well as I do, that students and their families do not have money to be purchasing water each day so these students will get bad water from home, if they bring any water at all, and the problem will perpetuate but the school will not have to take responsibility.

With that being said, I also visit schools that have secure locks on their gates, manicures lawns, weather-proof buildings, clean latrines, and even running water. They have clubs set up for students and provide field trips for optimal learning for their students. These schools are right next to the mango tree schools. Sometimes the need in Africa is so visible I know exactly what to do; sometimes the need is so immense I don’t know where to start; and sometimes, the need is hidden and again I don’t know what to do. So in the mean time, I visit and get to know people and let them take their sweet African time in telling me what they think they need.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Creative Writing

I have been going around to schools, NGO’s, and medical facilities introducing myself and telling them the services I can offer. At schools I make a point of telling them I am not there to teach their classes, they already have teacher’s doing that and I am not here to take anyone’s job. I am here to partner alongside them and implement programs/activities they believe will benefit their students, staff, community, etc. I then hand them a descriptive list of ideas of things I can help them with. I also emphasize that I will bring the knowledge and they must provide the resources.

The schools all seem to think I am here to teach for them and after my speal they slowly change their thinking and get excited about other projects. One school I visited last week was really enthusiastic about me working with their students who are HIV positive in a creative writing club. We mapped out a schedule and agreed on space, materials, and the number of students (15 max). Today I showed up at the appointed time and was told there would be a few extra kids. My creative writing club turned out to be the entire P6 and it was their writing class. I had 112 students.

I don’t know if this is miscommunication or another classic example of Ugandan’s saving face and telling me what I want to hear and then making me do what they want later. The Head Teacher (principal) was conveniently away when I came so now I will have to make a trip back there before next week to reevaluate and figure out what is really needed. I feel like this is going to be a pattern in my work here in Uganda. Oh, Uganda . . . may God uphold thee . . .

Martyr's Day

A word of advice: never go on a Catholic pilgrimage with a nun. June 3rd was Martyr’s Day, a public holiday in Uganda. Ugandan’s observe a day for 23 martyrs’ that were killed in the 1800’s by the king. There is a shrine in Nabagongo and people from all over the world meet there on Martyr’s Day. Traditionally, you walked and some still do from countries all over Africa. There were many Sudanese, Congolese, Zimbabwean, Kenyan, Tanzanian, Rwandan, Ugandan, and other African pilgrims. There were also a spattering of Europeans, American’s, and Australians.

I wanted to go with my nuns because it is important to them and I wanted to see what all these Catholics are flocking to once a year. I was told to be ready to go at 6 am. I received a knock at 4:30 am. Somehow, time doesn’t ever matter. It is either really late or really early; never at the appointed time. Nabagongo is close to where I live so we were there bright and early. I went with Sister Nabasumba and Sister Joan who is from Tanzania. Some of the other sisters from my convent were going later with the students from the school. At Nabagongo there is a basilica, long reflecting pool, and cabana in the middle of the pool where the mass was to take place. There were chairs set up around the pool and most were designated for officials, priests, and nuns. Everywhere else was grassy knolls where people threw mats down and sat on. The place was packed! Thankfully I was with nuns so we wiggled our way to the nun section and squeezed onto a bench.

It was incredibly crowded and even in our nun section we were packed worse than sardines. I somehow got stuck between the two biggest nuns in Uganda. I couldn’t breathe for most of the time and of course, we are on the equator so I couldn’t breathe from being squished and also from the extreme heat. I was sweating. Actually, I don’t know if I was sweating or accumulating the sweat that dripped on me from the nuns on either side of me. The mass itself lasted 3 hours and then there was an hour or more of speeches by those that think they are important (this happens at every Ugandan function). The president of Uganda, Musevini, was there and told the Ugandan’s that they need to stop talking so much and have more action. That is the way out of poverty he says.

It was a good experience to see martyr’s day and participate with my nun friends. I must admit there were moments when I had bad thoughts. They might have steamed from me being tried, hungry, squished, and hot. Oh, and did I mention that it rained in the afternoon? Poured really. I was also soaked to the bone. Here is where my advice on never going on a Catholic pilgrimage with a nun comes in. When the mass was over and it was clear it was about to pour rain I normally would have left and gone home. Since I was with the sisters we had to wait in the rain and greet every nun, priest, bishop, and lay person they have ever known. Even the ones they didn’t know we had to greet and chat with. We didn’t leave until 5 pm. I had worn a beautiful cream skirt for the occasion. It was caked in mud. I didn’t even recognize it and I was dreading having to wash it by hand.

Once we finally left we sat in traffic for a good long while and then as we were about to turn onto the last road home, the car died. It has an automatic starter that got jostled on the bad roads and would no longer engage. So what do we do? We get out and push the car through the mud for quite a distance until it decides to start. Also along this journey, the police were out actually monitoring traffic and enforcing rules. This was my first experience with rules actually being enforced. Two of the passengers in our car had to get out and walk past each police stop because our car had too many passenger’s, of course.

We finally made it home over 12 hours from the time we left to go a little over 10 miles. I even broke down and paid a student 500 shillings (25 cents) to wash the dirt out of my skirt. I must admit, it looks perfect once again. I can never wash well enough to make my clothes look perfect again. I have been so proud of doing everything myself: fetching water, washing clothes by hand, bathing in a bucket, carrying timber through town, etc. It took a lot of mud and a long day for me to hire out for the first time. Call me a martyr.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Change of Views

As time goes on I find my perspectives and tastes are changing. Last night at dinner I happily took a cob of corn to eat. In the states, I love to put butter and salt on my sweet corn. Here in Uganda, not only am I forgoing butter and salt, I am eating field corn, not ever sweet corn. And I think it is delicious! I even turned to Sister Elgon and said, “This is so sweet.” I also am liking matooke these days. Who would have thought I would enjoy mashed up over cooked plantains?

Another change for me comes in fashion and dress. I will be in Kampala and see a Westerner wearing a tight short skirt and I am appalled. I will see someone walking down the street and can see the outline of their legs through their skirt. In my mind I say, “She needs a slip.” I also see dresses hanging from shops that are 80’s long floral with shoulder pads and think they are cute. I contemplate getting one. Aaahhh! How is this happening to me?

This morning I walked out of my house wearing a dress that comes just barely above my knees and I felt like a hooker. When I am in Kampala it is no big deal but when I’m in the village I feel like everyone is looking at me. But then again, I am white, they are always looking.