Monday, July 12, 2010

Kampala Bombings

Link to Article:  New York Times
     I am not sure how many people have heard about the bombings in Kampala. Yes that is right, Kampala had bombings last night. I went out with a couple of friends to watch the world cup finals at a bar called Iguana. We had almost finished watching the game (we saw Spain score the winning goal) when all of the staff had told us that we had to leave for our own safety. I was terribly confused. I thought that the owner thought there would be unrest since the Netherlands lost (the entire bar was decorated in Orange and there was not one Spanish fan in the bar). They told us that we all had to leave out the exits and that we could not watch the last few minutes of the game. It wasn't until someone had said that there was a bomb that I understood why we all had to leave. I was so confused; a bomb in Kampala? How is that possible? Kampala is not a dangerous city at all. There are parts that I wouldn't walk through by myself at night time, but that is true of Toronto as well.
     My friends and I walked home last night after we were told to leave the bar. There was not much transport left to take us anywhere because everyone was taking transport home. Luckly we only had a short walk home. At that time we were informed that the bombings were just outside of Kampala so I was not worried about the bombings. Once we got home we were googling to try to find more information about the bombings. There were rumers flying around everywhere. One source said that there were bombings only outside of the city, another said that there were bombings inside the city, another said that only a few people were killed and the next told us that more than 60 people were killed. It was difficult to decide who to trust. I went to bed not knowing what was going on.
     When I woke up I went out to grab a paper and it seems as if the Daily Monitor was no where to be seen. I trust the Daily Monitor more than New Vision because the latter is owned by the government. I could only find New Vision and grabbed a copy to see if I could get any more information than the bits and parts that I knew. New Vision did not seem to be helpful. They claimed that approximatly 13 people have been confirmed dead. A simple google search of the New York Times or the Daily Monitor after reveled that 63 people have been killed in the attacks. I never trust New Vision. It seems that no one knows who organized the attacks although there has been suspicion that it was a terrorist group from Samalia. They are still investigating however.
     The city does not seem to be very disturbed today, the day after the attacks. There are no police swarming the streets. It seems as though the bombings may have been an isolated attack and I believe that we have seen the end of them. Everyone can rest assured that I am safe and I do not feel as if I am in danger in Kampala. The bombings were a bit of a fright the night that they happened and it was an unfortunate event. My thoughts go out to those who have been injured and the family members of the deceased.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Madame Jackie Pt 2

Hello everyone, or everyone who reads this. Yes I am still alive if
you were wondering. I know that I haven’t been posting much but it
seems that life has been very hectic lately. I have just come back
from Kenya and that was an amazing trip. I saw many different animals
on the safari that we took in the Masi Mara. It was a fun trip but I
won’t go into too many details about the trip. I am happy to be back
in Kampala working again.

This past few weeks I have been teaching at Sr. Miriam Duggan Primary
School. I know that I have posted briefly about this in my last post.
Teaching has been one of the most enjoyable things that I have been
doing here. I started off teaching English lessons but I have moved on
from that. I teach from the Primary 5 – Primary 7 grades because they
can all understand my English a lot more than the lower grades. This
past week I was teaching peace. I had a lesson plan which involved
getting the students to discuss the idea of what peace is, then I
moved onto peace symbols and at the end I had them create an outline
of their hands. This lesson was not the easiest that I have ever had
to do mainly because the students at the school are not used to
participating. The students usually sit in their desks and they only
speak when they are called on to produce an answer. This means that
they are not used to entering into a discussion. Trying to get the
students to speak felt like I was pulling teeth at some times. I
started with the Primary 4 class and I was disheartened. I felt like
they did not understand what it was that I was saying or maybe they
just didn’t want to pay attention to my lesson. The next class was
much more interactive and they gave me some hope. I learned later that
the Primary 4 class could not understand my accent. So we continued
with the lessons. The upper classes, Primary 5 and Primary 6, had more
to say on the subject of peace and I was happy to see the students
participating in the lessons.

This week Andrew, one of the American volunteers, and I are going to be
teaching about different diseases: TB and Malaria. So far it seems
like the students understand malaria and we seemed to underestimate
their knowledge. I have created the TB lesson and I hope that it is a
lesson where they will be able to learn something that they didn’t
know before. One thing that I tend to struggle with here is the
students who are advanced to later classes when they should have been
held back. In the Primary 6 class there are students who are very
smart and there are students who seem to be struggling with the
material. Most of the lessons are said verbally so the students who
don’t know the answer wait until the students who do know the answer,
answer the questions. I have also seen the report cards of some of
these students and it makes me wonder how they are advanced when they
would not have been allowed to do so back at home. It is a struggle to
be able to comprehend if everyone understands our lessons when there
is such a big class too! There are 80 in the Primary 6 class. Time is
running short. Wish me luck with teaching!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Madame Jackie

     This week I was given the opportunity to teach. The idea of teaching made me both nervous and excited all at the same time. I had never really taught anyone before and my first time would be with a class of 60 students. Ahh! I was supposed to be teaching English to the children. I nervously prepared my lesson the night before (since I was given the topic right before I left work). While preparing I planned something evil, I planned to bribe the children with candy! I figured that everyone loves candy, and what would be a better motivator? So I went to the class prepared!
     African classrooms are nothing like North American classrooms, let me tell you that! First of all, the children all repeat things instead of writing them down. They do not have that many supplies so everything is said verbally. There are also an average of 60 children per class but it can go up to 80 children if the class is large. Trying to keep that many students engaged can be difficult. I started off the lesson about adjectives. I was not sure if my lesson was too difficult or not since I was given no pretext for what the children know and what they don't. This made planning for the lesson very interesting. In the end I think it went well though. I quizzed the students and the majority of them seemed to understand my lesson. The fact that they received a candy for correct answers probably helped my lesson. I am teaching that grade again on Monday. I hope that everything goes well. I will write more about teaching next week.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


On this past Thursday we had decided to head off to Rwanda! Krista and I were going to meet our two other Beyond Borders classmates, Cat and Nev, in Kigali. After a long time of traveling we finally made it to Kigali in one piece. We slept in the city for the first night in very cramped beds. We had decided to cram the four of us into a double room. Just a reminder to everyone, a double room consists of two single beds. Now just imagine how uncomfortable that is! I was very grateful though because the hostel had hot water. That was a treat that I was not expecting, hot showers. I had not realized until that moment how much I miss hot showers. I haven’t had a hot shower since I left Toronto, although in Kampala they are not sorely missed. In Kampala, by the time that I get home after riding in the extremely hot matatus (like a bus but it’s a crammed van) a cold shower is very welcoming. In Kigali however it is very chilly. I had to buy a sweater before I left, being warned about Rwanda’s cold weather, and I put that sweater to very good use throughout the trip.

After we woke up from the cramped sleep we set off for the Rainforest National Park (not it’s formal title, but I forget the real name). Along the way we planned to stop off at the genocide memorial. This memorial had preserved the bodies of all of the Tutsi who were killed at the poly technical school in the area. The Tutsi were led to believe that they would be safe from the Hutu in this area. They were then kept in the school for a week without any food or water when they became very weak. When the Hutu rebels knew that they were weak they entered the school and slaughtered all of the Tutsi .The Tutsi were too weak to fight back and they all died: men, women and children. They were then put into mass graves before the Hutu rebels continued on. The memorial had dug up the bodies and preserved them so that people can witness the effects of the genocide.

When we got to the memorial we were the only people who were there. This could be because it is out of the city center, because it was an afternoon on a Friday or because it is not as well known. Whatever the reason, we were the only people who were there and so we were the only ones given a tour. There was not as much of a tour, rather we were given a short background of what happened and then we were led around from room to room. The sights were indescribable. There was room after room after room of the people who were killed and laid out. You could still see the marks on the skeletons where the machetes hit the people. Once you entered the room the smell of death entered into your nostrils. The people were not set up in any elaborate way; they were simply laid out on wooden platforms, all next to each other. The rooms which they were put in were small dark rooms with one window to let in a tiny fraction of light. Some of the skeletons had their faces distorted in a silent scream, which they would have forever. It was possible to start imagining the looks on their faces when the Hutu rebels came into the school. The last rooms, which made the memorial so powerful, were the rooms filled with the children. There were so many children who were killed at this school in Rwanda. I could not even imagine what these children’s last thoughts would have been. The memorial was extremely powerful in showing some of the darkest sides that human possess. As we left the memorial I could not help but letting a small tear make its way out of the corner of my eye. We drove away, stunned into silence for a long period of time.

The rest of our trip in Rwanda was filled with the magnificent views of the country side. The hills are absolutely gorgeous and the landscape can literally take your breath away. There were several times when we stopped and we got out of the car and looked out at the landscape. Rwanda is one of the most beautiful places on the face of this planet. Rwanda is a country which seems to be more developed than I assumed that it would be. I do not know if we never passed a slum area, although we did a lot of driving around, but it seemed as though areas in Kampala (and Nairobi too as I heard from Cat and Nev) were worse than what I was seeing. This needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because there are still many areas where the people do not have electricity and they do not have houses which would meet North American standards. The area seemed to be developing at a great pace. The roads were all paved (with no pot holes!) and the country did not have an excessive garbage problem. Rwanda is a beautiful country which I hope to return to one day.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

When it Rains it Pours...

     And I thought that the last day was a bad day! Wait until you hear about this dousy of a day (People say things always happen in threes, so maybe I should be on the lookout for a third bad day very very soon)! So what happened this time you ask? Well I went to the city on Saturday so that I could get a few books and what not. I did not have much money left and I wanted to pull out some from the bank (the big banks will accept international debit cards here). I went to the first bank, put in my debit card and waited for the prompts to begin. You can imagine how puzzled I was when I discovered that the ATM gave me the following message, "This transaction has been stopped by the ATM." I was so confused! With a funny look I thought that maybe there was something wrong with the machine, so I put my debit card back into the machine. I received the same message. I was about to attempt to do that for a third time when the guard stopped me and told me that if I got it wrong the third time the machine would eat up my card and would not give it back. I was so happy that he told me that, or else I wouldn't even have a bank card! So off I went to four banks, all of the machines giving me the same message. Finally one of the tellers told me that I needed to go to a bank that served Master Card. I went to the correct bank.

Standing at Stanbic I thought that this would be the time that I got money. I eagerly put my card into the machine. It asked me my pin and how much I wanted to take out. Bingo! Money! Right? Wrong. The ATM told me the same message, "The ATM could not process your transaction". Ok, so I just tried all of the major banks and none of them are accepting my card. Further than that no one in the banks can tell me why my card is not working. Great. I ask the teller if I can speak with the manager. There was one small thing that I forgot when I asked that question; we are in Africa. The manager is not in and no one knows if they are still there for the rest of the day or if they are just in a meeting somewhere. So it turns out that I cannot access my account from anywhere in Uganda.

Time to call my bank and figure out what is wrong. Uh-oh. I am in Uganda, 1-800 numbers are not toll free. Great, I have all of $0.50 CAD on my phone. I borrow my friends phone to quickly call home so that they can call me. It turns out, after 6.5 hours of waiting and more calls than one person should take in a day, that they cannot call me. They try to give me good news, I can call them collect. Ummmm, I don't know how to call collect in Canada never mind Uganda. I walk up to the front counter of a hostel in Uganda and ask the people at the desk, "How do you get the international operator here?". They don't understand. They have never heard of an operator and they do not understand collect calls. Great. Now I am 11714.6 KM away from Toronto and I have like no money. And I thought my day before was bad!

Now it dawns on me, I am in Uganda and with the money I have left, and how long it is going to take to get money I am going to be living off $2-3/day. Sound strangely familiar? I am going to be living on the same income that many people I work with in the community live off of. I can tell you first hand how depressed it can make you. I still feel horrible. My friend has graciously offered to lend me some money for the things that we are doing until I can get some cash. Taking money, all the time. Always asking for things that I want from someone else. It can make me feel even more depressed! It is a reminder every time that I do not have any money. Now I know that my situation is no where near that which the people I work with in the community experience, but it was a very humbling experience. I unfortunately do not have much time left to write this post (I am borrowing money to even get online!). I would have loved to explain how this experience truly affected me but I will have to write more later.

A question to my audience:
Have you ever experienced a time (more than a day) when you have not had any money and had to constantly borrow money for everything you do from a friend? How did it make you feel? Can this tell us something about international aid? Is there another way to help these people without possibly making them feel like a charity case? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bad Day

I knew that it had to happen at some point. I knew that this ugly day had to rear its ugly head at one point. What day is that which you are referring to you ask? A bad day. That's right ladies and gentlemen, I had a bad day. This was a truly horrid day. It started off with me having to take the taxi to work. In Uganda the taxis are not what we would expect to see at home. Our taxi is their special hire. A taxi in Uganda is like a mini van and they pick up people and drop people off. They do not really have a pre-set route, and they only call out a destination. Sometimes going on one of these things can be an adventure in itself. They aren't bad once you get used to them though. So I took the taxi to work (which I will have to do from now on because I cannot get a ride to work anymore). That wasn't so bad, I figured out when to get off. There was even an lady who heard where I was going when I got onto the taxi and she told me when we arrived to the point where I wanted to get off. All-in-all it wasn't a bad morning.

The afternoon then rolled around. I can get very frustrated at work. Extremly frustrated. The first thing that frustrates me so much is that people will speak Luganda to me very quickly. They know that I have no idea what they are saying and they expect a response. When I can't give a response I then feel very stupid. This never, ever puts me in a good mood. People hardly slow down what they are saying or take the time to teach me. This in itself can make me so frustrated that I want to cry sometimes. Then after that horrible experience was over my co-woker turns to me and says "ok now we have to write reports for those home visits that we did last week." This frustration was really all my fault. I should have taken notes when we went out into the field. Instead of having my reliable notes (and neat handwriting) I had to use my co-workers notes. She told me that she is very good at remembering people and so she really didn't have any notes at all. All she had were the names of people written down (which I couldn't read anyways). My co-worker was supposed to sit down with me to type the reports. She did not end up sitting with me and she went off somewhere saying "you'll be fine writing the reports yourself". Great. I pratically didn't remember anything! So great. I had my failed attempt at trying to make these reports. Around this time it was lunch. At least I can go and have a peaceful lunch right? Wrong.

So as the lunch hour rolled around it started to pour. Living in Uganda you get used to the constant rain. And I do mean constant. I hoped that the rain would stop so that I could go make it for lunch. If I waited too long they would pack up lunch and there goes my hope of getting food. It eventually stopped pouring but it was still spitting. I was determined to get lunch because I felt really hungry. So I went off up the muddy hill in search of food. Oh did I mention that I decided for some weird reason to wear flip-flops that day? Not a great choice. Going up the hill I was splashed by a bouda and stepped into a puddle. Great, now I am covered in mud. I go up eat my food and start to head back down. I get splashed again. Amazing. I was close to tears at this point. It was as if some higher power just wanted to give me a good excuse to go home. I really did want to go home at that point. I managed to finish the rest of the day dirty and smelly (when it rains here it's really humid so I sweat like a pig). I sat in the office until the end of the day.

The silver lining to this aweful day? I had a meeting with my boss and we made a schedule for my rounds. I will be going around to all of the different departments of Kamwokya Christian Caring Community (KCCC) to see what the organization does in the community. I am excited to get out a bit more. There is also a project ahead of me that I am able to start working on. I finally feel like I'm not completly useless.

So Karma you better hear me! I had a really bad day, so you owe me a really good one soon! I will write more later.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 17

     I have been working with Kamwokya Christian Caring Community (KCCC) for two weeks now and I have been in Africa for 17 days. That doesn't sound like such a long time does it? Well it feels like I have been here for a month or two already. I'll talk about what it is exactly that I do at KCCC. When I first arrived I was placed in the offices with the social workers. For the first few days all I did was file. My first thoughts were, "they sent me to file? I could be making $13/hour filing back at home!" I was in a strange country, everyone wanted to constantly hold my hand while I walked around, and I didn't understand the language. This is a recipe for the worst culture shock. The next few days I sat in a workshop that was fully in Luganda, the language spoken by the majority of the people here. It was 6 hours of not knowing one damn word that anyone said. The week ended with more filing. I helped some children write letters to their sponsors on and off. This wasn't exactly the glamorous life that I envisioned coming here. Now comes the next week:

     Week 2 started the same way Week 1 did, filing and workshops. It wasn't until half way through the week that I started to experience more. This week I was able to meet with the director of KCCC, also named Francis. He said that he wanted to get to know me a bit better. We sat down and talked a little bit and this talk made the rest of my days, up to now, a lot easier. He described the city to me and gave me some warnings. Do not go into taxis alone if I can help it, do not get into a taxi that looks empty because they could be pretending to be a taxi and then rob me, do not get on a bouda-bouda, do not eat the fruit sold on the side of the street for sanitation reasons, etc. I have heard a great deal of these warnings from my African father Francis, but it was nice to know that my African Father is not the only one who believes this. Then he asked me what I have been doing and I told him about the workshops and the filing. He explained that the children were in the middle of a holiday when I came to Uganda and that is why I haven't really seen much of the school or done anything else. He promised to start getting me to have home visits so that I can really see what Ugandan culture and life is like and that I would start helping at the school. He even mentioned that I may be able to teach! I was really excited at that news. He said that I could do something small, maybe for an hour a day or something like that. That honestly made me very excited and nervous. I left the meeting with a smile on my face and ever since my spirits have been lifted. I know that things like filing really need to happen for the office to run smoothly and I have no problem doing office duties every once in a while, but I was excited to be able to experience more than filing.

     The next few days I went on some home visits. I was really nervous when I was told that I would be going on these home visits. They told me that if I wanted to ask any questions that I would be allowed to. I went on the home visits with Reetah, my new African sister (sorry Steph, you aren't the only one now!). Everything had to be translated because the community members only speak Luganda except for maybe a few phrases in English such as "good morning". I was honestly overwhelmed when we went on the home visits. The first house that we went to was the home of 4-5 people and it was smaller than what we put our criminals in for jail. There were two beds squashed together and laundry hanging from the ceiling. The first thing that I noticed was a combination of the smell and the heat. That itself was overwhelming. The three children came into the house and sat next to the mother on one bed and the rest of us were sitting on another bed. The house was incredibly dark and just being in there started to bring out the negative side of your emotions.As Reetah spoke to the lady about her family background she had to stop and translate for me every once in a while. They both spoke so quickly it was hard to get any questions in, although I wasn't sure of what questions to ask. I didn't want to offend anyone. We were making home visits to try to assess the family and see what type of assistance that we could offer the family to help support the family, especially the children. One question that baffled me which Reetah asked each family was, "what could you do to increase your household income?" The women usually answered that they wanted to start a small business doing things like selling sweets. Then she would ask them "how much money would you need to start that business?" The answers are what astounded me. The woman answered with a range of 10 000-50 000 shillings which is $5-25USD. I could honestly have easily given each family that money out of my own pocket right then and there.

This is something that I was struggling with.So many people come up to me and ask for money because they are hungry or they are thirsty. On each individual basis I could easily help someone out, but on a collective basis I would not be able to help anyone out because I am only a student and I cannot just give away all of my money and become poor and unable to survive myself. While I was speaking to the director, Francis, he told me that people will approach me because I am white. People assume that I have lots of money that I can give away. And it is not only the white people who are approached, he himself was approached asking for money to feed a family. He told me that you have to become comfortable saying "No, I'm sorry I cannot help you". This is really hard to do when a fellow human being is staring you in the eyes and they are so hungry but they cannot afford to eat and you have more than enough to feed them with your pocket change you bring to work. This is something that I know I am going to be struggling with the entire time that I am here. I asked Reetah if these women would be able to go and receive a micro-finance loan to be able to start their business. She told me that the women would not be able to go to micro-finance because the micro-finance banks here have become large and they now want security that the women will be able to pay back the loan. These woman are the poorest of the poor and they do not have any security. They do not even own the small shacks that they live in. It is so disheartening to see that these women are not able to access a micro-finance loan when the whole purpose that it was created was to be able to help people in these women's position. I want to look more into the micro-financing that KCCC has, because I read that they did have a branch. I feel horrible for these women who have mostly been left by their men and left with many children to take care of. I just know this is going to bother me the entire time that I am here in Uganda.