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.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Greetings from Kampala!

Hi everyone!
I made it to Kampala safe and sound after the craziest flight path that I have ever taken! I left Toronto at 11:00 on the 5th and flew to London for 8 hours, had an 8 hour layover, flew to Nairobi for 8 hours and had a 1.5 hour layover and then I flew to Entebbe for an hour, then after that I was driven for an hour to my new home. I arrived home at 10:30am on the 7th. It is safe to say that I was very tired after that. Krista had some fun exploring London and a few of the sights (I will have to upload pictures later sadly because I do not have a camera here with me). Then once we landed in Kampala I found my ride home easily but Krista didn't have a ride home at all! No one was there to pick her up from the airport! That was a scary moment. My Ugandan father told her that he would drive her home and he got her there safe and sound.

Once I got home I was introduce to a little five year old boy who is now my "brother". He is very cute but he asks me what everything is! He also likes to follow me around and wants to play all of the time. I do not know how that little boy has so much energy! For most of the weekend I just slept. The jet lag hit me so hard that I could not stay awake long at my home. So sleep it was! The weekend passed pretty uneventfully.The house that I live at is very nice. There are three children, Francis, his wife and two house helps and of course there is also myself. So it is a very full house. The children are all nice but they are still in their "omg there is a white person in the house" phase. They have recently starting talking to me a bit more but at first I was more gawked at rather than talked to. My Ugandan father is very, very protective. My family will be happy to note that I feel like I am 16 again. I have to ask if I am able to go out. I know that it's all because of safety that I have to ask if some things are ok but it has been an adjustment to get used to asking again! He is very caring and very concerned. I really am treated like a part of the family! Everyone there is so kind. I feel like I am living the high life in my home because the house helps do everything there! They even clean my sneakers off for me in the morning, make food, do the dishes, do my laundry. Ummmm, aren't I in a developing country? I can defiantly say that I am living a lot better off than many of the people who live here.

Once I got to work it really hit me, Jacquelyn you are not in Canada anymore. When I go to work in Kamwokya (I live in Ntinda) that is when I see the poverty that many Ugandans live with. I work in one of the worst slums in Kampala. I have been assigned to the social workers office to help there. The one difficulty with working in Kampala is that many of the people, although they can speak English, speak Lugandan. The only way that the children open up to the social workers is in their native tongue. This is not limited to the people who come into the office but the social workers themselves mostly speak in Lugandan. This makes it very difficult to assess what is going on and what my office really deals with. I hope to start learning Lugandan soon.

Mostly at work what I do is help the children write letters to their sponsors in the developed world. I hope to start branching off and being able to do more. My boss, Maggie, told me that I will be able to start helping with support groups soon. Mostly I've just been observing what is going on in the office and what the social workers do. I have made one home visit and have walked around Kamwokya a little bit. From what I have seen it is so very different from the life I lead. The families have ten people in one small house which is usually made of cement and a tin roof. There are not beds, just mats laid out for people to sleep on the floor. A lot of the times children will be running around without any clothes on or just a t-shirt. It has been a real shock to be living among all of this when I go home and I have my tea prepared for me after I take a shower and change my clothes. I am excited to continue working at my office and I hope that I can comment a little more about my work a little later on.

I don't know how much more I'm going to write (although this is a long enough post as it is!). I am very, very, very tired and I can't really think too straight. I will write more (and more coherently) when I post next time! Until then,

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Summer Address

Hello everyone!
I am leaving today for my grand adventure down to Uganda. I am currently running around like a chicken who just had it's head cut off! So there will be no thought provoking or long post today, just simply an address. If anyone wants to send me letters:

Jacquelyn Bellissimo
P.O.Box 60
Ntinda, Kampala