Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Yesterday I was just starting on my way home from a day at the office when I saw my new acquaintance, Angela, at her shop a few stores down from The Source (the cafĂ© our office is connected to/in back of). I had spotted her on my walk to the office earlier that day, but she was busy helping a customer so I didn’t say hi. I did however, notice her protruding belly. I had no idea she was pregnant! I was racking my brain trying to figure out how I could have missed that fact all the times I had passed by throughout the previous months. So naturally, when I stopped to chat for a bit later in the day I brought it up saying, “I didn’t know you were pregnant!” and immediately wished I hadn’t when the response I received started with, “I’m not.” OH. NO. PLEASE tell me that didn’t just happen!! I did not just insult this woman, did I? Please say no, please say no, please say no – I think to myself as I’m internally executing a GIANT forehead slap while inserting my foot in my mouth.

It isn’t until after Angela finishes her reply that I wish with all my heart I could have just insulted her, or better yet, not have said anything at all. What could possibly be bad enough to make me wish I had insulted someone I don’t know very well?? Learning that Angela was indeed pregnant earlier this month, having given birth on the 10th, and then finding out that her child was dead when it came out, that’s what. Apparently she was way late in delivering, going 10 months! About two weeks before giving birth she went to the hospital for abdominal pains and was sent away, having just been given pain pills. I couldn’t believe my ears! I felt terrible about unintentionally bringing up such a devastating topic, especially because this was Angela’s first child. What a horrible first experience! Unfortunately Angela’s situation and situations similar are quite common in Uganda. This is a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around, coming from a mindset and culture that never expects children to die before reaching adulthood.

After steering away from that topic as fast as possible and offering my heartfelt condolences I found out some interesting things about Angela as well as how tough life here can really be. I would like to share that with you now, so for the rest of this post, welcome to Angela’s World.

Angela is the oldest of 6 children and just 1 of over 20. What does this mean exactly? Her dad has 4 wives. Between the four of them they have over 20 offspring. I asked Angela if she knew all of them. She said she did but some I guess were (for whatever reason) sort of shunned from their particular family so she’s only met those siblings at events such as burials – you know the really uplifting things (that’s total sarcasm right there, in case you were concerned). If hearing of four wives wasn’t enough to increase the size of my eyes, then 20+ children would certainly do the job. I can’t even imagine that situation. Would it be weird meeting these other siblings that were not the fruit of your own mother? Maybe it would be like meeting cousins, you’re related but it’s not like you’re expected to be best friends or anything . . .

I also asked her if she had a good Christmas, somehow forgetting about the previously discussed tragedy, and despite that unfortunate event she told me she had a very nice, relaxing holiday. Probably because Christmas and Boxing Day were the first days off Angela has had since the last nationally celebrated holiday. That’s right, the first days off; meaning she works 7 days a week, 11-12 hours a day for sometimes months on end. I can’t even imagine doing that. I don’t know if I would physically be able to endure that exhaustion. But somehow Angela manages to, and has for almost 4 years. Being able to do that alone makes you pretty incredible in my book, but being able to work day after day for months straight while you’re pregnant makes you look darn near superhuman. If you ask me, Angela is amazing. Period.

The rest of our visit was filled with stories of the funny or strange things she has seen while sitting at her shop all day (such as a big group of muzungus running away down the street as fast as they could to escape tear gas dispensed to break up an election riot. Man, how I wish I could have seen that…) as well as an update/rundown of the election and political situation currently in existence. She told me there are going to be more elections in Feb. so if I’m lucky I might get to see a riot! My words, not hers - and while I know I shouldn’t WANT to see a riot, I just can’t help it, so I guess we’ll see what happens in a few short months.

I asked her if she gets bored sitting in her shop all day sometimes waiting quite a long time for customers and she replied with a resounding affirmative. Then, before I left she told me that I made her day because if I hadn’t stopped by and talked for a few hours she would have been so bored just sitting there quiet. I’m glad that I was able to make her day better, even if it was just by talking for a bit. I’m definitely going to be making that a habit now, if I can help it. I told her I’d try to stop by more if I get bored – I hope she doesn’t get sick of me!

Topic Mishmash

Wow, it’s been quite a while since my last post, whoops. Because of that I’ll give a rundown of what’s been going on as of late.

1. The first and most exciting thing that has happened is Annet had her baby on December 10th!!! A little girl named, wait for it . . . Lori! Coincidence? No, not at all. Now, that family has a baby Tara and a baby Lori, and, according to Annet’s sister Viola, I’m next! Haha we’ll see how that one plays out.

2. The beginning sewing class lessons I’ve been working on are almost finished!!! I’m now in the editing process and trying to finish by the end of the month so things are ready to start training Nalongo Sarah as the teacher in January. AND if our timeline works out as we’ve planned, fingers crossed, we’ll get to start up a small class before I leave so I’ll at least get to see a few lessons actually take form! I’m very excited about that prospect and hope it all works out.

3. Tara, Lori, and I have recently discovered that we have what could be considered a Fount of Mercy soap opera plot on our hands. Needless to say the evolution and discussion of the topic makes for a very entertaining time.

4. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a minority over here. Usually, when I think about the term ‘minority’ I think about a group of people that, obviously, are different than the majority of the population they’re in and because of it are treated differently. I think subconsciously I’ve always associated discrimination with minorities because that’s the situation I’ve grown up hearing about. My brief time here however has shown me that being a Muzungu (white person), particularly a Muzungu woman, in Uganda, or at least Jinja, doesn’t hold quite the same results or situations as it would a different minority. Rather than being shunned or terrorized, we face a different type of discrimination – being singled out as a form of favoritism as opposed to prejudice. Or at least that has been my personal experience.

For example, a few weeks ago Lori and I went to the baptism of Viola’s youngest son deep in the village of Iganga. We were the only Muzungus there and they had us sit in the very front, help cut the cake, etc even though we had no relation whatsoever to the family. And apparently that sort of thing happens to Muzungus quite frequently.

5. My first Christmas in Uganda was great! In the morning I went with Lori to her church and enjoyed a short play as well as a song/dance performance of various Christmas carols with an African spin. After a nice leisurely walk home in the relatively hot sun we began to cook as well as entertain two little Indian kids I’d never met before. A few hours later Tara and her family returned from visiting family in the nearby village of Luanda and we opened gifts together. Once we were finished we stuffed our faces with the delicious food we made and then enjoyed a little after-dinner entertainment playing the home-made version of Twister I made for Timmy and Edith. Now THAT was entertaining! But the most remarkable thing about our holiday was the fact that the power didn’t go out once!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christmas Craft Fair – aka- first project Sarah’s worked on so far with a tangible result

Background Information- For the past few months I’ve been slowly working on helping one of the tailors we work with, Nalongo Sarah, get prepared to sell some of her goods at a Christmas craft fair and flea market in Kampala. The idea was that this market would be a great place for Sarah to make some additional sales and bring in more money, especially as it was being held at the ARA, American Recreation Association. Nothing screams wealthy muzungus quite as much as a name like that.

In the 10 or so weeks leading up to the craft fair I worked on brainstorming/developing product ideas that would be likely to sell well to the white crowd, eventually settling on stockings shaped like the continent of Africa with different Christmas themes. I then made samples, showed Sarah my ideas, and taught her how to make them. Sarah was a rock star when it came to getting together enough items to sell- managing to make a couple of stockings, various children’s clothes, and a few fabric baby books, all the while busy with other priorities and her own shop in the nearby village of Wairaka! Seriously, Sarah is amazing. In addition to Sarah’s items, our table housed a few bags to be sold for some of her friends as well as a significant amount of beautiful seed jewelry made by one of her sons, Andrew, and his friend.

The last couple of weeks before the fair we set prices, registered for our table, and created price tags with a short bio about Sarah. Everything was coming together and we were all excited to see the pieces getting closer and closer to the final product- a beautifully stocked table at the ARA Christmas Craft Fair and Flea Market.

The Big Day- The day of the fair Lori and I woke up dark and early – 4 a.m. – so we could catch the bus/taxi to Kampala in order to set up our goods like the ARA told us, between 7 and 8am. The trip up had its highs and lows. On one hand, we got picked up right outside our gate – talk about a major score! On the other hand I got to spend the majority of our journey squished between two men with a dress stand positioned between my legs and a few bags balancing on my lap. Now this wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if the dress stand wasn’t so gosh darn awkward (I had to pull it towards me the whole time so it wouldn’t hit the guy in front of me in the back of the head) and it didn’t look like a huge wooden cross to the untrained eye. Ok, so that last bit isn’t really a problem, I just didn’t like it. It made me feel like everyone who saw me carrying it would think I was some extreme stereotypical missionary trying to convert everyone I came across with my big cross. And, coincidentally, my hair was in a bun . . . haha.

We got to the ARA, set up our table, and waited – for the fair to start and the rest of the vendors to finish setting up so we could take a look at what else was around. It quickly became apparent that we had the least amount of merchandise by far, well, with the exception of a table selling all-natural soap. It was also even more apparent that a better description of this market would have been ‘a yard sale with a few craft items thrown in.’ There were A LOT of tables that looked like the sellers had just cleaned out their basements and were trying to get rid of their unwanted stuff. And I kid you not; ALL of the stuff at the junk table next to us was broken. Seriously every sale I overheard the woman trying to make went a little something like this: “. . . oh that’s a blender, but the motor’s broken . . . that’s a speaker for an iPod, but it’s missing some pieces . . . [an exercise ball, blow up water toys, and inflatable punching bag things] that has a small hole/puncture but you might be able to fix it . . .” I was floored- everything you are selling is BROKEN?! Are you kidding me?! But even more shocking was the fact that people were buying it. That junk was going like hot cakes and they cleaned up in 2 hours!! I still can’t get over how ridiculous it was. We, on the other hand, ended up selling a modest amount. I was hoping to do a little bit better, but given the fact that the crowd attending was of the yard sale focus as opposed to crafts/Christmas gifts, we did pretty well.

I have to say the highlight of the day, aside from cracking jokes about selling broken/used stuff next year with Lori and a little girl dancing to Christmas music, was the guest appearance by Santa Claus. Or should I say a very creepy Santa Claus. At first I thought he was scary because a mildly terrifying looking man had been chosen to wear the symbolic red outfit. Luckily that wasn’t the case. No, Santa was scary because Santa was actually a person dressed up in a monkey costume dressed up in a Santa Claus outfit!!! WHHAAATT?! I guess it was a way of raising money/awareness for a nearby zoo, I think. Anywho, if Monkey Santa wasn’t strange enough things got even more bizarre when they brought out a giant boa constrictor to the grassy area in the middle of the fair. It was here that the red suited marsupial and another guy proceeded to handle the snake while people came up to take/have their pictures taken with it.

Talk about a very interesting and . . . eh-hmm, unique experience. It was definitely something I won’t soon forget. This has undoubtedly made my ‘Say Awkward: Uganda Edition” list of highlights. Don’t worry I will definitely be sharing my top ten list!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Happy Day

Annet giving her short speech
Two Sundays ago (Nov. 6) was graduation day for the Mpummede Basic Business Class. Almost all of the ladies were able to make it, despite a conflict with Eid al-Ahda, a muslim holiday. The celebration started out with a short speech by Teacher Julius, praising the women for their dedication and hard work throughout the 18 lessons. Next up was Lori, congratulating the women on the great work they’ve done and encouraging them in all their future endeavors. Annet even said a few words, and as she often worked as the voice of reason and peacekeeper any time things got a little heated, it seemed only fitting.

Once the speeches were over it was certificate time. Each woman waited for her name to be called to come up and receive her certificate along with a small gift of a glass and plate (a culturally common graduation gift). After the snap of a quick picture each woman made her way back to her seat amidst the clapping and cheering from her peers. They were all so proud and these are the pictures prove it!

Finally it was time for the important stuff, eating cake! Together the whole class took part in making the first cut into the cake, complete with cheers, clapping, and celebratory yells. Little by little everyone got their share of the sweet treat. It was fun watching the women admire their certificates as well as talk about what they were going to do with their gifts. Some woman thought about what they would eat and drink out of them, while others went over how they would display theirs along with their certificates.

Emily getting her slice of cake

Everyone had a great time and the women felt so proud and accomplished over completing the course and receiving a certificate to prove it. While getting a certificate for something might not seem like a huge deal in the U.S., here it speaks volumes. There isn’t a whole lot in terms of official training, and papers documenting your particular skill set or accomplishment are even harder to find. That’s why receiving a certificate, something tangible that you can take with you to show at job interviews or elsewhere, is a huge deal and source of pride.

When it was finally time to leave, it was hugs all around. I was shocked when one of the women, Emily (who’s around my age), came up to me and said she was going to miss me. What? I didn’t know she liked me! Talk about a huge heart warmer, not to mention ego boost. She then proceeded to escort me down the road as we walked arm in arm talking. I’d say that was the perfect end to the graduation ceremony and perfect end to the Mpummede Basic Business Class.

Class photo

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Little Terrors

Today I was legit terrorized for the first time by little beggar kids. First they asked me to buy them food. I told them they should go to CRO, an organization here specifically set up to help children in this way. They all know about it which is why the sheepish grin that passes over their faces, even for the slightest moment, serves as proof. Then they start saying “help me go to school. I want to go to school.” I reply “I’m sorry but I can’t help you” then instinctively enclose the little hand that’s found its way into mine. No! Stop it – don’t hold their hands!! Do NOT give them any encouragement to continue on with their little disturbance.

Unfortunately by this time ‘little’ was not the appropriate way to describe the escalating situation, as the mass of children following me had grown to at least 8. I swear if they wanted to jump me, I wouldn’t stand a chance. That’s not to say that they’re all little gangsters, I’m just trying to illustrate the sheer strength of their numbers compared to my puny one.

The requests continued and so did my much-too-nice refusals. Finally, at a cross street I tell them this is where we have to part ways and think it actually worked. Wow, how did I get so lucky? The reality, I didn’t. By the time I get to the next block there they are again, swarming behind me. By this time I was at a loss of what to do. I did not want them following me or knowing where I lived so I did the only thing I could think of, after my failed attempt at telling them to leave me alone of course; I flagged down a boda and hightailed it out of there.

I know, I know, it sounds terrible. Refusing to help little children? What kind of monster am I? I’d say the kind of monster that has her reasons. The children who beg on the street may very well be orphans and probably do need people to help them go to school, HOWEVER. Most of them, at least when they’re young, are able to rake in a very nice chunk of change in a day. Lori told me last week that she knew one kid who could make 100,000 /= in one day! (/= is the symbol for Uganda shillings and the exchange rate is about 2500/= per $1) Considering the fact that 100,000/= is what some adults make in a month here, I don’t feel that bad about refusing their cries for help. I would say a good majority of these children are not hurting financially, at least until they get older and aren’t as cute.

On the flip side there are the cases of child beggars who are not orphans, but would probably be better off if they were. A few weeks ago at Edith and Timmy’s birthday pool party I met a woman who was trying to navigate the treacherous waters of adopting one such child. In a nutshell the boy was sent out by his mother everyday and badly beaten if he came back with less money than she had delegated. It got to the point where he was sleeping on the street instead of going home because things had gotten so bad. After a lot of hoop jumping the woman and her husband were made the boy’s foster parents and things have never been better for the child.

As I’ve come to learn through life, there are flip sides to every situation, and street children are no exception. While my episode today definitely will not make my Uganda Favorites Top 10 List, it will serve as a learning and eye opening experience.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Glimpse of Kampala

On the way to the capital city of Kampala a few weeks ago I snapped a few pictures so you could see and get an idea of what things look like. Below you'll see some parts of the market, Kampala rush hour traffic - complete with boda-bodas and matatus (taxi motorcycles and taxi vans), and the random stationing of members of the Ugandan military. Enjoy!