Sorry I haven’t written in several weeks! I will try to do better, but everything has just been so busy here. Time is flying by and I can’t believe that I am already 9 weeks in! Our first round of interns are over half-way through their internships and will be leaving soon, and our last round of interns are arriving this week. By mid-August we will be empty-nesters once more and then I think time will slow down again.
Well, a lot has happened since I last wrote. Obviously the biggest change is that our participants have arrived and are now in the middle of implementing their projects. It has been really nice having them here because there’s nothing quite like being with people that you share a cultural bond with. As much as I love Uganda, I find that interacting solely with people of a culture different from your own eventually takes a toll. The bigger the difference, the bigger the effect, and it’s not until I spend time with a fellow American and feel myself relax mentally that I realize I have been spending a huge chunk of my energy censoring, interpreting, and calculating to ensure that I act with cultural sensitivity. Every once in a while, you have to be able to put your guard down and just act naturally.
Work is still great but it is also wearing me down. I work most weekends and my job requires me to be perpetually on-call, so it really is a 24/7 gig. This means that finding time to go and just hang out can be rough, but since spending time with the interns is part of what I’m here for, I get to go pretty much any time they invite me out. They make up the majority of my social network right now, and they’re all super cool so that’s totally fine with me. Most nights when they visit we just grab a bite, wander around town for a bit and maybe go back to my apartment for movies. One night, though, I went out clubbing with them. It was really fun this one guy would not leave me alone and it made for an interesting evening.
Let me set the stage for this story by giving a little cultural background. In Uganda, men are MUCH more forward than men in the US, and anyone who is a foreigner or the least bit “exotic” is guaranteed to get hit on. This is something that was somewhat intriguing at first but quickly became extremely annoying. (I’m definitely sick of being called “baby” and having strange men grab my arm or hand as I’m walking down the street.) On this particular night, I walked into the club and had been standing inside scanning the room for all of about 10 seconds before a guy (who we refer to now as “White Shirt Guy”) approached me and offered to help me find my friends. I turned him down several times but the music was too loud and he was not taking no for an answer, so finally I gave up and let him follow me as I looked for them. Once I found them, I thanked him and left for the dance floor with my group, thinking that he would get the hint and go back to whatever he had been doing. Wishful thinking. He followed me the rest of the night and kept pulling me away from the group to dance with him. The first few times I made the mistake of allowing him to, thinking that it would be as easy to extricate myself from him as it was with guys in the States. After about 20 minutes on the dance floor, though, he took me outside to sit down in the lounge area where he acted all suave and explained to me that he liked me, and now that he liked me “could never like anyone else”. He tried to convince me that “we know each other now,” even though we had just met. I tried to brush him off politely but I was trapped, unsure of how to tactfully leave. When he went in for a kiss, though, any grace that I had been exhibiting totally flew out the window. I dodged him by practically doing a full-on body dive! He insisted, “Just one, just one,” to which I said, “Nope!” and quickly walked inside. But still he hung around! When other guys would come up to try to talk to me, he would walk over, put his arms around me and tell the guys to get lost (I assume. He was speaking Luganda). As he got more and more possessive, my friends helped me implement evasive maneuvers and eventually, mercifully, I escaped from White Shirt Guy.
This type of thing seriously happens ALL THE TIME. One intern had a man propose to her as she was walking down the street, and others received some distasteful jeers and gestures from a group of construction workers (apparently some stereotypes are universal). One day, I made the mistake of sharing my Ugandan phone number with the night guard at my apartment complex. He seemed normal and our interactions had definitely been that of buddies, so I thought “Great! I’ll exchange numbers because what if I’m out late and need him to come unlock the gate?” Worst decision EVER. The next day he texted and called me about 6 times. That night he sent several messages saying that he missed me, asking if I was home, wondering when he would see me, etc. I eventually I told him that I was home but was working and wasn’t allowed to use my work phone for personal use, so I wouldn’t be able to text with him. My phone beeped when he answered and I looked down at the words on the screen. “Okay, are you in your room?” Am I wrong, or is that a bit threatening to ask a young woman living by herself, especially when it’s nighttime? I mean, asking if I was inside my apartment was one thing, but standing outside the complex and wanting to know specifically which room I was in made my pulse quicken a bit. Thinking that maybe I was overreacting, I decided to ignore the message, but later he texted saying “Accept my simple gift of ‘good night’ wrapped with divine love, tied with care, and sealed with prayer. I love you. Sleep well.” Now, I have asked some of my local friends to ensure that I wasn’t just misinterpreting something due to cultural differences, and they assured me that I was not. I sent a couple of frank texts the next day (because I’m a total chicken) and then spent a few tense weeks trying to avoid him by getting home before 7:00 pm when he started his shift. Eventually, though, the inevitable happened and I made it through the awkward encounter unscathed. Now we exchange a polite “Hello” and then ignore each other.
Well, on a less sketchy note, our two-week intern is here and I am her supervisor! Since she’s here for such a short period of time, I am with her every day as she works on her project. It’s pretty great because I am thoroughly convinced that we’re soul sisters. We found a lot of common ground in the first few days. In fact, after meeting each other it only took about 5 minutes for us to discover that we share a love of Taiwan. Her parents are from there and she visits the country every two years or so. She is also a teacher, so we were able to connect on that level, too. For her project, she is working at a place called KIDRON Christian Primary School and it has been really fun going with her. It is so interesting because the school is located on a large plot of land that contains many other KIDRON entities, like a small medical center, housing for orphaned students, and many buildings designated for livestock. There are cows, goats, and chickens that freely roam the grounds. The chickens often wander into the classrooms and cluck around, which was a bit of a culture shock when I first saw it. I was sitting in a meeting, dressed professionally and discussing serious matters, when all of a sudden there was this chicken pecking around and making noise. I was enthralled. It seemed so comically out of place to me at the time, but I’ve come to learn that feeling this way is the norm here.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to observe and participate in some of the cultural things at the school, too. The students have cool morning assemblies outside on Monday and Friday where they sing and clap, and we’re always invited to the short prayer meeting before every lunch that the teachers have. They sing a couple of worship songs while a few people beat on drums, everyone but the musicians stopping occasionally to pray. The prayers are really interesting to watch. Everyone closes their eyes and mutters their own prayers while the drum pounds in the background. They sway back and forth, getting louder as the drums continue, many clasping their hands together, some using their hands to gesture fervently as they pray. Finally, the drums stop. There is a group prayer where only one person will speak, and then a short sermon is given to end the service. This week was really great because Kate and I got to play some of the African drums during the service! It was fun to make up rhythms and follow the cues of the other teachers drumming along with us. Other really cool things happen at the school, too, like on Monday we had a debate with the upper grades. The topic was “People with AIDS should be killed” and it was very heated. Everyone really got into it, especially the teachers. The headmaster and I took on the role of devil’s advocate and we made some pretty strong arguments! Personally, I feel like we got cheated, but of course the opposers won.
There are so many more stories but I feel like this post is getting very long! I will try to write more and post them soon.
P.S. My mom has been pestering me for photos of everything, so here are a bunch of random ones. Enjoy!