So, as I said, I promised myself that I would do a better job capturing my days and some of those can’t forget experiences. This whole day has been an experience, something I know I’ll think about when I’m back home and won’t ever be able to fully describe. In fact, I think it’ll even be hard to explain to people here. Well, here’s my shot at it…and probably with too much detail. I must preface this post will the following. Though this day may seem just as annoying as it does memorable, I had a great time. Hope you can enjoy it too.
It started out by waking up early Sunday morning at my home in Rakai Town, say around 7 am, which is early for me on a Sunday morning, nonetheless, it felt like a good way to start the day. I went to Church with Prima and a gang of kids crammed in the RAV 4, getting there about 8 am, looking smart (dressed nice), pocket full of change for the church donation basket, and ready to not understand (Luganda) for more than half the service. Going to Church is something very custom here in Uganda, and I’m finding myself appreciating what the Church is able to provide for people in the country. It’s definitely a very powerful tool to use for effective community work, something I don’t mind being a part of. Simply being at Church also allows a majority of people from town to see me, and for me to share something in common with them. Sitting there, I always think that it’s one of those things most people (Americans) would really like going to once or twice, experience it, hear the singing, feeling the energy, realize you’re in Africa, stand out and maybe feel a little special. Not sure about that last part…but it does feel unique, and fun, even if it is just sitting in a Church for 2.5 hours not really understanding everything in another language.
After Church, around 11 am, Prima, a bunch of kids, and I packed again into the RAV 4 and went back to the compound, where I thought I would spend the rest of the afternoon washing some cloths (by hand), listen to my iPod, and read a book. Well…Prima’s had other thoughts. She was already late for her scheduled field work activities and practically leaving the compound once we got back from Church. Her fieldwork consisted of taking a local women’s group to provide HIV/AIDS sensitization at another Church some 2 hours south of Rakai Town, toward Tanzania, in much more rural areas. Well, cutting to the chase, she asked me to come at the last minute, maybe just as the token white guy, or the nice lady she is, who knows? Well, with only 2 sweet bananas (much smaller in size than normal bananas) for breakfast at 730 am that morning, and a relaxing day ahead of me, I really wasn’t too excited for a full day of field work with no lunch in site. But, being the nice guy I am, I said yes, happily, which in turn made her happy, which also turned out to be the best decision I could have made that day, no question about it. Read on.
Field work with Prima is something else. She is really loved by a lot of people, and has a sort of connection and draw to a lot of people. The way she describes it as, is she has dedicated her life to serving others, this after being infected by HIV/AIDS some 15 years ago, being a widow with 3 kids (2 in college right now, 1 of those in the US) and making her purpose everyday to help those more in need than herself. She does this volunteer work very well by consulting through World Vision, again, as a volunteer, and only paid through the activities she does in the field, which she does very effectively. She’s also got a brother and sisters who have faired off pretty well in Uganda. I also don’t want to give the impression that she doesn’t want money, because she does, but the work she does she enables herself to reach a lot of people, most in very rural communities, and in a way that I don’t believe any PC volunteer could ever come close to doing. She also writes all her proposals to World Vision by hand. As I said earlier, people love her, she’s one of them, is an outspoken women with HIV, a counselor for many many widows, is running for Mayor* (who still cooks over a charcoal stove for meals), is very lively, and just a very unique person. This is also my landlady in Rakai, or the way she describes it sometime, my mother in Uganda, as her son’s in the US (Boston area), is the same age as me, and his birthday is only 5 days after mine (May 25, 1985, seriously). She and I talked about the switch him and I unknowingly made a few days after I arrived in Rakai. To say the least, I feel happy living here.
Ok, I realize I got off topic there for a bit, probably will again, but will now try to get to the main reason why I’m writing you this, and why this was a memorable day. I even think I can make this part shorter than what I imagined.
So, along with Prima in the RAV 4, and another van driven by another driver, we went to a village just outside of Rakai town to pick up 15 women from a local women’s group. I met these women once before when I had just arrived in Rakai, to figure out how Red Cross could get involved in the community, and to perform my own community “needs assessment.” These women have organized themselves well and written songs and plays about the problem of HIV/AIDS in Rakai, how it’s directly affected them, and the message the wish to send others. They’re great songs, very traditional, use a few drums, and what you’d imagine from a rural women’s group in Africa. Again, I feel lucky being able to hear this very openly, causally, and live! The group also has a few songs about hygiene and sanitation, family planning (why men ruin things and women lack empowerment), and how girls in particular are dressing very inappropriately these days. So, today, this women’s group services, with the help of Prima and World Vision, was being requested some 2 hours away at another Church to help sensitize the people of this area on HIV/AIDS. In other words, this is an exchange program supporting local women’s groups in Rakai, and then outreaching to other communities teaching about HIV/AIDS. Prima organizes these, enables World Vision to reach these people, writes the reports, and donates a lot of time and effort providing people the right message. I personally think the more people talk about HIV/AIDS, have the right facts, and send reinforcing messages; Uganda will continue reducing new HIV cases.
So, we picked up the 15 women just outside of Rakai, crammed again into the RAV 4 and the van, and headed south in very rural, hilly, beautiful Rakai district. We had 2 boys in the boot (trunk area of RAV 4 open to the rest of the car), 5 grown women in the back seats, myself and another women in the passenger seat, and our driver in the RAV 4. That makes 10 in a 5 person (seatbelt) car. We were on our way…
Shortly after taking off, these women (in both cars) were obviously very excited about the trip, and wanted to, well, do what they were good at…sing! For roughly the next 2 hours, my group of women sang song (and chant, repeatedly) about leaving their home (we’ve gone), arriving in new places, caring for people, how I was their “muzungu” (white person, or foreigner), and their appreciation of Prima. Unfortunately, due to my lack of Luganda, I was not able to translate everything they were singing, though I could pick up the gist of it. Nonetheless, it was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget, a group of 6 Ugandan women singing in a car, 2 boys playing a big drum in the back, listening to very traditional live Ugandan music.
At the actual Church service (remember, 2nd one for the day, still no lunch), Prima and I were welcomed as the guests of honor (and they didn’t even knew I was coming, but were happy I was there), seated at the front of the Church (mud building about the size of a classroom), and were asked to give introduction speeches. I did my typical Luganda introduction speech, which always helps to establish the mood and relationship, and shows a bit of care, no matter how short it actually is. It’s always fun to see the faces of people listening to me speak Luganda, and since the building was small, a lot of kids stood outside the building and looked through the windows. Even after the speech, especially in crowds like that, I can always catch one of the Ugandan youth staring at me, or sometimes, even petting my arm to feel the hair. I think my head was even patted a few times by the women sitting behind me in the car.
Part of the Church service was dedicated to fundraising so the group could build a new building for the Church. For the fundraising, many of the local people brought food(s) with them to auction off. Prima and our other driver bought most of these things (at deliberately high prices), kept some of the food to bring home, and then gave most of it back to people in the crowd. Interesting… I did bargain for some avocados, with Prima, but we just ended up splitting the winnings. The people here were again very welcoming (as most Ugandans are, especially at a function like this) and excited for their day. The women’s group we brought along with us performed their song and dance at the end of service and was very well received. This mode of community work continues to prove to be a very effective way to reach people, especially on HIV/AIDS sensitization, even if you are a few hours late for your own field work activity. A lot of people will wait just to watch women perform songs or act out an educational drama show.
The Church provided all of us with lunch around 4 pm, again, very hospitable and welcoming, which is still probably an understatement. As I sat on the wooden bench in the mud building looking through the wood framed door at the banana plantations and rolling hills, I just reminded myself to appreciate the things I’m able to do and places I’m able to go. The thing I haven’t mentioned is the poverty these people live in, though don’t always act like it, and which becomes very relative in time. I’ll talk more about this later.
On the way back from Church and to Rakai, our women’s group had not tired, and again, sang the whole way back. I think this time they even more used of the names “Colin, muzungu, Prima, etc.”. Actually, I think they sang more in the car (really, about 1.5 hours each way on a very hilly, bumpy, dirt road) than they did at the Church. Either way, I’d say they definitely had a good time by the way they were singing, and the greeting they got back in their Village from their kids and family members. For their day’s activities, roughly 8 hours of work, they made just about $25 for 15 people. I imagine most of this money will just go directly to their women’s group bank account (they use a community based savings account). Though to the women’s group this day was rewarding, it’s not that much money (standards…), and I know they could still use the support. This is something I’m continually working on with Red Cross.
After dropping off the still very excited group of women, Prima and I stopped by a local bar to have a beer with Father Charles, from the Church we had been to in the morning. Father Charles is a good friend of Prima, a very nice man, and even bought both of us a beer. We talked about the day, as I’m doing here, and about some volunteering at the Church’s primary and secondary school. We got back home around 9 pm, came back to write this, and realized that this day was been much better than if I were to have sat here all day and washed cloths. I’m tired, I realize that I will probably never again have this experience again, unless they’re sung by very young kids in a crowded minivan, and obviously, wouldn’t be the same. For one, the scenery in Rakai District is beautiful…I hope you are all able to check out some of the photos I’ve recently posted. The combination of family owned banana plantations, rolling hills, the greenness, mud houses, loosely built brick houses, kids screaming muzungu with a big smile on their face, is almost unforgettable. Try not to cry…jk.
So, I hope you’ve all enjoyed this… I’m sorry for my long explanations. Know that I’m always excited to hear back and how things are going in the US. We do get news here in Uganda, I just don’t always have the mean to check it. I do have a phone though, and calls and texts are highly accepted. Oh well, Hope everything is well for ya and take care!