Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010: Recent Rakai Business

Hi all, got some thoughts and updates again to send out. Hope it’s going well! Here we go.

I bought some local honey at our recent Peace Corps Life Skills training from fellow PC volunteer and Masters International student (UC Davis) Zach Bagley, who works in Kitgum (northern Uganda) with a women’s bee keeping organization. This has made my tea, and even French toast, very enjoyable the last few weeks.

I spent Sunday moving around with Prima, as my last email said, and Monday and Tuesday around Rakai, also with Prima, with short trips into Kyotera. Along with Joseph and Prima, I went to a microfinance bank in Kyotera which provides loans for both groups (i.e. local women’s groups), and individuals, for say, starting an income generating activity (IGA) or school, respectively. Joseph was very excited about this, and is planning to go pick up his secondary school records for an application at a small local University. I’m just going to remind him that he needs a plan to pay back this loan, and to make sure it’s really a good offer. The information I got from the microfinance bank was much better (i.e. does not have 30% interest charges, or putting your house up) than the bigger banks. Joseph lost his father when he was 7, has 1 younger sister, 1 younger brother, and a Mom who is HIV+. Joseph has been working, or rather volunteering, with me at Red Cross. He is 22 years old, just as old as Nick, really wants to go back to school, and has been a good friend in Rakai showing me around and meeting people. I’ve even been doing some farming with him on his Grandfathers land. He has something like 5 grandfathers (who are actually just Uncles) here in Rakai. I hope I can advise him in this decision…people getting excited prematurely about things happens a lot here (actually, probably everywhere).

In other news, I stopped by the Catholic Church last night, 3 Fathers live there at the church, 2 (Father Joseph and Father Charles) are younger, or middle aged, and very kind. Father Charles is who I had a beer with last night, and has been to Minneapolis! He went on an exchange visit a few years ago with a Church up there, and got quite a tour of Minnesota…even wears a Twins baseball cap. I went up to the Parish tonight with Prima so she could ask for Father Joseph to review a proposal she wrote for her organization, Rakai Women Against Aids and Poverty (RWAAP). I went so I could ask them about working in the Church’s primary and secondary school, and make sure it was ok to do Life Skills with the youth. Younger Joseph (counterpart) and I are planning on calling this, Life Skills with Red Cross, so Red Cross becomes more active in our community. We figure we’ll also throw some Red Cross info in there. I also wanted to talk Father Joseph about my Aunt possibly volunteering at a school when she comes to visit. Titia gets here on July 7, and leaves July 28. Other than a few days in Kampala right after she lands, and a day or two before she leaves, 3 days at Queen Elizabeth National Park for a safari, she wants to spend her time in Rakai and volunteering at some local schools. The Fathers sound like they’re really going to hook it up, with visits to multiple schools and some exchange with teachers. We’ve even been invited to a wedding, so Titia will get to witness that. Fun, right? It will be held nearby, and we even got a personal invitation from the groom, who works at the Hospital, and was also up at the Parish this same night.

I know the Church is looking for more help in fundraising (donations) and I think by taking visitors around to show them what it’s like in some areas to see what’s actually like out there, is a way for them to get this support. In a lot of Ugandan eyes, I am that connection between US donations and them getting money. In truth though, there are a lot of people, and a lot of youth, living in severe poverty and highly affected by HIV/AIDS here. Rakai is the district where HIV/AIDS was first identified in all of Uganda. I was thinking about this today, and some other things I’ve see which have become “normal”, such as mud houses with bamboo reinforcing, cattle herded thru town and down busy streets, goats tethered up everywhere and anywhere, salesman carrying all their merchandise to the market on a bike, 10 people piled into a small 4 door Corolla (man I can’t wait for this when I’m back), people burning bricks for homemaking along the roadside, are probably what visitors will perceive as being very dysfunctional. I’d love to name more… and will. This was definitely all a bit strange for me, but my point is here, like the dysfunction, the same goes with for what it actually means to be “poor” here. Driving down the paved highway to Rakai (think rural highway and large farms in the US), you pass many small 1 to 2-room poorly built brick homes, most falling apart, large families, lot of animals around, you would think everyone here were living in poverty, and no doubt many are. I guess what I was trying to say, though, was you’d be surprised by what you thought was poor, wasn’t, and what you would think would be unbearable, is also comfortable. It’s hard to explain, better to see, and easier to understand after you’ve been here for a while. Now think of the people who have always lives here. Very normal. The phrase that kept coming to mind in the car was “in the eye of the beholder” as corny as that sounds. Unfortunately though, just like in any other cash based economy, people need money, and in this country unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t have it.

Hope I didn’t end on too sour of a note…I know I’ve changed up some ideas quite a bit, but… so it goes. Look forward to hearing back and always glad to catch some of you guys up, though I haven’t been doing it enough.

After all that I said, I think I’ll be able to get wireless internet at my house soon. So again, take care and keep in touch!

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