Saturday, July 17, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Blog #5: The Time of Firsts
As I was contemplating on the things that I have done during the time I last wrote to now, I found that the recent events all have one thing in common…they were all new experiences for me. Alright, alright…I know I am in Africa so of course I will experience new things, but these ones were legit this past week. Let me explain with a bit of a preface: chicken slaughtering, war zone, celebrating America in Africa, buying chickens from a bus window, baboons. Okay, I will end it there and just start getting into the good stuff, because I am SURE that the suspense is killing each and every one of you because my blog is the only thing that practically adds pleasure to any of your lives, I understand that you all are dyingly missing me and you wait each and every day for me to add a new post…haha okay, even I’ll laugh about the ridiculousness of that statement. Here we go…
Last Saturday my team and I went to our Boda driver’s, Freddie, new house for a house-warming party. Naturally we brought our pet chicken—you know the one that kept me up all night — as a gift. So, remember we’re in Africa…what else would we do with it besides slaughter it and eat it for lunch. Now, each of you should all be proud of me for representing Idaho well, I was the person who willing and single-handedly slaughtered our lunch. This is a first for me! I feel strongly that this new skill will become very useful in the years to come. You know that question, if you are stranded on a deserted island what is one thing that you would bring??? All of you should instantly, without thinking say MEGAN freaking GERSTEN.
This next part is fitting for me to sing the nostalgic song by Lee Greenwood, “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” Another first, I spent my 4th of July with the US Embassy. We had such a good time; it was the first real time since being in Uganda that I didn’t feel like I was being gawked at. I have never felt more proud to be an American. There is something special about celebrating your country and its rights in a country that is not well developed and doesn’t have the rights we have—it hit home for me and made me fully appreciate my country and the opportunities that I receive from being blessed to be from such a place. It put into perspective for me, all that I have taken for granted. The evening was great plus, we got the full experience of hamburgers, hotdogs, American flags, cheesy USA songs, and fireworks—what could be better? OH I know…spending the weekend with my family.
I spent this last week in Gulu. For you to fully understand my experience there I want to give a brief history lesson on Uganda. I recently read the book “A Long Way Gone,” written by Ishmael Beah. It was about a boy’s experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The book was brutally honest and detailed about his tragic experience as a young child. As heartbreaking was his story, I still recommend reading it because of how eye opening it is. A very similar thing that happened there just recently ended in Uganda. Reading the book helped preface me with what I would see and feel in Gulu over the week. (NOTE THAT I AM NOT A HISTORY BUFF NOR DO I PRETEND TO BE SO I WILL JUST SHARE WHAT I DO KNOW OR UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE CONFLICT.) In the 80’s Joseph Kony started a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Koney started attacking civilians as an attempt to found a government based on the Ten Commandments. He and his army would torture, mutilate, rape, plant land mines, and abduct children to use as soldiers and sex slaves. Over one million northerners fled their homes to Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps. Tens of thousands of children became ‘night commuters’, and would walk miles each evening after school to sleep in ‘safer’ towns so that they wouldn’t be taken at night by the LRA. Gulu was the north’s largest town that hosted the biggest military base and suffered many attacks. In 2008, a peace deal was created by Kony and Museveni (the current President of Uganda) and the LRA was pushed into Sudan and the DR Congo where they still reside. Many Northern Ugandans are still too afraid to return to their homes.
Being in Gulu and driving through the LRA’s territory obviously left an eerie feeling because of the thought of what all happened there just a few years ago. You can still see the over-trodden tracks on the side of the road from the thousands of children who would walk them each night for safety. There are posters and land marks that actually still mark existing land mines. We met with many people who were affected by the conflict and who were actual child soldiers. I was told that talking about the conflict to people can be kind of sketchy, because you never know what side they might have been fighting for. Gulu is saturated with NGOs in attempt to redevelop what was ruined, as well as working with adults and children who are literally destroyed mentally by the war. Despite all that happened to Northern Uganda, I found the people to be surprisingly positive and spirited. Actually while this was all going on, a documentary crew from a University went to Uganda not knowing what was happening and made a documentary on it called the Invisible Children. They have now made an NGO where they work directly with the previous child soldiers and even bring a group of them to the States on a tour sharing their stories.
Like I said, this is a time of firsts. I have been to war zones before in the US, but all those wars happened hundreds of years ago so they (sad to say) don’t feel as real or even relevant to me. My experience in Gulu opened my eyes to see the demolished effects of war and what it does to a country, city, and specifically people.
While we were in Gulu we worked with a woman’s group whose husbands were killed in the conflict. We built a square foot garden for them to help sustain enough food for their children, orphans they took in, and themselves. They put on a play for us where they reenacted the war, it was quite the experience to watch woman who personally experienced the conflict dramatize it out. It was very emotional, but it is their way to get out those horrifying emotions. In Gulu, we also put on a school festival at two different schools; I taught lessons on HIV and AIDs. One of the schools we went to was actually on the LRA’s territory and later became an IDP camp for survivors. Many of the students, at both schools, were in their twenties because they dropped out of school to fight. We also did an income generating project where we started a piglet dispatchery for an orphanage.
Okay this has become a weighted blog post, so to lighten it up I will talk about a few new firsts for me. 1) I saw wild baboons on my bus ride to and from Gulu—red bums and all, 2) people sale live, no joke LIVE chickens from bus windows AND people buy, no joke actually BUY the live chickens from the bus window and keep them in the bus for hours by your feet, 3) the phrase, “nighty night don’t let the bed bugs bite” has never meant so much before. I went to bed each night worried I would wake up from bed bugs or at least some sort of disease, 4) I got asked if I was Obama’s daughter because I was American (the African people are OBSESSED with Obama because he is half Kenyan). I told her no and that she is probably closer to being Obama’s daughter than I was—she didn’t laugh, 5) I went to away sketchy pork joint that was down a dark alleyway and was quite literally a shack with dirt floors and wood pallets for walls, OH and no electricity…sooo not up to OSHA’s standards—I should be ashamed, but I’m not and I should be sick, but I’m not!!
Another new first and one word is all I need….latrines. I am now and forever grateful for outhouses. Latrines, if you do not know, are an open room with just a hole. Shoot, aim, and fire! Oh and a special technique of squatting is needed, by the way, or else a tragedy will quite possibly occur. Here in Uganda, there are only two forms of using the ‘restrooms’. One of course is the latrines; the other is all nat-ur-al baby! The concept of ‘holdin’ it does not, and I will repeat does not exist here. Often times you will see men (key point right there...hem hem) on the side of the road just peein’ or little kids just plopping a squat in the road. My point being, hallelujah for outhouses-glorified latrines!!
This next first will not take long to explain and to be honest I am rather embarrassed about this one…I went and saw the new Twilight move Eclipse. Shameful, I know, I can practically read your thoughts (especially yours, my dear brother, Michael) BUT it was fun because I am a girl and I got to be a cheesy American girl with my girlfriends for just a couple of hours so I thoroughly enjoyed my time.
Now for a summary of my projects, after all that is why I am here, right? On July 30th I am saving all the suffering children in Southern Uganda from Clubfoot. I am organizing a Clubfoot Outreach with an Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Mbonye, from Nakasero Hospital. It will be a seven or so week process because the treatment that they use is a series of casts correcting the Clubfoot. I am really excited about this outreach, because I know it will make such a big impact in the lives of those treated. I have a ton of advertising to do though, so it will keep me pretty busy up to July 30th. I am also starting a project working with girls who can’t go to school because they are on their menstrual cycle. The girls don’t have any form of sanitation protection so they have to skip school and sit at home till they’re off. The project will teach girls how to make re-usable sanitary napkins so they can attend school while on their period. We would also do sensitization trainings for boys about girls on their periods and how to treat them. I am also working on setting up a recycling program in Mukono, where it is a ‘scraps for cash’ incentive type system. The streets here are covered in plastic water bottles and old shoes (random I know) and people claim they have the right to throw garbage on the road. As a quick side note, I actually had to LITTER for the very first time ever in my life coming back from Gulu, it was tragic and I utterly hated it, it shattered everything I believe! The man next to me thrusted a wrapper in my face and waved it towards the window, I took it and with much distain shoved it out the window. I almost took it and put it in my bag, but then I thought to myself what he would think in his head, “Wow, that crazy muzungu just put my garbage in her bag—that’s disgustingly weird.” Needless to say I resisted his potential thoughts and just did it anyway. And the final project I am working on is putting water collection boxes around the taps of water tanks to protect very expensive tanks/taps from being broken and stolen.
Well that is that, I am working a lot but I am also glad to say that the phrase ‘all work no play’ does not fully apply to me. I am having an amazing time here. I have gained an indescribable admiration and affection for the people of Uganda. Oh and during my closing remarks, I feel as my close friends and loved ones you should all know that when I return home we will have to have a Race for Rabies for me, similar to the one in The Officer for Meredith, because I have come down with Rabies. Today as a Sunday treat I indulged in a bag of Keebler cookies from home and later found the wrapper had two very large mouse holes…how I didn’t realize this earlier I DO NOT KNOW, but the moral of my story is: when you eat a mouse infected bag of cookies in Africa, you will get Rabies or at least the Hanta Virus…this may be my last blogpost if I die tonight…farewell all…peace be with you till we meet again.
Ps. As some of you may know, there was a bombing in Kampala by a tourist group last night. I am fine and have been in lock down. Everyone is safe, so no worries-just adds to my adventure!
Posted by Megan Gersten at 12:22 PM