A Travellerspoint blog

Flattened

I'm in a fancy lodge that doesn't feel like africa to me, except for the warthogs (boars?) wandering around and the many, many elephants and the single prowly leopard on the road in. I just had a massage where the fingers painfully working the knots in my shoulder like untangling a necklace transformed me back into a stressed out Canadian.

I'm in culture shock, at the prices -- I'm giggling at the fact that I can't bear to pay the price they want for a morning game drive, which is the whole reason people come here -- at being treated like a tourist, at being surrounded by panting muzungo with huge cameras. Flattened a bit by that, and by the lingering tummy issues, but mostly at letting go of the kids.

I had a whole post written about this, but it got eaten by the rickety internet system here... but we left with less wailing this time -- they know we're coming back -- but many many tight tight hugs. Stories and trailing needs even as we left. Joel is entranced by the idea of us helping the widows' collective in his relatives' village with microcredit and is writing us a proposal. ("Would pictures help?" he asked). Long silent eloquent hugs from the reserved Joy, Brita. Final pics with the big boys. Verbal postits to gabriel and tina: Joy needs to go to an ENT in kampala, Inno can't hear for some reason, Inno lost his towel at the beach, Alex and Brenda need to go to the opthamalogist in Mmbarara, Baptista's shoes were stolen at school. How proud we felt when each of the big kids claimed a little kid as his or hers to look after. After the tiny cake, and our final little speech to the kids about the changes we're making (to some cheers), each big kid stood up with his or her "mentee," and we had all the little kids say who was looking after them. Broad grins. Baba -- Abdu. Moses -- Baptista. Alex -- Rafiki. Madam -- Saphra. Deheri -- Beth.

So much hope. Now into a completely different africa.

Posted by CateinTO 06:41 Comments (2)

Quick flyby

Stomach demons have mostly been quelled, though I'm a bit fragile in every way. Going to say goodbye to the kids now. The most heartfelt notes came from them last night about tears when we leave, hoping I feel better. Nothing more to say there.

Waiting for Gabriel so we can finish some phone calls etc before we leave. The RDC (regional head honcho) was here for a meeting, and he had breakfast with us. Like the mayor, he was taken with carissa, and asked her to be his second wife. They like young blondes who own their own businesses.

One of the big girls is with us, the one who was selling tomatoes on the streets of kampala, because coming back into our fold meant that she started talking to us about something she'd never told anyone before, and Carissa and Yarina let her sleep with them at the hotel so she wouldn't be on her own last night. She had the best shower of her life this morning.

So much life in every moment.

I'm happy I'm not leaving africa today.

(Oh, and Tamrya and anyone else, please feel free to share this with anyone you want. And you know I'm going to hit you all up for a donation ;-)).

Posted by CateinTO 22:27 Comments (2)

Ndagukunda

(Mara, thank you so much for your comments -- I hope we can connect when I'm back in Canada -- the Care office is actually right next to our project here, but the folks there are away right now).

(And thanks to everyone else who's commenting -- knowing someone's listening brings my fingers to the keyboard, and this is how I make my meaning).

There is a hotel full of people today, a big regional budget conference. All Africans, dressed in smart suits, including Mr RDC, the giant moose of a man who visited our kids last year and made them feel important.

I'm particularly noticing them because I'm sick today, felled as expected after a week by intestinal slime. Spent most of the day sleeping fitfully between distasteful jaunts to the toilet, rising only long enough to give my input to the high level questions for our budget meeting. Carissa took the administrative bullet of the two hour meeting with the process-loving probation officer, the guy who has the responsibility for the welfare of children in the district. The required paperwork to get the project fully on track administratively is as long as the road to kilembe (that is, far on foot, fast by car), and should have been done last year, but it's a minor thing, really.

The fact that I'm staying in bed instead of being with the kids tonight is confirmation of the depth of my physical crappiness (npi). We'll say goodbye in the morning, with a little cake, after a conversation with the exec director of our partner NGO who's been a little too awol on this project this year and is now scrambling. He felt that perhaps we shouldn't dismiss our ops director "because he was sorry" -- another dip in the shared meaning that requires the constant dance between going directly forward and giving airtime and respect to the people we need to keep on our side. So much patience that I don't have when I'm scowling from swallowing pepto bismol.

We've made so much progress, though, it's unbelievable. Understanding the need for three different budget streams (ops, schools, development). Understanding what the kids actually *need* for pocket money at school, and what's they use it for. Getting the dire need to buy the big girls "knicker pegs." Realizing that none of them has a towel -- that they bathe and put their clothes on. I reviewed their report cards last night, and am glad that baba got green (excellent) in "praying" but kiisa got purple (fair) in toiletBlair will nod in affirmation at that. Surprised that Smith can be 9th in a class of 145 with what looks like a low B average to me. Worried that Abdu didn't do so well in first term, so his frets about his O level exams are probably fair. The tiny details that make us their parents, and the huge questions about how to keep the project advancing.

The people at the hotel are sad we're leaving, and want to know why we won't stay for christmas. "Next year," I say. "That's what you said last year," mocks Godfrey.

So many ways to not let in the fact that we leave in the morning, and the 5 minute tight hugs from Anitta, Innocent, Deheri, Joy-with-the-newly discovered hearing problem, the kinyarwanda words Abdu and Saphra are teaching me, (the first was "I love you" -- Ndagukunda), the plastered-to-my-side smiles from Derick -- the never huggy Melon sitting on my lap for 20 minutes. All ending.

Focusing on the paradoxes, the fact that so much of the money for this project comes from fundraisers whose participants are mostly gay men, in a country where "aggravated homosexuality" carries the death penalty, and garden variety homosexuality is illegal and is supposed to be reported by neighbours. The deep understanding across context and the realization that the closer I get, the more I realize I don't understand. Constantly looking for interpretation (corporal punishment in schools is equivalent to what North Americans viewed as acceptable 60 years ago) and realizing that all of those interpretations are approximate (that doesn't mean Uganda is 60 years "behind," it's just a point of connection).

Last night here, last night in this home not-home.

Posted by CateinTO 07:48 Comments (1)

What rises

No day has only one "major event." Today, along with the wrenching performance appraisal, we bid farewell to blair. Question on his last day: "we can't put toilet paper in the toilet, right?" "Um, sure you can." Pause. "Oh. I'm going to have to leave a BIG tip." In south america, where he's mostly travelled, apparently you can't.

Blair was heartwrenched himself, barely able to tear himself away from the child he'd bonded most with.

After we dropped him off, we had church with the kids. They lead it themselves, throwing themselves into prayer and singing more fully than anything else they do. Abdu led, but he's not a natural speaker, and he's sweetly earnest and halting. He called on us to testify, and we didn't begin with "praise god!" as the kids did, but they clapped anyway. We danced around in my favourite simple hymn -- Find somebody/say I love you/put your hands together/and praise the lord (appropriate hand actions and twirling required).

And the Elina spoke, the girl we'd "rescued" the other day from the streets of kampala, put back on track for education. I cried as she spoke, simple, eloquent, bare and present, about how she'd prayed to find a way to go to school, and now she was back here, and she vows to work hard, be a big sister to the younger kids, make her prayers worthwhile.

I felt again what I felt last year, that my own discomfort with religion and general atheism notwithstanding, the faith of these kids holds them strong. Another paradox.

Another paradox? The constant tension between knowing how much the $1000 to support Elina will transform her life and the ones she connects with, and discomfort with that power. Saying yes to her means saying no to so many others, so definitive in all cases, a lurking worry about the white/black, western/african balance, distaste at how much I have and can bestow at will.

I was realizing tonight that the remainder of my trip feels like it's in equally bad taste, in some ways. That travelling in what amounts to luxury in africa isn't how I need to travel here. After a week, I don't long for more comfort, I'm quite fine with the clapped out hire car that bangs against the road we're in while the suzuki takes blair to entebbe. I no longer wash my hands fanatically. I barely shrug at realizing I have to put a used tampon (well-wrapped) into my bag because there's no trash bin anywhere. Ants crawl out of the salt shaker and I brush them off.

I'm hardly "living in africa," and I still make a complete mess out of hole-in-floor latrines. I still don't want to get shistosomiasis, thankyouverymuch. But the divide is simultaneously more porous and more visible to me.

Posted by CateinTO 11:22 Comments (1)

Essence?

Jordan snapped a picture with my camera last year, of our director, head only, looking directly at us, unsmiling. I always interpreted that photo as capturing something about his "essence" -- a gnarled face and worn tight body, hard fought life, warmth and humanity.

When we first landed here, there was an onslaught of information, overwhelming, that made me question some of what I'd chosen to believe was captured in that photo. We'd realized, over the year, that he was a pretty shoddy manager of money, always reacting and trying to fix things he'd let slip from his grip, no planning. Some eyebrow raising responses when the children tested him. But the reports were reasonably credible, and he provided receipts, and we're busy -- we'd wanted to believe he was running things adequately.

The budget meeting the other day showed us just what a slim grip he has on what it takes to run this project; the flurry of whispered gossip and indignation from the older kids made it clear that he certainly hasn't won them over at all. The week was full of layers of fingerpoints, and unearthing of stories like the kid who hadn't returned to school, whom he hadn't tracked down, another kid living in a hostel he runs in his hometown instead of boarding at school, kids living at the house who aren't in our project, the child who recovered in one day after the right medical treatment, after being taken to his relatives to see them before his presumed impending death.

It's hard to capture how petty and not out of the ordinary all of this is, just as much as it's outrageous to all Canadian notions of accountability. It's how things are done. Tiny pile of money is moved from box a to box b, a filthy bill or two of it slipping out on the way. A kid's mother dies and she piles into the nest of kids living where her mother's sister works, then stays after the auntie moves on. A struggling man sees an opportunity to pocket board money and house a kid instead of putting him in a dorm. Terrible decisions, and an overall picture of ineptitude at the least, but in many ways, the same kind of unintentional harm as the lady bountiful with the box-on-the-head .

Today we conducted this charade of a performance appraisal, because that is the proper channel before dismissing someone. I led a conversation in which I detailed a man's failings in the kinds of terms I would use in Canada, realizing the whole while that this thin strong reed of a man really couldn't begin to grasp what we had expected of him. He kept admitting his "mistakes" and asking for another chance. He literally foamed at the mouth, spittle collecting and flying, as he realized that our displeasure was absolute. Told us that this project had "killed" his wife, when she was "charmed" by the now-deposed founder who was seeking revenge.

As a co-lead of this project, as auntie and parent, I'm accountable for the welfare of these children above all, and equally to our donors and umbrella agency. I was genuinely angry and upset -- a child missed two terms of school, another got lousy medical care and could have died. Of course there was no choice but to fire him -- as always on these trips, now equipped with wells of comprehension that we didn't have a year ago, it seemed outrageous to us that we hadn't realized this before. The social worker who's been there since April trusted by the children and demonstrably smart, savvy, loving, equipped. The guy who's been nominally overseeing the project equally loving, experienced, resourceful, thoughtful. The right two people to run it.

And, there was a sugar-cane core of discomfort in this conversation, where I felt I was beating a caged animal. Here, there is such a tendency to categorize people as "good" or "bad." Our social worker called him a "cunning" man, and he may be. (Everyone is pretty sure his wife is still alive). He may have made some deliberate choices to rip us off in petty ways, perhaps taking our television to his home and charging people to show movies. But most of it, I suspect, is a profound delineation of the gap between the resources and strategies this man has been able to construct because of a life we can't imagine, and what we well-meaning, accountable, passionate Canadians expect.

This gap is not... general. There are certainly people in Uganda who have a much more aligned frame of what it means to do a job like this well. The two previously mentioned people, the youth councillor from the town of kasese who came to dinner with the mayor tonight. (The mayor himself was a bit of a lecherous buffoon, on a clear missiong to make carissa his wife; the youth councillor worked with us to developed community projects for the kids).

We go here from the most intense, unrelenting hugs from the kids where we reach across all culture to the core of human need, to moments where I am a fish trying to talk to a banana. Sometimes these are instructive (ah, it's OKAY to sit in the hatch of the suzuki, the world will not end if I'm not wearing a seatbelt), and sometimes they require everything I have to sit with the discomfort of being White Westerner with the Money and Power speaking to someone who could never in three centuries do what we've asked of him.

Sitting there today, watching spittle flying, wondering about the dead charmed wife, glancing down at my carefully documented list of failures, I had to tap into what I learned from the nurses I work with: grace is staying when you want to go. It was hard to stay in that conversation, but staying in it made me think again about the unintended harms.

Where I'm left is thinking about the little girl Agatha, the one whose mother died and whose auntie left, and who sees herself in our project, and who is out of our scope. We cannot keep taking children in -- we would have double the number in a month. Everytime we mention our project, someone offers us a child. Our construction is that nikibasika is a family, and we are committed to these 51 kids in the family. Agatha makes 52, and we need to draw that line. And because of our director's well-meaning thoughtlessness, we're going to have to draw the line across the hopeful grin of an impish little girl, who hugs the same as the other kids, sings the same songs, and lost her mother.

Staying when I want to go indeed.

Posted by CateinTO 10:41 Comments (3)

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