A Travellerspoint blog


Is the hokey pokey a mission?

Pamela asked me what our mission on this trip is. Strangely hard to answer for me -- of course, to see the kids, to make sure things on the ground are what they are supposed to be. I got some good advice from an Ethiopian cab driver yesterday about not getting the wool pulled over my White do-gooder eyes. (He was a lot nicer than that ;-)). He told me about a kids' home he knows about in Addis that was rife with corruption, etc.

So yes, at the most pragmatic level, it's about checking in, making plans for the next year, connecting with our partners in country. And of course, it's about the kids -- the kids that really do live inside me, both avatars of some higher purpose and hope, and individuals that I want to hold close to me, let them touch my arms and crazy weird hair.

One thing I realize I haven't done in prep is to come up with some good games and songs -- I realized last year that I don't know ANY (duck duck goose, barely; hokey pokey -- and was reminded that the boxes-on-the-head lady previously written about was STELLAR at leading songs and games). [BTW, I really really love it when people comment on this blog -- so if you have a chance to make suggestions for songs and games before I go, I'd be most grateful!]

Really, the songs and games are about a way to be with the kids in some concerted way, where everyone gets to be part of it. Fun at some level, and just simple connection in another. So that's the kids... and then for me, there's a big adventure portion.

Every possible kind of adventure, really -- connection with the kids for just over week, then a day in a nearby game park (the same place I saw elephants from the road last year), then a trip to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. (Could there be a better name?) I'm reading a book about some gorilla folks who followed Dian Fossey's work, and it turns out that Bwindi was separated from the bigger park that borders Rwanda/DRC/Uganda about 120 years ago by homesteads, and the population of mountain gorillas in Bwindi now a kind of island, and about half the total number of all of the mountain gorillas in the world.

Here's what wikipedia says about it: The park has about 340 individual mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), almost half of all the mountain gorillas in the world. A 2006 census of the mountain gorilla population in the park showed that its numbers had increased from 320 individuals in 2002 to 340 individuals in 2006.[20] Disease and habitat loss are the greatest threat to the gorillas. Poaching is also a threat. Mountain gorillas are an endangered species, with an estimated total population of about 650 individuals. There are no mountain gorillas in captivity. In the 1960s and 1970s, mountain gorillas were captured in order to begin a population of them in captive facilities. No baby gorillas survived in captivity, and no mountain gorillas are known of that are currently in captivity.

Bwindi is also apparently a stunning example of biodiversity -- and at the end of an arduous road journey. <adding lots of gravol to my travel pack> My guide seems to be named Silver, and my lodge Silver Back, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to forego Lee's request to nibble the ear of a little gorilla for her.

After the gorillas, back to Kampala, then more tedious travel (Kenya airlines, even) to Kilmanjaro... when I embark on the least thought-out physical trek of my life. I just swallowed the nauseating Dukoral (anti-cholera and travellers' diarrhea vaccine), but I fully expect some kind of bacterial onslaught, bedbugs, cold feet and altitude issues. And if I can channel the fierceness inside, a summit to match the one my sister and BIL made on NY's day 2003. Then, a long flight back to BC, and a quiet grey Canadian Christmas/New Year's.

My actual dates are:
Nov 28: Leave Canada
Nov 30 - Dec 8: Kasese, with the kids
Dec 10: Gorilla tracking!
Dec 13 - 19: Kilimanjaro
Dec 20: Back to BC

Somewhere in there is some kind of more complex mission, about the fusing of Adventurous Cate and Humanitarian Cate and Hopeful Cate and leap-and-the-net-appears, Cate.

Posted by CateinTO 15:22 Archived in Uganda Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

good intentions

"nude cyclists, come on, you know you want to ride through a corporate dinner with a box on your head to 'who let the dogs out'!"

That's a recent facebook status update from one of my fb acquaintances. It exemplifies her most recent "project."

One of her earlier projects? Deciding to bring one of the kids from our orphanage over to Canada two years ago for some surgery.

Here's the thing. Her intentions were obviously good. In a burst of involvement a few years ago, this woman went to uganda, met the kids, entertained the heck out of them with her blonde curly hair, scarves, games -- and met this boy. And when a 13 year old boy whose family was killed in front of him, and who was mutilated in a horrifying and humiliating way, asks you who haltingly to help him, the compassionate response seems to be to say yes.

And... it also exemplifies how unbelievably easy it is to do serious harm in the name of good intentions.

Two years ago, box-on-your-head lady used her whirling energy to marshal support to bring this boy to Canada, to get support from a fund to help sick kids and to arrange for some reconstructive surgery. Great project. And, completely harmful.

When she announced her intention, I asked her what the plan was for returning him. She was horrified. "I couldn't bring him bck there! Who could live in Kasese, Uganda?" I asked what the plan was then for keeping him here, since the visa and the fund were very specifically for medical attention only. "I'll keep him if there's no one else," she said passionately, outraged that we would question her.

At the time, we had no authority to say yes or no, and just had to watch this. And watch as yes, he was shifted from that dusty place in western uganda to a plush bedroom in Rosedale, cargo pants and dvds and skateboards. And, predictably, woke up every night screaming in night terrors for months. Box-on-the-head lady couldn't handle it, and the next thing you know, the boy had been handed off.

Since that moment, he's lived in four more places, each family resisting returning him to Uganda, but also unable to continue fostering him. He's here legally, with another three months on his extended visa on "compassionate" grounds -- but he's hardly literate, and, apparently, in every place, can't bond with the men in the family. He's a kind boy, and polite, and loves to swim -- but he doesn't know how to live in a family, and none of the people who've taken him on have been able to give him the one-on-one support he needs to learn how to learn, how to read, how to interact in the ways we expect.

In two weeks, it seems likely that I'm going to have to take him back to Uganda, since we haven't been able to turn up another foster family for him. One interracial female couple seemed perfect, but their hands are full with other kids. Other possibilities just haven't panned out. His English is much better, but he still can't read, and the skateboarding skills he's acquired won't be too much use on the unpaved, rutted roads of Kasese. Medically, he's better, but he's 16 now, with no useful skills -- and what meaning he'll ever be able to make of this two year dream of being passed around from place to place in Canada and then rejected by an entire country is beyond me. Me, I feel sick about it, and angry, and more inclined than ever to pick up a metaphorical cricket bat to direct at the people with well-meaning ideas that they haven't thought through. In my less compassionate moments, I can work up quite a head of steam of fury at the self-aggrandizing aspects of this kind of impulsivity, like the German woman who sends me ingenuous emails every few weeks lamenting that we won't let her bring one of the kids to Germany with her so she can trot her around for a month like a pet.

Unless something changes, I'll be taking the boy back to Kasese at the end of the month. Meanwhile, box-on-head lady has moved on to another project.

Posted by CateinTO 08:25 Archived in Uganda Tagged volunteer Comments (2)

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