Monday, September 28, 2009

The South Meets Uganda

I'm sitting here in a coffee shop waiting for my roommate to get done tutoring. I was originally sitting in a seat but moved to a table with another random girl so a larger party could sit there. Strangers sitting together. Only in Africa. At first, the party consisted of one Ugandan man who was soon joined by three really cute Ugandan boys. All of a sudden, the Southern invasion began. Three white women who are very obviously from the South joined. They are all obviously in a hurry and were discussing if they had time to eat. They kept asking each other how fast they think this place would be. I started to silently laugh at that question. We are in Africa. There is no such thing as "quick" service here. Food is meant to be enjoyed; not rushed. Posing the question is in itself hilarious.

When the waitress came, one of them asked the waitress. I forget the exact wording but it was almost downright rude. Something like, "will our service be fast?". The waitress said that it would. I silently laughed again. My next laugh came when she ordered. She asked for a muffin and then for a "waTer", emphasis on the "T", and then repeated it about five times. It was as if out of all of the Southern accented words coming out of her mouth, she thought water would be the one that the waitress couldn't understand.

When I see random white people here, I often wonder what brought them here, what they're doing, etc. These women are like a comedy act. Their Southern accents bring back memories and are such a crazy contrast with the Ugandan accent. Southern accents are difficult for Ugandans to understand. I mean, they can be difficult for me to understand. I remember how long it took me to understand my freshman year North Carolinan roommate. For awhile, I feared that I wouldn't be able to communicate with her.

There should be a movie: Steel Magnolias Meets Simba. Something like that. Because that's what's happening five feet to my left.

I could not NOT post about this. I have been laughing over here and trying to hide it. Hope you've enjoyed. :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Post-Riot Thoughts and Culture Shock

I realize that the amount of blogging I’ve done has slowed down a lot. Why? Well, the answer perhaps doesn’t make sense: Internet. Not less access to internet, but more access. I know, confusing. We at last got internet at our house (YAY!) which means I don’t have to go all the way to a coffee shop to get internet. When I did, it was this focused time of internet where I had to do everything I needed to do on the internet at that specific time. Now…not so much focused. Anyway, I’ll try to pick it up!

Last Tuesday, we had some errands to run in downtown Kampala. It was three days after the riots and we expected the effects of the chaos to be everywhere. Oddly enough, you couldn’t tell that just a few days prior that it was a free for all of insanity. Everything was back to normal, including the roads filled with cars and people trying to get to where they needed. A few days prior, the only ones that dared to go down these streets were the rioters themselves. Life has gone on…but everyone is talking about “next time”. Encouraging, right? With none of the issues resolved, all the anger that spilled out on the streets two weeks ago is shoved just under the surface. Everyone has their own opinions and thoughts about what happened and what will bring.

When I see someone for the first time since the riots, I always ask if they and their families were safe. In my last appointment with my chiropractor, the riots were an obvious topic of discussion. Him and his family were safe but they’re also Bagandans (Bugandan? I still get confused with Baganda, Buganda and Luganda all meaning the same group of people but in different ways). It was fascinating to hear his side of how it all went down. He obviously wasn’t out there rioting but agreed with the frustrations that took place. His most interesting observation (for me, at least) was why the Kabaka, king of the Bagandans, did not answer President Museveni’s phone calls in the past two years. I had heard that fact earlier and had wondered why the President’s calls were ignored. My chiro compared the situation to the Queen of England. If you wanted to talk to the Queen, you would not call her directly but present your concerns to the Prime Minister. Therefore, one would not contact the Kabaka directly but the Prime Minister. Not being from a monarch, this whole concept is foreign to me. I also disagree with his comparison since the Kabaka is still subject to the President here. Since he was adjusting my neck at the time, I just made comments like, “interesting”. J

Last Saturday we had Saturday Club. It was so great to see the kids since we’d cancelled the Saturday before due to the riots. I had been dying to know if they were all ok in the riots. Two different situations came up with these questions that highlight some insane cultural differences. For privacy reasons, I’ve refrained from using names of kids on my blog and will continue to do so until I’ve gotten it cleared that it’s all good to do so. Even so, I probably won’t for their sake. Onto the stories. One of the girls I had talked to on the Sunday before so I knew she was safe during the riots. On Sunday, her face was beat up. There were obvious scratches and some other wounds that I couldn’t identify what had happened. When I had asked her about it on Sunday, she explained that her mother had beaten her. When I asked why, the answer wasn’t completely clear. On Saturday, her face was still looking rough if not worse. I asked her about it again and she replied that her mother had beaten her again. Another girl that I had yet to see since the riots was there. I asked her if she kept safe during that time and how her family was. She said that a policewoman came into their home and beat her and her family. Both stories shocked me. I mean, there are huge debates on spanking in America going on…beating? Out of the question. Could the girls have been lying? Making something up to cover for something else? Exaggerating? Of course. I have no idea what was behind both of these situations either. There’s much that was not said in both situations. Both situations are culturally normal though. Another child was brought up in a meeting that isn’t doing well in school and doesn’t want to go because her teacher beats her on the head every day. The suggestion was made that perhaps the teacher could beat her elsewhere so it doesn’t affect her head. It’s culturally normal here.

You can insert a big dose of culture shock for me right here. In all the above situations, I’ve wanted to be like, WHAT IN THE WORLD!?!? I’ve yet to process my thoughts on all of this. Does the normality of domestic violence and in school have any connection to the insanity of the riots? Thoughts like that…still in process.

I’ve had various conversations here about the cultural differences that we all have between us, which can be some funny and interesting conversations. There are commonalities though. I was reading in Philippians today about how we need to stand firm “in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27) and “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Chapter 2 continues to talk about how we are to follow Christ’s example and humble ourselves. I can be as prideful as I want about my American values, priorities and culture and it will get me where? Nowhere…well, maybe back to America. I boast in Christ alone, unite with my fellow believers to strive for the faith of the gospel. This requires following Christ’s example by emptying and humbling myself “by becoming obedient to the point of death”.

“for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil 2:13-15).

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rioting in Kampala: The Sarah Perspective

As some of you know, Kampala has been a little crazy these past few days. For those that don’t, let me inform you, American style. I say that mainly because the complexity behind all of the violent riots isn’t understandable by American perspectives. Though there are protests in America, rarely do they get violent especially violent enough for deaths. There’s rarely that sense of chaos. The thought of being so upset with our government that we would take to the streets, burning buildings, police stations and killing people? Unthinkable. Why? Well, I have many thoughts on that. Perhaps because no matter what, we have a government that we know we can trust. No matter what decisions they make, we can trust they are making decisions for the betterment of our country. We can disagree with them but can trust them. For example, I believe that Obama thinks that this form of health care reform is the best thing for our country. I can’t believe that he would purposely want to mess up our country. In his heart, he believes this is the best option. Do I disagree with him? Yes, but I don’t doubt his motive. We can trust when a police officer stops us that it is to protect us and those around us. Here, you try to involve the police and government as little as possible. Why? There’s no trust…and for good reason. Feel free to read my previous post on getting pulled over for further justification.

Onto the story…

News is slow here, mainly done by word of mouth. Therefore, almost all of my information was found out through other Ugandans and Ugandan news websites. There’s different tribes in Uganda and the Buganda tribe has their king, the Kabaka. The Kabaka wanted to visit this area, Kayunga, where part of the tribe was. That part of the tribe that he was going to visit wants out of the tribe and didn’t want him to come…or something like that. The government, ruled by President Museveni, sided with that part of the tribe and wouldn’t allow him to go. Why? They said it was for “safety reasons”. The Kabaka said that he was still going and the Buganda were mad that the government was getting in the way of where their king was going to visit. Hence, the Bugandans took to the streets to show their anger. The government brought in the military and they both battled the streets of Kampala. If any Ugandan would like to correct me on my details, please please do. I have enough confusion in all of the details. (Sassy Andrew, I’m talking about you here.)

Thursday was a normal day in the office. I got a lot accomplished including finishing a project I’d been working on for weeks. Around 4:00pm, Kate came into my office to let me know that our co-worker, Richard, told her that he thought we should go home early. I went into the main office to inquire further. Richard mentioned that there were riots in town and that it might be safest for us to go home now instead of later. He went back and forth on this decision until finally deciding that yes, we should leave now. Right before we left, another co-worker, Francis, came in. He had been attempting to go into town but things were too crazy and he had to come back. That solidified our decision. As we were about to drive out, Richard came running to the car and asked if we wanted to see what was happening downtown on TV. We agreed and huddled around the TV in Francis’ office.

It was unbelievable. The screen showed piles of tires being burned on the main streets of Kampala, people getting caned by the police, a body laying on the side of the street, heavy military vehicles, people throwing stones and more. I felt like we were watching scenes from a country far far away instead of streets that were a 20 minute drive away. It felt unreal. We left and headed home where we would remain for the next two days. With fears of the riots spreading, we were told to stay in the compound. I made all sorts of comments about being “compound bound” which is seriously not exciting, perhaps even the opposite. It’s one thing when you want to stay home all day, it’s another when you’re forced. Details. We were blessed with safety. We kept up with our friends that we knew were close to the riots. Their stories made it all seem real. Knowing that my friends were close to this chaos was frightening.

News websites were showing pictures of burned out cars, flames from burning tires, relatives mourning their dead and more. News reports differ on how many were killed. The last I saw was 14. 14 lives taken away and for what? It’s amazing all that can happen in three days.

Now, it’s over. The riots have stopped. Life is back to normal…for now. Nothing has fully been resolved. The Kabaka has postponed his visit but for how long? No matter what, the underlying issues are still there. It’s hard for me to understand the tribal differences, as, in America, we’re all Americans. We may think differently, disagree and argue but we’re all Americans.

I had pictured a situation like this prior to coming, more as a “what if?” What if I’m in Uganda and things get crazy? What happens then? Will I be safe? Will I be cowering under my bed fearing for my life? Running for the airport? So many what if’s. In this particular instance, I was completely safe. I had absolutely nothing to fear and didn’t fear at all for my personal safety. I had more concerns for my friends and the kids. The thing is, no matter what, God is still control. My life is still and always will be in His hands. Please, continue your prayers for Uganda. It’s much needed.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Day I Got Pulled Over By The Traffic Police

Let me begin by stating the following:
1. I'm really really tired (ie. my sentences have a high chance of not being coherent).
2. This story is about a month old but I just kept forgetting to blog about it.
3. I'm really really tired.

I'll attempt to remain positive about the police on here but also be honest. Hm, that's a tough line. Bottom line, we try to not involve the police as much as possible because everything becomes more complicated and bribes and more money gets involved. Ah, bribes. Illegal in America and expected here. I had training on traffic police as part of my orientation and knew what I needed to do (ie. apologize profusely again and again) but was so scared for whenever it would happen. Since I am white (which to them equals a lot of money. I've truly debated on getting a shirt that says, "I may be a mzungu, but I'm really not rich. Really."), the chances of me getting pulled over for money were high. I knew it. This only added to my fear of driving in this crazy chaotic city.

Catharine's niece and nephew, Calista and Stephen, had just come into town that week. It was a Wednesday and even more important, it was Kate's birthday! Because of this, Kate had taken the day off which meant that *I* had to drive to the office ALL BY MYSELF. Freak out session included. Stephen and Lonnah joined me on the ride to the office. To help Kate with her party preparations, I planned on leaving the office at noon. I knew that I would be driving home all by myself with no one in the car to help which seriously scared me. The vehicle that I drive is a huge lifted Prado. Check out this beast:

The Prado had been up in Northern Uganda for awhile and was lifted for the terrain up there. My little 5'3" self has to literally climb in. If I was standing next to it, I think I go up to the side mirrors. Not only is the Prado high but it is wide. I am used to my little two door Honda Accord. This vehicle is perhaps three times the size of my little Honda. Add to this that the roads are narrower, filled with people, unclear lanes, pot holes, gargantuan speed bumps/mountains, crazy boda boda drivers, even more crazy taxi drivers and your every day crazy driver. Insane.

I was about to leave the office for my first trip alone. I called Kate to tell her that if I wasn't home in 30 minutes to call and make sure that I was still alive. Me? Dramatic? Nooo. But seriously. I wanted to make it home alive. Just as I was about to leave, Stephen asked if he could ride back to the compound with me so he didn't have to stay at the office all day. Could he!?!? YES, what an answer to prayer. We left the office and headed home. I made the scary turn onto Kampala/Jinja Road and got to the right turn onto Port Bell Rd. Going onto Port Bell is usually easy because there's actually a light. The turn signal came on and the long line of cars began to race through. As I started turning, the light turned yellow. As I turned onto Port Bell, there he was: khaki pants, khaki shirt and those notorious white sleeves. It was a traffic policeman and I'm sorry, what is he doing? Wait, is he waving ME over? Oh. My. Gosh. I pull over and he comes to my window. I roll the window down.

Me: "Hello sir, how are you?"
Traffic Policeman (TP): "I am fine. We have already arrested your friend behind you and are going to take you to jail."
Me (after I told him that the guy behind me was not my friend but he didn't mean that anyway): "I'm so sorry sir, what did I do?"
TP: "You ran that red light and you are now going to jail for it."

Tears threatened to come into my eyes as my anxiety increased. What do I do? What do I say? I knew from my training not to argue with the officer but to just repeatedly apologize. Stephen, however, did not have such training. I had to hold back a smile as he tried to argue with the officer about how I did absolutely nothing wrong. At one point, I told him to stop talking or something like that. Those details are hazy (Stephen, feel free to add any details that I'm forgetting. It was kind of a crazy time in my mind). The officer asked for my license and I handed him my International Driver's License. He then told me to unlock my doors. I did so and he got into the backseat and told me to drive.

Me: "Sir, where do you want me to drive?"
TP: "We're going to the police station. Just drive."

As I begin to drive, he starts small talk: "How are you enjoying Uganda so far?". I think my response was something like, "Great until now". We talked some more as I drove. I continually apologized and then asked what I could do. Ah, that was the key question he was waiting for.

TP: "Oh, do you mean what can you do for me?"

Realizing that all this was purely about money, I reluctantly said, "yes". We agreed on a price and he had me pull over. At one point after we agreed on the price he said, "This is only if you're willing". I wanted to laugh. Willing!? This guy clearly only wanted money. I did nothing wrong but he would take me to jail if I didn't offer him money. What in the world. After I pulled over, I handed him the money. He left and that was the end of it.

There's interesting discussion about bribery here. In these situations, you have two options on who to pay money to. Police officers get paid about $25-40 a month. They have families to take care of on top of this. When they complain to their supervisors that they need more to survive on, they are told to get it in any way they can. Enter bribery. I was driving around lunchtime. The officer was most likely hungry and in need of lunch. His family is also extremely poor and in need. Enter option 2. You can forego bribing the officer and get taken to the Central Police Station (CPS). I've yet to go there but have only heard the stories. Before entering, you'll be approached by another officer attempting to get a bribe before you enter the dreaded court scene. No matter what, in every court situation here, you must plead guilty. The American in me goes crazy with this. You'll be charged at least five times the amount that you could have given in a bribe plus this money goes into the pockets up the higher up and more corrupt. There is a third option which involves you talking your way out of things with the officer and not having to pay a bribe. That's the option that I'd like the most but I need to work on my "talking out of" skills. Not there yet.

The situation itself was NOT fun. It could have been worse and I learned a lot about culture through it. As much as I pray that it will never happen again, I KNOW it will. Now, I'll hopefully be more prepared.

Whenever I see a traffic police officer now, I cringe inside and pray that I won't get pulled over...

...and sometimes, I glare at them behind my sunglasses.