Posted by Caleb | April 7th, 2016
Spending two months living a routine type of life in any country is going to provide a glimpse into the culture, challenges and perks. We had the chance to meet some pretty incredible Ugandan people along with some gut punching stories and challenges. I’ve jotted down my thoughts in a halfway organized manner here and in a couple other blogs. Starting with my favorite and least favorite pieces of short term life in Uganda.
Not sure why I love it so much, but the fact that nearly all Ugandans default to calling Beth, “Betty” really tickles my fancy. In our daily walks to and from the school we have stopped and chatted with several local children and parents. Word spreads in the community fast and by the end of our time here, a random Betty call from the deep woods or a mud hut was not only common, it was expected. Of all the habits that I will carry on from this trip, Betty is near the top.
People over projects
This is a Come Let’s Dance motto, putting time into the people we come into contact with instead of a sole focus on checking off the to-do’s at the projects. This was tough to deal with at first as small talk always took precedence over the physical “missionary” work I had expected. My vision of missionary trip was right or wrong defined by the one/two week house building efforts that I grew up hearing about during spring break. Thus when we arrived to a neighborhood of fully sheltered and thriving folks, I was confused as to where all my “HGTV Treehouse Masters” knowledge was going to be put to use. The needs of the organization and people that we served were rarely the “emergency” requirements that I expected and that I had associated with Africa. It took a month for us to grasp it, but our job being in Uganda was to sit and listen and give encouragement, hope and a hand to lift something if we could. Listen to the people first, worry about the project later. You can imagine a scenario in which I, (middle class white preachers son, whose hobbies include basketball, reading books about big data and researching hotels across the world) am sitting on the front porch with a 25-year-old Ugandan (mother of three who enjoys playing with her children and making fire to boil tea). This scenario happened many times and the small talk that ensued was choppy but extremely enjoyable.
The Running of the Goats
I know very little about farming or life on a farm. I have a ton of expert farmers in my family, even some close friends who I would classify as ranchers. None of this has rubbed off on me in skills or interest, yet my favorite activity in our two months was shepherding the goat herd at the farm. In general this meant untying the goats from the barn, chasing them into the African bush and tying them back up to a tree to graze for the remainder of the day. For me it involved many different types of yelling, a few foot taps on goat rears and even some more innovative pinching strategies. The workers and students at the farm were some pretty great folks. No matter how terrible of job I would do, there would always be a host of “well done” remarks to greet me at the finish.
Double double was the customary right of passage to access the food line a second time. It was a welcome sight when Aunt Christine would come over and look me square in the eye and whisper, “Caleb, it’s ok, Double Double.” The organizations’ farm was also named Double Portion Farm, and we even sang a song and dance about everything being double double.
No surprise but public taxis are rough. They are 14 passenger vans filled with 20 grown adults. The roads here are bumpy and overcrowded. The driver and the ‘conductor’ work as a team to swipe people up, push people out and consistently over charge us white folks for our rides. My height is one cause of contortion poses for me and those around me, the lack of deodorant used by the general population being another. Accompanied by one of our leaders, we were recently the subjects of a ramblin band of misfits, lowballing folks into their taxi only to put us through a series of in-ride activities that center around them pickpocketing our things. We luckily were able to bail just a few minutes after realizing what was going on, but even then lost several dollars to their scandalous ways. In general, having to take these taxis nearly every day for a minimum of 40 minutes was one of the worst things.
“I got worms,” that’s what we called it. For a 10 day period there were four or five of us that were eating for two. It seems to be pretty common here to eat something bad and end up with a worm in your stomach. For me symptoms topped out at post dinner stomach aches and lack of appetite. For Betty the culmination was barfing once on a Ugandan storefront, later in another Ugandans front yard with the grand finale being a trifecta of barfs out a taxi window. We eventually were ‘de-wormed’ with some meds but it was a rough stretch of digging for answers….
Years and years of foreign aid have been focused on improving quality of life in Africa and for the most part the strategy has been to throw money at the challenge. It is estimated the 50 billion dollars have been donated to causes in Africa, yet there are still incredible challenges of sickness, poverty and infrastructure failures. One of the minor side effects of this history is the expectation and perception of white foreigners. For the most part we are seen as ATM machines, handing out money to the person who can deliver the most heart wrenching story. Though it is changing now (and certainly different in and around the folks connected with CLD), there traditionally has not been a measure of accountability attached to the giving that westerners have historically led. Thus it is not uncommon for folks to approach you with a simple, “give me money” or “you buy me….insert food, clothing, luxury item”. It is not that big of a deal, just takes some getting used to as navigating around that awkward question and into a more fruitful conversation takes some time and practice.
Overall our daily lives were made so much easier because of the basecamp staff. When I thought of “missions in Africa” before this trip I would have thought of tons of bugs, eating nasty food and always being dirty. Now I think of a house of Ugandan friends that hang around to make sure I do not cut my hand off slicing fruit, wear clothes that are still covered in red dirt or randomly wander off into the woods in the wrong direction.