The Sustainable Dream

14/6/15 – 18-6/15

The Bishop of the Luweero District came for a visit on Sunday. I don’t think that I’ve seen this place so crowded before; over Bishop's Visit to Luteetea few hundred people arrived to attend a very long mass at the nearby church. It amused me to see many of the children wearing their Sunday best when I normally see them wearing tattered and dirty clothes. I usually don’t go to church here, but I decided to dress up and attend this very special community mass.

On Monday I started school supervision of my Year 2 students. During term 2, the Year 2 students of the PTC travel to various primary schools scattered throughout the sub-county and spend a few weeks teaching primary school pupils. The students get hands-on practice and the PTC tutors travel to these schools in order to supervise them. I was assigned four schools to supervise: Luteete Demo, Mity-ebiri, Nalweweta, and Mullajje Primary Schools. Throughout the week I biked to these schools and supervised my students teaching lessons.

Local language, Luganda, is the primary language taught to primary school pupils from P1 up until the transition year to English in P4. Then the classes transition into English, and therein lies the biggest problem for student teachers and pupils alike. Some of my year 2 students come from regions in Uganda where they don’t speak Luganda, so they lack the ability to further explain a concept in Luganda when their English isn’t good enough.

Student Teaching at Primary School

Student Teaching at Primary School

The biggest problem that I witnessed was the frequent lack of hands-on materials to demonstrate a concept (such as adding fractions with different denominators) and having the pupils regurgitate information without checking to see if they understand and can apply the taught material.

As an example, in one instance the student teacher taught the primary school pupils four difficulties facing the builders of the Uganda railway system. After having the class read the list of difficulties many times, the evaluation exercise was for the pupils to write down in their notebooks the four difficulties that the builders faced. Very rarely is the exercise designed to make the pupils think beyond simple memorization and regurgitation of material.

Unfortunately, this is endemic in the education system. When I explained this problem to my fellow tutors, some of them asked me what the difference was between understanding something and memorizing it. Coupled with the Ugandan concept that it is unprofessional to admit not knowing something with this lack of understanding, I can start to see how much the education system has to develop.

Real Example:

Me: When we jump up what happens to us?

Student: We fall back down.

Me: Why do we fall back down?

Student: We fall back down due to the force of gravity.

Me: Correct! And where does this force of gravity point towards?

Student: The center of the earth.

Me: Yes, and if we look at this globe of the earth *holds up a ball representing earth* where is the United States if Uganda is on the top?

Student: It is on the bottom of the globe.

Me: So are the people in America upside down?

Student: Yes.

Me: Okay, but if they jump will they fly away or fall back towards the center of the earth?

Student: They will fly away because gravity always points down.

Me: *slaps forehead with hand*

In some cases it’s laughable what beliefs my students have due to what they were taught in life. I still get shocked reactions when I explain that the sun is bigger than the earth, that poor people exist in the United States, and that pinching one’s nipples will cause the breasts to stop growing larger. In other ways, it hurts knowing how hard it will be to impart the concepts of creative thinking, brainstorming, the scientific method, critical thinking, and logic towards many of the problems that my students face on a daily basis.

My dream at this point is that what I have laid down on this part of earth can continue to grow long after I leave. Funnily enough, I no longer worry about whether or not my students and neighbors will remember me, but instead whether they can benefit from what I started here. I don’t want to leave and for things to return back to “normal” here in the village before I arrived. I hope that villagers, students, and pupils find a way to empower themselves through the ICT lab. I want them to think for themselves, challenge engrained ideas, and make well-informed choices for themselves and their families.

Even though right now they are not teaching perfectly, it’s a start to sustainability. It’s teachers teaching teachers and students learning from students.

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My Date with a Ugandan

9/6/15

I wish that this could be a story filled with great success, witty conversations over a solid dinner, sultry glowing coals from chappati stands, and steamy one-bedroom stories. Unfortunately, you will hear none of these things and hear of the adventurous hijinks and mishaps that characterized my date with a Ugandan last night.

I had met this Ugandan at a club two months ago in Kampala. For anonymity’s sake, I shall refer to her as Carol. We had exchanged numbers before departing and that was that. Every now and then she would text and ask me about my day and I would text her back. On my way back from Masindi, I finally decided to call her back and ask her out on a date. Since I was attending PST for the new group in Mukono over the weekend, I decided that my best chance would be to have this date on Monday. I did the typical basic survival skills, Kampala tour, and survival ICT session for the newly-arrived trainees but could only think about my upcoming date.

On Monday I left the training venue and spent the whole day wandering around Kampala. I meandered my way from the embassies of Kololo to the alleyways of electronic stores where I made a deal with a Ugandan to purchase 10 desktop computers for the ICT lab. I had a pillau lunch at Uhuru’s and then took at a nap at 1000 Cups as I awaited her call. I grew more and more worried as the day continued, because she wasn’t answering my calls. At first, I assumed that she was at work and didn’t have her phone on, or that she had lost her sim card. All I could think about was this date.

I eventually checked into the Annex and chilled until she called me late in the afternoon. We decided that we would meet around 8pm at the nearby grocery store Nakumatt because that’s how romantic dates start over here. At 8pm I arrived at Nakumatt and spent the next hour reading cookbooks in the book section, and my thoughts changed from thinking about the date to how much I missed food. She arrived at 9pm and we started the awkward conversation about our respective background and life since we didn’t verbally really discuss much at the club.

The first restaurant didn’t have working electricity and only the pizza oven was working, so I decided to instead have dinner at the ritzier Cafesserie in Acacia Mall. Still I felt weird, and I don’t know if it was due to the culture difference or that our chemistry worked so much better dancing in the club. I also had trouble gauging what would have been an appropriate restaurant since the two options are either really expensive ethnic foods or very cheap Ugandan restaurants. One choice is really expensive and could send the message that I am a sugar daddy, while the other message could potentially turn her off.

Dinner progressed well, albeit with forced conversation mainly from my side of the table. I suggested ice cream after dinner, to which she replied, “It’s too cold for me.” We walked for a bit and then the conversation got to what are plans were since it was now midnight.

Our conversation:

Her: “Wow, I’m getting really tired.”

Me: “Me too, where are you staying tonight?”

Her: “My house; it’s not too far from here. Where are you staying?”

Me: “I’m staying at a guesthouse, but the room is way too small.”

Her: “My brother stays with me in my house, but it’s pretty big. I think that I want to go rest.”

Me: “Well, would you like to show me your house?”

Her: “Yes.”

Naturally, I got excited and we took a 45 minute private hire vehicle to her house. As we approached the gate, I assumed that she lived in a bigger house.

Conversation:

Me: “Is that your house?”

Her: “No.”

Me: “Oh, so is that your apartment?”

Her: “No, it’s that house over there.”

I looked in amazement at the one-bedroom house that was a bit smaller than my own village house in Luweero. It didn’t matter, because I had been in smaller houses before. As we approached the house, she knocked on the door. I heard a murmur and saw that her brother was already sleeping in her bed. I walked inside and she introduced me to her brother who was also her roommate. I don’t know exactly how I felt in that moment, but it was like a mixture of incredulity, deflation, disappointment, confusion, and acceptance. In my naiveté, I had assumed that when she said that she wanted to rest, she meant something else other than physically sleeping and resting.

I sat in the one chair in the room facing a wall coated in born-again Christian crusade pamphlets as her brother asked me if I had ever gone to them. While he correctly deduced my ethnicity as Filipino, he incorrectly deduced that I had interest in going to a born-again crusade in Kampala. My date laid down a blanket and sheets for me on the floor and turned on the stereo radio before turning the lights off. I slept on and off through a night filled with some regrets and many mosquito bites.

In the morning, I made the taxi ride and walk of shame back to the Annex where the cleaning staff asked if I had spent the night there or not. They laughed, when I responded that I had most definitely spent the night there.

I really don’t know what happened during my date with Carol. As I am writing this, she called me and asked how I was doing. So honestly, I’m more confused than ever about whether or not this date could be considered a success.

Martyr’s Day Again

4/6/15

In typical village fashion several things happened all at once. The borehole next to my house broke when the chains that pulled up the piping snapped due to rust and no grease for over a year. The garbage pit was cleared out to be used for compost, and when the children decided to play near it one of the 2-yr old kids thought that it would be entertaining to push another one of the 2-yr old kids into the 6ft deep pit. The kid fell in and was covered in dirt and smashed avocadoes. Another surprise occurred when one of the wires from our power lines snapped in the middle of the day and draped over the matooke plants in our backyard. We debated whether it was live or not, and in the end decided not to touch it of course.

Repairing the Borehole

Repairing the Borehole

Broken Power Line

Broken Power Line

All of this happened around Martyrs’ Day, June 4th, 2015 which commemorates the faith of the Ugandan Christians who did not renounce their faith when the Kabaka ordered them to obey the local religion. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over Africa congregate at Namugongo Shrine in Kampala to pay their respects to the absolute faith of the martyrs.

She Pushed Her Friend in a Trash Pit

She Pushed Her Friend in a Trash Pit

The Eventful Road to Masindi

1/6/15

The trek to visit PCV Rachel in Masindi always sucks because while it is physically near to my site, there is no direct route from my site or nearest taxi park to Masindi Town. Once I arrive in Wobulenzi Town by bicycle, I have to take a taxi about 17km north to the Luweero Bus/Takisi Stop junction where the street vendors peddle their roasted gonja, beef, chappati, and cold drinks. In the past I’ve attempted to take a takisi that the conductors promised would take me to Masindi, but in actuality spends 4 hours taking me to the Kafu junction that should have only taken me a little bit over an hour’s ride. This time around, I decided to take my chances by waiting for a bus that would either bring me directly to Masindi or drop me off at Kafu 115km north of Luweero. Fortunately, a Ugandan man working for IRF (International Rescue Committee) picked me up for a ride. He told me that he worked for an American organization dedicated to aiding Sudanese refugees in Kiryandongo District directly north of Masindi District.

I shared a lot about the values of Peace Corps, my work, and the basics of the Federal Government with him. He also explained to me that while he is from Kitgum, he doesn’t like to share that fact with Ugandans whom he meets as a safety precaution due to some lingering hostile tensions between the northerners and the western/central Ugandans.  At one point we were stopped by traffic officers, but I talked ourselves out of a ticket by speaking in Luganda. He dropped me off at the Kafu junction, where I squeezed into a 4 seat-sedan with 7 other Ugandans. I don’t even get surprised anymore when I see two people sitting in the driver’s seat. I still don’t know how drivers can do that.

We were stopped halfway between Kafu and Masindi by more traffic police who had the most recent passengers leave the Long Masindi Roadcar. The head police officer kept threatening to arrest the driver of the car whose excuse was that he was giving me and this old lady a free lift. After the police officer let him go, he attempted to collect money from me and the old lady. The police officer reprimanded him for lying and then gave me and the old lady a lift to Masindi Town. Along the way he asked me if I had my passport and I retorted that I didn’t have to show it to him. We went back and forth debating whether or not it was legal for him to demand my passport, and I threatened to call the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura. Instead I called a Peace Corps staff member and asked if I was supposed to show him my passport. I was informed that I had to show him a legal form of identification that could or could not be a passport.

I gave him my driver’s license and Peace Corps identification card which upset him because I could have forged them. His argument was that I could be part of Al-Shabaab and forge my forms of identification as opposed to a passport. I had him show me the Police Act of Uganda, Chapter 303 The Police Act that states with some examples:

Part V.

Power to inspect licenses.

No liability for action done under authority of a warrant.

24. Arrest without a warrant.

A police officer may, without a court order and without a warrant, arrest a person if he or she has reasonable cause to suspect that the person has committed or is about to commit an arrestable offence.

27. Search by police offiers.

Whenever a police officer, not being lower in rank than a sergeant, has reasonable grounds for believing that anything necessary for the purposes of an investigation into any offence which he or she is authorised to investigate may be found in any place and that that thing cannot in his or her opinion be otherwise obtained without undue delay, the officer may, after recording in writing the grounds of his or her belief and specifying in the writing, so far as possible, the thing for which search is to be made, search, or cause search to be made, for that thing.”

In the US, we have judicial review and the concept of precedence whereas in Uganda the vague wordings in the police act grant police officers unbelievable power over the populace.

Unfortunately, he was right in the sense that any cause or any possible cause to suspect something in the future is grounds for inspection of one’s property. Probable cause is met in Uganda if any police officer has reason to suspect that one may at some point in the future break the law. I surmised that this gave the police unlimited power since they could legally find anyone guilty if the mood suited them. This also meant that inept police have unlimited power, since the police man attempted to search for the police act on his cracked iPad, but he kept clicking on an advertisement and refused to let me help him.

I mean, in the end I made it to Masindi Town in record time. It irks me because the ride from Masindi to Wobulenzi Town only takes 2 hours. Whatever, at least I got some new knowledge and another good story out of this trek.