It is the time of the term break doldrums when the students have finished Term 1 and the tutors are done teaching until the beginning of Term 2 next month. I have followed the formula:
9:00am – 10:00am waking up, putting in my contacts, opening the windows to prove to my neighbors that I woke up
10:00am – 11:00am – do some laundry, make chappatis for breakfast
11:00am – 1:00pm – eat breakfast, read books and articles on my kindle, use the pit latrine
1:00pm – 3:00pm – go to the PTC to eat lunch, sit down and wait until students approach me with questions*
*Note: These questions have ranged from algebra to women’s sexual health to possible income-generating activities
3:00pm – 5:30pm – dress down from PTC attire, play with the village children, take a nap, read books on kindle, study Swahili, call PCV’s concerning future projects
5:30pm – 7:15pm – bicycle to nearby Bamunanika trading center, buy necessities (tp, flour, rice, tomatoes), purchase 5 samosas, set up laptop at the hill to get internet, check email and Facebook
7:15pm – 8:15pm – chill in the house and share some conversations with the neighbors, fetch water
8:15pm – 9:00pm – electricity comes back, I watch tv shows on laptop, charge cell phone, and cook rice
9:00pm – 9:30pm – I do Focus T25 workout
9:30pm – 10:30pm – cook dinner, bucket bathe, eat dinner, wash dishes
10:30pm – 1:30am – write blog posts, lesson plan, watch tv shows, poop, brush teeth, go to bed
Normally, I would have gone elsewhere to preoccupy myself, but I felt that I needed to stay put for once and just spend some quality time at my site with my students, neighbors, and children even though I wasn’t teaching at the PTC. I also knew that the next few weeks would involve a lot of hectic travel for me involving the Central Youth Technical Trainings, Training of Trainers for the incoming group of PCV’s, and traveling to the Acholi-speaking regions of PCV’s with the Country Director. Either I have too much free time or not enough of it.
However, today presented itself with some new circumstances. A few months ago, my neighbor Godfrey acquired a baby kitten that he keeps as a pet. The problem is that Ugandans dislike pets that serve no use such as a dog or cat. It is not uncommon for Ugandans to kick cats and dogs in the village or to even kill them if they continued to eat ones chickens. As a result, the empathy and kindness towards cats and dogs that are normally taken for granted in the United States do not apply here. Time and time again I have to explain to the children to pet the cat gently and not hit it with a rock or a stick. It doesn’t help that many of the adults kick the kitten if it’s in their way. Today, one of the children picked up the kitten by the tail and started swinging it around as the kitten cried. I was fed up with the situation and ill-will with which the children treated each other and the kitten so I picked up the child and held him upside down.
Normally, I would do this with the children and they would laugh because I was one of the few adults who would throw them in the air, flip them, and then catch them before they landed. He started crying and I proceeded to playfully throw him in the air but the suddenness with which I threw him startled him into crying even more. Honestly, I didn’t feel bad about making him cry, because he cries every day. Their cries rarely move me anymore, because they instigate it by hitting each other, slapping each other, falling over each other, smashing the other’s face with a stick, or biting each other. It is rare that children that young here resolve their problems through words or by saying, “Sorry.” Instead, it’s much easier to get the message through corporal punishment.
As I walked away from the kids who now all wanted to be held upside down, one of the older village neighbors in his late-teens walked up to me. He normally would ask me questions about my life, America, or my bicycle. This time we shared a lively discussion about cats and pets. He told me that he believed that cats were demons. When I asked him why, he told me that cats had no bones. I explained to him that while he is entitled to his own opinions, he still had to respect that the cat was Master Godfrey’s pet and so he shouldn’t hit or kick it. He disagreed with me and told me a story: “Marvin, you know when you have some come visit your house or room and even though you don’t know her you just hate her? That’s how I feel about cats.”
I was just fed up with the ignorance as I argued with him. Normally in a town or trading center I would have ignored these false musings and spent my time doing something more productive. The difference in this situation was that he was my neighbor and I had been living here for over a year now. This was someone in my direct sphere of influence in my home village. I explained to him that cats were animals and even though they didn’t serve a direct purpose such as chickens, goats, or cows they shouldn’t be treated with cruelty. I guess that it just worries me that if both children and adults get pleasure from physically torturing another creature that didn’t harm them then physical violence could be engrained in them at an early age. Sometimes I shuddered as I saw the smile and laugh as they hit each other or the cat with rocks, sticks, or their hands.
I told my neighbor that I would physically show him direct proof in the PTC library that cats had a skeletal system and therefore bones. He said that he still had to perform some chores, but insisted that cats were demons. A few minutes later, he was back at my door with more topics of intellectual discussion. At first he asked if I could find him a sponsor for his school fees to which I replied, “No.” I told him that it was unsustainable and that he himself and his family were well-off enough to provide him with the money needed to pay tuition and board.
He continued by telling me a story about how some of his friends got sponsors from visiting Bazungu (white people), but he himself did not receive one even though he spoke the best English. He started to say, “You people, the Bazungu…” I cut him off mid-sentence and explained to him that it was rude to categorize all of us as white people. I reminded him that even though my skin was light, I was not white but Filipino. This started us on an interesting discussion about how one could be both an American as well as Filipino, that using a lot of idiomatic expressions is good, and that Obama is a part of the Illuminati and not American because his father is Kenyan.
I sighed almost every time that my neighbor opened his mouth and started spouting nonsense. My favorite statement of his was that Lil Wayne, Bebe Cool, P Square, and other rappers worshipped the devil because he read about it on the internet. Furthermore, Akon was a sodomizer because a pastor came to his school and showed the students a video that proved it to them. My neighbor then told me that I had to agree with him because if I disagreed with him then I would be lying to myself. The circular logic stunned me, because I started to get a better understanding of why some beliefs and values took root so deeply in the Ugandan culture, whereas others did not.
With the use of effective rhetoric and passion, I could see that a single web page, visit from a pastor, or village superstition could have such a strong influence over my neighbor. My other worry was that this kid wasn’t an uneducated guy from the deep village, but a student at the respectable Luteete Secondary School. This was a kid who could rattle off the chemicals on the periodic table, talk in full English sentences, ask about apartheid, draw the parts of a computer, and recite all sorts of memorized information from his classes. However, the critical thinking aspect was very lacking.
At one point in the conversation when our discussion heated up he asked me what the word “hit” meant. In my anger, I punched my wooden front door as a demonstration and in the process I bruised my knuckles. It made me realize just how much harder I would need to work to even change a small part of a person’s mind over here. Even backed by legitimate textbooks, internet sources, and sound reason/logic in both Luganda and English he would still disagree with me concerning something he saw on the internet or heard through the matook leaves (my own metaphor of “through the grapevine”). As a generalization, there is a lack of personal judgment concerning what constitutes a good, objective source of information as opposed to passionate prose and strong opinions from “big people”.
Note: Ugandans refer to leaders and people in high positions of power as big people.
How do I get someone to agree with me that disagreeing with me on a certain opinion is alright when that person sees me as a big person who cannot be contradicted? How do I get someone to understand the difference between facts and opinions when almost anything written through a permanent or semi-permanent form is seen as the truth? It’s in times like this that I understand and appreciate the value of Peace Corps. I have started to gain the trust of my community and what I say can be trusted or explained through their lens rather than through that of a short-term visitor who cannot possibly begin to understand the idiosyncrasies and subtleties that make up general Ugandan culture.
The biggest enemy that I have to face as a teacher in Uganda isn’t some bureaucratic behemoth, but ignorance. I try my best to empower my students with creativity and critical-thinking, but some days I just want to hit people until they agree that what I am saying is correct. It would be a much easier method, but I would have then replaced their ignorance with my own. I would be colonizing their minds, with me as their king. Instead of becoming a monster, I have to become a paragon instead. Instead of colonizing their minds, I have to free them. Instead of showing them right from wrong, I have to give them the skills and tools to discover their own, educated truth.