Tuesday, June 21, 2011

East Africa Day 39 (Tues June 21, 2011): In the Beginning it will be Hard

I slept well last night, after yesterday's adventures on the Nile!

After a shower I sat with Stacey, Maria, and their two fellow volunteers from Germany in the hostel’s porch/lounge area for a while. They were preparing to part ways. Stacey is headed back to the village with Maria, and the German women are going to visit an orphanage in a nearby town that they had volunteered for during a previous summer. By the time the German volunteers get back to the village, Stacey will have already left Kenya to head back to Canada.

I also met a Bulgarian woman studying at a university in London, who has been staying at the hostel with a big group of mostly theater majors from her school. Twenty students from her school have been here in Uganda for the past month, volunteering for Soft Power, the organization that our river guide Juma's wife Sharon, runs. They each fundraised 650 pounds to cover their volunteer fees, and paid for their own plane tickets. Carmen told me that they were renovating schools - painting them inside and out, helping with construction projects, etc. They have been boarding in the schools - sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags, with bed nets. For example the school that they are working on right now has six rooms. They painted the first five rooms, and slept in the sixth room. They were here for the weekend to explore Jinja together before returning to London.

I walked over to Meghan's house, and had fun hanging out on their front porch, catching up with the Light Gives Heat Team.

photo: hanging out in the Light Gives Heat house dining room.

On my way over to the house I ran into a protest. A Ugandan man had pulled what looked like a telephone pole down, and had used it to block off the street. A small group of spectators (or maybe supporters) had formed at the intersection. I was not allowed to pass. I asked some of the young people there what was going on, and asked them the best alternate route to get to Meghan's address. One nice young guy walked me to a short cut that meanders between backyards, running parallel to the road. It was very pretty and worked out perfectly. The protest had wrapped up by the time I left Meghan's to head back to the hostel.

When I got back to the hostel I found Juma and Gerald at the bar. I asked Juma for his advice regarding the best way for a mzungu like me to make a difference in Uganda. He had a lot of interesting things to say. Firstly, he suggested that I get to know the community that I want to help. Find out what the villagers think of wazungus. Each community has a different opinion, and works differently. If they do not have a favorable impression of wazungus, then you must first try to change this. He told me some things about the Ugandan culture - crucial to understand if you want to work in Uganda. However, the thing that stuck with me the most was that like starting a business such as Nile River Explorers, in the beginning it will be hard. If you are the one who started a program or a business, then you might not be the one to actually see and experience it's success - because the early days are so hard. He gave me some great examples from NRE - contrasting how things were in the beginning, with how they are now. He said that if you want to be a part of that success, then you should either send someone in your place to start the project/organization, and then go later so that you can enjoy the success. Otherwise, just realize that you will be the one to sacrifice, but you might not be the one to enjoy the benefits of that sacrifice. Or I suppose another alternative is that you don't start a project - instead you join someone else's once it's been started and is already successful. But of course so many of us are drawn to risk.

In the course of the discussion I also learned the origins of the word Mzungu.

I later grabbed this from Wikipedia: The etymology of the word stems from a contraction of words meaning "one who wanders aimlessly" (from swahili words zungu, zunguzungu, zunguka, zungusha, mzungukaji-meaning to go round and round; from Luganda okuzunga which means to wander aimlessly ) and was coined to describe European explorers, missionaries and slave traders who traveled through East African countries in the 18th century.

Wanderer? I like the word more, now. Though I prefer to be referred to and addressed by my name, Nicole.

Meghan came by while I was talking with Juma, and he gave us his thoughts on our travel plans for this coming weekend. After that I hung out with some of the staff members and that was pretty much the end of a rainy, overcast day! Last thing I did tonight was post my recap and lesson plans for the Blue Sweater Book Club on Daraja's campus to the Acumen Fund community. Hopefully it'll help someone else!

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