Thursday, 3 May 2012

Naked Ugandan men...

Hello loved ones!

Things are still going phenomenally well here in the “Great Lugazi!” (this is how Valence says it…) and am feeling more and more comfortable here each day.

I have also seen enough naked Ugandan men to last me three months! Spotted about a dozen today. I was not at all prepared! I was driving along with Valence and another gentleman, out in the forest. As we came over a hill and into a dip in the road I noticed a small channel. And then, there they were! A dozen naked men, washing!! I’m not sure who was more shocked. Myself, or the men, who were certainly not expecting to see a white girl in the back of a car drive past! Some of them looked really embarrassed and tried to cover themselves up.. but most of them realized it was pointless and just started laughing! I didn’t know whether to laugh back or look away or what to do??!

Five other volunteers are here for the week and it has been amazing to watch them settle in, interact with them, and also a nice reminder of how far I have come in three weeks. They are a really eclectic mix of people with lots of energy and varied experience. Their focus is on building a health clinic at the organisation’s Hope for Africa Children’s Village. Valence has been waiting six years for this clinic so he is very excited. We won’t be able to finish it as YOFAFO still needs another $3000 for the roof and medical supplies, but the walls will be up! The clinic will service so many people from surrounding villages who would otherwise not have access to a doctor. I helped them lift bricks on Monday, but my feet became so sunburnt I had to spend the night with my feet wrapped in wet towels! On Tuesday I tried to film as many shots as possible from the shade. I was so impressed with how much they achieved in two days!! They have had a pretty big helping hand from the community – people have been pouring in from everywhere to help out.

Amongst the group there is a Colombian girl; a London woman, who grew up in Zimbabwe, but whose Mum is Australian and Dad is European; a Kiwi who lives in Sydney who was a lawyer working in media law, but is now working in communications for the National Broadband Network.; an Australian man called Ralph, who has been the IT architect for ANZ; a weightlifter called Julie who is from Wisconsin in America; and a British girl called Erin who has already been in Uganda for three months.

Ralph is in his 50s or 60s, has three children (one of whom is my age and works as a general manager/ personal trainer at the gym where Eleanor used to work) and is currently in a relationship with a yoga instructor. Ralph doesn’t really look like a yoga man, but it doesn't surprise me that he's giving it a go. In his day he was a pretty good runner and cyclist (Arron and Eleanor will appreciate his time of 28 minutes for a 10km run). He is lovely and has spent a lot of time helping out with projects in West Africa. He is well travelled and has been an amazing resource while we are trying to revamp the organisation’s website. Ralph, Valence and myself took a day away from lifting bricks to work on the website rebuild. We set up office at the most beautiful place in the rainforest near the village where Valence was born. The rainforest is called the Mabira National Forest Reserve and is the one I have mentioned previously. It is such a special place and it just seems so wrong that the sugar company may be allowed to destroy part of it.

I have been doing a bit of research and asking some questions around town about the sugar company and was able to go to the site last week. The people I went there with have some major concerns with the way the company is using and storing chemicals. I also spoke to **** about this, as *** did some research on the factory when at university, and claims to have discovered some really awful things about the way they are exploiting the community. Some of the workers have protested about the lack of minimum wage or permanent positions by burning sugar cane, but none of the issues about workers’ rights at the factory seemed to have gained much coverage in the media. I am still unsure as to why, but expect it is because there is not enough political will from the right people. There is also the issue of the government controlling the media.

Am getting along with the Kiwi/Aussie (her name is Selma) quite well and she is now considering changing her flights and staying! Apart from having some similar professional backgrounds, the New Zealand / Australian rivalry kicked in straight away. But we pulled together, in true ANZAC spirit, to make biscuits of the same name. After all, they would just be alled ‘AACs’ if it wasn’t for the kiwis… and who knows how to pronounce that??!! Unfortunately the biscuits turned out more like a crumble, but since Ralph was the only one who knew what they were supposed to taste like, I think we got away with it. We had to improvise a lot… there were no rolled oats – just these really small, fine, quick-cooking porridge oats. The golden syrup was so clear it was barely even yellow. And we didn’t have an oven or baking tray. I had to make an ‘oven’ putting two massive cake tins together on top of the coal fire, then putting the ANZAC mixture in the bottom of another smaller cake tin, then baking. Was pretty hard to tell if it was cooking at 110 degrees, or 300.  The 18-month-old, Beth, was the biggest fan and wasn’t happy for the rest of the night unless she was munching on our Uganzac Crumble. Jo’s assessment was that it “tasted like sugar”. Doreen described it as ‘that Australian / New Zealand scrambled biscuit’. So while it might not have been as good as my coconut/honey/ginger/citrus cake royale from last week, or the chocolate/banana extravaganza… it was still an upgrade in Doreen’s eyes. I think it's because of the cakes she is suggesting marrying me off to one of her brothers! And Beth is much more of a fan of mine since I made cake (half of the ginger cake went missing and Doreen thought I ate it… then we realized Beth had discovered a way to climb up on the table and had spent the day grabbing handfuls and munching away at it!) I now have an extra shadow. She is very small and walks around saying my name, attaching herself to my leg, trying my shoes on, and chitter-chattering away to me in a mixture of English, Lugandan and creative Beth language. We have dubbed it ‘Bethuganda’.

The British girl called Erin who has already been in Uganda has been volunteering in a town not far from here for three months. But she loved Uganda and didn’t want to go back, so was able to change her flights and visa. She has a Masters in Health Psychology and will spend six weeks working with YOFAFO on health promotion and public health initiatives. She is really sweet and bubbly and I am glad to have her company.

In my last email I told you about how challenging I have found it to try and run while I have been here. Everyone was staring at me and laughing and sometimes it is hard to tell if people are laughing at you in good humour, or if they are making cruel fun of you! I was also feeling very vulnerable as a single, white, female and was attracting a lot of attention I really did not need while I was running and didn’t feel very safe. But I have now convinced Valence to come jogging with me! We went for the most beautiful run this morning, through the sugar cane and the jungle. He is really enjoying it, and I have also managed to convince him and Dickson to participate in a run along on the Nile River in about four weeks time!

I have to say, even though I felt a little vulnerable when I went running… I have been blown away by how friendly and trustworthy people are here. Despite the fact this is a developing country, more than half the population are unemployed and many live on less than $1 a day, I have barely been asked for any money. I once had some money hanging out of my pocket, and instead of pinching it, some young children came and told me about it. Also, I nearly destroyed my phone on the weekend. I was on a boda boda and trying to carry too many things…. and the phone fell out of a bag and onto the road!! It was in the middle of the roundabout and I thought I was never going to see it. Three man ran into the roundabout and I figured they were going to pinch it and run. But they joined forces to stop the traffic, and one of them jumped out in front of a car as it was driving over the phone, and then reached under the car and saved it for me!

I have enjoyed visiting Kampala, but my favourite places to go (thus far) are out into the villages. They are situated in what would have to be some of the most spectacular places in the world, and the people there are so welcoming. They know you have come as a volunteer and just keep saying ‘Thankyou’ all the time. They cook for you and are always so impressed if you can have a go at helping or just say two or three words in Luganda. I am learning slowly (mpola mpola).  I really love all the sounds of the words, but they are just so different! And words can mean such different things if you emphasise the vowels or syllables in different places. For example, the word for water is actually the same as the word for s**it, but changes depending on how you say it!

I did have a very relaxing weekend in Kampala last weekend though. I headed over on Saturday morning and was able to find a 50m metre pool! It was at a resort about 15km out of Kampala, and there was a wedding happening right beside the pool. I discovered it is the only full-sized swimming pool in Kampala. And in all of Uganda. And in fact.. in all of east Africa! I have a new-found respect for any East African trying to qualify for the Olympics now! This is the only full-size swimming pool they can train in, so most of them just train in 25m pools! So had a big swim and then jumped on a boda and headed off to a meditation class. It was with an organisation called Isha --   Am looking at doing a two day yoga workshop on May 12/13 with the founder of Afrikan Yoga.

 I will go and check out Jinja this weekend. Am also helping out an arts organization called Bayimba with a bit of media / marketing this week. I was put in contact with the organization through a friend of Minerva’s, in South Africa. They are holding some events / workshops / exhibitions / concerts in Jinja this week and on Saturday. I will head over there on Friday to help them out and participate in some of the workshops, and then Valence will join me on Saturday. Can’t wait!!

Hope this finds everyone well and not too cold… although you can be happy knowing that too much sun is sometimes too much (see photos of my sunburnt feet).

Lots of love,


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