Swedish social workers taking a weekend off
Jinja is a small city in Uganda set on the banks of both the Nile River and Lake Victoria. Yes, the source of the mighty River Nile. Naturally, it provides a great escape from development work and the hustle bustle of Jinja life. As with any city, the multitude of people and traffic can create noise and irritation. Enter: water! Whenever I can, I escape to a café, a hotel garden, or to the shoreline, for a coffee or a beer…. all just a ten minute boda boda ride away.
Yet, it just doesn’t cut it. Something is missing from the environment. I see attempts at beautifying the surroundings, but the attempt seem falls short. Having spent much time in South East Asia, I am spoiled by the charm and exquisite designs. I recall the intoxicating esthetic of Bali, with jaw-dropping doorways, gardens and lounges. The scent of flowers and eyefuls of stone and wooden carvings creates a drunkenness of the senses. Oh to be drunk…..
Growing up in a large family that ran around the world in the 60’s and 70’s, we had enough. How is enough defined? Not toys, bikes, games, 4 seasons of clothes, candies and cookies.
Enough =Food, Shelter and Security. My family were diplomats and so we lived in various countries with all the basic necessities. As kids, my mother always said “If you are hungry, eat bread and butter”. Hated that response.
Fast forward forty years…..Uganda on a Sunday. A workday for me, as my Internship site is a church and school. Sending off the Senior 4 Students to two weeks of exams, the 300 person congregation was particularly passionate this day. And we had electricity! Singing was accompanied by a keyboard and microphones making the building buzz with humongous harmony and ecstasy. Ushered to a place on the stage –I had planned to hide in the back– and after summoned to give a speech–I had two seconds to plan, and chose gratitude of Ugandan teachers and culture as my topic–I planned my getaway.
My getaway was to a commitment. In all of my research on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and workshops throughout the week, I discovered that this particular Sunday is also Global Hand Washing Day. Well, I said…we have to participate! I scrambled to put a little program together, and thanks to my assistant Ernest, a program was created. The Sunday School class of 30 preschoolers had gathered in teams around 6 buckets of soapy water. Under the raindrops and darkening skies, we washed our hands while singing the ABC Song. I then marched over to the pit latrines where Ernest had installed for me a Tippy Tap–two sticks connected by a rope, a jug of water hanging. I busted all of the teenagers that didn’t stop at the station.
The spirited congregation didn’t stop there. Parading through Mbiko village, 20 of the Zion Group descended upon an ill member, bringing good cheer and fellowship and small funds. In typical Ugandan custom, we shared tea, white bread and Blue Band butter, filling our tummies and hearts. A full day at the office.
Sunday—precious Sunday. A much-needed day of rest after 14 days of Ugandan cultural immersion and sustainable development project assessment.
Second Breakfast, Hobbit-style! Complete with French press coffee and big fat American-style pancakes (goodbye green smoothies of California) and a little internet research on local fun activities (to keep in my back pocket for tough times ahead) whilst enjoying the comfort of a snazzy backpacker’s lodge cantina was the call of the day. Perhaps out of guilt for my indulgences, I chose to spend the afternoon in a responsible fashion, by rewriting my entire two weeks of Luganda language lessons. Perched on a Ugandan straw mat on the grass of my Jinja home, my 7 year old “brother” Solomon and his 3 friends entertained me with their pretend rock concert with sticks for guitars, then served me their dinner creation of dirt, twigs and leaves, which I had to pretend to eat.
Wanting to explore yet another venue (and some more American food), I chose a restaurant in a spacious, green neighborhood that doubles as a foundation for an orphanage and local textile/craft sales. Joined by a new Ugandan friend, we enjoyed good old-fashioned girl talk for hours. Inspiring that values of respect, trust and loyalty are shared amongst women half way across the world.
Sharing also mosquitoes at dusk, I proudly shared my DEET with my new local friend (she is the same friend who washed my muddy sandals this past week). Life is good when helping one another, eh? And in a sharing capacity, this NPR article is worth reposting….it’s about Happy Humans and who has it right…us or them? Food for thought.
Three Cheers for Teva shoes! Mud-proof, rain-proof and clunky, they draw stares from local Ugandans who sport very nice, polished, shiny shoes and somehow manage to keep them that way on these clay and asphalt streets of Jinja. But I had a choice: to pay 1,000 shillings—-30 US cents—-for a boda boda (motorbike), or trudge the muddy streets & sidewalks to the internet café one mile. I chose the mud. Either I am very cheap, or I am acclimating to the economy of a developing nation—or both. The cafe’ staff took my shoes to the back and washed them for me(and I washed my feet in the restroom), giving me a pair of their beaded sandals to use during my 6 hour report-writing session. Ugandan hospitality is amazing!
Another fabulous thunderstorm overnight! Mind you, for a Californian, this is heaven on earth. Waking at 3am to sprinkles that developed into hardcore rain, I turned off my best friend on the equator: The Fan so that I could hear the rain and thunder, rocking me back to sleep. Not long after, the power went out anyway. Again. This is a daily occurrence.
Now, what’s significant about this almost-daily loss of power, is that I live 2 miles from the Nile Hydroelectric Dam. Barista Andrew told me that the electricity is exported to Kenya, leaving Uganda crumbs of this precious juice. I had more electricity and WiFi in Laos and Cambodia in the remotest of villages.
Going to work yesterday, I hopped off the taxi in my pretty dress and high heels (yes, proper attire is expected in Uganda), bruising my thigh as I squeezed through the passengers and tight exit. A minor problem, considering the first gentleman I meet on my clay path to St. Stephen’s was on crutches. I said good morning and touching his shoulder asked why the crutches: Electrocution! he said with a smile. One foot had lost some toes and sported incredible swelling, and an opposite arm revealed where the bolt exited his body.
Another day in the life of an international development worker.