Thursday, November 27, 2008

50th Post, Happy Turkey Day!

So nothing special or informative for my 50th post. I just wanted to say that I miss everyone back home on this holiday and especially miss the boats of gravy that mom makes. Mmmm, gravy! ;) I'll be at home alone tonight with some whiskey, a bag of rye crisps, my favorite lizards and my top 40 radio station. Sounds sad, but it's not. Luckily, like I said last year, it never feels like a winter holiday around here cause it's July-like weather year around. Plus, I'm about to do a cool project on Saturday testing people for HIV and have my sister coming for Christmas. Add in future vacation plans to go to Rwanda and Lamu Island, Kenya is giving me a lot to look forward too. So I hope everyone is getting stuffed on stuffing and enjoying themselves amongst friends and family. Take care and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


So on the bike ride (about 5km) from my house to my friend Jessica's (she has power, yay!), I had something happen to me that I haven't experienced yet. Anytime I leave my house and travel around, especially in the village, I am randomly assaulted with words from the cheap seats, ie, side of the road or off in the bushes. Usually it's children demanding money or sweets from me or mocking my voice. Notice how I said "demand" and not "ask" or "beg." There is this entitlement that a lot of people feel they have to white people's possesions, especially money. You'll be drinking a bottle of water and someone will be like "give me your water" or listening to your ipod only to hear "I want that device" over your Journey songs. My response is always involves some annoyed or clever way to say no or a futile attempt to explain that no, I don't have a lot of money even though my skin color, according to you, indicates that I do. Something that my girlfriend Diana like to point out is, why do people think that what is mine is theirs? Where did they get that idea?

So this setup brings me back to my story. I was riding and one kid in a group of about 5, all around 8 years old and wearing the local primary school uniform, calls out "You give me my money!" So I yelled "oize" which means, "you come." I did this thinking that if he really wants it, he should chase me down and get it. In retrospect, that's demeaning and I won't do that again. Immediately I said that, I forgot that I said it and was thinking about whether I remembered to bring the key for Jessica's house with me or not. I stopped my bike and started digging through my pockets, not even thinking about it. Sure enough, those boys run up to me and stand next to me staring. Halfway through tearing through my pocket I realize what I'm doing and what I've done. I look up and say no, I don't have money for you and tell them to go to school and to work hard. As I'm riding away, I feel like utter crap. The look of expectancy and joy on those boys faces when they thought they were getting a handout from the Muzungu was so great and sad at the same time that I almost stopped again and gave them something. That experience was the first time I had ever stopped and gave someone the impression that I took the bait and was going to give them money. Should I have done it? "NO!" I think to myself, "you can't just hand out money to these extremely poor kids. That will cause more children and even adults (who are often way worse than children) into demanding candy and digital cameras, and scholarships to schools in America from me." "But Wes, haven't you given out thousands of dollars worth of free stuff??" "Yes, but that has always been to support a community based project benefiting a larger group of people or something relating to the health of someone." I have donated to medical costs of individuals I know before but it's always been on the sly and i make them not tell anyone that I did it. I hate loaning money or helping people out, but everyone here ends up doing it sometime in one form or another. People take you in like family members and family helps each other out. That's something that translates across cultures.

All this misperception and rude behavior (in my mind) goes back to ignorance, poor parenting, poor education, and irresponsible donors who just dump money and run thinking they are saving Africa by giving a ton of money to one guy who in turn "eats" the money and becomes a wealthy man. A lot of people perceive that situation as "that man got rich because white people gave him money." They don't question why he got the money or whether he was supposed to do something that benefited more people than just his own family with that money. I'm always frustrated because I want to scream to people "If I had money, would I be riding a crappy Chinese made bicycle in the middle of the village for 2 years sweaty myself dry!?!" "Would I be sitting in this cramped, sweaty taxi with 25 of my closet "friends"? Wouldn't I just get a Land Cruiser and a driver?" "Would I be buying supplies and food in your small, run-down trading center in the middle of rural Uganda if I had money to spare? Wouldn't I have people do my shopping for me?" There seems to be no critical thinking for a lot of people in the village. It's WHITE=MONEY, simple as that. Black and White (no pun intended, but that's the perception). It's amazing to me that people will have their back to me as I'm approaching on the road and then turn around and immediately, with no hesitation, ask me for money. Like they've been waiting all day for this opportunity and expected it to happen at that moment.

So that's my vent for the day. These type of scenarios of misperceptions of money and the overcharging that goes along with it together with sexual harassment, mockery, incompetence and corruption are the things that really wear on people here and create a negative taste in their mouths. It saps up hope and idealism and replaces it with cynicism and bitterness. Keep in mind that this is only a portion of an extremely complex experience. I am actually really positive about a lot of things that other people aren't but it's easy to talk about the things that bother me because they have a big part in how I act and react now.

In lighter perception news, I sometimes get stereotypes that are fun. People have mistaken me for all sorts of celebrities including Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Dam. Lately though, there seems to be a trend that I might run with. People here are crazy about English Premier League Football (soccer). People are either fans of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool. Though the two biggest are Man U and Arsenal. Apparently I look a lot like one of the stars of Arsenal, named Cesc Fabergas, a Spaniard. I have gotten this at least 10 times in the last 3 months. Of course I always confirm that I am him and that Man U, sucks! :) My next purchase is to get one of his jerseys and see what kind of reaction i get when I'm walking around. Should be fun. When the CHOGM meetings were here last year, I tried to convince people I was the Prime Minister of Canada. Unfortunately, no one really bought that one. :) Maybe they know what Stephen Harper looks like really well, you never know??

Last, but not least, I gotta say that I LOVE having the internet in the village. It's so nice to be able to keep in touch with what's going on with friends and family as well as around the world. So much better than fighting with crappy computers and the formidable "time remaining" counter at the bottom of the screen. Now I can do important things like update my Facebook profile! :) Ok, all for now. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

That's what friends are for

Well, it's official, my friends are awesome. They came, they saw, they told bad jokes, and they conquered. Plus they brought me all sorts of goodies and told me how great I am...always a plus! Highlights included visiting Lake Mburo National Park in the SW of Uganda and doing a walking safari (saw impalas, zebras, cape buffalo, ton of birds), Murchison Falls NP which was awesome (i'm sure Ian's photos will be online in no time), two trips to the "Pork Joint" in Kampala, and 4 days in the village.

My friends concluded that Village time was their favorite and I don't blame them. Village life is so interesting, horrible and amazing all at the same time. They learned to cook, fetch water from the borehole, and do their business in a dark hole. All feats worthy of street cred! I was amazed how relaxed and comfortable they were walking around the village and interacting with the locals. Having people living in abject poverty staring at you and occasionally asking you to save them isn't something that the average American has to deal with and can be rather overwhelming. The three of them handled it all style, grace, and very few stupid questions...expect for Alex's during a rain storm: "Why are those buckets outside?" "I'm collecting water Alex" "Why?" :) Activities included going to the rocks by my house, a prayer session for my supervisor who almost died in a bus accident (Hannah read from the bible, it was awesome), visiting the orphan school and fish pond guys that i work with and distributing donated soccer balls to 2 primary schools. Fyi for everyone out there, they brought home 300 bead necklaces made by women's groups that 2 of my PC friends work with. They are trying to sell them to give support to these groups. Christmas Presents anyone?? Also, my sister will be coming back with some handmade baskets in early Jan.

Thanksgiving is coming up and unfortunately I won't be able to celebrate it. My wonderful girlfriend has promised to share her pumpkin pie mix and cranberry sauce with me when i visit her in December, but for now, no Turkey day :( There are two volunteer Thanksgiving dinners I could go to on Saturday but I'm going to be working. Through my village networking skills, I'm hooking up 3 different groups to work together and test everyone who wants it in the most remote Parish for HIV. I'm really excited because if it is successful, then my last really big project will be to plan to test, counsel, and refer everyone in my sub county for HIV. I've pretty much given up on trying start a bee-keeping project. Kinda disappointing, but oh well. Can't save the world. However, leaving with helping to reduce the rates malaria and HIV isn't a bad rap sheet for a PCV. After the testing then I'll help my organization launch our Savings and Credit society. We're getting a lot of capital from a Kuwaiti donor, but the loans have to be interest free, ie, no profits to pay staff and running costs. Luckily, the staff is really smart and together we'll come up with some income generating activities on the side to support the SACCO. Should be interesting anyways.

In other news, the Wes is a hypocrite meter has dropped significantly after I put up my mosquito net over my bed for the first time. I thought that it was funny and ironic that I helped hand out 13,100 nets to the community but didn't use one myself. The nurse working for Peace Corps didn't find it that funny, but I did convince her that it was ironic :) My excuse was that my house is at a higher elevation than surrounding areas, there's no standing water around, I had screens on the window, and I haven't missed more than a day in taking my anti-malarial medicine. But hey, no malaria for me so far (knock on wood!).

Ok, I think I'm going to watch some movies from the external drive that my friends brought me...did I say that they're awesome??

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We CAN!

wow, yesterday/today was quite a day/night. Not only did my friends fly in late at night, but pulled an all nighter watching the election at a backpackers hostel in Kampala with a bunch of my friends. Oh, and I was on local TV, so was my friend Ian who had just gotten there. Don't worry powers that be, I didn't say anything embarrassing or mention my organization at all. The whole experience last night was so amazing that i'm extremely overwhelmed and happy. Seeing the reaction of all my friends and colleagues when Obama gave his acceptance speech was really amazing. There wasn't a dry eye in the house and even people who didn't support him were moved by his words. Walking around today people see me or other white people and go "OBAMA??" and we say "YES!" and they say "YES!" It's a pretty funny and nice experience. Certainly beats other ways that people could respond to us and makes us feel really good. So many people wear Obama shirts around town and it'll be interesting to see what kind of things he can do with all the positive energy he has from around the world, especially Africa. It was so so so good to watch the election with friends from home and really made it easier to be away on such a historic day.