My Two Cents on Poverty – Part 2

August 15th 2015

In my last post I talked about the philosophical justifications for how to respond to poverty, as well as my actual response when faced with begging children. In many instances they don’t add up, and I’m still trying to muddle through where I stand.

So, looking forward, what should I do next time and the time after that? Let’s go back to theory for a minute. The concentric circles model would say that I only have a weak obligation to help those suffering from severe poverty in Uganda. Instead, their compatriots should help lift them up. Or rather, their wealthy compatriots should. Although Uganda is a poor country, there is also a growing upper class. Wealthy Ugandans have more than enough means to help their poor neighbors. But ironically – just as Canadians often ignore people begging – wealthy Ugandans are the most desensitized. As such, they are probably far less likely to help a begging child than a foreigner who has been exposed to the ‘porn of poverty’.

So, assuming I can’t rely on wealthy Ugandans to help, what should I do? Gillian Brock would say I have just as much responsibility to that school girl here as I have to children back in Canada. Elizabeth Ashford would tell me that my socio-economic background obligates me to help. My friend in Rwanda would tell me that it’s not sustainable to feed every street child I see. And I would agree with all three. But do these three pieces of advice converge, or are they mutually exclusive?

Recently, I seem to have found my own happy medium. There are little boys outside Acacia Mall who carry scales and quietly ask if you would like to get weighed for 1000 shillings. They are trying to raise money for school fees. Every few weeks I’ll oblige one of them, and after having been weighed I’ll pay them 2000 shillings.

Similarly, there are little girls selling bananas by the bank. Instead of buying them at the supermarket I’ll make a point to buy bananas from one of these little girls. I know that the middle men will take most of their earnings, but I hope that my weekly banana purchase helps a little.

Finally, last week Jeremy, Shelby and I got pizza to go from a restaurant near the bank. As we passed the banana girls with our boxes they ran up and asked for a slice. It was almost 9pm, and we assumed these ten year old girls had not eaten in hours. We had plenty of pizza to spare, so we happily offered them each a slice. I gave them my half empty water bottle as well, since on other occasions they had mentioned being thirsty.

I would like to think that that piece of pizza saved those girls the time they would have spent begging for dinner. That time saved might mean they went home early, and therefore did not fall asleep in class the next day. Their alertness may have saved them from being caned, which in turn may have made their lives that smallest bit easily. But this is just me projecting. It’s me stroking my ego by imagining my small benevolent action had huge ripple effects. Doesn’t everyone want to be the hero? In reality, the girls probably ate the pizza and went on trying to sell their bananas. Even though they now wave at us every time we pass by I shouldn’t see this as a victory. The fact that they now feel indebted to the pizza-bearing foreigners is not to either of our advantages. And there are power dynamics embedded in our pizza exchange that make me uncomfortable.

So, my solution isn’t perfect. And the fact that it gives me warm and fuzzy feelings inside doesn’t make it right. But I’ve decided that I’ll help when I can and when I feel comfortable doing so. When I cannot or do not feel ethically ok with it, I will not beat myself up. I will seek out opportunities to help in my community, where I can have a more permanent impact. This is not a surrender to the concentric circles model, but rather a realistic assessment of the context in which I can do the most good. And when I find myself faced with poverty, my actions will no longer come from a place of confusion. Rather my actions will be based on calculated decisions that are in line with my own moral code.


A Sensory Tour of Kampala

June 26th 2015

My small number of regular readers may have noticed that I’ve taken a brief hiatus from blog-writing. It’s not because I have nothing to say; on the contrary, for the past week or so my head has been spinning with fragmented concepts and half formed ideas. As a result I have a growing number of partially written blog posts cluttering up my computer desktop. But I can’t seem to organize them into coherent ideas the way I could when I first arrived. I think it’s partly because now what I have to write about is more than initial impressions, since after six weeks here I’m beginning to understand the underlying factors that affect the reality of Uganda. And these factors are as complicated as they are fascinating. So naturally I’m feeling a bit daunted by the idea of putting my thoughts and realizations on paper. When I’m feeling brave I will delve into these topics, but for now – to break up my writer’s block – I’m going to stick to simpler ideas.

A few weeks ago, during a crackly phone conversation with my dad, he suggested that I write using my senses. What does Kampala look like? What sounds do we hear regularly? At the time I dismissed the idea, but thinking about it now I realize that the sights and smells we now take for granted are drastically different than the ones in Canada and other parts of the world. Every day here is a sensual overload. So without further ado – and to my dad’s satisfaction – here is a sensory trip through Kampala:

Sound. Unlike in Canada – where noise complaints are the fear of every socially-inclined university student – Kampala is truly the city that never sleeps (sorry Seattle). From 4 or 5am until well after midnight our neighbourhood is alive with a wide range of noises. For example, as I sit on the balcony writing this I can hear the nearby church playing generic pop songs in an incomprehensible language. There are birds squawking in the trees, a rooster crowing somewhere down the road, and men chatting downstairs in the courtyard.

Our building is particularly bad for noise. Like the Killam Library at Dalhousie, the center of the building is empty and open to the sky, with the stacks – or in this case apartments – taking up the outside. Kind of like a concrete donut. I have yet to discover the benefits of this design, but its biggest flaw is that you can hear everything going on in the building. And I mean everything. The baby on the 10th floor, the Chinese missionary church on the 10th, and something that sounds like a giant photocopier continuously churning out new pages. Children are constantly stomping up and down the stairs, shrieking as they race their friends. Their nightly games of basketball and soccer are the soundtrack to our dinners.

Most of the time this cacophony of sounds is mildly annoying. But at 4am when music starts blaring in the parking lots it’s positively infuriating. Do people have no respect for others and the fact that they might actually be sleeping? That they have to go to work in few short hours? Jeremy, Shelby and I frequently get up in the morning to recount tales of our sleepless nights listening to a chorus of dogs serenading the city. But no one else here seems to mind. The constant noise is just part of life in Kampala. And as Jeremy pointed out, the sounds are usually an affirmation of community. The children, churches, babies and conversations are signs that people are interacting and enjoying each other’s company. While in Canada we live well in communities by respecting each other’s space, here people do so by filling it.

Smell. Kampala has many smells, but the most constant one is the smell of smoke. Or more specifically it’s the smell of burning garbage. Here in Uganda, like most other African countries, it is a common practice to burn garbage in small outdoor fires throughout the day and night. I don’t quite understand the logic of this, but it means that Kampala is always engulfed in a thin layer of smoke, like the kitchen after you leave something cooking for too long (queue the fire alarm). But contrary to what you might think, the smell isn’t repulsive, but rather fairly neutral and even comforting. I can imagine that if I return to Uganda at some point in my life the smell will trigger memories of “that one time I lived in Uganda the summer after graduation”.

Taste. Kampala tastes like rolex. If you don’t know what rolex is, you’re missing out. It’s one of the most popular street foods here and throughout East Africa. By around 6pm it’s common to see vendors framing the streets, armed with dough and hot cooking plates. Essentially rolex is a chapatti (i.e. a fried tortilla-like disc) filled with a thin omelet featuring cabbage and tomato. The vendor will mix the eggs in his one cup, flip the omelet with a knife, and wrap the finished product in a bag made out of newspaper. It’s very economical, and the result is delicious! A rolex gives late night poutine a run for its money.

I could go on and on about rolex, but Kampala has other tastes too. It also tastes like a Nile Special beer: cool and light and refreshing. It tastes like the heaping plates of peas and rice that are delivered for lunch at work every day for the cheap price of 3000 shillings (just over a dollar). It tastes like the mango, banana, pineapple, passionfruit smoothies that Shelby graciously makes us for breakfast each morning (thanks Shelby!). It tastes like the chocolate muffins that we buy several times a week from the neighbourhood supermarket. And it tastes like the gelato from Acacia Mall that we get as a ‘special treat’ (i.e. two of three times a week). If you haven’t guessed yet, we really like our treats.

Kampala feels like many different things. It feels like the pain in your hand after it has been clenched around the back of a boda boda. It feels like the sweat on your neck on a particularly hot day. It feels like the small keys on my $30 phone as I try to beat my high score in snake (Must. Beat. Jeremy’s.Score.). It feels like the weight of mounds of dusty clothes as you search for gems at the Friday market. It feels like the itchiness of a collared shirt after a day-long meeting in the Hotel Africana, where we spend at least one day a week. It feels like my gritty yoga mat when Shelby and I do one of our P90X3 workouts (Tony Horton: “one more biiiiiggg gorgeous breathe!” Me: “God this guy is annoying”, Shelby: “D’you think we could still follow along if we muted it?”).

Sight. Kampala looks like a series of lush rolling hills speckled with terra cotta roofed houses. It looks like the intricately braided and ever-changing hairstyles of the local women. It looks like the oversized and slightly dirty uniforms of children as they swarm the streets after school. It looks like the large bumper stickers on the white and blue mini-taxis that clog the streets, saying things like “Trust in the Lord”, and “Use soap and sunscreen” (no joke, I saw that one on my way home yesterday). Kampala looks like the US Aid public service posters, warning against unsafe sex and urging people who are sick to get checked for TB. Kampala looks like my computer screen as I sit for eight hours a day researching and writing, researching and writing. And it looks like the inside of my mosquito net as I fall asleep at night.

Canadians, Crocodiles and Crowds

June 15th 2015

It’s amazing how much can happen in the course of a week. Even here in Uganda, where everything takes longer, we seem to do an impressive amount of fun things. As you may have noticed, my posts switch back and forth from philosophical musings on development, to narrative accounts of our experiences here so far. Luckily for you, last week was action packed so this post fits into the latter category (phew, no need to sit through my thoughts on white privilege today). So without further ado, here is my account of this past week’s events:

Rafting on the Nile
In my last post I promised you a description of our rafting trip, so here it is! Last Tuesday was a national holiday (Hero’s Day), so we decided to take a trip to the small city of Jinja, which is known for its rafting. After weeks of sitting hunched over a desk all day, I was ready to do something active. Not to mention that despite my love for big cities, they also have a tendency to make me claustrophobic. Sometimes you just need to drive to the nearest forest, take off your shoes, and run around outside, you know? (Any fellow camp counselors reading this will get what I’m saying).

Anyways, before Tuesday I’d been rafting three times before: once on the Bay of Fundy when I was a teenager, and twice while I was living in Quebec. Each time was amazing, but they don’t hold a candle to rafting on the Nile! Maybe it was the size of the rapids, or the knowledge that there could be crocodiles in the water, but this trip was nothing short of intense, in the best of ways. But I’ll start from the beginning:

After a bus ride from Kampala to Jinja, we found ourselves in the middle of the lush Ugandan forest, speckled with small brick houses and smiling children. It was striking to see how lush and beautiful the countryside is, as like most big cities Kampala has very limited green space. The bus followed a very bumpy path through groves of banana and avocado trees, and finally parked outside a large thatched roof building next to the river (oh my God that’s not just any river, it’s the Nile!). Our rafting guides quickly introduced themselves, pointed us in the direction of a modest breakfast laid out, and then got us geared up in helmets and lifejackets. Jeremy, Shelby and I were then paired with another group of three and ushered into a raft with a Ugandan guide, although his accent was distinctly Kiwi (many of the people who work at the rafting company are from New Zealand).

Within minutes we were out on the water learning how to steer the raft and what to do if it capsized. Our guide explained to us the plan for the day: 8 rapids in total, most of them class 4, punctuated by a lunch break on an island and a few places where we could swim. Satisfied that we had all the information we needed, we began paddling our way to the first rapid (Class 5 – the biggest rapid you can legally go on). Shelby and I had opted to sit in the front, so we were instantly doused in liters and liters of powerful Nile water. Our little raft rose and fell in 10 foot high swells, with our guide yelling at us the whole time to “PADDLE HARD!” or “GET DOWN!” When we’d made it through the rapid, we looked back to see our Ugandan safety kayaker effortlessly doing flips and spins through the rushing water. We later found out that she is set to compete in the world championships for kayaking held this year in the United States.

Rinse and repeat seven more times and you have our day! The rest of the rapids went pretty swimmingly (haha get it, because we were swimming and rafting on the Nile?). It was exhilarating to be tossed around on the river, paddling as hard as we could to stay afloat. There were only two times that I was genuinely scared, and that’s when our raft capsized. The first time I was able to swim out from under the boat pretty easily, and I kept my grip on both the safety line and the paddle.

The second time however was on the last rapid, and as soon as we flipped I was sucked into a vortex of kicking legs and rushing water. After what felt like ages I managed to surface, but only had time to spit out my mouthful of water before getting tossed back under. I finally emerged about 40 meters down the river, my paddle nowhere to be seen. Shelby was spluttering next to me, and we grabbed for each other’s hands. We were both a little shaken, but it only took a few minutes for us to start laughing as we drifted down the now calm river. Poor Jeremy seemed a tad traumatized though, and he informed us that he is “not a thrill seeker” (I’m willing to bet that he does a very good Eyore impression. Am I right Jeremy?).


IMG_0774   Rachel

The Uganda vs. Botswana football match
On Saturday Shelby, Jeremy and I decided to go see the Ugandan football team take on Botswana. Ugandans love their football – most are ManU fans – so we knew it would be a good game. Sure enough, from the minute we left our house on Saturday afternoon the energy was palpable. Whizzing through the city on our bodas, every second person on the street was wearing a Uganda jersey (good thing we bought our own a few days before). When we drove through city center there were vendors selling flags, whistles, hats, and so much more. By the time we got close to the stadium all of our fellow boda riders seemed to have some sort of noisemaking instrument – they were blowing horns, whistles and even banging drums. The energy and noise only escalated when we got to the stadium.

It was the first time I’ve ever seen Ugandans be early. We arrived a good hour and a half before the game, but already the line to get through security went out the main gates. After being jostled through we picked up some popcorn and our favorite local beer (Nile Special), from one of the vendors lining the inside of the fence. Our treats in hand, we mounted the steps into the game.

The Mandela National Stadium is probably the biggest arena I’ve ever seen. It’s a huge concrete structure that looks like a cross between the Coliseum and the Killam Library. Its capacity is just over 45,000, and for this game the stands were at least 75% full. The three of us stationed ourselves right in the middle of the Ugandan side, and contentedly sipped our beers until the game began.

The Ugandan Cranes are not known to be a great team (although I’m sure they could put the Canadian team through their paces – sorry guys). In the newspaper we’d read that they’d only won 58% of their qualifying games so far for the 2017 AFCON qualifiers. But in my inexperienced opinion they were pretty darn good! Other than my brief but fairly successful high school career as goalie, I have very little knowledge of football. So my jaw would drop every time the Ugandan goalie booted the ball ¾ of the way down the field.
As it turns out, the Ugandan team may not be the best in the league, but they were better than Botswana. They won 2-0, to the immense excitement of the crowd who showed their support by dancing and making as much noise as possible. By the end of the game I was nearly deaf, but I was almost as thrilled as the other supporters. What can I say, the energy was contagious!

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Luckily for us, the excitement didn’t end after the football game. When we got home we were greeted by big hugs from none other than fellow Canadians Erica and William! They had flown in from their home in Rwanda for the weekend, and had somehow managed to follow my questionable directions to our doorstep. Erica is something of an adopted sister to me ever since she started looking after my sister and myself eight years ago. So needless to say I was overjoyed to see both her and her husband William. We spent the evening making food and swapping over a year’s worth of stories. It was so good to talk to people who not only understand our cultural background, but who have also known me for years. By the time we went to bed it felt like we’d had a good dose of home. And when they left yesterday afternoon, they’d convinced us to come visit them before we leave Uganda. So stay tuned for a post on our upcoming trip to Rwanda! (Hopefully)

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Free the Nipple
Although the following anecdote can’t be described as an event per se, it was such an interesting exchange that I have to include it here.

Let me ask you a question: what happens when one of your co-workers in Uganda stumbles across an article about the Free the Nipple campaign and shares it with the office? A whole lot of heated, culturally layered debate, that’s what. Jeremy and I were sitting in the office when our co-worker piped up about the article. The other Ugandans in the office started laughing and writing it off, but more liberal-minded Jeremy and I started questioning. Why was it so funny for women to want to be able to go topless? Why shouldn’t they? The conversation escalated until voices were raised and people were talking over each other trying to make their point. The participants: Jeremy and I (defending the nipple), two other women (falling somewhere in the middle), and the office’s resident lawyer, who was strongly opposed to the idea.

So there we were, yelling about the sexualization of nipples over our lunch of beans and rice. Now I’m not going to lie, the fact that it is not socially acceptable for me to take off my shirt in public has never really bothered me. I’ve never really felt that my rights are being curtailing in this area. But I also recognize that my discomfort with removing my shirt in public is the result of my socialization into thinking it’s inappropriate. Similarly, the fact that a woman’s boobs are seen as mystical and erotic body parts has more to do with societal constructs rather than an actual psychological predispositions.

Psychology aside, it was fascinating to see how much culture influences logic. In Canada it is commonly accepted that the sexualization of boobs, gender as binary, etc is all a social construct. But here many people feel that these things are part of our nature. Furthermore, there seems to be a belief that culture is static and can’t be changed. I’ve grown up in a country that is relatively accepting of all people and beliefs, but in Uganda these liberal ideas are not often introduced or fostered. As such, the positions we took in the argument were very much steeped in our cultural understandings. Nature versus nurture, am I right?

Point being, I never thought I could learn so much about culture by talking about nipples.

Strange Encounters

June 10th 2015

As you may have already read on Jeremy’s blog, yesterday we went rafting at the source of the Nile! I have my own version of the events typed and ready to go, but I’ll wait to post it until I have the pictures to go with it.* For now though, I want to talk about a strange encounter that I had before we got in the rafts: an encounter with my former self.

Let me back up a bit. Yesterday I woke up at 6:30am in order to be ready for the rafting bus to pick us up at 7:10. When we boarded the bus, still rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we were struck by a funny sight: the bus was full of a dozen white girls. Jeremy and a few Ugandans were the only outliers, since everyone else was an average height, average weight, dirty blonde, sports bra-wearing, slightly sunburnt white girl, with her unwashed hair thrown into a messy bun. Essentially, they looked just like me and Shelby.

A few minutes after we’d plunked ourselves in our seats, we discovered that the girls not only looked like us, but the majority of them were 20-22 year old Canadians. Go figure. But even more coincidentally, they soon told us that they were in East Africa on an Operation Groundswell trip. Now those of you who know me well know that this is the same company that I traveled with to Peru the summer after my second year. And, even more coincidentally, I only chose Peru after the trip to East Africa I was meant to be on was cancelled due to a lack of enrollment. Crazy! What are the odds that I’d run into members of a trip that I was supposed to be on three years ago, with an organization that only has five staff and does two East Africa trips per year?! Not very high, I’ll tell you that much.

So for the purpose of this post, I’m going to say running into them was fate. Hearing them talk about their experience so far, I was transported back to my Operation Groundswell trip. Except in hindsight vision is 20/20, so I saw it in a completely different – and much less flattering – light.

It was the summer after my second year of university that I decided to go to Peru. At that point I’d taken one full year International Development Studies course and had decided that it would be my second major. I liked it because it dealt with global issues, with the purpose of creating positive change in the world. So when I decided to go to Peru it was because 1) I wanted to travel for an extended period, and 2) I wanted to get some real experience in the field of development to know firsthand what the challenges are. I knew a little bit about the pitfalls of voluntourism** so I was determined to do it right. Unfortunately, due to limited time – I had a job starting in June – I was unable to go on a more extended trip, which might have been the more ethical thing to do. I also chose to go with a group instead of going alone, which was good for the sake of my comfort, but maybe not as beneficial from a development perspective. Still, I was confident that I could find a way to still do some good.

When I found the Operation Groundswell website, I liked it for several reasons. Firstly, it was a small, Canadian-based organization started by students with the mindset that development trips shouldn’t break your bank account. They gave a detailed explanation of where my money would be going to, and they had a fundraising component which would go towards buying the materials and making a donation to all the projects we’d be working on. Secondly, all the organizations we would visit were created and run by locals, and our role would simply be providing manual labour. Thirdly, they made no big claims about changing the world – the idea was that we would be backpacking for our own personal gain, but we would be doing so as ethically and sustainably as possible.

Luckily for me, everyone on my trip was a development student. My trip leaders were also well versed in the issues with development – they made sure we read books like Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America before our departure, we took a week of intensive Spanish classes upon our arrival, our leaders had regular de-brief sessions with us during projects, and they were incredibly respectful and mindful of everyone we encountered. For the last few days of the trip we had a ‘disorientation’ session, and when I returned to Canada I took an experiential learning course to reflect on my experience (it was actually from a student in that class that I learned about this internship – funny how things work out).

In Peru I had no illusions about saving the world, but I was also fairly certain that because of my careful choices and my trip leaders’ diligence I hadn’t caused any harm, and had maybe even had some mutually beneficial encounters. But talking to the girls on the rafting trip yesterday, I was forced to once again look back at my experience with a critical eye. I still maintain that my time in Peru wasn’t necessarily BAD – I certainly gained a lot, and at the very least our donations went straight to the local organizations – but I know the practice of voluntourism isn’t something I’m proud to say I’ve participated in. Especially after hearing those girls say things like how they saw the “real Africa” because they visited a slum. Even a five minute conversation with them made me uncomfortable.

Now one reaction would be to sneer condescendingly at these twelve girls, disgusted by their ignorance to the glaring flaws of voluntourism. But then I realized that these flaws were only glaringly obvious to me and my fellow scholars, as students of International Development Studies. I’ve spent the last four years studying the ins and outs of development – learning about the problems with voluntourism and the detrimental mindset that the Global South needs “saving”. But when I was nineteen and signed up for Operation Groundswell, I wasn’t too far off from where they are now. True, I’ve never owned a piece of Lulu Lemon clothing in my life, or gotten an inaccurate tattoo of a world map on my feet, and I’ve never said something about getting to stay with “real Africans”. But I may have been similarly smug about seeing a different side of Peru because we spent some time with a family in the Patchecutek slum outside of Lima.

So am I somehow better than those twelve girls? No, most definitely not. More educated on development issues maybe, but not better. I think they probably think they’re doing really great work. They genuinely want to help. Little do they know that the well they built probably needed to be redone by locals after they left. Or that the mindset of “saving Africa” is robbing the agency from a whole continent of intelligent, creative people. But that’s not their fault – like any of us they’ve most likely grown up with the rhetoric that Africa needs saving, and that the problems on this continent somehow happened in a vacuum, instead of being created and perpetuated by people in the Global North.

Mohammed Ali once said, “service to others is the rent we pay for our life here on earth”. Those girls are simply trying to do service, but are maybe approaching it from the wrong angle. But on that note, what is the right angle? In her article entitled ‘The Problem with Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism’, Pippa Biddle explains how as a 19 year old she realized how silly it was that she had flown to a developing country to build a house – despite having no expertize in the field – when there were many highly trained carpenters and stonemasons in the village who could have done a much better job. Similarly, in Peru I struggled to strip bark from a log, and then watched a local Peruvian man do it in a fraction of a second. Pippa Biddle makes the point that often, the best way for the white, middle class development worker to do development is to not be there. In her case that meant working with a camp in the Dominican from behind the scenes. She says she would much rather have the children there look up to a local counselor who they look like and can relate to, rather than a foreigner who will leave in a matter of months. This is a hard pill to swallow for those of us who like to travel and be engaged on the ground, but this probably just shows the level of selfishness associated with development work – at least in my case.

Finally, the sense I get is that often people doing ‘good’ development work look down on those doing ‘bad’ voluntourism. This is true in many situations in life – people judge others for being ignorant, but then often don’t do anything to reach out to that person or meet them where they’re at. It’s not fair to those girls to judge them for their actions but then not give them the chance to learn more. If people had scorned me for having been a voluntourist I would never have learned about all its flaws, or what to do better. Not that anyone really knows how to do better. But I think a start would be counteracting the stereotypes that Africa needs saving, or that the West is somehow better than the rest. To watch some awesome clips from people who are already doing this, check out the links below:

To conclude, I hope this post doesn’t sound too holier-than-thou. These are just my musings from yesterday’s encounter with twelve slightly exaggerated versions of my 19 year old self. I’m definitely much different than I was then, but I’m sure I still have many blindspots.
*The pictures were being sold for an outrageous price, so as poor but resourceful students we haggled with the camera guy and decided to split the diminished sum between the six of us in our boat – one girl took the pictures, so we’re waiting until she can find an internet café to send them to us.

**Voluntourism is the act of going overseas for a volunteer placement and to travel. Usually the placements are short term, sometimes over a March break or a Christmas holiday. Trips like Habitat for Humanity, Me to We, etc. are perfect examples. The issue with voluntourism is that such short term projects are likely to do more harm than good, since unqualified young tourists just swoop in, get an ‘authentic’ experience that makes them feel validated and then leave. It also might perpetuate the negative stereotypes that the visitors have about the country because they aren’t there long enough to understand the local dynamics. Although the trip members undoubtedly learn a lot, the communities rarely benefit. Furthermore, people pay ridiculous amounts of money for these trips, most of which goes to the organization that’s sending them and not to the people in the place they’re going. Very few of the organizations are actually locally based, which reeks a bit of neo-colonialism. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Short Stories

May 28th 2015

Since my last two submissions have been more like essays than blog posts, I decided to take mercy on you this time and write something a bit lighter. So instead of pieces of academic writing, this blog post is more of a series of short stories. You’re welcome.

Here they are:

The Frenchy’s of Kampala

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis gained their fame through their catchy song entitled ‘Thrift Shop’ (sorry to start the story this way, but I had to). Ever since then, instead of crinkling their noses as they pass their local Salvation Army, every teenager in North America bursts into the chorus of ‘Thrift Shop’ instead. Well not to brag, but I’m proud to say that I was thrift shopping long before Macklemore made it cool. And to that end, I seriously question whether he still buys his clothes for a matter of cents. But that’s beside the point. Ever since I realized that clothing could consist of more than track pants and skater shoes, thrift shopping has been the biggest contributor to my wardrobe. In Jr High School the highlight of the year was when my mom would take my best friends and I on our annual road trip to Frenchy’s (a local chain of thrift stores that run along the South Shore of Nova Scotia). We would spend hours sifting through huge mounds of slightly ratty clothes, finally emerging victorious with a few gems. To this day I make a point of stopping at every thrift store I go by (often testing the patience of my boyfriend, whose sneezes from the dust let me know when it’s time to go).

So when I arrived in Uganda I was worried that my thrift shopping addiction would go unfulfilled. But like any good junky I am resourceful; it took me less than a week to find a new supplier. Two days after our arrival we were driving through the city and passed what looked like an explosion of colour on the side of the road. Temporary stalls had been erected amidst the dust and filled with everything from tomatoes to toiletries. We craned our necks to try to take it all in, but before we knew it the car had sped by, leaving the market in the dust. Luckily though, our driver informed us that the market would be there every Friday. So last week after work we hopped on a boda and were deposited in the middle of the chaos. Our senses were instantly overloaded: vendors yelling, radios blaring, the smell of grease from food stalls filling our nostrils, and piles of clothing and trinkets as far as the eye could see. We stumbled wide-eyed through the madness, with vendors on all sides yelling “sister, sister!” and “mzungu!”. We shouldered our way to a food stall and ordered rolex’s, which are essentially omelets wrapped in greasy chapattis. Delicious.

From there we strolled through the crowded stalls until we reached one that looked particularly promising. But as soon as we dug our hands into the heaps of clothing they were pulled away and thrown into an adjacent pile. At first we were taken aback, but then we realized that the vendors had moved them so that they could throw them one by one into our outstretched arms, making sure we saw them all. As they threw article after article into the air they starting singing, and the vendors at the nearby stalls quickly joined in. It was a magical moment, for lack of a better word: clothing flying, women laughing as they squabbled over articles, and joyous singing rising from all around. By the end of it Shelby and I were giddy, and we headed back to our boda driver with our helmets stuffed with new treasures. Needless to say, from now on we have a standing Friday afternoon date it the midst of the market.

A Tall Tail

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Kampala’s tropical climate helps breed a wide range of critters, many of which have taken residence in our apartment (despite our many attempts to scare them away with Raid). The cutest of these creatures are the geckos who scurry along the walls every few days. On Tuesday we were sitting down to eat dinner when a rather large specimen sauntered his way towards my bedroom. We continued to eat, casting a casual glance at our new friend every once in a while. It wasn’t until he ran into my room that we decided to track him down and put him outside. Unfortunately for us he was a sneaky little bugger who found a hiding spot under my shorts, then the couch, and finally the fridge. We were game for the chase though, so with a bowl in his hand Jeremy coaxed the gecko out from under the fridge. With victory in sight, I ran to grab the keys to the balcony to let the gecko out into the wild. But as I was searching for the keys I heard Jeremy yelling from my room: “OH MY GOD, HIS TAIL! I CUT OFF HIS TAIL! IT’S STILL MOVINGGGGG!!” Shelby and I rushed back into the room to see that yes, the little critter’s tail had in fact come off when Jeremy had captured him under the bowl.

We were frozen for a moment in shock. The gecko was breathing heavily in the corner, but his tail was writhing around on the floor a good few feet away from its owner. It had a life of it’s own! Of course Jeremy and I instantly lost our heads and started babbling and trying to make sense of the situation. To our surprise, Shelby – who has a fear of insects – calmly approached the gecko with the bowl, scooped it up and placed it gently outside, all the while speaking soothingly to it. In the time that it took her to get him outside Jeremy and I regained our composure and set to clearing up the now lifeless tail. Although we know that the gecko’s tail will regenerate and he will be fine, I think we’re all still a bit shell shocked and will probably be giving all future geckos we see a wide birth. We’ve done enough harm for the time being.

And finally to end this post, here’s a picture from mine and Jeremy’s attempt to do our laundry. I never understood the usefulness of a washboard until now. And yes, the water is actually that dirty thanks to the infamous Kampala dust.

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Home Alone

May 18th, 2015
Remember the first time your parents left you home alone? How grown up you felt, but nervous at the same time? Maybe they had to run to the corner store, or else they had an appointment but couldn’t find a babysitter. Or, as in my case, maybe both you and your sister were covered in chicken pox and your mom had to go to the drug store to get calamine lotion before you itched yourselves into oblivion. Whatever the case, you ended up in the house alone, however briefly. At first you thought it would be fun (think of all the cool things we could do!). But you quickly realized that this being alone business was a bit trickier than you had anticipated. You didn’t know how to do simple things like make toast or answer the doorbell because your parents always took care of that. Pretty soon your excitement turned to anxiety and you found yourself just waiting for them to come home. Now imagine that scenario but in a foreign country. Where you’ve only been for five days. With two others who are just as lost as you. That should give you a sense of how we’re feeling after having just moved into our apartment here in Kampala.
Of course being home alone isn’t a perfect metaphor: I’m twenty-two years old now, and unlike my eight year old self I’ve had ample experience living on my own. I know how to make toast and answer the doorbell; those things haven’t been a challenge for me in years. But there are still a few equally simple tasks that we need to navigate, like where do you take the garbage when it’s full, and what’s the protocol for laundry? How do you turn on the oven, and why won’t the shower get hot? (Answer: the oven has a switch behind the lid, and the water has a heater that needs to be turned on 20 minutes before you hop in). All these things would be common knowledge to us in Canada, but here it’s like experiencing that first time home alone all over again.
Of course hot water and garbage are mundane little things that we’ll figure out as they come. The real adjustment will be learning how to live in Kampala, from getting food to getting around the city. Since we arrived we’ve been completely taken care of: from meals to transport, everything has been out of our hands. But now the training wheels are off, and it’s up to us to sink or swim. This time my parents aren’t the ones away from home – I am.
This is when the real adventure begins…let’s see how we do!
First though let me show you our new home, starting with the good parts:
My room

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Living/Dining Room


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And the not so good parts:


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But saved the best for last! There will be many afternoons sitting out here.

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