Greetings from Kampala!

My husband, Taylor and I have had an exciting and challenging first few weeks as we meet new people, learn about the culture, and try to navigate in a city of a million people, with 2 traffic lights total  Peter, LiA’s staff member was the first to show us around. I thought we would get at “taxi,” meaning a driver in front and us in the back, I soon discovered that “taxis” were called Matatus. For anyone who has experienced this form of transportation, they can understand the deer in the headlights look as I boarded a small mini-bus packed with people while the conductor yelled at me in Luganda (their Ugandan language) and we were told to sit down in an open seat. Peter told me we would get off a few “stops” later. I’m thinking what stops, is there a schedule, how do you know which stop, how do I pay? Low and behold, you just yell when you want to get off, wherever that is along the way, and give the conductor a few hundred shillings for the ride. It’s really not a bad form of transportation, although the stops are frequent and can be long as they wait form more people to get on. Anyway, thank goodness Peter was there to guide us with our first “taxi” experience. As we rode, I sat in the back and was overwhelmed with the sites, the sounds, the smells, and the driving! My first experience on the streets of Uganda was not what I thought it would be, but in retrospect, we just jumped right in, which sometimes is the best way to go. We were exposed to the city all at once and experienced it they way most Ugandans do on a daily basis. I did not feel like a tourist, although being a “Muzungu” (white person), I stood out completely. We searched for housing for a week and were a bit picky because we will be here for about 9 months. That was actually a great way to learn about the city and surrounding areas. We opted to get a special hire (the taxi I was familiar with) in order to make use of time. We were thinking we could find a place in a few days. When we told that to our new Ugandan friends they laughed at us! Their concept of time, especially when apartment hunting, was obviously very different from ours, but fortunately within a week we found something great. We feel very comfortable with the Matatus now and are getting places on our own. In a few weeks the city has become smaller, but I don’t think I will ever get used to the driving. Our first journal experience was very meaningful. George, an Acholi and LiA member, took us to the Acholi Quarter, an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp where he and other refugees from the conflict in the North live. It is an interesting dynamic because you are happy that the people who live there are safe and out of the war-torn northern Uganda, and yet it is hard to see the conditions that some of them live in. We met Beatrice and she invited us into her home, which consisted on two small spaces divided by a curtain. She had four small cushioned chairs, next to a small charcoal fire for cooking, and invited us to sit. As we unpacked our material a small crowd of beautiful little faces gathered outside her door wanting to see the Muzungus. Everyone just stared as we were trying to take it all in and do our job. As I looked at Beatrice, I saw a lovely woman who was probably my age and yet had been through more trials then I will ever face. She has 3 small children and takes care of one of her brothers. As we chatted, I was able to see that the loan she received changed her life, in a small but significant way. I have read so much about the “loans that change lives” and at that moment I felt so fortunate to be one of the few who gets to see it in person. Even though her conditions had not changed drastically, she had changes. There was now more food in the house, less sickness in her family, and an income generating business she could count on. For Beatrice, even the small chairs for visitors to sit on were a success for her, which she told us were bought with her income from the loan. There was a smile and a hope in her that things can change and dreams can get bigger; a hope that seems to keep many of them going. Beatrice also told us her hope is to someday return to the north and continue with her business; as peace continues and life gets better there. -Tamara …………………………………………. We have really enjoyed the last few weeks here in Kampala. We are learning a lot about Uganda and about how much of the world lives. We see an example of this every night as we walk back to our apartment. People gather at the bottom of a hill around a water tap and fill up their water jugs for the night. On their way back up the hill, they carry their 30 pound jugs right past some of the largest houses in Kampala. Last week, on my way back from a run, I decided to help a lady carry her jug to see what the experience was like. Half way up, I started to sweat profusely and had to stop to catch my breath. The lady giggled at me as I finally made it up the hill. I ran on my way, appreciating in new ways the simple luxury of running water. The highlight of our trip so far has been our visits to the Acholi Quarters, the IDP camp where most of the Life in Africa members live. As we walked towards the camp, little kids followed behind us shouting, “Muzungu, bye! Muzungu, bye!” Tamara took their pictures, which ignited their faces with huge smiles. Once we reached the Quarters, we were able to see people going about their daily routine of washing cloths, making crafts, cooking their food. Seeing the daily lives of the people in the community was eye-opening. The conditions were not squalid, but still, I couldn’t imagine staying in cramped spaces with no electricity or water. The experience left me with a mixture of gratitude and guilt for the daily comfort of my life back in the US. It made me think of a question a college professor once asked me, “If you knew you could give all your money to save another person’s life, would you?” Although I don’t believe that giving away all of your money away is the answer to solving poverty, I still struggle with question. How much should a person give? George showed us around the camp and welcomed us into his home to spend the afternoon. We chatted with him about his family, the sports he liked, and how he made his living making crafts to sell to the market. Sitting there, it was easy to forget that just several years earlier George had been subjected to a horrific war. He told us about his hope of resettling back to his village when the peace between the government and the LRA is more secure. I realized that the actual conflict and the psychological trauma wasn’t the only damage that the war created, the entire community lost literally everything. Before we left George’s house, he invited us to return on Sunday for a community celebration. Each month, every member of the community contributes 13,000 Shilling or about $8 dollars to a pool. The community then selects one person to give the money to. On the day the person receives the money, the community throws a huge party. We took him up his offer and went to the party yesterday. As we arrived to the Acholi Quarter at around 3:00pm, it started to rain heavily. We took shelter for the next 2 and a half hours as we listened to the howling wind and thud of rain against the tin roof. As the rain finally subsided and we emerged from the house, we saw the side of the neighboring house had caved in. George told us that the mud walls were giving way and that the whole house would soon collapse. We also discovered that the rain had caused two of the other houses to collapse. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the vulnerability of the community was clearly exposed. People took a few hours to regroup after the rains and then the celebration commenced. In the beginning, everyone sat quietly in a community building filled with benches. George explained to me that they were waiting for the guests of honor to arrive, meaning the people that were received the money this month. Four ladies dressed in traditional African dress walked in. Before I knew it, loud music was blaring and a train of women were dancing around me. As the evening progressed, every person at the party, dancing the entire time, presented their gifts to the ladies of honor. Some brought money and others brought couches, chairs and pots. At one point, the whole crowd erupted into howls and danced as a group of young men brought in a goat, tossing it in the air. I have never experienced anything like that. On the same day that several houses in the small community had been destroyed, people were dancing and celebrating joyfully. I was amazed by the generosity, the interdependence and the resilience of the community, which was embodied in this simple tradition of sharing. -Taylor


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