Saturday, June 7, 2008

“You have come to help clear the tears of my people. You are most welcome here in my country.”

These were the words of my new friend David Aleki as he spoke so passionately to us this afternoon of the effects of war on education. He cited statistics, taken just last month, of the schools in disrepair, of teacher shortages, of the ravages of war both on the structures of school and the effects in the classroom. The news is bleak, the facts are grim, the stories at a level of heartbreak that is beyond grief. Yet in the same hour he spoke of the beauty of the Acholi people, and he welcomes us with gratitude, and he thanks us for our willingness to come. How can there be such capacity to forgive, and to love and to hope? Twenty years of war have wounded these lovely people, yet they are not utterly destroyed.
We have had three long full days of lectures and workshops and have met some of the most admirable people I have ever encountered. (more to come later). I’m off to my school soon and will start with my teacher on Monday.

First impressions of Africa

So much in such a few days! I flew over half of America on Saturday, over Europe on Sunday, and Arabia and northern Africa on Monday. The drive from the airport in Entebbe, right along the shores of Lake Victoria, to Kampala took about an hour, and was fascinating. There seems to be one main, paved road, and everything everywhere else is dirt, so the entire drive was lined with vegetable stands, tire stands, lumber and hardware stands, car parts, shacks of merchants selling one or two items, and people sitting listlessly about. Then, there are people walking. Right alongside the highway, hundreds of people walk; some carry bags, most carry nothing. Hundreds of school children in their uniforms of bright pink and purple and green and yellow fabric make the road full of color. What is most striking, however, are the dirt roads and pathways which connect onto the highway; these are lined with shacks and shanties full of barefoot, nearly naked children who play and adults who sit. Huge numbers of people appear to live in these tiny, dirty dwellings- without electricity or plumbing- and they sit only feet from the major highway into the country’s capital.

Our two-plus days in Kampala were marked by remarkable encounters. We visited a house/ center where three young men lived in community with the goal of giving youth positive mentoring through art. One had lost his mother to AIDS, yet he sang (with words that made me cry) to teach children about avoiding AIDS.

We met the U.S. ambassador who spent an hour with us; he was part kindness, part propagandeur, part history teacher. He was excellent at his craft of diplomacy- appearing to have no agenda, but as we walked away we felt how intentionally crafted and even insidious his message had been. We felt honored to have this “high-level” meeting, but also perplexed as to the content of his message- it will take some sorting out.

Then on to a school- one of the best, according to Amy, (our director) in the country. 3350 students attends, 350 board in dorms with bunks stacked four high. We talked at length with teachers, and sat in on some classes. Amy’s intent is for us to now compare this school to the ones where we’ll work in Gulu. Our biggest goal is to give support and pedagogical ideas to teachers in schools that are overcrowded. (as in 90 kids in a class)

My arrival in Gulu was tough for me- the van had to stop once for me so I could be sick on the side of the road, and within the first ten minutes of our arrival I was in bed. (It was a combination of a migraine headache and car-sickness; the road to Gulu is full of potholes, so the driver weaves back and forth, swerving every few feet. But I am better now, and we’ve had a steady string of meetings and orientation lessons on history and language and culture. Tonight I’ll meet my partner teacher, view the school tomorrow, and start in the classroom on Monday!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Arrived in Gulu!

Hi Everyone,

Annie made it to Gulu! She is having a problem accessing her blog, so here’s an update from her emails.

Monday: I'm sitting in the internet room of Backpacker's Hostel in Kampala! So I'm actually here in Uganda! We'll hang out here tonight, then run errands tomorrow, make a school visit on Weds, then take the 6 hour ride up to Gulu, arriving Weds. Night. I like the people I'm with and have found out a little more about the program, and I think
it's going to be really good. The hour drive from the airport was one long eye-opening stretch of poverty. Basically one long road with shacks and little fruit stands and muddy paths. The hostel is a very
green oasis. Simple and rustic, but fine.

Tuesday: It's now morning. We went to bed early- all in a big bunk room and now I'm drinking horrible coffee but at least the mosquitoes did not get me under my malaria tent. It's kind of creepy hearing them buzz all night around my face with only the net separating us. It's not as hot as I'd imagined. It's very damp, but almost cool. Today we're doing our last minute shopping and seeing Kampala.

Wednesday: I had a rough day yesterday. We were warned that the road to Gulu was bad, but it was full of such deep pot holes that the driver had to weave back and forth the whole way and I got car-sick. On top of that I got a migraine, and thought I could wait to take meds until I arrived. Ended up pulling over on the side of the road and throwing up, then being really sick by the time we arrived in Gulu about 7p.m. I went right to bed but was pretty miserable.

Thursday: Finally I'm better but not great! Busy day with workshops and meeting the staff.