Saturday, June 21, 2008

Every Day Notes

My teaching team

I have been part of the first wave of teachers in the Schools4Schools Teacher Exchange. Our coordinator is a lifelong friend of the founders of IC, and is doing her doctorate work at NYU in drama education, and has very aptly spearheaded this drive to help improve education here through this teacher exchange program. But because of her connection, the first team of teachers, of which I am a part, is mostly grad students in her theater program (as opposed to mostly classroom teachers who will be arriving next week for the second team.) They are lively, kind people, and because we are a small group living in close quarters, we have become close. I am the same age as most of their parents, but they comment that I seem hipper than their parents (I’m enjoying the compliment).

Invisible Children

I am very impressed with Invisible Children as an organization. Although they are young in age and as an organization, they have made excellent choices on how to work not just for disaster relief but for development. The staff is now 78% Ugandan. Their priorities are education and small business development, both of which are so needed here. I see the educational needs more, of course, and the systems (from a national level on through to the local level) are overwhelmingly broken. Saddest of all, only a fraction of the population can attend secondary school here because of school fees, and then the education they are given is poor. Teacher morale is very low (for a number of very valid reasons) so students may go an entire school day without a teacher. Rote teaching, poor supplies and sporadic attendance affect their learning.

Athletic Competition

In my first week at the school, no classes met for 2 of the days in order to have track/field competitions to choose the school’s competitors for the district wide competition (which was this week in the Gulu stadium which required 2 more days off from school.) Sports teams, trainers and coaches in the US would be shocked at the conditions. Boys who competed have not been in any sort of training program. At the time of the race, they line up and are started with an old fashioned wooden clapper, and the timers can not always hear the start, so who knows about accurate times. Most students run barefoot on a half-grass/half-clay field that has been marked with oil to make the lines of a track. (A few pass around shoes- sometimes the right size, sometime not.) The first race I watched was 5000 meters in the hot, hot morning sun. There was no water, no Gatorade, no shade or ice. Those who finished the race (and many couldn’t) were given a handful of “glucose powder” to replenish the calories. I am told that students at my school (which is a boarding school) get meat once a week.

The Dust

In a nearby western style hotel I supposedly can get a fantastic pedicure for about $6. I may indulge myself soon as it is hard to ever feel clean. Because there are few paved roads, whenever I walk (or ride the bodas), the dust from the cars or other bodas just covers me. Even the house (which is not on a main road) must be swept out everyday, and the floors are washed almost everyday. In comparison, though, we are lucky to have running water for a shower ( well-kind of a shower. I just crouch under a spicket of water, but it’s usually warm) when so many people don't even have water in their houses. Anyway, it would probably feel good to have my feet really clean, even if it’s only for a short time.


Every day we are given lunch at school. I try not to look, but the hardest part is knowing how the dishes are washed. The ladies haul water from the bore holes, and then just rinse the dishes after the 40 people or so have eaten and air dry them on the grass where flies gather. The next day, the same dishes are used again- only occasionally are they washed with soap, and never with boiling water (and they usually feel greasy). The teachers and the cooks all notice what Lynn and I eat ( or rather don't eat- I only took the meat once, and after that not again.) The teachers here take HUGE helpings; probably it's their only meal of the day. In some ways, this food is very healthy- organically grown with no chemicals. Our house cook knows where to get vegetables and fruits so we're safe, but the issue when buying fresh things from the market is having latrines so close to gardens... I've pretty much become a vegetarian here. For our dance party we had goats in our yard for two days, and then they were supper. Live chickens are slaughtered daily, and an IC staff member described a cow slaughter so vividly that I will NEVER eat beef here. I'm just really thankful I haven't been sick yet.


Last week I traveled with our group to visit the progress on the restoration of a displaced school. Awere had to be closed and vacated at the worst of LRA activity, but Invisible Children is helping to rebuild it. The school is in temporary quarters here in Gulu town- functioning under the most primitive conditions. One of the Awere teachers joined us for the trip to the site, along with her two young children. As we were traveling back, the 4 year old had convulsions and lost consciousness from high fever- brought on by malaria. It was a scary moment until he regained consciousness, but almost more surprising to me was the matter-of-fact, even nonchalant way that his mom handled the situation. Then, last weekend, my partner teacher Ilama Grace also rushed home to her children because both had malaria. These serious illnesses are just a common way of life here. I am also told that 5 of my school’s teachers have HIV- and 2 have AIDS.

So much to say! Thanks for reading. Thanks for all your comments and prayers. I am having a great time.

African Mornings

There are now twelve people in the guest house, (teachers with Schools4Schools and a few of the Invisible Children staff) and I am one of the first out, so I try to get ready quietly. Doreen arrives about 6:00 to fix our breakfast; she stays all day to prepare lovely Ugandan dinners and clean the house. Agnes comes to do laundry; when there is water it is a big job to wash all of our clothes and sheets and towels by hand. A day like yesterday, however, was especially difficult for her because we had no running water. She, along with most people in Gulu, walk every few days to the bore hole to fill huge plastic jugs with water. They haul these back to their homes everyday at great expense of time and energy. Even the littlest of children carry jugs of water from the wells.

I say goodbye to our night watchman (Ocelle Abraham Lincoln), walk out of our gate onto our dirt lane and follow it the short distance to the main road into town, where within moments several motorbikes (or bodas) have approached me to see if I want a ride. I ask if they know the way to Sir Samuel Baker school (they might say yes even if they don’t know), and I negotiate the price before getting on the back. (Usually about $1.50 for the 15 minute trip.) This ride has become my favorite part of the day. Gulu is just waking up. Children in brightly colored uniforms are everywhere on the streets walking to school. They yell “muzingu” (white person) or good morning and I wave. Women in their very pink, yellow, green African prints also have begun carrying their water jugs to and from the wells; men in dress shirts and ties join the walkers along the side of the road until there are literally hundreds of people walking into Gulu town.

The boda takes me 7.5 miles to my school on the other side of town, so we travel a few miles in town on paved roads; he must constantly swerve and negotiate his way around the bumps and potholes in the road. Even in town, the modern Western style houses with indoor plumbing and electricity are right next to a plot of land with a garden, a clay hut, and goats or cows in the yards. As we leave the paved road and head out to my school in the countryside, I am nearly overcome with the beauty of the morning. It is a bit chilly; dew rises over the green grass and fields and bush; I travel down the deep red clay road with an absolutely clean morning sky. To me, Africa is color: deep blue sky, white clouds, red earth, black skin and rich, fertile green land.