Amelia’s Uganda Diary #4 – Byana Maryhill

Many may wonder how I came to live in Uganda to begin with.

Well, it’s all thanks to my once pen-pal, now fabulous husband, Phillip, and the work his family has been carrying out in their community for over a decade.

In 1997, Phillip’s parents started a small, rural school, in hopes of alleviating the effects of civil war, HIV, poverty and inequality.

Amelia-534048_3141610093937_1223505999_n-s Over the years, it has vastly grown to 350+ children. They also added on an orphanage, and those orphans attend the school totally free. In fact, the majority of the students are enrolled for free, or their families pay drastically less than the actual tuition price. Unfortunately, one of the biggest and universal problems in Uganda (along with many, or even most, other countries), is that school is not free. Because Byana is in such a rural area (3 hour drive from the capital city), most families make very little money. The culture in the village is one of subsistence, so money is only necessary for things such as school. Otherwise, people grow their own food, and trade for different services. Because of the issue of lack of money, one of the goals of the school is to give a high quality education to these rural dwellers, so that they may have a fighting chance against their urban counterparts. True to their promise, last year’s end of term results found Byana ranked as number 157 out of the top 7,000 primary schools in the whole country. 100% of the leaving pupils had passing grades, and 12 of them were top class.

The most impressive part of this story is that the school only has one solar panel, which on a good day can provide around 4 hours of light for morning and evening “preps” (6-8am and 8-10pm). There is no running water, so it has to be fetched from a contaminated water well, there are only 5 small classrooms, and some kids share seats and desks, three small dorms with kids doubling and tripling up on one mattress, and their most recent book, Geography from 2007, lacks so much information which has changed since then, such as the redistribution of the provinces. The teachers had not been payed for three terms, and didn’t have access to television, newspapers or internet to stay up to date with the world until last month. The fact is, the kids, teachers and staff of Byana have been living in squallor, with barely even the basics, yet they have repeatedly performed better than some of the wealthiest and best facilitated schools in the nation. Can you only imagine how excellent things could be if they had all the necessities?

Fortunately, we have started to improve the conditions for the teachers, as they have now been paid installments of their past due salaries, and have received half of this term’s pay. They now have internet, their own garden with things such as tomatoes, eggplant and pumpkin (they were eating beans and cassava with every meal, everyday), and can now watch Al-Jazeera and the local news channels. The doctor, who works absolute wonders with pretty much nothing, now has refrigerator for holding specimens, a fully stocked clinic, and a certified lab technician (one of the nuns), all thanks to a $200 donation.

The children now have a few new bunk beds, though not enough, and a new and fresh variety of foods. Their once barren playing field has a see-saw and tire swings, plus new goalposts, thanks to a generous visitor from Utah.

Things are indeed improving, but when you are caring for 300+ kids with no help from their families, improvement comes in painfully small doses.

One of the plans being discussed is to put a halt to newcomers for the next two years in order to slim down the population to a manageable size. Another plan which we have already put into effect with much success, is to re-evaluate parent/guardian ability to pay. Yes, a simple and obvious solution, but the administration is in control of nuns and monks, who don’t feel the need to demand money. We are currently trying to get non-clergy, professionals to fill the admissions department, but the drawback is that those people demand salaries, which at this time cannot be managed. The sad reality is that in a capitalist society, money is necessary to get by, and when it is forced upon a communal society, it takes a while for that reality to settle in.

So now, only time can tell what will happen. We will continue to do all that we can, but we do accept volunteers and donations in either money or materials. To find out more, we have a webpage that you are welcome to check out and share. The address is: http://byana1754.wordpress.com . To browse through our many volunteer opportunities and ongoing projects, please visit our profile on idealist.org at the address: http://www.idealist.org/view/org/SBwbtsHFgnp/

Last weekend was visitor’s day for the kids’ families. We received enthusiastic support from them, and it was a great feeling to know that the parents could see visible changes, and that they were excited by them. All in all, it has been a nice start to the year. In hopes of a brighter future, we will struggle on.

– Amelia

Amelia’s Uganda Diary

Oh, the joys of trying new foods! Uganda is the place to be for that, no doubt.

Have you ever wondered what fried grasshoppers taste like? Well, they’re surprisingly tolerable and delicious! And of course, being from Texas means I have to eat everything with hot sauce.

Amelia-551867_3141577373119_1203313865_nSBLsThe hoppers are caught in swarms at night time, mostly in the region of Masaka. They provide a complete market, and people actually look forward to their return. I guess it’s one eco-friendly way of pest control. Catchers set up shop in any open field they can find. They use metal oil drums on platforms with slanted metal sheets forming a tunnel down into the drums to catch and hold the hoppers. The critters are attracted to these death traps by halogen lights which encircle the barrels. They also burn grass right in the center of the field. The hoppers come flying in towards the lights, hit the metal sheets, and fall into the drums. The next morning, street vendors come to buy them by the kilo, and pluck the wings and back legs off.

Then, it’s up to you, the consumer, to decide on buying them fresh or ready to eat. The general recipe is a few onions, some garlic and salt, lightly sauteed with a pan full of hoppers.

Being vegetarian has of course made me wonder if my snacking habits are acceptable or not, but in the meantime, while I try to work that one out, I’ll be enjoying another bag of green fried grasshoppers.

Amelia’s Uganda Diary #2

Wow! Who ever thought that learning to relax could be such a challenge?!?!

Coming from the US, I’m used to structure, and to the saying, “To be early is to be on time, on time is to be late, and to be late, you had better be dead.”

Well, things just aren’t that way here! Time is nearly irrelevant, so people just go with the flow.
I’ve always considered myself to be a relatively laid back and mellow person, yet here and now I am finding that may not be true. I get antsy waiting around with nothing to do. And that, I have been told, is the problem. Because I’m used to the fast paced, ever busy bustle of my life in the US, I don’t know how to relax and just enjoy the present time. My brain and hands scream to be occupied with ANY task, whatsoever, as long as they are busy.

I can say that I have made some progress, though! The other day, we (my husband and I) were approached by a member of the Xavier Project, which helps Congolese Refugees assimilate into Ugandan society. He asked us to play a concert for them to showcase some of their members’ talents of rapping and singing. This was a Tuesday, and the concert was scheduled for that coming Saturday at 2 pm. We were introduced to a few other musicians and the singers, with whom we had three practices, none of which we were successful in getting through one whole song!

Saturday at 2 pm came and went, with no sign of the sound system, stage, or organizers. Then 3, 4, 5 ….. Finally, FINALLY (!), around 5:15, the drum set and 1 speaker showed up. It was nearly 6 by the time everything else came together and we got started (with no sound check). Fortunately, the crowd (who all stayed, waiting that whole time, because that’s how things go here), loved it, and we were thanked and applauded graciously. In the end, it was indeed a blast.

A couple of weeks ago, such a scenario would have caused me to stroke out. But I got through it!

Back to the original point: learning to relax. I don’t believe one can understand how high-strung-life in the US or other Western countries can affect you until you have immersed yourself in a different culture. I always had immense difficulty meditating and falling asleep because my mind was racing with a billion and one thoughts about what I was gonna be doing tomorrow, and the next week, and two months away. Now, I feel like a couple years living this new lifestyle will really help me mellow out. I’m in the beginning stages of purifying my mind, body, and soul (just gotta convince people to stop burning trash…), and I can’t wait to see the results!

My new motto: Just chill, maaaaaaaan!

Amelia’s Uganda Diary

OK, so I took a couple of days off. I had a sudden craving to finish posting everything from the crashed hard drive onto Quicken and spent two days doing that. Odd, very odd, I wonder if it’s a symptom of something. Anyhow, here is Amelia.

Home at Last

The Muazzin (man who calls people to prayer at Mosque) of our neighborhood, I am pleased to say, has a magnificent voice. So much so that I almost look forward to his 5:30am wake up calls, wondering what amazing vocal feat he will accomplish with each breaking day.

And then, the dogs start. Their response, a full ranged choir with every style of howl you could imagine, bounces off the compound walls. It must be every single pooch within a mile radius, and they never fail to reply.
Yes, my morning has begun.

It’s funny how the small things like the acrid smell of burning trash, or the sound of the Pied Crow cawing right outside your window, are the things you didn’t even know you missed.

And then there are the big things as well. The seas of smiling, snaggle toothed school kids, smartly dressed for their morning classes, or the sporadic commotion of dancers and drummers flooding into the already chaotic streets, waving tree branches and egging on their fellow Bagisu tribe members for the Imbalu Circumcision Rites.

I’ve unmistakably arrived in my new home, Uganda. Although I am not a native, this place, as overpopulated, polluted, and down right backwards as it can sometimes be, has burrowed itself deep inside my heart. I am for sure at home at last.

-Amelia Marie Ssentamu

Those of you who are keeping up with the adventures of Bitsy and her owner as they try to find a healthy home — you will remember the last episode was about trucks and trailers. I had finally gotten them together at the same time and place and was hitching up, when the truck died and had to be hauled off to have its alternator replaced. I thought we did that when we were in Chama? Anyhow, the goal is to get the lawn tractor and the washer moved, but we can’t do this while driving the car.

I’ll leave out the part where the car broke down just when we got the truck back. Isn’t that sweet?

And then, yesterday, truck purring like a kitten, we backed up under the horse trailer, which is good for this job, low enough and wide enough, and needs to be removed from the weed patch. I let down the gooseneck on the truck bed, hooked it up and pulled the trailer forward far enough to see that I had not raised the tailgate before leaving last March or april or whenever it was. The tailgate is extremely heavy from being waterlogged, and my strength has unaccountably diminished over time. OK, I thought, I’ll just drag it around where the washer is.

The short answer is we hit the corner post of the fence (yes, broke it) and couldn’t go any more forward. I can’t back up the trailer with the tailgate down, and I never DID find my two come-alongs that used to be standard equipment in my pickup before I went trailer-parking. So today I’ll try the same recovery method I used when I couldn’t find the chain to haul out the hay. Buy a new one and maybe I will instantly find the old one someplace I wouldn’t have guessed.

Meantime, I managed enough strength to block up the tailgate so it’s not setting on the dirt wicking up water. Assuming any water is left in the dirt.

And for those of you who don’t CARE about the adventures of Bitsy and her owner, tomorrow we will begin a series of the adventures of Amelia in Uganda.

Uganda Citizens asked us to watch this

Joseph Kony is not in Uganda

Guest post: Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)
by Joshua Keating