"To get lost is to learn the way" - African Proverb
This lesson was the first and hardest lesson I had to learn; however, even if I had read this quote before embarking on my trip, I assure you the only way I would have learned it is the way that I did. To be in a place, a place that feels almost like the exact opposite of the one that you lived in for your whole life, that is truly a challenge. I found myself confused by people's behavior and focused on the small details that made Africa feel like an alien planet rather than a foreign country. In reality, what I was experiencing was a culture shock. A completely new set of ideals, norms, and beliefs that I needed to adapt to. The only way to truly immerse myself in their culture was to lose my way, and in losing my way, and in losing my careless judgements, I found my way to a happy and enjoyable time during my stay in Africa. There was a quote often used while I stayed in Uganda, used by every native that observed my encountering of an uncomfortable situation, "Welcome to Africa." I eventually adopted this phrase and when I faced hardships I would normally fear, I simply shrugged and chalked it up to being part of the experience.
"Traveling is Learning" - Kenyan Proverb
What an important lesson I learned, and one I wish to pass on to all of you. I have enjoyed sharing my stories with all of you, but my charge to you reading this right now, don't simply live these experiences vicariously. Go. Travel. Live. Learn. I used to think, it takes a certain type of person to go to Africa. Well, I still believe living in Africa as a foreigner takes a very special type of person, but to visit the continent, anyone can do that. Trust me, I'm living proof. Book your trip today! Go, see Africa. See the world!
"Wealth, if you use it, comes to an end; learning, if you use it, increases." - Swahili Proverb
One thing I learned is that having all the money in the world, or having none of it, it's all irrelevant. We are all gifted with a brain, and what we choose to put in that brain and how often we chose to learn, that's our choice. There is a whole world of information out there. No one can know everything, but there is no excuse to ever stop learning. Challenge yourself, challenge your way of thinking, it will only help you.
"The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now." - African Proverb
I stumbled upon this while reading, "Dead Aid: Why Aid is not Working and how there is a Better Way for Africa" by Dambisa Moyo. (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN DEVELOPMENT). Moyo puts forth a controversial thesis in this book of hers, one I first rejected. (If anyone is interested in reading Dead Aid, I would be happy to share my copy) However, this proverb pertains to even more than just her thesis. I am 20 years old, and while many of you may think that is still young, I know that in these 20 years I had potential to achieve more than I have. I could wallow in this, or realize that I still have the rest of my life to achieve my goals. And this is my last challenge for all of you, regret nothing from your past, look towards the future and realize the whole rest of your life is waiting--make a difference.
Monday I awoke early in the morning to prepare for the final journey back to the village to complete my last week of internship. I stumbled out of bed and realized something felt different. Pain and nausea forced me back into bed where I spent the remainder of the day. I self-diagnosed myself with a mild E coli Infection (a common sickness while traveling), ingested the Cipro prescribed preventively by my travel doctor, and slept most of the day away determined to feel better by Tuesday.
Tuesday morning felt more like Monday as I quickly packed for my four-day week in the Village of Sitabaale. Bruhan, my internship coordinator was still at the Nakivale Refugee Camp working on a special project for TASAAGA, so Maureen escorted me back to the village of Sitabaale. We left in the morning around 10 am and picked up a taxi to Kampala. Determined to show you all what Kampala looks like, I was able to snap some brief pictures while walking. They are not the best quality and can't truly depict the craziness of Kampala, but I hope they are enjoyable nonetheless.
Instead of taking the normal taxi to the city of Kiwenda (neighboring Sitabaale), Maureen and I took a taxi to the city of Gayza with plans to venture to the nearby village of Chicoco (not sure of spelling) in the Wakiso District of Uganda. This village is where Maureen and Jessica (Mama Africa) grew up and where their family still resides. The taxi ride was shorter than the normal ride to Kiwenda and we exited onto the main road running through Gayza.
We bought airtime at a local shop and then found a Boda Boda that would take us to the village. I expected a 5 minute ride like the ride from Kiwenda to Sitabaale is; however, the ride from Gayza to Chicoco was the longest Boda Boda ride I took in Uganda lasting around 25 minutes. I decided to be brave and snap some photos while we headed toward the village.
We arrived at the humble home where Maureen and Jessica were raised made from mud bricks and mud. I was pleased to meet their mother and some of Maureen's nieces and nephews who are staying with their grandmother through infancy. Along the way we stopped to get some sweets so I could give the children I saw some sweets as they expected me to. I handed the candy to the 3 kids staying in the house and Maureen and her mother caught up on recent life events. We went outside and sat on the house's ledge. Maureen's mother fed me a mango and offered me some tea. I took some photos of Maureen with her mother and taught Maureen how to take photos of me so I could get one with her mom as well. Then I went over, met her neighbors, and the rest of her family including her grandmothers, her aunts, uncles, and cousins.
We eventually left the Village and headed to Sitabaale. Unaware of how close the villages were together, I was surprised our Boda Boda ride only lasted about 8 minutes. Excited to be back in Sitabaale and to start work on the field portion of the internship, I dropped my stuff off in the studio and began looking through the women's applications I would use tomorrow to verify their information yet again. It was already late afternoon, so I closed the file and opened "Dead Aid" which I ended up finishing. Night approached and I headed back to the studio to prepare for bed. Never did I expect to find one of my biggest struggles waiting for me back in my bed.
I unwound the bed net and began inspecting it for any insects as I always do before I drape it over the bed. I noticed one black bug caught in the upper part, and soon one turned to two which turned to four which turned to 10 which turned to too many to count. I realized soon after, what I first thought to be ticks were actually the infamous bugs from the children's rhyme, "Goodnight, don't let the bed bugs bite." I quickly exited the room and waited in the other part of the studio as I contacted Bruhan to explain the situation. They replaced the mattress and I slept without a net, but the room, covered in carpet, was already too infested. I woke up the following morning with 8 bites on my arms. I chalked it up to the African experience.
I met Nassif and we headed to visit the women to verify their application information. I took pictures of each of the women and will explain below each picture their current or intended business. I have not included their names for anonymity.
As you can see in the picture, while we verified her information, this woman was still very hard at work preparing Cassava. She currently owns a food stall / restaurant and is interested in rearing pigs and chickens so that she can sell them and use them to cook.
This woman currently owns a Bar in the Village of Sitabaale and is hoping to use her loan to expand the beverages she offers. She was very charismatic and funny.
Sisters with Recipient #2, this woman owns a produce stand right outside of her sister's bar. She is selling bananas, tomatoes, cassava, and sweet potatoes in this picture. She hopes to expand her business through her loan.
This is the only woman I was able to interview without the translator. Her English was incredible and her business is booming. She owns this small drug shop after she received training in pharmacology. She hopes to expand the drugs she can offer the village which is not only helpful for business, but helpful for the health of those in the village. An honorable goal with her loan.
The only recipient without a current business, this woman is hoping to continue the business her Husband ran before he passed away. This would include going and buying Fish and Sugar Cane and selling it to the villagers.
After we completed the applications, we ate lunch and Christine and I headed to the neighboring village of Mairye. We met with some families and continued the outreach for the ICT Project. After reaching Mairye, Christine and I mistakingly made the long journey to the Great Lakes Brand Manufacturing plant where Christine's favorite snacks, "Gorillo Maize Snacks" are manufactured. After walking for over an hour from the village to the plant, they almost did not let us in to buy the snacks. After finally getting in, they took our phones, camera, and journals so we would not be tempted to take any pictures. We walked to the back of the plant and bought a bag of 12 packs of these snacks for around $1. Then we found a Boda Boda and rode back to the village of Sitabaale.
When we returned, Christine forced me to try these Gorillo snacks which reminded me of Cheetos that were chicken flavored. (If you have had Chicken Ramen, it is similar to that flavor) I actually enjoyed them and so did Christine's adorable child, Elvis.
Wednesday came to an end when we lost power around 7 pm and everyone headed to bed. Unaware of the state of my mattress and the room itself, I fell asleep around midnight and awoke around 2 in the morning with over 30 new bites. I decided I would be unable to stay in that bed for the remainder of the night and sat in the outer part of the room until 7 am when I left to head to the Youth Center.
Determined that I would be unable to stay there one more night and positive I needed to wash all of my clothing in boiling water before I could return to the states, I packed the essentials, trashed the rest, and headed to the Youth Center where I asked Nassif to escort me back to Entebbe. He agreed, packed a bag, and we headed back towards Entebbe. In the city of Kampala, I observed violence for the first time. In a building visible from the street I was standing on, I watched their government drop tear gas bombs on citizens protesting the heightened tax forced on them. While I am unaware of the full story, I was horrified to see a right we have in America being taken away here in this country.
We reached the house in Entebbe, I made piles of my clothing that needed washed in boiling water, jumped the in the shower, and showered until I was convinced the bed bugs were gone. All of my clothing that went along and my backpack were washed in boiling water to make sure I did not bring the bed bugs back with me.
Friday and Saturday
Slightly less interesting, I spent most of my time in Entebbe shopping for the remainder of my souvenirs. I found a lot of great gifts and will post some pictures of those a little later. Then I headed to the internet cafe to check in for my flight and packed everything carefully as to insure all of my souvenirs reached the states in one piece.
Around 7 pm on Saturday I was astonished to find that Bruhan had surprised me by arranging for a Taxi to pick me up at the house and take me to the Airport. I loaded my bags in the taxi, hugged my "African Family," and left the compound for the last time. Leaving Uganda was hard, and I know in my heart I will be back there sometime soon, but I grew very found of the country. A couple weeks prior, I was begging to come home, as I left I was begging to stay just a few more days.
My Flight Back
My flight back was long and sleepless. I planned to sleep around 8 hours of the journey but ended up only taking a nap for about an hour. So when I finally reached Philly, I was overwhelmed to be back home. I found my family waiting for me in the arrivals terminal with a change of clothing and trashbags to contain all of my clothing until it could be washed when I got home. After I changed, I hugged them all, and we headed back to my house.
I will keep this short, because I have already written a lot. This trip truly changed my life and the way I think about almost everything. When I was about halfway through my trip, a young boy challenged me for this trip to be more than a "story I tell my friends." And that has been a promise I made to him and to myself. I am still in the early planning stages; however, I believe my girlfriend, Megan, and I will be working very hard over the next years to establish our own nonprofit organization that will work with donors, churches, and other nonprofits, to provide students in the secondary and university level with scholarships and maybe loans so they are able to finish or attend school. One quote I saw in Uganda on the back of a bus inspired me to embark on this challenge, "Education is a birthright." How true is that? So in the future, I am sure I will be reaching out to all of you yet again, and I hope to find the same support I found when I embarked on this journey. Less than $1000 is enough to send a student to university to complete a degree. There is no reason every student who wants to go to school, should not be able to fulfill this dream of theirs.
I thank you all for your support and your help through this adventure of mine. When I first started this trip, it was about me and my dreams to see Africa and my dreams to help. Very early on in this trip, it shifted and it was about the citizens of Africa, and their hopes and dreams to break free from poverty. We are all capable of helping, we just need to find a way.a