Friday, January 13, 2012

Adventures in Africa: Part 13 - HARD WORK!


Ugandans are some of the hardest working people I know. And they have more patience in their little finger than I will ever have in an entire lifetime.

People in Portland and Seattle are renowned for riding their bikes to work.  Saves money on gas and is kind to the environment.  But what if riding your bike IS your work?  Work that begins at dawn and ends at dusk, and is grueling labor in between.  All while breathing in exhaust fumes and smoke from burning garbage.  For the privilege of earning less than ten dollars a day?

And then there's Justine.  Like hundreds of Ugandan men and women, she spends her day -- and her life -- sitting at her little vegetable stand trying to eke out a living.  The dignity of the Ugandan people is inspiring, and their patience is a lesson for me.
If you would like to help Justine, or Ben the Barber (earlier blog post) please contact me at

Monday, January 2, 2012

Adventures in Africa: Part 12 - OBSERVATIONS


I was walking this evening, and it suddenly occurred to me that there are some things I haven't seen or heard since arriving in Uganda two months ago. This is not a judgment or indictment in any way....just an observation.

1. planes flying overhead
2. trains
3. robins, bluejays, or any other birds I'm used to seeing
4. McDonalds, Starbucks, or any other American franchise
5. oranges that are actually orange in color

Things I LOVE about Uganda:

1. the dark nights where street vendors still have candles lit and people continue walking along the road (see video clip below)
2. the people -- the friendliest people on the planet
3. the climate -- temperatures mostly in the 70s year-round
4. the children
5. the dignity of people who may be living in hopeless situations

Things I've seen here in Uganda that I had never seen back home:

1. people walking around carrying dead chickens they just purchased
2. vendors walking around selling fried grasshoppers as a snack
3. traffic jams with motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians winding through
4. a bug that looks like the "golden snitch" from Harry Potter
5. everyone well dressed and looking extremely well groomed
6. thousands of black people and I'm the only white one in the crowd
7. goats wandering along the roadside
8. huge, waist-high vulture birds
9. young men riding bicycles stacked with 8 crates of soda pop to sell, or carrying huge truck tires, or a mattress or bed frame, or long poles of metal re-bar, or several large sacks full of charcoal, or several big bunches of plantains for matooke
10. a driver, plus two adult riders and two children all on ONE motorcycle
11. brooms with no handles
12. matooke (the main food eaten here)

Things I will never take for granted again when I get back home to the United States:

1. fresh air
2. drinkable, good tasting, safe and free tap water
3. freeways, freeway lighting, road signs, painted lines on roads
4. stop signs, stop lights, sidewalks, relatively few potholes
5. electrical power 24 hours a day
6. fast internet
7. a variety of restaurants with different ethnic foods available
8. getting to choose which pieces I get when I order fried chicken
9. ordering food and not fearing food poisoning
10. cold milk
11. free education
12. variety of breads and other foods
13. stores with new clothing rather than used, dirty leftovers from thrift stores from other countries
14. excellent medical care
15. the U.S. Post Office and postal service that actually DELIVERS
16. reliable garbage, recycling, sewage, utilities services

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Adventures in Africa: Part 11 - DANCE!


Well, no, to be quite honest, I DON'T think I can dance! In fact, I know I'm quite bad at it!! But yesterday I was invited to an end-of-year party out in the village of Bbira. In attendance were some of the children and their parents and teachers from the school that I am helping support. After some speeches and songs and dramatic performances-- all under a small tent in the pouring rain -- the weather cleared up and we all danced!

Like I said, dancing well is not a talent that I possess! But I just tried to mimic the moves the kids were showing me, and just had fun with it. Here's a clip with music from three different Ugandan tribes: Lusoga, Lutolo, and Buganda.

We also ate "mbuzi" -- goat meat. It was the first time I had ever tasted it. I found it to be extremely tough and chewy, but interesting! Even more interesting, I was later told that the older boys in the group had slaughtered and roasted the goat that morning, and the girls in the group had prepared the cabbage/carrot salad they served with it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adventures in Africa: Part 10 - CROSS THE STREET


Crossing the street in Kampala, Uganda is really just a matter of closing your eyes and hoping for the best.

There are only about two stoplights in all of Kampala, no lines in the road, no stop signs, few real rules it seems. Traffic is almost always thick. Cars, taxi vans, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), bicyclists, and pedestrians all kind of play one big game of "chicken" as they weave in and out, jockeying for position. Men push bicycles that are loaded with 8 crates of soda pop, or huge bags of charcoal or other goods, or 30 foot long pieces of re-bar with no red flag on the end. I wonder how many people have been skewered by metal or wood that they didn't see ahead? Try weaving through congested traffic while pushing a big old wooden wheelbarrow filled with vegetables, or carrying two big truck tires while riding a bicycle. I really don't know how they all do it.

Making matters worse, there are HUGE potholes everywhere. Not little dips, but big holes that everyone must veer to avoid. A narrow two-way road becomes a one-lane road when everyone is trying to drive around the potholes that can send a boda boda flying or ruin an axle on a car.

I travel mostly on the back of a boda boda, even though I know it's dangerous. Yes, I've brushed against cars. And one time my driver passed another boda boda so closely that my leg was bruised for weeks from the smashing it took. But a boda boda will get you to your destination in 10 minutes, compared to spending hours stuffed into a hot taxi van with 15 other people, enduring a spine-jarring ride with no shock absorbers.

I knew it was only a matter of time, and today it happened: I saw a big SUV hit a boda boda. The boda boda man, the rider, and the motorcycle all went flying through the air. And traffic continued as if nothing happened.

I really should use this as a severe warning and not ride them anymore. Will I heed the warning?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Adventures in Africa: Part 9 - THE BARBER


In my free time, I go next door and sit in the barber shop and chat with the barber and his customers, and watch him shave heads. There are many times when he cannot work because the power is off, and he is forced to just wait. But he is there, 8am to 10pm, 7 days a week, making a tiny amount of money (about $20 dollars on a good day) out of which he must give nearly half to the shop owner. The barber has a wife, four children, and two toddler nephews to support. They all live in a two-room house with no electricity. He often does not eat, because he doesn't have enough money for even a cheap lunch. And yet, unlike many of the people I've met here, not once -- NOT ONCE -- has he asked me for ANYTHING. People here see a white American woman and assume I am rich, and they see me as their only hope. They either immediately ask for help, or they wait until the time is right, and then ask for money, sponsorship, gifts, an education, or to take them to America, or to have sex. (Yes, I've been offered a cow for sex.)

But not the barber. He has been nothing but an honorable, honest, dignified man of integrity who works hard, day in and day out, for his family, with very little hope for the future. He doesn't make enough to send his children to grade school (Uganda has no public school -- everyone must pay tuition).

Yesterday two horrible things happened to him: First, his electric shaver broke. That is his livelihood. So he had to close the shop and pay for a ride into downtown and buy a new shaver. The first one they tried to sell him was a fake. He finally got a good one and came back. The shop owner was there, and told him that they are now going to raise his rent for using the space, AND charge him an electricity fee each month as well. This would mean that he would now not even make enough money to feed his family. He was a broken man.

And so.....I decided to give him the Christmas gift that I already had wrapped and was planning to surprise him with on Christmas Eve. I gave him a box that had a couple small gifts in it. His eyes glistened with tears and gratitude -- his parents died of HIV/AIDS when he was a little boy, and he had never received a Christmas gift in his life until now.

"Look in the tissue at the bottom of the box, " I said.

He lifted the tissue....and immediately burst into sobs, huge sobs of relief and joy and gratitude. I had given him a small amount of money. It's not enough to change his life. It's not enough to buy his own shop. But it is enough to make a difference.

Here's the kind of man this barber is: He decided to spend the night thinking about how he should spend the money. Many people might spend the money on furniture or clothes or luxury items. This morning, he told me that the money will pay for his children's education. Perhaps THIS is why I am here....

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Adventures in Africa: Part 8 - DESPERATION


I've now been here for 39 days. I've met scores of friendly people. My comedian friends here have welcomed me like a family member, and I love and cherish them.

I'm discovering, though, that not all acquaintances and interactions are based on genuine friendship. Many are based on desperation. Uganda is hurting, people are looking for help, and a white American symbolizes hope.

Here's what happened an hour ago:

A grandmother and her pregnant daughter holding a toddler say "Hi!" to me as I walk by.

I smile and say hello to them in their native language. They laugh and smile in delight at hearing a muzungu (white woman) speak in Lugandan.

Then the grandmother says, "Merry Christmas!!"

I say the holiday greeting to them, again in their native language. They can't believe it!

We stand there smiling at each other. It is a charming moment...sharing between women of two different countries. I'm thinking about what to say next to them in their language.

And then the grandmother says, "Where dollar?"

I cannot believe my ears.

Moment ruined.

Adventures in Africa: Part 7 - TO MY PARENTS


My dad is 82 and my mom is 79. I worry about them while I'm here in Uganda. Mom is in the mid-stages of Alzheimers, and Dad is doing his very best to take care of her. Being here, visiting elderly people in the village, makes me appreciate my parents more than ever. Here's an e-mail message I sent to them a few minutes ago:

Hi Mom and Dad!
Everything is going really well here!! I'll be performing my regular Tuesday night show this week, PLUS I've been invited to perform on Thursday with a renowned sketch comedy group here! I can't wait!

Also, Mom, I wanted you to know that you taught me something decades ago. When I was a toddler, I remember watching you wringing out the wet laundry before you'd hang the clothes up on the clothesline to dry at our house at 714 3rd Street. All these many years later, I am doing my own laundry by hand in my hotel room, and every time I twist a wet piece of clothing to wring out the water, I think about YOU and how you taught me this when I was just a tiny little girl. So thank you, must surely know how much I appreciate you.

And Dad, as I walk up and down the road here in my area, everyone greets me by name --- "SHARON!!! HELLO SHARON!!!". They know me because as I go on my walks, I smile and wave and chat with them. Just like my father always did in Cheney. So thanks to what I learned from YOU, Dad, I have many friends here in my Uganda neighborhood. It is a great gift that you have given me.

I love you both.