Easter hat time!!! Cheers to not working any holidays this year… I have no idea how that happened, actually. Oh wait, I had to work July 4th. But still, pretty darn good for a new girl!
March 1, 2012
We walked the long way back from Lubowa. I said to Serge and Lucien, “The way back always seems faster!” It wasn’t. We traveled through foot paths in the village, by heaps of garbage, down into a swamp valley of sugar cane, corn, and sweet potatoes. Then, slowly back up a hill to Ndejje.
We talked a lot about the US government and their presence in Uganda and lack of information shared about what has been going on. (I had no idea that back in America KONY2012 had gone viral, but at the time I was concerned about the non existent news coverage about US troops in Uganda.) We talked about coming to America. Contrary to what people believe, I do not know anyone in the UN, I can’t successfully bring anyone to the US and I am not considered rich in America.
The conversation made me question myself so many times. When I tell them I am not rich, am I ruining America for them? I know that my paycheck does make me rich in Africa, but is it worth explaining the value of the American dollar or breaking down the expenses of living in America? If I explain wealth and poverty in America, am I breaking their dreams?
I felt everything I said concerning money was ignored. But, I am sure this conversation will come up many more times.
When we got back to the village, we came across Flo. She is a girl from Lucien’s class that asked me yesterday if she could be my friend. Flo was excited to see me and she had been on her way to our house to bring me bananas when we found her. We finally made it back home and all sat on the stoop to ate bananas. The power was out. Lucien’s girlfriend sat down with us too. I gave Flo one of my dresses.
I was excited to have new friends that were girls. It was not a perfect conversation; it was actually a little strange and uncomfortable because of the language barrier. But, I really sensed how much we wanted to talk to each other. I hate that I can’t be sarcastic or act goofy as I normally would because it just does not cross over properly.
They wanted to know about American marriages. Trying to explain divorce to them was difficult. I found it interesting that my new friends could not understand the need to be in a relationship but also be independent and have your own career and paycheck and purchases; something that is very normal to me as an American. They did not believe in that way of life but wanted to be part of that culture.
Lucien’s girlfriend does nothing all day. Every time that I have asked her that is her response. I figured it could not be true, but it was. She stopped going to school. She sleeps a lot. And now that I am here, we keep each other company. Many adults here seem depressed. I talked to Serge about suicide yesterday.
After Flo left I painted Lucien’s girlfriend’s finger nails. I have no idea why I can’t remember her name right now.
The power was still out at 8pm and I was feeling crabby. I didn’t even want to eat dinner. The thought of eating alone in the dark really made me angry. I figured I would just cry myself to sleep. As I went to lock up the house Serge heard me and told me my dinner was ready. I went to eat. It was a whole chicken leg and thigh! Crispy and salty, just perfect.
February 29, 2012 (cont.)
When I returned home, I visited with Lucien’s adult English class. Most of the refugees in Ndejje are Congolese, meaning they are native to Congo and their first languages are French and Swahili. In Uganda, many natives speak English. These classes offered for free to the villagers are very popular and extremely helpful. And the students always, always have smiles on their faces while in class.
I walked in to the classroom. It was similar to a small garage, with two very large doors that open to one room. In the room were benched table desks and one standing chalkboard. English language posters filled the walls; sharing basic colors, the alphabet, and how to write a business letter. Quickly all eyes and smiles were on me. I sensed their eager interest in me and America. Hands shot up. I nodded to each new face one by one.
“Are you married?”
“Are you searching for a husband?”
“Kind of? No, no. Not really. I am searching for love.”
“Are you allowed to marry and African man?”
“In America, yes. And I believe I can in Uganda, too.”
A group of boys laughed at that answer and one sharply dressed young man pointed to Lucien. I know I started to blush. My shy school girl embarrassment was only taken further when the women began to ask me questions.
“What is your favorite food in Uganda so far?”
“Eggs and pineapple.”
Roaring laughter filled the room. Pineapple! It must have been the funniest thing they had heard all day. I couldn’t figure out if they thought my answer was cute, or stupid…
Then, they asked me about my skin.
“What are those brown dots all over you?” “Why is your hair so dark?”
A question that has not made me uncomfortable since high school. I personally refer to my”brown dots” as “beauty marks”. In my head, that sounds better than moles. But I stopped myself. ”Beauty” would be a weird way to describe my skin to a person that has never seen a white person with less than perfect skin.
“They are my freckles.”
The uncomfortable question of the weird brown dots on my skin would come up many more times in my visit. And I would uncomfortably lose the formation of any words in my return. And I think maaaybe they thought it was cool that I did not look like Jessica Simpson… maybe.
I have noticed that people laugh a lot here. It seems to be used as a filler in the language barrier, and the laugh can get lost in translation, but, it is so much nicer than silence.
February 29, 2012 (cont.)
My first night in Ndejje was just fine. I woke up to the unfamiliar sounds of a Muslim mosque down the hill. The noise scared me at first. It was loud and I think coming from a speaker. There were also dogs barking and roosters crowing.
After my mind digested all of these strange noises and I figured out what they were I was able to pull myself out of bed. I stepped outside and peeked into Jean’s classroom. I was hoping I could say hello to the students. Jean asked me to eat breakfast first, so I walked away and into the house where I knew the food had already been put out. I was told breakfast would be waiting for me everyday by 7:30am, and it would be there until I ate. The meal was set up under a netted tablecloth. I felt silly. I assumed other people would be around to eat breakfast with, but I was alone. I sipped on my African tea in silence. I buttered toast and ate pineapple. There were three bananas laid out for me. Was I supposed to eat all three? Is that even possible? What about everyone else, did they eat? I felt so uncomfortable. I wished I had a friend to ask all of my questions to.
When I finished my solitary breakfast, I found Jean and we walked over to the school I would be assisting a classroom at -Holy Angels. It was set up on a hill and just a little ways down the road from us. The children were everywhere. There were so many children I could barely lift my feet to walk without the fear of smushing teeny baby toes. There were even two naked babies crawling around on the floor. I began to sweat.
Crammed into small, steamy rooms, the children sat at long wooden desks at plastic chairs or benches. The younger ones sat on the floor because there was no room for them at the tables. But, they weren’t comfortably sitting with their legs folded. They were pushed against a wall when a older child’s chair was moved, or their fingers were stepped on my the feet of their classmates. There was one small blanket for their comfort.
Instantly, I knew each child was special. I made a quick connection with each student and genuinely felt that they loved me; they took my hands, sat on my lap, hugged me, tugged on my dress. When I introduced myself, they did not really understand my name. First I introduced myself and Meghan. Blank stares. I tried Megh. No response. Then a student shouted to me, “Meggie!” and they all started to cheer. They pronounced it, “Mah-gee”, and I loved it. Sometimes at home my family calls me Meggie. It was comforting and adorable. The teachers called me Teacher Margaret. The first time I heard myself being called “Teacher Margaret” I instantly repeated it back as “Sister Margaret”. It felt unnatural being thought of as a teacher. That’s right, I was actually going to be teaching a classroom. Not assisting, teaching. I have never, ever comfortably taught anyone anything. And I had to plan a lesson! Without the internet! Without text books! Without any supplies besides the ones I brought myself.
We all went outside to play and eat “breakfast”. The head teacher brought me a table and chair while the students ate on the hill. I felt awkward sitting under a tree and eating at a chair. An older student brought me over orange Fanta and a muffin. The muffin was sweat, like sweet corn bread, but they called it “cake”. It was heavy and I could not finish it. While I ate cake, the students sipped on porridge and ate bread. I tried to convince the head teacher that I could sit on the ground with everyone else, but she pointed at the chair like it was my throne.
For the second time in 24 hours of being in Uganda my heart sank. Do they think I am rich? I think they are hoping I can adopt all of the orphans or pay for school, or build a new one! I was so embarrassed and I didn’t want to think it. Am I useless to this village?
The head teacher brought out papers outlining how much money it would cost to sponsor a child. I had no idea what to do, how to react, or what to say in a response to the plea I knew was coming. I told her I would take the papers home with me and show them to friends. She asked if I needed the students’ passport photos. I knew she was serious and I did not know how to reply.
My head was racing with thoughts of actually adopting a child and running back to America. I could sacrifice enough to raise a kid, right? I’m 26. People raise children much younger than myself. But I am 26! And a flight attendant! And I pay rent in NYC and bills and college loans! Not an option.
Passport photos?! She looked at me as if I was the only person who could save her school. My emotions were beginning to conflict. NEVER in my life have I ever been called rich, viewed as wealthy or even comfortable. This view of myself was all new to me and as much as I was told to be ready for it, I wasn’t. Again, I did not know how to respond. I wanted to shout at the head teacher and explain to her where I am from and tell her about how much I love children but (one of the gazzillion) reasons that I do not have one myself is that they are so expensive! But I couldn’t. Because that’s not me.
I had an idea. ”How about I bring a camera tomorrow and take my own photos?”. She loved the idea. I left exhausted, worried, excited to plan my own lesson, and still thinking about money.