Monday, May 16, 2011

There are sooo any white people here!

I'm currently sitting on a wonderful clean couch in suburban Kansas City typing on my computer. I'm not in an internet cafe, or on the SIT resource center computer, or using a modem to access internet. I'm on my own personal computer, in my house, using wireless internet. This all feels bizarre.

I got back home last night after a 24 hour journey. I hadn't slept in 44 hours, but seeing my family energized me enough to stay up another 5. I made a scene at the airport. I wore the African dress my homestay family gave to me the entire ride home. My odd attire coupled with the loud commotion my family made at our reunion prompted quite a few stares from the Kansas City airport crowd. Despite this, I felt like this was the most I had blended in in four months.

We drove from the airport to Chipotle. My first bite of my burrito was incredible. I literally had a dream about it last night.

Driving along the clean highways was bizarre. There's no traffic here. No taxi drivers yelling at me to get in. The suburbs are just so spacious and neat and tidy.

This all contrasted so much with the last week and a half I spent in Kampala. The second to last weekend I spent there was a true adrenaline rush. We stayed at a hostel which overlooked the Nile. That Friday night we cruised the Nile aboard a boat with copious amounts of alcohol. Saturday morning a group of six girls went bungee jumping while the rest of the group watched. Bungee jumping was the biggest adrenaline high I have ever experienced. Standing with my toes over the ledge, staring over 200 hundred feet down into the Nile, anticipating the jump, then springing off the platform, feeling my stomach lurch during the free fall, the cool water as I was dunked into the Nile, then the awesome feeing of being jerked back into the air and down again. It was a blast!

That afternoon a group of us hung out on the banks of the Nile and went swimming. The view was gorgeous, the company was fun, and it was blissfully relaxing.

Last Sunday night was the host family farewell party. My host family gave me a gorgeous traditional African dress, my brother Denis made me some cool key rings, and we ate dinner together. The conversation was continuous and I felt like I could joke with my host brothers as if they really were family. The evening ended with me dancing with the entire family for an hour. This was one of the best moments in Uganda--sincerely bonding and feeling connected with people from a different culture. Recognizing our differences but feeling like I belonged and that they understood who I was. It was great.

The next week we spent at a resort in Jinja. The landscape was incredible. Palm trees, tropical flowers, and thatched roofs abounded. It was a great and relaxing way to spend the final week in Uganda. The group spent a lot of time hanging out by the pool, playing cards, volleyball, and talking. By the time the week was over I was sincerely sad to be leaving Uganda. The group has been very meaningful to me. I have become more social because of them, more confident in who I am, and more accepting of all personality types. I sincerely believe that each person in the group taught me a valuable lesson or offered a needed insight to better my life in some way. Without them I would have never survived the semester. They were my friends, family, roommates, and support system for four months and it will be difficult to adjust to life without seeing them everyday. It was hard to say good bye.

This experience has meant the world to me. I will admit, it was full of challenges, but I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. It's hard to try and summarize the lessons I learned and the experiences I had, but I think it's important to reflect and try to draw conclusions from the experience.

I realized at the end of the experience how unessential material things are for happiness. Whenever I felt down, it was never because I didn't have a computer of electricity or a flushing toilet. It was when human interaction was a struggle. Sitting around in the dark, playing gin rummy with my friends made me ten times happier than any object could.

I also realize how important it is to feel a sense of belonging. The times I struggled the most was when I felt like people only saw me as an opportunity to be taken advantage of and not as a person, a potential friend. But when I felt like a member of my host family, when I had a loving message from a friend, when I ate dinner with my roommates in the apartment, I was truly happy.

I realized how important it is to me to feel busy. When I had nothing to do other than work, I felt restless, a sort of mental cabin fever. I need to feel like I'm always working towards a larger goal, a mission, in order to feel satisfied and stay motivated. I expect my biggest challenge of young adulthood will be to discover what my next big goal will be. In high school it was running. I am often amazed looking back at how much running dictated my life in high school, my dedication was absolute. In college I've tried to make it running and debate, but the lack of success in each of these has led to less motivation. I've felt lost without the same driving dedication and self-motivation. For my senior, I want to give debate and running one final chance. I want to treat each of these activities with a focused dedication this summer, I want to allow running to dictate my life again. I want to feel the reward of improvement. And meanwhile, I want to try to figure out what the next driving force in my life will be--what career will I love enough to give my all, to work hard at, and feel satisfaction from.

I thought studying in Africa would provide me with career answers. I anticipated I would find a calling in development, I would see Africa as a new home. I'm not sure yet though. Development is a complicated field full of moral gray areas and negligible success. And I don't know if I could ever feel completely accepted in Africa or be fully integrated into the culture. But I do care about the future of Uganda. I know I will follow it's news, politics, and care deeply for its development.

I think one of the biggest challenges about being home will not feeling "special" anymore. Not "special" is in how Ugandans thought my white skin color made me a novelty. But special as in not living fully in the moment anymore, being back to "normal." I'm no longer abroad, this is just normal life now. I had such a "seize the moment" outlook in Uganda. Go bungee jumping next week? Absolutely. Go up to Gulu this weekend? Why not, I'm in Uganda. I loved living for the moment, being spontaneous, and the outlook of always looking for adventure. I worry that I will become boring here, do the same things everyday and forget how to seek the best and most exciting outcome to everyday. I'm not sure how to work to ensure that this doesn't happen, but I hope that I can maintain the same passion for life in Kansas City as in Uganda.

I look forward to this summer. I am spending the rest of May and all of June in Kansas City with my family. Over Memorial Day weekend my family and best friend are going to Colorado together. I am intensely excited. The month of July I'm going to spend in Michigan living with my best friend Erin. I have missed her more than words can describe and think it will be wonderful to have an extended period of time together. My biggest projects for the summer are working on debate, running a lot, and writing a book about Kari's strength and her inspiring story. Hopefully this will keep me busy and happy.

I want to thank everyone who read this blog over the past four months. Knowing that people took an interest in me and my journey was very meaningful and helped me through some tough times. My experience in Uganda can't be answered simply, and those of you who read my blog will be a lot easier to talk to when describing the complicated semester. I look forward to seeing all of you again soon and talking more about my experience.

So, here's to a good summer and not forgetting Uganda. And maybe a Kyla in Kansas City blog....

Monday, May 2, 2011

Riots Recap

Alright, I suppose after the small panic I induced in several family members (*cough*mom*cough*) after posting some articles about the protests on Facebook, I should talk about what’s been going on here.

In February, President Museveni was reelected to a fifth term as president of Uganda. The runner up in the election was Besigye. Immediately after the election, things seemed calm. Besigye didn’t throw a fit at losing and it was okay.

Then, we fast-forward to April. The newspapers revealed that the inflation rate in the month of March had been around 12 percent. Fuel prices were excessively high. Besigye called for a protest campaign to pressure the government to take actions to provide relief from the high food and fuel prices.

Thus, every Monday and Thursday since April 11th, some Ugandans have joined the “Walk to Work” campaign. Every Monday and Thursday, Besigye is arrested for “inciting violence” and the police use tear gas to break-up the crowds who are simply walking. The use of tear gas, mass arrests, injuries, and even a few deaths seemed pretty routine until last Thursday.

Then, last Thursday, Besigye was violently arrested. The video of this arrest is linked below. Needless to say, people were irate that such an important political figure was treated in this way.

Last Friday there were mass riots in response to the way Besigye was treated. The streets were blockaded by burning debris. The taxi system had to shut down due to the unrest on the streets. Five were killed as the police used live bullets to combat the protestors. Over 200 people were arrested, 200 injured. I could hear gun shots from my apartment. The police were swarming.

But, by the end of the day things had settled down. Today was supposed to be the next day of the Walk to Work protests, but the pouring rain ensured that nothing too crazy went down.  So, if anything more happens, it will most likely be on Thursday. 

I suppose I could go into a deep evaluation of my take on the protests and Ugandan politics in general, but I think those are discussions I would rather have with people who pursue the topic with me back in the United States rather than writing out a manifesto via blog.

In other news,  I’m home in two weeks. While I am incredibly excited to be reunited with my family, friends, vegan junk food, and country, I will also be sad to leave behind the group of friends I’ve established here. The SIT group has been fantastic. I have always been the type of person who has a few very close friends. But here, I have 17 friends, almost all of which I would consider good friends. This has probably been the most social semester I’ve ever had and I will be sad to say good-bye to the people I have spent so much time with and had so much fun with. I think meeting new personality types, new people with a different set of goals and ambitions, has been good for me and I truly cherish each person in the group. Our group dynamic is truly one in a million and I wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything. 

However, my anticipation at going home is undeniable. My time away from friends and family has made me appreciate the relationships I have in the United States. I miss working in the debate room at 2 am and trying to block out the noise of Tim and Alex discussing if we should have a Senate or not. I miss Sunday runs at Great Falls with the cross-country team. I miss seeing the Washington monument on my walk to class every morning. I miss reading the Washington Post.  I miss getting a phone call from Dad to let me know how many inches of snow Summit County got the night before. I miss going grocery shopping with my room mate Emily. I miss watching bad movies with my sister Kari. I miss being overly competitive with my brothers Keith and Kaleb. I miss hugs from my mom. I miss two hour phone conversations with my BFF Erin. I miss good food. I miss having an oven that works. I miss having a hot shower. I miss sidewalks. I miss the good people of Liberty United Methodist Church. I miss the Metro. I miss feeling independent. I miss two am runs on the National Mall. I miss chocolate almond milk. 

But most of all, I miss feeling like I belong in the country I live in. 

So, two more weeks and I’ll be home. Before then, I have to:

-finish my 40 page practicum paper

-buy gifts for the people I like in the United States

-go on another booze cruise (sorry you had to see that, Dad’s Sunday school class)

-go bungee jumping this weekend!!!

-hang out with my host family a final time at the SIT farewell party

-give a presentation on my practicum paper

-locate my passport

-move out of the apartment

-say good-bye to the awesome group

-try to write a blog post summarizing the semester….yikes!

Alright, that’s it for now. I apologize for the general lack of structure or intelligence in the last couple of blog posts. I’m fuelling all my intellectual gifts into the practicum paper right now. This is just bubbly lists and surface level news stories. 

13 days til I’m home!!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Top 10 Countdown of the Most Absurd things in Uganda

I've now been in the great nation of Uganda for three months. As I have gradually become more and more accustomed to a different culture and area of the world, I sometimes forget just how diffrent things really are. So, here's my top ten countdown of the most ridiculous, unbelievable things I've encountered in Uganda.

10. "Are you China?"
A week ago on my way to work, a man started yelling "China! China!" from a taxi. Confused, I made eye contact with the man. He pointed at me and continued to yell "China!" and then asked, "Are you China?"
What?! Well, I am certaintly not the entire People's Republic of China and I'm pretty sure I do not have any Chinese heritage. I found it comical that a man thougth my ginger self could be Chinese.

9. "Oh, the rain..."
Ugandans do not know the meaning of the word punctual. Whether it be the Speaker of Parliament coming in an hour late to meet with the US Ambassador (true story) or a simple gathering of friends, Ugandans always have an excuse as to why they were late. If it's a sunny day, they blame the "jam." Despite the fact that the traffic is terrible every single day, Ugandans somehow always assume that the waters of the Kampala taxi Red Sea will part for them and not delay their journey. They are always wrong and act surprised that they couldn't get to work in fifteen minutes during rush hour traffic.
If, however, it's a rainy day, then you might as well assume that the meeting will not happen. If it's raining, how can you be expected to walk to a taxi? Sure, you have an umbrella, but you don't want to ruin the shoes you just polished....The city virtually shuts down when it is raining. People huddle up in small resturaunts and wait it out. After a government official with a personal driver didn't show up for an interview, I called him and he replied, "Oh, the rain...."

8. Fashionistas
Now, I don't know too much about fashion in the United States. But I do know that I've seen some pretty ridiculous things. Some highlights include: men wearing Hillary Duff t-shirts, wearing the detatched hoods from coats, wearing fur coats in 90 degree weather, and wearing three different stripe patterns at the same time.

7. Taking out the garbage
There is virtually no trash collection service in Kampala, save for in a few very wealthy neighborhoods. Thus, most families just have a heaping pile of trash in their back-yards. When it gets big enough, they burn it. This method has spread to the streets. The city is absolutely filthy with heaping piles of garbage strewn across every street. Even the areas where Ugandans get their water from will be filled with disgusting trash. The first day in my rural homestay, I asked if there was some place I could throw away a jar of peanut butter. They seemed confused with what I meant by a trash can. Finally, they just took the jar and threw it into the other yard. Such a great system.

6. Renting Movies
The first day I was at my homestay, my brother and I decided to watch Inception. I went with him to "rent" the movie and we ended up at a road side shack. Inside there were binders and binders of DVDs and an old-school computer. We told the man we wanted to rent Inception and he went through binder after binder until he found it. Then, he stuck it in the computer, made a copy, and handed it to us, copy right laws be damned. Any movie that's in the theatres in the US right now? I can get it here for less than 50 cents. An entire season of any TV show you watch? That costs 60 cents here.

5. Musical Tastes
Ugandans love country music. Shania Twain is like a ghost that haunts the city streets, always crooning about love or whatnot. Celine Dion is a perpetual presence in taxi rides. And that terrible country music which painfully serenades women with "Honkey Tonk Badonkadonks?" Ugandans can't get enough of it. Mix in a little Justin Beiber, Kesha, T Swift, and Jay-Z, and you have the "sounds of Africa."

4. Dressed in your Sunday Best
On Easter, I went to church for the first time in Uganda. As I walked into the building, I felt like I was showing up at my high school prom. Nearly every woman was wearing a glittery floor length gown that were supremely formal. Uganda deals with a lot of second hadn clothes, so all those dresses that iternational second hand stores can't sell gradually make their way to botiques in Uganda. Women buy these old formal dresses for around $3 and then wear them to church.

3. Obama-rama
Ugandans LOVE Obama. I think they might love Obama more than they love Africa itself. Taxis will have "Our Brother Barack" written on the back of them. There's an Obama Bakery will his picture proudly displayed on the sign. Obama Barber Shops, Obama nail clippers, Obama resturaunts, Obama shirts, Obama notebooks, Obama purses. Sometimes, when you tell someone that you're from the United States, they reply, "oh, the land of Obama." I'm dead serious. They assume that every American is as enamored with Obama as they are and hope he will "reign for years and years to come."

2. Protests
As I right this, the sixth day of the Walk to Work Protest is going on. There have been over 300 arrests, 200 injuries, and 5 deaths in these protests. All the people are doing are walking to work. That's all. No riots, no violence, just simply walking to work. And yet the police have used tear gas every day and rubber bullets frequently. Besigyem, the organizer of the protests has been arrested no less than 4 times. Yesterday 30 people were arresteted for trying to bring him food in prison.

1. Taxis
Imagine you are walking down the street, when a 14 passenger van comes speeding by with a man hanging out of the window shouting "Wandegeya, Wandegeya, Wandegeya!" as loud as he possibly can. (Wandegeya is a sector of Kampala). You put your hand up and the man pulls over. You climb over four other people to sit down and then start to drive. The woman next to you is holding a goat. Another man has a chicken. The man in front of you asks your nae and then proceedes to tell you that he loves you ad naseum. For the next hour, you sit sandwhiched in between goat woman and chicken man as you wait in bumper to bumper traffic. The man in front has moved on to proposing marriage. Finally, you arrive at your stop. You climb over everyone to get out (no one wants to move for you) and pay the conductor. And then you notice you now smell like chicken.

Monday, April 18, 2011


As in bullet points...but I got your attention, didn't I?

I have put way too much effort in my last couple of posts. It's time for a blog post that is incoherent, unorganized, and much more positive. So, in no particular order....

Things I've done the past couple of weeks:
-Went to Gulu in the North last weekend with the SIT gang to visit our buddies who are doing their independent research in the north.

-Crashed a Ugandan track practice. Across from our hotel in Gulu, there was a dirt track with the lanes marked with black spray paint. When I ran, the local track team happened to be practicing. It was so much fun to run, pass people, be passed by others, and feel the beauty of track for a little while.

-Went swimming! It's soooo hot here. The water felt fantastic.

-Got an hour long massage for only the equivalent of $5.

-Watched Parliamentary debates. So, like C-SPAN, but in Uganda and not on TV.

-Ran every day.

-Made pad thai and curry for SIT friends.

-Started to read “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. Got depressed that I’m neither a salesmen, maven, or connector.

-Went back to being vegan. Now that I can cook for myself in our apartment, I didn’t see a reason not to. Three weeks down.

-Ate at a really swanky Indian restaurant for a friend’s birthday. I looove masala.

-Checked e-mail anxiously every day for word about the state department internship. Still no reply…

-Played hooky from word and went to see a movie instead.

-Re-read the seventh Harry Potter book. It gets better every time.

-Re-located my MP3 player!!! I am so happy because I thought it was gone forever and I have been missing my music so much.

-Went to a Rugby match in Gulu. That game is brutal!

So, I really haven’t been doing anything too exciting. But it’s still been a lot of fun.

Random topics:

-I should probably address all the protests that are going on here right now. Inflation in Uganda is currently over 10 percent. The people are very upset, so they’ve been protesting the high prices of food and high inflation in general. To do this, people are walking to work on Monday’s and Thursdays. The government hasn’t been too pleased with this, so they’ve taken to firing rubber bullets, arresting a lot of innocent protestors, and using tear gas. In the four protests so far, a total of somewhere around 10 people have been killed so far. I promise, promise, promise I am safe. It’s just interesting that peaceful protests here are handled with such brutality by the police.

-My boss at my internship is one of the most interesting women I have ever met. She sends herself flowers almost every day. After an article was posted about her in the newspaper here, she gave everyone in the office a copy and insisted they read it as she watched. She has two personal assistants who do nothing but personal errands for her all day long. She has never been to work earlier than 10 am (the office opens at 8). She flew to the US to have her baby so it would be a US citizen. I seriously think this is just so she can say, “my daughter the American” no less than 10 times a day. She has all of her clothes shipped in from the US because Ugandan clothes aren’t good enough for her. And, to top it all off, she spends at least three quarters of her time watching soap operas on the TV in the office. I have honestly been forced into conversations about who Gabriella will end up marrying. It makes for an interesting day. And Gabriella is totally going to end up with Mark.

-I have officially started my return-to-the-US mental countdown. I will be home in exactly four weeks. We are stopping at Chipotle on the way home from the airport. And then Whole Foods to get some awesome vegan junk food.

-Ugandan politics are much different than those in the US. When the Member’s of Parliament are debating, you would think they were watching a basketball game. When a particularly good insult or point is made, they bang on their chairs, jump up and down, and cheer loudly. It’s lively.

Okay, I think that’s all for now. I apologize for the lack of interesting topics and organization in this blog. But, hey, at least I wasn’t all dark, deep, and moody in this one, right? :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Creepy Uncle Stereotype Confirmed

The contents of this blog will once again focus on a struggle I am encountering in Uganda. I do not, however, want to give the impression that I am not enjoying my time or that I feel unsafe here. I am enjoying myself greatly and would not trade these few months for anything. 

I should also mention what I have been up to the past few weeks. We are now in the independent study portion of the semester. In the SIT program, each student can research a specific part of development over six weeks. We no longer have class, but instead individually research our topic. Today marks the first day of the third week of the independent study. I am researching the role that the Ugandan Parliament plays in development. To do this, I am interning in the Public Relations office of Parliament. I have yet to do anything interesting or substantial. But I do have internet and a computer, so I can’t complain too much.
During this period, I am living with five other SIT students in an apartment in Kampala. It’s been a lot of fun so far. We had a house party this weekend. I made Thai food for dinner and pancakes in the morning. It’s been great to have a kitchen and less crowded streets to run on. Over the last two weeks, I ran every day and have enjoyed the boost of self-confidence that accompanies such an accomplishment. 

As I am living in a nice apartment with American students and as I work in an air-conditioned office with a computer, it is sometimes easy to forget I am still in Uganda. But this past week several experiences quickly reoriented me to my location in Africa. I have three stories. One is about a run, one about a boda-boda, and one about a meal. 

First, the story of a run. 

Amna is an eleven year old girl who lives on the same street. Every day she waved as I ran by her home. Then, last Wednesday she showed up at my door as I was getting ready to run. For the first time, I saw she was wearing shoes. As I headed out and started to run, she joined me. She had planned to run with me. At first, I tried to make small talk, but eventually just settled into the rhythm of the run. 

Five minutes in, a man yelled “muzungu!” (white person) and started to run next to me. “Hello, my name is Henry. You are very beautiful,” he said with a toothy grin. He did not greet Amna.

This was not the first time that a Ugandan man had attempted to run with me nor was it the first time I was told I was beautiful. While I found both annoying, I decided to be friendly. 

“Hi, I’m Kyla and this is my friend Amna,” I replied. For the next few minutes, Henry asked me where I stayed in Uganda, what I was doing here, and where I was from. He still did not acknowledge Amna. His eyes kept sweeping over my body and he told me several times that I was “very fit, very healthy.” Henry was fat and slow and I wanted to be free from the awkward conversation. 

“Well, it was nice to meet you Henry,” I said abruptly in an attempt to get him to leave.
“So, we are friends?” he asked eagerly. 

“Well, I will say ‘hi’ when I run by,” I offered.
“Oh good,” he said with a smile, “I have always wanted a white friend. It is very good to have a white friend. Would you want to go out tonight so I can show my brothers that I have a white friend?” He looked as if he expected me to take this as a compliment. 

I told him that I was very busy and could not go out. After a minute more, my turn finally came and I said good-bye. 

Amna was tired and stayed at her house for my next lap. The last five minutes she rejoined me. I told her good job and thanked her for running with me. I was touched that a little girl had taken an interest in running and wanted to spend time with me. I inwardly smiled at the ability for running to connect people across cultures. A cute and amusing friendship had formed. Or so I thought. 

“You know, school is very expensive here. I need books and supplies and dresses. It would be very nice if you would give me money for school.”

And the reason for the run was suddenly clear. I was an opportunity, a foreign benefactor. 

I explained to Amna that I was a student too, that I worked hard to pay for my own school, and that I did not have enough money to do what she asked. All of these statements were true. She smiled and then asked again for money. I explained again. She asked a third time. 

Since Wednesday, Amna has run with me almost every day. And every day she again asks for money. 

Then, last night I was going to dinner with a group of friends. My friend David and I were riding a boda-boda when he lost some money out of his pocket. When we asked the driver to stop and go back, we realized he did not speak English. We asked a gentlemen walking by to help by translating. This gentleman just so happened to be Henry. I called him by name, asked how he was, and explained the situation. He spent 15 seconds translating for us. The driver understood, smiled and said “Tu gende!”(Let’s go!) As David and I got back on the boda, I thanked Henry for his help. Henry then asked me for 5,000 shillings for translating (the amount normally paid for an entire’s day work).

“But Henry, we’re friends. Friends help each other out,” I said. 

“But you’re white. Pay me,” he said in a tone that made me uncomfortable. 
I once again thanked him for his help and the boda began to drive off. Henry grabbed my backside and catcalled. 

Henry and I do not share the same definition of friendship. 

The next night, my friends and I received an invitation to come over to our land lord’s house. We had admired his house every since we moved in. There was a swimming pool, unnaturally green grass, and two separate houses, both of which were at least twice the size of mine in the US. Although we were a little apprehensive that they insisted on inviting “only the females” over, the prospect of a free meal, house tour, and what was sure to be an interesting experience was too much to resist. 

And so eight American ladies walked the 20 meters to his house. We were taken up to the third floor where a liquor cabinet was prominently displayed. The room had the biggest television I had ever seen. As we sipped a glass of wine, we were introduced to Ben, the multi-millionaire and owner of the home, and Elly, his brother and the groundskeeper. The owner insisted we call him “Uncle Ben.” Both men were 45-50 years old.  

We were taken aback by the extravagance of the home. After living in homes with pit latrines and no running water, it was exhilarating to see a home that was three stories high, had 8 bed rooms with private baths, and even a gym. After the tour, we sat on the balcony and laughed at what an interesting experience this was and how we would have such good stories to tell. 

And then it got real weird, real fast. 

Uncle Ben began to talk about himself. His business, his wealth, his role in discovering oil. The only question he asked us was how old we were. And why we weren’t drinking more alcohol. 

After about half an hour of Uncle Ben’s unending bragging, we headed to dinner. Elly carried 10 bottles of alcohol in a basket in case “the restaurant didn’t have good booze.” Elly also insisted on sitting in the back row tightly packed between several girls. All of us were growing rather apprehensive, but we kept trying to find humor in the situation. 

On our way to the restaurant, Uncle Ben informed us that we were going to a “family place.” This is where his large extended family gathered every weekend. As Uncle Ben and Elly greeted their family at the restaurant, they were congratulated, patted on the back, and grins abounded. 

The waitresses brought out chairs and arranged them in a circle. Initially, my friends and I sat on one side of the circle so that we could better talk to each other.  Elly insisted that some of us move so that we would “surround Uncle Ben.”

Elly sat next to me. Even though I was not drinking, he continually insisted that I do so. Any time anyone did not have a drink in their hand, they were reprimanded and given one. His eyes burned holes through my chest, my backside. His hand kept brushing my leg even though I had scooted my chair as far away as possible. He told us, “when we are drunk, we will dance.” 

We wanted to go. Badly. 

We told the men that we needed to go home because our friends we were waiting for us. They kept saying we would go soon. Elly invited us to sleep at their house that night, even though it is literally a 20 second walk from their gate to our door. “We have many, many beds. Enough for two people in each bed.” Horrified at the thought of the offer, we told Elly that our male friends at home would be worried if we slept at his house. They wanted us home with them. 

Elly grew angry. “You lied to us. You told us you have no husbands, but now you will not sleep in our beds because there are men at your home. You told us you were free. ”

I wanted to cry. Elly kept inquiring why I wasn’t drinking more, why I didn’t look like I was having a good time, why I wasn’t talking more. “Everyone else is having fun, but you look miserable. Drink more and then we will dance and you will have fun.”

Finally, finally we convinced them that we really did have to go. As Uncle Ben went to get the car, Elly made a final, haunting plea. “Before Uncle Ben gets back, I want to let you all know that I love the way you are dressed. You all look so nice. You are all so very beautiful. We would love to have you stay with us tonight.” His eyes made another hungry sweep of our bodies. 

We got in the van. Uncle Ben was drunk. Uncle Ben drove us home, blasting techno music, dancing to the beat. Elly kept stroking my friend’s leg. 

We arrived home safely. I lay in bed and thought about the evening. 

I felt dirty. I felt cheap. I felt nauseous. 

Never before have I so truly understood the term “objectification.” The only interest those men had in me was as a status symbol and as a sex object. My outward body was the only thing that mattered. Not my personality, not my brain. I was truly an object to them. They took us to their family place to show off to their kin just how powerful they were, just how far they had come to be surrounded by white women. We were there for display, and for their hungry eyes to disgustingly devour. 

These experiences this past week all share a common thread. In each instance, someone wanted to use me for something. And the way they wanted to use me was determined by my race. Amna assumed I was wealthy because I was white, and so she wanted school fees. Henry wanted to use me to impress his friends. Uncle Ben and Elly wanted to use me as a status symbol and for sex. 

This is a daily struggle in Uganda. Coming here, I sought in to connect, to relate, to understand Ugandans. To feel like I had made true friendships, to feel like I belonged, to feel that I had gained a true cross-cultural understanding. Part of what has been so hard about this experience is my inability to do that. Sure, I connect with the SIT staff and I feel a connection, a true friendship with my host brothers. But, I don't feel a connection with the man on the street who shouts lewd comments at me, the man demanding I pay him more money than the Ugandans on the taxi, the children and adults who constantly scream my race at me. I try to have real conversations with these people, I try to feel like I can connect with them, understand their culture and the way they live, but they can never see me as anything other than a white person. A white person who might be able to raise their status if I am friends with them, a white person who might be able to get them a passport to the US, a white person who might buy them something nice. I can't tell you the number of times I will think I "made a friend" or "had an educational conversation" or "had a cultural moment" only to be asked for school fees or an expensive meal.  There are lots of Amnas here. I will think that I have made a connection with a person, that we can see how our lives can be somewhat similar in these two different countries--we're both earning our education, working hard. And yet they still are not interested in this connection, they still try to use me for what they want.  I want to scream, "No, no, no! You have not understood! I am a student too! I work hard too! I thought we just understood each other and you saw me as an equal, a person to relate too! But instead of listening to my words, you only see my skin, hear where I am from, and nothing else."
I suppose it potentially does not reflect on me well to be complaining about being a white person in Africa. For feeling treated differently because my race is traditionally viewed with privilege. To those critics, I would say that I am not attempting to cry out at the injustice of being treated differently or to criticize Ugandans for such behavior. I am only expressing how it has been a struggle to lack the ability to connect with people due to the way they view my race. 

My identity is not my race. My worth as a human is not found in my body, it is found in my mind. I am not a status symbol. But being viewed in that way is difficult.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Identity Crisis in Song Lyrics

Disclaimer: the following blog walks a fine line between “real” and “too personal.” I chose to post this because I believe that this semester is just as much a period of personal development as it is a string of African experiences. This entry focuses on the personal development portion.
Talking to myself in a breezeway
Putting down anything that I find
Be it liquor, or candy, or sadness or brandy
Or your words so soft and so kind

I wonder if I still own a bible
If my fingerprints still sit on that page
The one about love, and why it's so patient
And why I have lost it with age

An answer never seems to escape me
But now I'm feeling lost my dear god
Sour and dry if I could I would cry
But my eyes barely open for sunlight
-River City Extension, "If I Still own a Bible" 

I can hardly believe that I’ve been here for a full two months. I remember the day I left Kansas City. I ran with Dad, stopped by Chipotle on the way to the airport to get a final fix, and then goofed off in the airport with Dad and Kaleb while we waited for my flight. I had to wrestle Kaleb to get a hug good-bye. There was snow on the ground. It seems like a year ago.
After the first few weeks in Uganda, once the initial shock wore off and I felt as settled as I could in a foreign country, an unshakeable feeling of restlessness settled in. I often feel overcome with an unbearable feeling of boredom which leads to less than optimal decisions. Instead of listening to informative (yet poorly presented) lectures, I find myself writing out song lyrics instead. I have reached entirely new levels of procrastination. Even when the papers due are 10 pages long, I will not spend more than 3 hours on it. Running has been half-hearted and infrequent. My weight gain is shocking. Despite my countless attempts to motivate myself to get back in shape, lose weight, and prepare for a successful cross-country season in the fall, I still find myself eating horrific amounts of food for no other reason than to combat this pervasive, restless boredom. When I am in the group, I just want to be alone. I find myself consuming more alcohol than usual to try to have fun, yet I still feel removed and distant when with the group. When I am alone, the boredom persists. I have turned to reading novels. My main entertainment is the lives of fictitious two-dimensional characters.
It’s not that I haven’t had fun here. I have. Two weekends ago the group went rafting on the Nile and it was one of the most fun things I’ve done. My host brothers were a blast to talk to. The group is a unique, vibrant, and wonderful mix of people. The issue is that my internal conflict has overshadowed these fun experiences and people.
I suppose I would call this an identity crisis.
 I find myself looking frequently at pictures from high school on Facebook. I long for the girl I used to be. The girl who would only eat organic food during cross-country season. A girl who looked forward to every race, every run, as a chance to push myself to the fullest and test my limits. Someone who really believed in a God. Someone who valued charity and kindness.  Not this bitter young adult who seeks immediate gratification instead of the satisfaction of achieving goals, sulks in solitude rather than enjoying the company of friends, wallows in selfish self-pity instead of fueling obstacles into motivation. I need to get rid of this person.
For too long I have allowed the excuse of Kari’s situation last year to shirk my responsibility for my actions. I gained 15 pounds and told myself, “It’s because I’m depressed from her situation.” I was distant from my friends—“I’m having a hard time dealing with things at school and need alone time.” My grades struggled—“How can I keep up good grades when there is a crisis at home?” And while these excuses had some validity, I never got out of crisis mode. My family has returned to a level of normalcy, yet I have continued to have the same problems and lack of motivation.  
While I can lament my current state over a whiney, overly informative blog post, and can regret it and feel ashamed, none of those things can alter the situation. The only thing that will cause change is if I take action. If I lace up my running shoes every day, if I choose to eat pasta instead of pizza, if I allot 3 days for a paper instead of 3 hours, if I go out for a evening with friends instead of silently reading a vacuous novel in solitude.
I think I have come to a lot of these realizations because this boredom and laziness and inability to be dedicated to anything have persisted in Africa. I thought going away, a change of scenery, of culture, of people, would solve whatever deadness and numbness that had prevailed since my sophomore year in college. But it persisted, and even worsened in this different land. The problem has always been internal. My boredom is not of DC, or of the mid-west, or of the people I know and love. But it is with the vacuous, self-centered person I have become. How can my selfish concerns provide continual entertainment? How can I feel alive without goals or ambitions? The cure to my boredom was not to come to Africa (altough I'm glad I did). Instead, it must originate in a deep change from within and a revival of the self-determination, motivation, and ambition that I used to value and receive joy from. I need to once again have the sensation of working as hard as I can at something and, at the moment of truth, taking comfort and pride in the knowledge that I had done everything possible to ensure success, had given it my all.
“It’s not the long walk home that will change my heart
But the welcome I receive at the restart.”
-Mumford and Sons, "Roll Away Your Stone"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Exploring Cultural Differences while Procrastinating

In about an hour, I have a major test which will evaluate my knowledge of the Lugandan language. Unfortunately, I could not care less about said test due to the fact that it will not impact my grade in any way. Thus, instead of studying, I have decided to explore cultural differences instead of being studious.

Cultural Difference Number 1: Drunk driving

United States stance: I know that drunk driving happens. But most people do not go into an evening planning on driving drunk. It comes about out of necessity or being so intoxicated the idea doesn't phase you. Even those who do drive drunk often do not really speak about it or wouldn't brag about it. I think it is somewhat taboo--you wouldn't tell your mom that you were driving drunk the night before.

Ugandan stance: Last weekend I went out with my host brothers, Arthur and Dennis. In planning the evening, we got into an argument that went a little something like this:
Dennis: We should ask mom if we can borrow the car.
Me: Yeah, but that would mean you'd have to stay sober and that wouldn't be any fun. We could just taxi it or take bodas.
Arthur: Yeah, you still want to have a good time.
Dennis: Oh, I'd still drink.
Me: You can't be drunk driving! It's dangerous. (I sound like a mother, but oh well)
Dennis: I drive better drunk than I do sober. (He is serious).
Me: (Insert the normal American objections to drunk driving...)
Arthur: Well, the thing is that we have a car. If people see us taking a taxi or a boda, they'll think we're low.
Me: But we can't be driving drunk!
Dennis: Kyla, everyone driving at that time of night is. It's just part of our culture.

While we did not end up taking the car out (mama didn't let us), it was crazy to hear people planning two days in advance to be driving drunk. There was no shame in it, they thought I was strange for having any objections. Their mom even frequently lets them drive in that state. And on the taxi drive home, it seemed exceedingly apparent that everyone else really was driving drunk.

Cultural Difference #2: Beauty

US Stance: Skinny is everything. And you should probably have a tan. Enough said.

Ugandan Stance: Big is beautiful. Apparently it is common for men to ask their wives to put on weight once they get married because they like big women. You can often tell if a woman is married or not based on her weight. My grandma here has a hard time not understanding why I don't want to eat five pounds of food at every meal because she can't understand why I wouldn't want to get fat. Being told "you've put on weight" here is a compliment. But not one that I readily enjoy.

Women also want their skin to be lighter. They pay money to buy products to lighten their skin. And to think we pay money in the states to use tanning beds.

Cultural Difference #3: Homosexuality

US Stance: Increasingly, homosexuality is being accepted in the US. Although most states don't allow gay marriage and probably won't for a long time, most people wouldn't agree with the like of extreme hate groups like Fred Phelps. Although it is a difficult thing to come "out of the closet" and there is definitely a lack of acceptance in a lot of cases, your life is almost never in danger for coming out.

Ugandan Stance: There is currently a bill in Parliament that would make homosexuality punished by death. It is expected to pass. The biggest opposition to the bill comes from fears that foreign aid would decrease if the bill passed. In an interview with one of the bill's proponents, the man said that they couldn't worry about what foreign countries wanted to happen in Uganda, they must focus on the moral future of the country.

When we went to visit the king of a tribe in Western Uganda, we were given a speech about the tribe's culture. As a part of the speech, the man listed off what were crimes in the Ugandan culture. The order went like this: homosexuality, murder, urinating in clean water, and finally rape. Yes, homosexuality is worse than murder.

The crazy thing is that you see men all the time holding hands walking down the street. Because homosexuality is not even ever considered to be a possibility, the men are much more affectionate to show friendship.

Okay, that's all I have time for now. If anyone ever wants to send me updates on the NCAA tournament, I would be eternally obliged. Here's to a weekend of rafting on the nile and a boose cruise!