Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Day in the Life

The other day I was realizing that my everyday normal here in Uganda is somehow different from that in Canada. I recognized that perhaps some of you who love us may like a glimpse into what it means to do life here. It becomes routine so sometimes I forget that this is not what life everywhere looks like.  I want to share and remember what a day in the life is like. Because I am realizing that it is far too easy to forget everyday moments that at the time seem so very ordinary. Perhaps in 10 years my ordinary might look very different.   

A regular weekday might look something like this for me
  • Get up at 6:45 AM making my way through the mosquito net. Sneak out of the room as to not wake the baby.
  • Open the door for Grace, our nanny to let herself in when she arrives, let Spots our neighbourhood cat in and feed him breakfast.
  • Take care to greet Grace when she arrives remembering how important greetings are in this culture.
  • Do my usual morning things that are too boring to expand upon here (eat breakfast etc.)
  • Say goodbye to Grace and Savannah and head out the door to work
  • Drive to the main road via a badly pot holed narrow side road that only one car can fit on at a time. 
  • Get on the main road and deal with anywhere from mild chaos to mayhem when it comes to traffic.  It is not uncommon for motorcycles to be weaving in and out of traffic, public taxi vans to be weaving off the road to pick up passengers and then weave back on.  At first, this whole situation caused me a great deal of stress.  Now I find myself weaving in and out of traffic, honking at taxis to let them know I am coming up behind them as if it is second nature. It is all very organized chaos. People know what to do and rarely do I see any accidents. That being said, there are still sometimes the traffic stresses me out or I find myself calling someone a ding dong under my breath.
  • Turn off the main road to the back road that goes to my office.  Some urban Ugandans call the area our office is located in “the bush” as it is removed from central Kampala. As part of my journey on this road it is a regular occurrence to have to dodge goats and be delayed or stopped by herds of cows.  There is also a lot of business that goes on a bit farther down the road with a number of shops, restaurants, schools, and guesthouses.
  • After all this, I reach the turn off to Kajjansi Airfield where the EMI/MAF office is located. The police let me in and I proceed to follow through my work day.
  • When work is completed, I travel home in the same circus fashion that I arrived. Traffic in the afternoon is generally a bit lighter than in the morning.
  • After Savannah has her afternoon nap, we head out for an evening walk in the neighbourhood. First we must take care to make sure we start heating the water for the evening showers before we head out. Savannah is somewhat of a rockstar in the neighbourhood and it seems every person knows her by name.  Last night some lady went zooming by on a boda (motorcycle taxi) and started yelling “Hi Savannah.”  Who this lady is, I have no idea, but she loved my baby. There is one portion of the road that has tall trees where monkeys frequently reside.  Savannah loves watching the monkeys.  One night a big hairy male came down and sat on the fence and stared at Savannah.  Savannah laughed long and hard at that silly monkey.
  • Arrive home, feed Savannah, bathe her taking care that she does not get any [contaminated] water in her mouth or stick her hands in her mouth during the duration of the bath.
  • Put Savannah to bed and prepare dinner.  There is no such thing as express cooking here.  Everything must be prepared from scratch, which is healthier, but a lot more time consuming.
  • Shower and head to bed myself.

In general, getting through an ordinary day in a foreign culture takes a lot more mental capacity than in one’s own culture as each and every task must be thought out with a lot more effort. In general though, I stand amazed at some of the ways I have adapted to life here over the last 2.5 years.  In other ways I still am surprised at how some things I would have expected to have adapted to still take so much adjustment.
To sign off, I thought I would finish with a list of things I miss about home, and a list of things I love about Uganda.

Things I love about Uganda
  • It is green all year, as in amazingly green.  If you have seen Africa portrayed on National Geographic as a dry arid desert, know that Africa is a big continent and that was not Uganda.
  • Our friends here
  • The fruit is amazing and costs hardly anything. Fresh pineapples, mangos, and passion fruits are all an almost daily delight for us here.
  • The people are warm and friendly
  • Spots, our neighbourhood cat.  He is just excellent. Savannah delights in him.
  • The National Parks here and the animals in them are nothing short of amazing
  • Rolex (Street food of omelet rolled in chapatti flatbread)
Things I miss about Canada
  • Peace and Quiet (Our apartment compound is loud during the day and there are non-closable screens on every window which means you hear everything whether you choose to or not)
  • Food from home and Candy (I won’t start on specifics or this list will get way too longJ)
  • Getting Mail.  As simple as it may sound, I haven’t received an actual piece of mail with my name on it for over a year.  I do miss opening the mailbox to see mail with my very own name on it. That being said, it costs $2.65 Cdn if you would like to send us a card or letterJ  Jaimee Sekanjako C/O Semei Makumbi, PO Box 3251 Kampala, Uganda
  • Clean Air
  • People I Love
  • Wilson my dog
My trusty Rav4.  It may be old but we have learned how to drive in Uganda together.
The EMI/MAF Office where I work
The Taxi Park in Kampala.  I find downtown Kampala too chaotic for my liking so try to avoid going there at all costs. Paul on the other hand goes in several times a week.

Lake Victoria can be seen from several places in Kampala, including a 5 minute walk from our apartment.
The Road going up to our apartment
The Road from my office to the main road.  The cows and goats were all hiding because it was raining.


Monday, June 25, 2018

The Story of Another

One very ordinary day as we are driving out to the village, past banana groves, brick houses, and herds of goats, we see him standing there barefoot.  It is not such an unusual sight because there are many children that walk and stand along the roads leading to a village. We pass by him before we realize it. This one he is ours. He has been since he stole his way into my heart as a fun loving nursery school student. Back then, his eyes were full of laughter and practical jokes. Now at the cusp of 14, I see the ways in which he has wisdom beyond his years and I know that life has not always been easy. I stop and wonder if all our love is making any kind of difference. He has reason to believe he is not wanted or loved. Every time I write to him I remind him that he has value. That he is loved deeply by someone here on this earth. One time he wrote me a letter and expressed his thanks because I reminded him that he means something in this world. And I wasn’t sure quite what to do with the weight of that responsibility.

We stop the car and I call his name and he comes running, barefoot and wide eyed and he shows up at my window.  It has been hard work, but these days I can ask him basic questions in his native tongue. He tells me he is well and I leave him with a birthday card and some ginger biscuits and wonder if that is enough. I wonder if he will find the courage to discover his place in this world against so many odds. I wonder if he sees me on the sidelines cheering him on and believing in who he is.

Sometimes when living in among so much desperate need, it is easy to become blind and to no longer see what is right in front of my eyes. And yet, this child he somehow helps me to see. To see who he is and not just his circumstances. To see his beautiful soul and his vibrant smile. He reminds me that all of this, my days and my hours are about more than just the challenges that lie in front of me. It is also about entering into the story of another. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Beauty in Broken and Hidden Places

Sometimes beauty sprawls out in front, a majestic waterfall, or a snow capped peak, impossible to pass by and not notice. Other times it is hidden, a simple bloom among thorns, perhaps painful to reach and easy to miss. I think my experience living in a foreign land has been much more representative of the latter. The beauty is deep, and there are hints of what is lovely, but sometimes it is hidden and the journey is painful.

I have been struggling lately with my inabilities to achieve in a place so foreign. Perhaps such a struggle showcases the very fickleness of my human nature, but I came from a place where I knew what it meant to be a high achiever. I was used to being good at things. I was used to working hard and doing well, to being at the top of the class, the investing deeply in things that mattered to me and having those things somehow work out. I have found that when I moved to a place where I don’t understand the customs, where I often misunderstand and am misunderstood, where doing simple tasks become increasingly difficult, I just feel somehow so unqualified. Yes it is true, that in the past year and a half I have learned to adapt, and my husband has been a wonderful buffer to all this chaos. I have learned to drive in chaotic traffic, to negotiate a price, and to buy from the market, sometimes even in the local language. And yet, I still feel somehow maimed because I cannot operate at the same capacity that I once did. It has been humbling and forever changing, and probably even good for me as hard as it has been. It has been a journey of putting to death who I once was and seeking to find beauty in dry and cracked places. This loss of myself has been hard to reconcile, and I often grieve who I used to be, but I am increasingly finding beauty in the place that I am.

And yesterday, I sat in a room of students, at the front among other volunteer instructors as the students had time to ask us any question they wanted. One student directed a question at me “How can I feel like I am good at something when there is so much I don’t know and I keep making mistakes, when I feel like I don’t know anything?”  Amen brother, somehow our souls feel this same kind of pain. I told him that there are so many days when I feel like I don’t know anything, but we must push on. We must find others who have stood before us to teach us, to encourage us and to show us the way. We must not get discouraged and want to quit when things get hard, because even if you work the same job for 50 years, although a level of comfort comes with gained experience, there are still days when you feel like you have no idea what you are doing. This is why we are engineers, because these road blocks give us opportunities not to give up, but to find a way around. Perhaps that student asked that question because I needed to hear my own answer even more than he did. Perhaps as the sun rises and the sun sets, I need to remind myself of that every single day. Perhaps I can tell these students that even as they struggle to find their way, so too do I, and that is ok. As I walk back to my room, I see it so clearly. A brilliant flash of purple hidden among the foliage. It is here among us, this hidden beauty. It is there displaying its brilliance, overcoming what tries to extinguish it. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Valentines and Speaker Trucks

I suppose that when I left the familiar confines of my office I should have known.  That traffic would be bad that is. It was Valentines Day, and somehow that means crazier than normal traffic. But on that somewhat ordinary day, it didn't cross my mind. Now on my drive home from work, there is one short stretch of back roads that is very narrow.  It is only about a 15 m long stretch of road, but it is too narrow to fit two cars driving in opposite directions comfortably that is.  But I suppose I have somewhat assimilated, because I have become used to driving with less personal space and somehow manage to drive beside another car on that stretch without too much stress on a regular basis. But this, this was Valentines Day.  And before I begin this story I must explain one thing. . .

There are multitudes of what I shall call "speaker trucks" here in Uganda.  They are large delivery style trucks packed to the rafters with speakers that drive around and broadcast obnoxiously loud messages about various things.  They advertise upcoming events, give opinions on politics and a variety of other platforms.

On this day, Valentines Day, I was approaching the precarious narrow stretch and I saw a speaker truck approaching.  I decided to drive like a Canadian and politely wait until he passed before proceeding to the narrow stretch of road.  The two cars behind me apparently did not appreciate my Canadian style of driving because they became impatient and started honking.  So what's a girl to do but proceed.  I thought it would be ok, until I was about halfway through and suddenly I was feeling pinched for space.  So I did what any normal person would do and I stopped.  At this point, his gigantic speakers were at window level with my car and all I could hear was the pounding music coming out.  All of a sudden, dead silence.  And then a voice on the microphone "Madam, you proceed, it is ok" and before I knew it a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) driver got off his motorcycle to direct me.  I couldn't see where my tires were, but he could so I appreciated the effort.  And the gentleman in the speaker truck kept on giving me orders/encouragement such as "That is right Madam, you proceed"  "Yes, you keep proceeding" followed by "yes, yes"  "yes, you proceed."  I think my favourite part of all was the grand finale, when I had finally reached the end of the precarious stretch of road and he got o his microphone and said "Yes, you are welcome."  I thought he was proud of himself for giving me such good directions, but later I asked my husband what he meant and he thought he was appreciating my driving.  Whatever he meant, I feel as though there is no shortage of comic relief in the midst of seemingly ordinary events like this. I am sure the entire neighbourhood got entertainment out of watching the scared foreigner trying to navigate roads that were narrower than she was used to, all this with a running commentary from the speaker truck.

Moments of laughter and moments of kindness.  I do appreciate the willingness of the local people to direct and help me through.

One of the famed speaker trucks

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Yellow Jug

She takes my hand and leads me up the hill. In her other arm she carries the proverbial yellow jerry can. The bright hues of yellow smudged with iron laden dirt are gripped and carried by nearly every child in rural East Africa as they haul their family’s water supply back from the community well. This one, she takes my hand and leads me back to the home where she stays. They walk here three times a day, climb down the wide mouthed well and fill their buckets with water that will give them typhoid, and start the journey home. Somehow in the exhaustion of simply living in a place that is foreign, I find myself losing sight. The scene in front of me seemingly normal. I remind myself that this, it is not fair and yet, it is her reality. I don’t want to become blind to the heartbreaking realities that so often surround me and yet sometimes I am. Sometimes it is all too much and I don’t even realize I am walking along with my eyes closed to what is around me.

And yet, even still I remind myself that somehow in some small way I am part of her story. I know her name, and hopefully someday soon she won’t have to deal with water that gives her typhoid, or the risk of falling down the well. I type words on my screen, the reality of this life she lives made real in the body of a report, and I prepare for a conference call to discuss the technical findings. And yet beyond the mineral content and the bacteria counts, I remind myself that there is a girl with a name behind the words I type and the water chemistry I analyze. Behind every drawing that is drafted, behind every report that is crafted is a person who has a name.  Let’s just be honest here. I am not changing the world. They are. These people, they teach me, inspire me, and remind me to remember what is really important. They are generous, humble, and I have much to learn and remember.

Perhaps the notion of living in an African nation seems exciting. Romantic. Inspiring. In all there is to love here, perhaps there are moments in time that embody all of these lofty adjectives. But it is also so very ordinary. I get up and drive to the office still half asleep. Drink tea and eat snacks as I work. Go home, make dinner, sleep and do it all over again. And yet in the middle of all those ordinary moments there is somehow something extraordinary if I will remind myself to see it. There is a young girl with a name I know, who carries a yellow jug of water. People like her are written right in the middle of my story and somehow make it extraordinary. They are all around me, overcoming adversity, inspiring me, and reminding me the meaning of contentment. Of what it means to be still in the middle of this crazy world. These moments written right into the middle of all that is ordinary are what I hold onto. In the middle of all these hard and holy things, I must remind myself of this. There was this one time I stumbled my way up a mountain at 5,500 m. I thought I wouldn’t make it, and the girl behind me told me I needed to keep on going because difficult is not impossible. Somehow I made it to the top. I can do hard things. I can keep on running, because there is a girl with a yellow jug leading me onwards, reminding me to keep on going.