Somewhere over the rainbow…

This is my third day in Uganda, and I already – bizarrely, feel right at home here at the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School. Despite a few tiny differences.

Okay, I've never seen that part of the banana before...

First, there is virtually no internet connection possible here in Nyaka in the far southwestern corner of the country, in the mountains – and when you can connect, it’s slow as melting tar. Forget downloading a photo – it ain’t gonna happen. Which means I can’t post a blog until I get back to Kampala on November 7 (actually, I couldn’t post til November 10 when I got back to the USA).

My fab roomie, Jennifer Nantale, and Teacher Carol.

On my way to Nyaka, I purchased a 100,000 UGX Airtel mobile modem (relax, that’s $40) but today, the hit-or-miss connectivity turned into a complete miss. Luckily I have Jennifer, the fabulous Nyaka Country Manager here with me, and she also couldn’t connect on her Airtel modem, so she called the 1-800 Kampala Customer Service number. And heard: “Welcome to Airtel Customer Service. Thank you for calling. Good bye.” Click. Wow, I’m sure Verizon will be using that one soon.

Speaking of Verizon, I have no cell phone service at all, which is surprisingly relaxing and probably accounts for the joyful nature of the people here. You can’t miss what you don’t have, and it is astonishing to discover how much you really don’t need.

Like vehicles, for instance. There are almost no cars in the village and everybody walks everywhere (although we white people are generally squired around in a van). And when you go to church in Nyaka (it’s mostly Seventh Day Adventist here, so the Sabbath is on Saturday), you’re well advised to bring your own pew. And prepare to be there for a while – the service is about 3 hours long.We mostly have no electricity during the day and if you plug in your computer at night (oops, my bad), you’ll blow the solar power out for the evening. And then you (and everybody in the guest house) will be literally and figuratively in the dark. There’s also no hot water, so you can either go for total immersion in a cold-water shower or take a warm sponge bath in a plastic basin. Of course, in order to get the warm water, you’ll have to elbow out all your bunkmates to get to the one jerrican of heated water first – but somehow that’s posed no problem for me & Jennifer.

More difficult is simply understanding what people are saying. Ugandans speak a beautiful, mellifluous patois that sounds like The Queen’s English meets African propriety–and they can’t understand our slurred, lazy speech any more than we can understand their formal vernacular. Ugandans are taught never to use contractions, so when you say, “Hi, how are you?” even the smallest child will respond gravely, “I am fine.” When I was running down the road after a beautiful woman with a red & white parasol to take her photo, a laughing man asked me, “Madame, why are you speeding?” And my new friend Huntington, who walked me the 2 km to the library, tried politely to establish a connection with: “Madame Bet-ty, what crops do you grow?” It’s pretty delightful.

Clean clothes are happy clothes.

If you want clean clothes, you also have to handwash your own laundry, or pay somebody to do it for you (personally, I love doing laundry, which makes the African women laugh at the crazy white woman hanging out her own clothes). And yeah, there is always the threat of malaria from a mosquito bite so you do have to dip yourself in Deet, night and day.

Most disconcerting, because we are “role models” (that’s a frightening thought) for the children of Nyaka, there’s no alcohol, cigarettes, or swearing allowed – which is by far the worst deprivation for me.

But honestly, you pretty much get used to all these things the first day. Even these alleged “hardships” pale in comparison to the way most of the people – and certainly all of the children at our school – live. In fact, by Ugandan standards, we’re residing in palatial splendor, with plenty of food, soft beds with clean sheets and blankets, a generator for electricity when I blow out the solar, and gentle Evelyn making all our meals.  The Nyaka children have all lost at least one parent to AIDS, live in abject poverty, and without this school would never get an education at all — not to mention two good meals a day. And they know it.

Lunch time!

So when they come to school in their pretty purple or green uniforms and ragged shoes (most of them walk at least 30 minutes each way – even the 5-year olds), they are happy to pick weeds from the schoolyard, sing their songs, study hard, and dazzle you with their smiles.It shames you for every bad attitude you’ve ever had. And makes you grateful you can help. As the Ugandans say, “I am happy I am here.”

***Be an angel and Click Here to contribute $10 (or heck, $10,000) to help Nyaka AIDS Orphans School win the Nike Girl Effect challenge.

29 thoughts on “Somewhere over the rainbow…

  1. Next time you are in Uganda I would love for you to visit us in Northern Uganda where the people are trying to get their lives back to normalcy after the war with the rebels. I am on facebook “The Tabitha Project” or Carla Etheridge. Thanks for making others aware of the problems many women in the third world face and all the orphans who need help.

    • Dear Carla — I would love to get up North! I certainly heard a lot about it, and I will definitely look up your Tabitha Project. I know how difficult the issues are for women in Gula and Lira, particularly those young women who were abducted as girls by the Lord’s Resistance Army and are now trying to get their lives back together … I’m so moved by their plight!!
      thanks for commenting, Carla!!

  2. Pingback: Oglethorpe University's First Lady in Uganda at School for AIDS Orphans | Oglethorpe University Blog

  3. Humility is a rare commodity in some places. Thank you Betty for bringing me some back from Africa 🙂 I’m happy you enjoyed yourself and gave your wonderful presence to such a beautiful place. Keep making a difference! No disrespect to Uganda, but I’m so glad to you back for the moment 🙂

    • Thanks a million for the comment, Shepp! I am not sure how much humility I have, but I do know I am awed by the strength, resilience and joyful nature of the Ugandans I met, and what about those beautiful faces??!! Wow!

  4. Hi Betty,
    Wow, I so enjoyed reading your blog! I have made several trips to Africa and am always delighted by the zest for life and the joy that is so apparent in spite of the kind of poverty that is far too apparent. And, yes the desire and appreciation for education among the youth is so refreshing! It was also such a pleasure spending time with you at the Istanbul Friendship Center’s annual dinner. Thanks so much for sharing your experience in Uganda, and the pictures are beautiful! I can’t wait to read more. Sincerely,

    • Monique! So happy to have met YOU and glad you’re reading my blog! We’ll have to talk about our mutual love for Africa — and those beautiful children! (And of course I can bore you to death with my photos…)
      Welcome aboard!!

  5. That had to be an absolutely amazing and inspirational experience. To be “off the grid,” and disconnected from the things we value so much in our society to reconnect with the true values in life. I know that they are better off for having your visit, and i’m sure the same is true for you. Thank you for sharing, as it gives me added motivation to get up, out, and impact the world while being ever so grateful for all I have been blesses with in my life!

    • David — Thanks so much for your comment — it WAS a really amazing trip and I can’t wait to go on a few more! It’s always informative to live without the stuff we think we need, and to appreciate how much of the world has to truly struggle to get something as basic as heat and light. You are blessed, but you’re also a blessing … and that’s always good to remember! xoxoox b

  6. Oh man Bet-ty we your readers are lucky you’re such a great story teller. I feel as if I were there in the cold shower with you, and trying to answer the question “what crops do you grow?”

    LOVE your photos.
    * I’m glad Madame sped to take the photo of the lady with the parasol.
    * I too have never seen the banana flower
    * love the rainbow
    * my fave is the bottom one. The kid in the middle … 😀

    When we were in South Africa earlier this year I noticed how everyone greeted me with a “Hello, how are you?” which is in stark contrast to the “hellohowareyou” greeting in the States which isn’t really a question and doesn’t need an answer.

    • Dearest Rosie, Oh, I can’t tell you how much I loved that lady with the parasol!! How about her totally perfect posture?? And that uber-phallic banana fruit is something that should be removed before it can contribute to banana wilt (who knew??) The rainbow came the last night I was in Nyaka and just got brighter and brighter for such a long time, it was magical. And YEAH…how beautiful is that darling girl in the middle? what a face — My only wish is that I could have successfully recorded the way the people talk because it really was so lovely … every word pronounced, and carefully so. I specially loved it when the little kids would just leap right past your “Hello” and say “I am fine.” So cool to hear that South Africa is much the same. And how ironic is it that we talk about Africa as if it is so primitive when the people are actually 10 times more polite than westerners, and seem to have a far higher regard for both education and manners.

  7. Those smiles at the bottom were the clincher! Glad to help in the smallest of ways. Thanks, Betty, for bringing this to our attention. A fun read, too!

  8. Hi Betty,

    I quite agree with Lori, what a great way to start a Monday. I complain that I have raised of soft generation of girls, but reading this makes me realize that I am just another version of soft too!

    As always, thanks for being such a lightening rod to the kaleidoscope of
    blight and beauty in this world and how so many people live with so little.

    Blessings on your head.



    • Dearest Ginger, one thing I realized is that we’re ALL soft here, in our great affluence, and that we should just be grateful for that enormous privilege, and give to others less fortunate whenever we are able. I also know firsthand how generous and selfless YOU and Michael are, so you are a beautiful example of how that is done — thanks a million for reading!
      xoxoxo b

  9. Quite a different world. After being without water for a week a few months ago, it reminded me how soft I had become.

    Bring your own pew to church? That would give a new meaning to Saturday people watching.

    • Being without water or even having to be conscious of exactly what it takes to offer a bucket of warm water (heating it over a wood-fired stove) is the best lesson in energy conservation ever! And realizing how spoiled we get with all our food, energy, heat, water, etc.. does open your eyes to how hard 1/2 the world’s population has to work to access these things we take so much for granted. Including pews in church — phew!!! Thanks for the comment, SD!!

  10. Another beautiful experience through your eyes. Did you find you started talking more like them while you were there? The only country I didn’t find myself talking like them was in the mountains of Guatemala where no one spoke English at all!! Another amazing place of endearing people who have nothing yet are so happy!! Thank you Bet-ty

    • Deb — I was wishing I could speak like the Ugandans, but my own lazy speech patterns were too hard to overcome, although I did start saying, “I am fine” when greeted with “How are you?” …
      and because my husband & I are both big lovers of Guatemala, I can totally concur with your description of the people as both endearing and happy … isn’t it just amazing how resilient and hopeful they are??

  11. I love that line, “Madame, why are you speeding?” Speeding, indeed. This post forces us all to slow down, to appreciate the beauty and the joy amidst the hardship and the horror. Thank you for what you are doing.

    • For some reason, Renee, that “speeding” remark just tickled me to death — probably because the man was so bemused by why any mazungu (Swahili for “white person” or more exactly: “someone who roams around aimlessly”) would be running around like a maniac when walking will surely get you there. It was really endearing and made me laugh, too — and that was one of the real gifts of Africa. I never expected to simply enjoy myself so much … which is why I’d encourage anybody to go & experience the challenges and beauty of the place & the people!

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