Uganda Week 7

Health education is in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier with it. Teaching the youngest ones is the best, and it’s adorable when 50 kids are raising their hands to name foods that they think are healthy. Usually we go in the morning, but one afternoon we went to a school at the end of the day. Because the students were already out of class, we had the lesson outside under a tree. Afterwards, the headmaster said to me, “The students want a picture with you.” Of course, I said yes. Then he said, “The students want to play football with you.” When I said, “Jangu tuzanye” (come and we play), they cheered. When I scored, they went wild. We only played for a short time, but we’re going back this week and I promised them we’d play a full match.

One of Cornelius’s daughters, Victoria, has been home from university for a few weeks now. She’s my age, but one of Cornelius’s older sons, David, came home this week. He’s working on a master’s in public health, and suggested that I do health assessments at the schools we visit. I thought it was a great idea, so after I finish teaching I look at the cooking and toilet areas. The two biggest problems I am seeing are a lack of toilet covers and hand washing stations. I’m now pushing for simple covers to prevent flies from transmitting diseases and soap and a jerry can of water for students to wash their hands after using the bathroom. David and I also play piano duets together.

My favorite kid in the village is Derrick. I love him the most because at first he tried to act tough and wouldn’t be friends with me. Now he smiles and waves or runs up to me whenever he sees me. He’s in the youngest class at the primary school in the trading center, and I usually walk home for lunch with his group. One day we were holding hands, but as I got home, he wouldn’t let go, and dragged me to his house to meet his family.

Maize is in season now and they roast it and it’s delicious. I’m frequently being handed a roasted cob of corn or force fed kernels by the students.

On Saturday we had a field trip. At the end of their fourth year of secondary, the students have to take national examinations. Part of that is a geography essay, so every school takes what they call a fieldwork trip. We went to Jinja, an important industrial city near the capital. Victoria and I were chaperones, along with the geography teacher. We had to be up at 3:30, and as is typical of my host mom, she got up at the same time to give me tea, eggs, and the largest avocado I have ever seen. It was a 6 hour trip, with 60 people fitting on 2 small buses. On major roads, there will sometimes be large groups of food stalls, and whenever someone pulls up, workers will swarm the vehicle, shoving waters, sodas, roasted bananas, and sticks of assorted meats and fishes through the windows. I experienced this on my trip from the airport to the village when I first arrived, and was very uncomfortable. Now that I know what to buy and how to buy it, I love it. After a stop in Uganda’s largest rainforest and passing countless hills of sugarcane, we finally arrived at Jinja and went to the fish market on the shores of Lake Victoria. We watched boats unloading fish from the lake and other goods from villages on the islands in the lake. We saw the fish being inspected and weighed, and the students received a lesson from a man at a fish factory. However, next time I think the geography teacher should pick chaperones that aren’t just a year or two older than the students and that won’t get lost (twice). There was an ice cream man at the fish market, but instead of a truck and freezers it was a bike and a cooler. I resisted the temptation buy some due to the questionable sanitation, but a little later a student made me try hers. As soon as I took a bite, she said, “Is it fantastic?” I had to agree that it was. After the fish market we had lunch by the River Nile, which starts from Lake Victoria in Jinja (it takes the water 3 months to get all the way to the Mediterranean Sea). I can now add forks to the list of things I’m grateful for. We had rice and shredded cabbage for lunch, which is incredibly difficult to eat with one’s hands, but it was fine because I was sitting under a jackfruit tree next to the Nile. There were some American tourists there, and a few of the students came up to me and said, “Mister Ryan, those are your friends!” We took a boat (that was letting in a steady stream of water) out to an island next to the source of the Nile. As Lake Victoria funnels into a river, there is a spring in the middle that marks the official beginning of the Nile. We got to wade out to the edge of the island where the ground drops off into the source. It was an incredible experience, but not the easiest first trip to chaperone. The drive back took over 8 hours due to the frustrating inefficiency of the roundabouts, and we got back to school at 2:30. Victoria and I didn’t get home until 3:30, but our mom was up yet again with tea and food.

Sunday we went for visitation day at the primary school where Cornelius’s youngest children are boarding. Like Cornelius said, we went “as a family.” After another flat tire and running out of gas yet again, we got to see the kids, talk to the teachers and other parents, and walk around the school. Then we went out for dinner for Cornelius and his wife’s 29th anniversary. We ate at the nicest restaurant in town, but I couldn’t tell a difference because the food was the same as everywhere else.

One evening, while playing volleyball at school, I realized that I have completely become a part of this community. I’ve built relationships, established my role, and even been here long enough to notice subtle changes. I don’t know how I’m supposed to leave, when life here is going to continue but I’ll feel as if I’m missing out. I’ll miss playing Uno on a Friday afternoon with the older students that are my age, even when they’re most likely skipping class, or simply the times we just sit around and talk. I can’t believe I have less than 3 weeks here, and as the weeks get busier, they go by even faster. I still have so much that I want and need to do, but soon enough I’ll be leaving my new home, so I must make the most of these last few weeks.

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