Monday, January 5, 2009

"Life in the U.S. ... Somehow"

So I'm home. We recovered some of my village pictures and posted them… and I'm currently sorting through thousands and thousands of pictures from my friends so I can make a scrapbook. This is probably the greatest challenge I have faced throughout the whole trip. It’s nice to be home and to be able to make a better comparison of Uganda and America and to be able to find practical applications for what I learned.

Since I have been home:

No one has offered me his crippled grandchild as a gift.
No one has confused the smell of bug spray or of hand-sanitizer with the smell of perfume.
I haven’t seen a single house plastered and floored with cow manure.
No one yells “white girl!!!” at me when I walk around on the streets (or “Muzungu Mama” or “Obama!” or “My Size”).
20-30 mangoes now costs maybe 50 dollars instead of 50 cents and if I just climbed any random tree on somebody’s property to pick 20-30 mangoes for myself, I would be breaking a law.
I am much less dirty and much more understood. And while you guys have been asking me so many questions, I have also been asking them of myself. Thanks for your thought-provoking questions!

Some of the questions that I will continue to try to answer… What is it that makes “development” such a difficult and daunting task? What is development? In what ways did America struggle post-independence and how are these similar to the ways in which so many former English colonies in Africa are struggling? How and why are they so different? Studying development studies for a semester left me with far more questions than answers (so I guess it’s good that before I left my teacher told our class that we get educated to realize that we are stupid… so then we can ask more questions… etc).

What is my role in another country’s development? What is the role of America and of the world? Are we doing more harm than good by pumping so much money and so many mandates into their nation? How necessary is it that we do this while they are trying to transition from dependence to independence? Does our role differ in different situations? Should we intervene in cases of genocide or epidemics or bad healthcare? Should we try to stop Kony from abducting child soldiers in Northern Uganda or tell President Museveni to stop torturing all those who oppose him so that the people can actually have a say in their own development? Should America fund their hospitals? Should private organizations do so? How do we stop the inane corruption at the governmental and non-governmental organizational levels?… Is how I just worded that question a problem? Is that problem caused by me being a nosy and self-righteous American? Maybe I should have asked how Uganda will stop the corruption.

One glaring difference between our cultures... which is also one that is very hard to put words to… is that “Ugandans are not whiners like the Kenyans. ” [nor like Americans which epitomize this culture of whining.] This quote was made by my homestay brother when I asked him if Ugandans will riot if Museveni takes power again (just as Kenya’s president tried to do last year). We enjoy the American Dream. We hope for, expect, and demand the best… and if we do not get it… we speak out, petition, and riot. This is in so many aspects of life—from marriage (one of the reasons our divorce rates are so high) to politics. Most Ugandans do not vote. One of my friends in Uganda interviewed the former National Voting Commissioner. This man not only quit his job but also stopped voting because it is pointless. My academic advisor’s husband is in an opposition party and was tortured. On a more personal level—a person whose child falls into a gaping, uncovered manhole in the middle of the street doesn’t sue anyone. A man laying flayed-open on a hospital bed for two days before his emergency surgery doesn’t shout “Malpractice!” at the doctors who are taking tea in the next room. And when the power goes out at the huge, regional hospital that can’t afford generators, people just expect to lose their loved ones. Stuff happens and Ugandans are much more accepting of this than we are. I think partly this must be caused by the fact that often their complaints are unheard. Another reason—life is harder there and they are just very strong and accustomed to struggle. I hid my tears when I was leaving my village mommy because it is inappropriate to cry about stuff like that in Uganda.

This issue is one which I suppose I believe needs a happy medium. Americans should whine less. If you burn yourself with coffee… maybe just use the philosophy of “stuff happens.” But at the same time—Ugandans are getting screwed over—and hard—because they don’t whine about stuff. Maybe they should be more entitled and feel more entitled than what they do. If they whined a little more, they might get a little more. I don’t know… is one way right or wrong enough to think that there should be change? …Changing culture is another huge issue.

Is there a way for a country to develop and retain its culture? One very apparent lesson I learned is that so much more traditional culture is apparent in the villages (versus in the cities). Another very apparent lesson—the villages are much much less developed. Can we have both development and tradition? How and in what proportions? Surely some traditions must be sacrificed for development. The tradition of one region in Uganda of smearing dung on the umbilical cord of a newborn can cause hydrocephalus and other diseases. So they must stop doing this to reduce the number of sick people. This is just one tiny, very specific example of how development and tradition sometimes oppose each other. Examining other cultural norms --such as having “no sense of urgency” or needing to breastfeed a child even if you have HIV, or circumcising girls so that they can have more respect within the community—would open another can of worms.

Alright… that’s as much as I want to think for now. I'm still on holiday. But thanks for everything. I hate to say all your support was surprising… but it might have been—just a little. I appreciate your love and interest. And last semester was truly the best series of experiences I have ever had. I plan on returning to Uganda one day… and who knows… maybe I’ll document those adventures, too.

But for now… I am happy enough realizing that I can find plenty of adventure and irony and funny cultural nuances here at home. My escape from bananas is not going unappreciated either. And afterall, I can still take a basin bath or give a goat as a gift if I really want to.

1 comment:

Katy, Planet Perspectives said...

Welcome home. Keep writing. Keep asking those questions, over and over. And did I mention keep writing??? We lived in Senegal from 1997-1999 and I remember a few things about our return back, but I wish I had kept writing when I returned. I moved away from my primary focus on Africa for a while, but there is no doubt, you have had a life-changing experience, and will never again see the world through the same eyes. Struggle to answer all of your questions, both personally, and try to figure out how policy makers choose to answer those questions. Best of luck reintegrating!