A night at the girls dormitory 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

One of the girls at the secondary school asked me if I would like to stay over for the night and spend more time with them. And, in my usual way, I said “sure!” That’s my answer to everything in Uganda (it kind of scares my dad). The girls thought I was joking at first when I told them that I would be staying with them. They all started giggling amongst each other. They must have thought, “this muzungu is crazy!” I said my goodbye to the team, assuring them that I wouldn’t try to sneak outside at night. Forget about the mosquitoes, heat, and hygiene, my only concern was food. The good thing about Uganda and the Ugandans is that they take very good care of their guests. Ugandans will offer their guests everything they have; we people in the US seriously need to learn the skill of giving. Most of the time we are so consumed in ourselves that we don’t realize how much we have compared to others around the world. Uganda is surely a wakeup call for someone who doesn’t appreciate things! 

It was pitch dark in the dorms because the generators are turned off at 10:00 pm every night. Only 1 girl out of 110 girls (all living in one room peacefully) could afford to have a torch. It makes me wonder why I get to have my own laptop, my own cell phone, and my own room while someone else, the same age as me, can’t even afford to buy a torch. It is emotionally exhausting to see that millions of people around the world don’t even have the basic things needed for survival.

I am glad that I got to experience how the life of a student in the dorms is in Uganda. Students here can’t afford to buy textbooks, they don’t have electricity at nighttime, most of the students can’t pay their school fees, and the schools can’t afford to feed them more than once a day. There is no Chartwells in the dorms where one can go and choose what they want; the students here eat what they get.

I want to write about taking a bath in a dark 20x20 room enclosed with bamboo and banana leaves, squatting in a hole to poop (no tissue paper of course), eating Ugandan food with the girls, talking about our futures and goals in life, bonding over Justin Beiber, waking up at 5:00 without an alarm (that’s the usual time the girls in the dormitory wake up), walking to the street vendors to get Ugandan tea, etc… but my brain has given up. Every time Liam, Natalie, Catherine, Frank, Umaru and I go on a walk at night after dinner we hug the kids on the streets. However, hunger brings out the worst in human beings. All they want is one chapatti (bread) so they can go to sleep somewhere on the streets where it will be warm and quiet. It is sad how my friends and I go out for a walk because we ate too much and the kids living on the streets here go out for a walk to search for their food. Life shouldn’t be so tough for anyone. 

Hopefully…

more people, who have a lot more than they think, will realize the importance of sharing

more people will care about others

I will get to see every single kid going to school during my lifetime

no one will have to go to sleep hungry

Hope for a better future is what I am holding on to.

 

Same clothes but different lives

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Today the team went to distribute clothes and shoes at the women’s prison in Uganda. I cannot possibly describe the feeling of what I saw in words.

The prison is set in the midst of a view filled with the beautiful Ugandan landscape and lake Victoria. The women sat inside an enclosed area in their bright yellow gowns staring at the mountains and wanting to be free. Around 95% of the women in the prison were found guilty of murdering their husbands who abused them. Imagine spending thirty or forty years in prison for crimes that you did to protect yourself and your kids. Where do we draw the line in calling someone a criminal and calling someone a fighter who fights for her life and the life of her kids? I was disgusted when I found out that if the women were pregnant during trials then the baby stays in prison with the mother until the baby is eighteen years old. The baby born in prison lives in prison until eighteen and when the time comes to go outside the enclosed area, they can’t survive there. Many kids end up in prison for their entire life because they have no idea what the real world is like; they end up being thieves because they can’t get jobs. It’s a vicious circle of life.

My lab manager at UAlbany, who is one of the most amazing persons I have met, donated her kids clothes to take to Uganda. The team took those clothes to the prison for the kids. While Denise, a member on the team, was giving out the clothes to the mothers it made me realize how different the life of the two kids who wore those clothes will be. One kid will be able to get education, freedom, and unmeasureable love from her mother and father while the other kid will be in prison by default.

It’s frustrating the way the world works but the smiling faces of the kids at the prison and at the village gives me hope. It gives me the energy to stand up every time I feel like lying down.

A productive day

Tuesday, August 09, 2011
The team went to a middle school in Jinja to learn more about the schooling system in Uganda. Everyone was assigned a class to teach. I taught a class about HIV-AIDS and methods of prevention. I even had to talk about 4 words and its meaning. The words were respecting, caring, responsibility, and safety. After teaching the class I helped out distributing food that the team members cooked for the kids at the school kitchen. Their eyes brightened when they saw me distributing a piece of white bread with soup. Most of the kids at the school come from families who can't afford to either pay for their school or food. Most of them, if they are lucky, eat once a day. But with increasing sugar prices, and food crisis around the world it is becoming difficult for the schools to be able to feed kids at the school. This makes me wonder why do we have the privilege to eat several times a day? The amount of food we waste everyday at our house or at college can feed thousands of people around the world. The average salary that a teacher makes at a school in Uganda is around $85 a month. Even a person with a respectable job can't afford to give their kids the basic things required for life. Coming to a country like Uganda makes me realize how materialistic life in the US is.  

After distributing food, we painted the school and played with the kids. Around 3:00 pm we left to go to our village where the Giving Circle Friendship School will be build. I hadn't been to that land in a year and couldn't wait to see all the village kids. I can't put the feeling of being at the village in words. One of the girls at the village asked me today whether I could be her mother? I had no answer to that.

I am too tired now so please read Natalie's blog.

I have been trying to upload some pictures on the blog but the internet is too slow here. Sorry!

Is this real life? Monday, August 08, 2011
The team got to Uganda today! Mark and kelly came with Adam (a 4 year old kid that I met last year at our village in Wairaka, Uganda) and Mawunja (Adam's sister) to pick us up at the motel in Entebbe. I did not expect seeing Adam and Mawunja in Entebbe; it was the best surprise ever! Adam just jumped out of the car and climbed on my back calling me a muzungu (a foreigner). And Mawunja with her big eyes gave me a hug. It was just the best feeling seeing those kids again.

Kate and Lauren-I did remember to hug Adam and Mawunja on your behalf. 

After 4 hours of bumpy ride the team was finally in jinja! We unpacked all the school materials, clothes, and sandals for 3 hours. Oh... did I mention that we had 60 bags, each weighing around 23 kg, to unpack! Thanks to all the donors.

I am teaching a health class tomorrow for which I now have to prepare. Will be following Dr. Zitomer's footsteps while teaching! Will see how it goes. 

It's Uganda baby! 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Finally in Uganda! I have never been happier leaving a country (Turkey) or I should say the airport. The passport officers, atleast the one I had to deal with, in Turkey were quite racist; I am glad I don’t have to deal with them anymore. Uganda is so different than Turkey. As soon as you step on the Ugandan land everyone greets you with huge smiles J and with their special Ugandan handshake. Turkey surely frustrated me with all their vendors trying to sell me things but Uganda on the other hand calms me down!

Prachi, Frank, and I have a day to spend before we meet our team to go to the village. Planning on going to Kampala for a day and picking up my football (it’s just USA who calls it soccer) jerseys.

I can’t believe I am in Uganda again. It’s been a year since I saw the kids at the village. Few more hours and I will be at my village in Wairaka.

 

 

Sight seeing (day 1) 

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Frank, Prachi and I got to the hotel, in Sultanahmet/old city, around 1:00 pm and then we had our first turkish meal! The Turkish food here is totally different than would I am used to having in new york. The diet here is meat based and there are not a lot of options for a vegetarian :( After feeding our stomach we headed towards the Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia (a former Orthodox basilica which was later turned into a mosque). The beauty of these mosques is mesmerizing. Even though there were hundreds of tourists at the mosque I felt the silence around me. I was captured by it's architecture, intricate details, colors, and massive domes; it's absolutely stunning!!!

It takes a very long time to upload pictures on the blog so in Minhal's words, "don't be hating on me!"

 

Haghia Sophia

If I ever had to take my date for dinner in Turkey it would be at restaurant SAH! It's an open terrace facing Haghia Sophia and blue mosque. We went at the restaurant after sunset so we were able to see the entire city lit up! What else could one ask for while eating real Turkish food :)

First few hours at the Ataturk (Turkey) airport... 

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

It was an end of an amazing flight from JFK airport to the Ataturk airport, in Turkey, when I had to deal with the visa officers at the airport. Just like several other people on the flight I stood in line to get my visa for Turkey. But since I had an Indian passport I was asked to talk to the passport control officers to get a visa for Turkey. When I showed my passport to the passport control officer he nodded his head saying, "Hindustan (another name for India), Pakistan, and Bangladesh no! no!" I felt a sense of disapproval. I asked him, "is everything OK?" But then I found out that he didn't speak any English. I waited approximately for another half hour and then the officer told me that I would have to pay "around $150" for Turkish visa. The first thing that came to my mind was, isn't there a fixed price for entry visas for everyone?

 "Why $150?" I asked. I was not trying to be obnoxious or rude in any possible way but I just wanted to know that why a person with a US citizenship and a person with a valid US visa would pay $20 and a person with a greencard (which is basically permanent visa for the US) would pay $150. The officer did not appreciate my question and with a loud voice asked me, "do you want to enter Turkey or not?" ONLY if my sister wasn't with me I would have stayed at the airport until someone had an answer for me. I was just frustrated by the end of this 1 1/2 long visa process. My questions are still unanswered but hopefully the Turkish Embassy in the US would have a reasonable answer for me.

Luckily the rest the my day wasn't anything like my first 2 hours in Turkey. The people here are great! They treat you like a real person and they want to know more about you. They don't give you the disapproving look when you tell them that you are from India or from some other country. They are very welcoming and warm. And Istanbul is absolutely gorgeous; a must see place. Just make sure that you are not a greencard holder.

No more talks about the debt ceiling deal! 

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

For a long time now I have been seeing how the GOP leaders and the White House couldn't come to common grounds about the debt ceiling, prgrams that should be cut, taxing wealthy people and much more. I was just glad that with some tough choices, made by both the groups, they voted on the bill last night.

The best thing about my trip to Turkey and Uganda is going to be staying away from political brinkmanship! All I will be seeing is kids and villagers with huge smiles on their faces :)

Update on the August 2011 trip

The Trip will consist of:

- starting the construction of The Giving Circle friendship school (THANKS to the Newman's Own Foundation)
- construction of our school play ground and soccer field
- completion of all the buildings on our land that were started last trip
- expand the village woman’s crafters micro-business with sewing machines and bringing a tent to protect them from the weather
- run the village education and recreation days
-SPEND LOTS OF TIME WITH OUR VILLAGERS AND CHILDREN!

Few more hours and then I will be on the plane to Turkey, where I will be staying for 4 days, and then I will be meeting our team of 21 people from the US in Uganda :)

Smiley faces of the kids at the Village. They are all waiting for their muzungus (term used for a foreigner) to arrive

 YAY!

Can't fall asleep :(

Monday, August 01, 2011

It's 4:17 am and I am still awake :( I don't even have a test coming up anytime soon that I need to study for. Don't know what to do at this time. I guess I am just going to wait for my dad to wake up and then start packing for my trip!

Excited!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting ready for my trip to Uganda! This trip is going to be more special since I am taking my younger sister (who looks a lot like me/lucky for her) with me this time. Hopefully, she can tolerate me for 3 more weeks!

There is a team of 24 people from all around the US who will be going on this trip to Uganda. I have been getting e-mails from Chris, a volunteer from UK with an amazing British accent, who sold everything he had to be with the kids at the village in Wairaka, Jinja. In his e-mails, Chris has been saying how excited the villagers and all the kids are. Villagers have been singing songs, and dancing to showcase their excitement towards building of a very first preschool in the village. I am sooooo jealous of Chris right now!! Can't wait to be in Uganda :)

 

xoxo