Friday, May 31, 2013

Days Eight-Eleven: Lingira Island

5/28/13, 9:30pm
We arrived to Lingira Island last night by private boat from Ripon port. The island is beautiful and so different from the mainland. There is much less tourist influence and is less developed for various reasons including lack of access to resources and stigma due to the nature of the island community's roots. We were introduced to many people on the island who remembered Eric and Claudia from last year's Edge visit and got a feel for the area. We all had dinner at SHIM with some of the community members and everyone went around and introduced themselves and welcomed us.
This morning after breakfast we visited the clinic for Youth with a Mission (YWAM) and the school in Lingira. They have to build more dormitories there because so many children from the mainland come because the students there have been scoring very well on national exams.
Then after lunch Eric began his research by surveying the area and I joined so I could do more exploring. We wandered through Katonga Village and were called over by some of the members sitting outside. They didn't speak much English and we don't speak much Lugandan so conversation was limited but still partially feasible. Many of the young children in the village had never seen a white person and were scared or enthralled (like most Ugandan children, who have one of those two reactions). Two of the women then cleared off a bench for us and asked us to sit. They were taking about us as we could discern the word "mzungu" and word seemed to spread through the village. They moved our bench then to the shade and people started bringing their children up to us to say hi or so they could see mzungu. 
The women then sent a boy to bring two sodas and two packs of glucose biscuits for us. Then a young girl, no more than five years old, brought us a container of lake water, soap, and a basin for washing our hands. Knowing that the water from the lake, especially there at the edge, contains millions of parasites and diseases including E. coli, malaria, and many types of parasitic worms, it wasn't the best option before eating but we wanted to avoid being rude in this unnavigable situation. Eric did wash his hands in the water and I then pretended to when no one was directly looking. That left me to eat all the glucose biscuits along with my sugary Coke while we sat on our own the bench and the village members engaged in their separate business. We didn't know what the gesture was for or when we could politely leave so we stayed on that bench for about an hour deciding how to best handle this engulfing wave of culture. Eventually we explained we had to go watch a soccer match, thanked them and left.
Later we asked Ruthie, a woman from America who works at SHIM, if she could help us understand the situation. She explained that it was merely a hospitable gesture to guests and, as it was obvious that we were not from there, they invited us in. While these people have so little, the culture is strong in hospitality and on welcoming others. 

On Wednesday we were invited to Teacher Zack's physics class at Lingira Living Hope school. Students from all around Uganda, and even one from Sudan, come to study here as it has such a fabulous reputation. Two of its students were even recently in the newspaper for having such high scores on the national exams. He was a very good teacher though I was easily lost having not taken physics since my freshman year of high school. During class, a chicken walked in the room and none of the students reacted, as it was entirely normal. After class, we brought some National Geographics inso another class, passed them out, and allowed the children to ask us questions about the articles there or America or anything else. I really connected with one student who had so many questions and kept asking me to come back and sit with her. Her heart is set on becoming a business woman and she lit up when she began talking about her favorite courses in school.  
After leaving school, we climbed up the mountain on Lingira to watch the sunset over Lake Victoria, which was stunning. Now I am just looking forward to the even more beautiful sunrise from there.

On Thursday we were all invited to Pastor Waboka's (sp?) home for something to drink and something to eat. He brought us all pineapple Novidas (my new favorite, and sadly non-American soda) and his wife cooked us a wonderful meal of rice, chicken and soup. Another case in which a family with so little was so incredibly hospitable to guests.
After leaving there, Teacher Fred invited us to speak with some recipients of micro financing loans given through BISCO to individuals in Lingira Village. The successes were enormous, with one couple, who has received and successfully paid back 8 loans so far, allowing them to begin a restaurant, store, and health clinic. Each of these businesses were able to not only enable the family to provide food and health care for themselves, but also provide these services and employment for community members. This is one of many examples of successful micro loan services that have been started internally, by Ugandans who already are part of a community, and are far more successful than external or foreign aid and development projects, no matter how well informed or well meaning they may be.

This morning we are leaving the island by public boat to Jinja. We will be attending a networking conference for NGOs that focus on children with disabilities in the Kampala area. Tessa was invited by a couple who runs Spring of Hope, an NGO based in Jinja. They offered us a ride as well, which was so wonderful of them. Networking, networking, networking.

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