Thursday, February 24, 2011

In honor of my birthday...

my dog brought me a screeching half-murdered bat that flapped around pitifully on the ground. I got to smash its head in with a hoe to put it out of its misery. Talk about an un-welcomed gift. Well, that was a first for me.

On a lighter note, I got dozens of loving messages, a nice BBQ, and a relaxing happy hour with friends. This was definitely more than a birthday of smashed bats. Thanks for the love, everyone!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Election Update

Many of you have sent me concerned emails lately regarding the upcoming presidential elections in Uganda, so I figured I would update everyone.

I have accumulated enough groceries to last me weeks on end, extra candles and kerosene lamps, and spare gasoline for my car. I have also planned weeks of lessons that my students could complete from anywhere in the world. We have started dismissing early from school and will be closed for about a week beginning this Thursday. However, it seems that (hopefully) none of these precautions will be necessary. A series of political rallies have been completed peacefully. Security has made its presence felt on street corners and major roads and extra military reinforcements have been brought in to quell any potential uprisings quickly. So far, things have gone very smoothly indeed.

Everyone is hoping that peace will persist for the next week here. Presidential elections begin on Thursday and a series of other elections take place in the week after that. The turmoil in Egypt has made everyone a bit more jumpy than usual, but it seems that everything here is under control.

If you are the praying sort, please pray for stability in Uganda in the next few days! Please know also that I am in a suburb (Lubowa) a good way out of the city center and am highly unlikely to be directly caught in the middle if any potential chaos.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What’s in a Hiring?

Every month, at least 5 people knock on my gate begging for employment. However, when I first moved to Uganda, I was not sure how I felt about hiring someone. American friends jokingly teased me from afar about considering servants. While I knew that they were kidding (and that many of them would employ someone to cut their lawns if they had a lawn to mow), I had to admit that the idea of paying someone to regularly clean or cook for me seemed oddly similar to slavery. As my friends in Uganda told me about their hired caretakers, cleaners, gardeners, cooks, and drivers, I found myself cringing, subconsciously assuming that there was an element of elitist oppression involved. But what I have gradually come to realize is that by responsibly employing someone in Uganda, I can actually help free rather than oppress.

When I met Harriet, she was a guard for the company securing my school. The only woman manning the front gate, she stood out with her big smile and her welcoming words. Every time she saw me, she would leave her post to come give me a big hug greeting me with “Good morning, madam,” a sign of respect, or “How are you?” At that stage, I was living in a small manageable house, was sharing a day guard/gardener with my compound companions, and was still ambivalent how much “help” I felt okay with. Harriet was simply a welcoming face each morning.

I found out I was moving into my current home in October. With more rooms and a huge unattended garden, the prospect of hired help seemed more alluring. I had gradually warmed up to the idea of someone else living in the roomy boys’ quarters on the property and was beginning to think about options. The day my move seemed cemented, I was walking to school and found Harriet taking the same path. As we commuted to work together, we chatted about life. While mine was heading upwards, Harriet’s was at a desperate standstill. She urged me to consider passing her name along if I knew anyone who needed someone to help work for them. It all seemed like too much of a coincidence.

Before Harriet worked for me, she started her life in Kampala a shack smaller than my current closet with a dirt floor and a roof that virtually collapsed with any drizzle (needless to say, it did little to ward off the frequent tropical downpours). She gradually upgraded to a single 8x8 ft room, but it was hard for her to advance quickly on a guard’s salary. Working 7 days a week for 12-hour shifts, Harriet was lucky if she made 60,000 shillings a month (or about 30 USD). Harriet could not afford to have her daughter live in the city with her and had to leave her in the village to be raised by her grandmother. Harriet could not attend church on Sundays because she worked 7 days a week.

Alternative employment offered Harriet a new life. Working for me, she gets a sizeable salary, a 2 bedroom house with running water and electricity, a day off a week to go to church, a reasonable boss (if I do say so myself), and probably the most noticeable difference: the ability to have her daughter live with her and go to school nearby.

Two weeks ago Harriet returned to her village and brought her five-year-old back with her. I do not think she has stopped smiling since. While Loveline speaks no English to express her sentiments, I think her laughter and constant enthusiasm speak for themselves!