This tasty species comes out of the ground during Teso’s wet season and tastes best when fried. In the local language, it is called “ikong”
Today my head teacher was complaining about a negative experience he had at one of the many indian-owned supermarkets in Uganda, and it opened my eyes to one of the biggest cultural differences between Uganda, and the West.
My head teacher Ecokit (pronounced e-CHO-ket) went into the supermarket with only 1,000 shillings – the smallest bill in Uganda — hoping to buy a bottle of water. Unlike Ugandan-owned shops, Indian supermarkets almost always have set prices that are slightly above the prices you could get by bargaining. Ecokit and the supermarket owner got in a heated fight because the owner wanted him to pay the set price of 2,000 shillings for the water bottle and Ecokit wanted the owner to see that he did not have enough money and reduce the price by a mere 1,000 shillings so that they could still do business. My head teacher told me that Indians can be immoral people because they are never willing to reduce their prices when they see that people are poor. I on the other hand, thought that Ugandan vendors could be far more immoral based on my experience with every single Ugandan who gauged the prices of their goods as soon as they saw that I was white. I much preferred shopping at Indian supermarkets because they were the only place where I knew the price I paid had nothing to do with the seller’s perception of me. In my opinion, the only determinant of price should be what the market will bear.
Ecokit and my different perceptions of “fairness” in business transactions reflect the two different worlds we come from — one where almost everyone lacks the resources to sustain themselves and must rely on the community members they interact with in everyday life, and a much wealthier one where people value things like individualism and property rights.
Back in early February, on my very first day of school, one of my most vivid memories was meeting Ojilong – a 9-year-old boy who other teachers described as naturally bright, but deaf. He was not getting the help he needed at our village primary school because none of the teachers were able to teach him sign language and his parents did not have the means to send him to a school for disabled children. I remember feeling deeply sad seeing Ojilong wander around the school by himself when classes were in session – unable to hear his lessons or communicate with anyone beyond the rudimentary signs he had made up.
As weeks passed by, I could not stop thinking about the life of isolation that would be Ojilong’s future if he did not attend a school where he could learn sign language. I decided that because of my unique position of privilege in my community, I needed to be the one to coordinate sponsorship for Ojilong to attend nearby “Ngora School for the Deaf” throughout primary and secondary school. I realized that no matter how hard I work to teach children English at my primary school, sharing my privilege (as a white American with other American friends) and allowing underprivileged Ugandans to access resources/opportunities they never otherwise could might be a much more valuable service to give my community.
Through word of mouth, I managed to find an American friend to sponsor Ojilong’s first year of school (214 USD). With the help of his father and other teachers from Kamon, I was able to get Ojilong the supplies he needed for boarding at Ngora School for the Deaf and get him registered for his first term. He is currently in nursery (despite being 9 years old) learning the basics of sign language and trying to catch up with other children in his age group. Teachers have reported that he is eager to learn and already making friends in his class. From this point onwards, I am actively seeking people willing to sponsor future years of Ojilong as well as designing a website to achieve this goal.
Saw someone walking his cow down the dirt road that runs through my village while chatting on a cellphone. I never fail to be shocked by what life in a rural African village is actually like.
In Uganda, if you want new furniture you cannot go to Target or Pier 1 to purchase it. You must try to find a carpenter who knows what he’s doing, pay for his transportation to the place where he will buy his supplies, buy the supplies themselves, and pay for any drinks or meals your carpenter wants along the way. Over the course of our day in Mbale, I bought my carpenter Akol a large water, cigarettes, and a bag of 10 samboosas (a delicious street food similar to an empanada). I also paid for the wooden blockboards, nails, and wood splitting services he needed. The photo above depicts Akol and our taxi driver unloading the block boards we had strapped to the roof.
Today is International Women’s Day, which Uganda recognizes as a national holiday. I’m enjoying my day off from teaching thanks to my grass thatched house, which regulates the temperature so nicely that I may as well have air conditioning 😉 During the hottest months of the year, (the dry season is called “Akamu” in Ateso) temperatures regularly reach over 100 degrees. The equatorial sun is so intense that you only need to leave your wet laundry outside for around 20 minutes for it to dry. The people of my village have lots of melanin in their dark skin and live their whole lives without a drop of sunscreen – but in Bukedea, I have become the poster child for Coppertone.
My name is Kai, but in my small Ugandan village, I am called Apolot. I am a Peace Corps volunteer serving my community as a literacy specialist at an under-serviced government primary school. I arrived in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, with the rest of my education cohort in early November 2018. Since completing my initial training and moving to my village, virtually every aspect of my daily life has changed. At times I have been confronted with significant culture shock — especially when it comes to things like money and friendship — but with each passing day I feel more and more in love with the eastern region of Uganda and the people of the Iteso tribe.