A Day In Uganda

Dear Live It Everyday community,

I decided that yesterday I would wake up and document my day. Living in Uganda is never dull and every second is unpredictable. So I thought I’d record a random day and luckily for you yesterday was a golden example of my chaotic life.

8 am

Wake up to the noise of a lizard’s quick feet (pat pat pat) crawling past my face and learning electricity has gone out. Great start to the day.

No electricity means I better hope my electronics had enough battery power from the day before to carry me through the black out. Unfortunately, my computer was completely dead. (I guess work will have to wait.)

No matter, the day is still redeemable because fresh coffee waits. I walked to the kitchen for a spoon from the silverware bin. The bin is dark so I always know my six and eight-legged friends are crawling around. I chose a spoon, dodge the creepy-crawlies, wipe it off, and proceed to my dreamy French press. What would I do without it?

After coffee I head into town for work. After four months of driving on the same roads I always feel convinced that I have every inch memorized. Gaping potholes, giant sand dune-like bumps, rocks, old nails, and animal surprises dominate Ugandan roads.

Even if I think I’ve memorized the road, there is always something new. For example, yesterday I had to dodge a pile of bricks that took up most of the road and were as tall as the hood of my car. In Uganda, they cover the larger potholes with huge lumps of dirt and rock or, my personal favorite, brick.

Now, why does a tall pile of brick help the pothole situation? I mean, I guess running INTO a stack of brick is better than bouncing through a shallow pothole?

I just don’t get the logic. But that is my life. Dodging potholes and piles of brick.

I arrived to my office to find a group of men working on the driveway that I use to pass through to park at my office. They were making brick and their water jugs, men, and barrels were covering my pathway.

I rolled down my window as a fellow approached. I don’t know what it is but I can tell very quickly whether or not someone is trustworthy and honest, and with this guy I smelled a snake before he even said hello.

He greeted me, half-heartedly. In return I said, “Hi. Can I pass?”

He said something about their work and I told him, “Well I work at the center. And I’m carrying in 200 Kilos of flour today. Can you move your supplies so I can pass?”

Then, out of nowhere, “You ran over my brick!” He accused as he pointed to a pile of wet brick from the night before with a tire mark all the way through the row.

“Excuse me? I did not run over your bricks.” I said firmly, obviously unimpressed by his behavior and showing him I am no pushover.

“Yes you did! You ran over my brick!”

“I did not!”

“They said it was you!”

“Who?”

“People around here! You ran over my bricks last night!”

“Sir, I did NOT run over your bricks. I don’t work at night. ”

At this point we were both heated. He thought he had found an easy target (someone to cough up money for mysterious damage). And I was ticked he had blamed me and thought he could treat me that way.

“Now let me pass,” I demanded.

At that point he argued that he owned the road (driveway), allows me to use it for free (for five seconds as I pass through), and that we had spoiled his bricks and he would no longer allow us to use his road.

Did I believe it? Not for a second. However, in my time here I have learned to choose my battles carefully. So angry and disgusted I turned off my car, slammed my door, and carried all 200 Kilos from the roadside, across the driveway, and into my office. I decided doing the extra work was better than speaking another word to this guy. I think my glare was enough revenge and he probably felt bad watching me carry 200 kilos from so far just because he was stubborn.

My assistant got to work shortly after and told me the man owns pieces of the roadside but NOT the driveway because it is a government road reserve. He just wanted me to pay something either for the brick damage or my determination to use the road. Guess where I parked today? (I moved their supplies and pulled right in.)

After the mishap we left town to head to our children’s club located in a village about an hour and a half away. I was still boiling with anger by the time I was halfway there. Something in me decided to calm down and enjoy the rest of the day, so I let the music take me away.

We made a stop to visit the home of one of our newly sponsored kids. While we were meeting with the family we took note of a storm coming in, which is weird considering it’s the dry season, and with the dry season only comes heat and dust.

As a heavy wind rolled in dry dust swarmed all around us. We ran to the car and once in I clenched my teeth back and forth realizing how much dirt had gotten in my mouth. I touched my hair and felt the coat of residue. Ahh, nothing like a breeze of fresh dirt.

As we drove on I mumbled to Sandra, “no flat tire, no flat tire” because the week before was … convenient.

Flashback

Seven days ago I had two visiting friends (Cassie and Isaac), my pastor Titus, and my assistant Sandra in the car as we drove to club. As we approached the main road to the club I noticed it looked different today. It was covered in trash and rock, someone was “working” on it the Ugandans informed me.

I told the group, “I hope we don’t get a flat” since that tends to be a monthly norm.

Isaac, my mechanic at home, reassured me, “Well if you’re going to get a flat tire I’d rather be here anyway.”

Cassie, on the other hand, mocked, “Yeah! If we’re going to get a flat it might as well be right here, right now, on this very road!”

*PUM PUM PUM PUM PUM * was the failed testimony of my back left tire.

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Titus covered his smile of disbelief with his hands and cowered in the corner.

Isaac gripped the handle.

Cassie was sliding down in her seat, ashamed.

Sandra was laughing.

I was in a daze saying, “No … no ….. NOOOO ….”

To conclude: I totally made Isaac change the tire.

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Back to yesterday

We made it safely, and smoothly, to club. We were greeted by about 40 children all lined in two rows across the drive-way singing, clapping, and dancing to our arrival. A bit cliché, I know, but they’re my students and I adored every second of it.

After our club we headed back to town. This particular region is known for the narrow back roads with a mountain backdrop. It’s my favorite drive out of the whole week.

Yesterday, however, it went sour. A motorcycle taxi (called a boda-boda, or boda for short) was speeding with a passenger behind him. He lost control and misjudged the space he had, and he hit my car.

I immediately stopped the car realizing he must have left a scratch and clearly broke my side mirror. I opened my door to find a dent as well.

The guy approached my vehicle limping (theatrical attempt for pity). Did I buy it? Need I say?

I let the pastor handle it first to see if they could reconcile without my involvement. I let them speak in their own language for a few minutes then as they transitioned back into English I realized the conversation had gone South.

“How much does a mirror cost?” The driver asked, now looking at me.

“I don’t know.” I replied.

He and the pastor bargained a bit and concluded for maybe $20 or so.

“Alright. Then you pay me.” He declared.

I laughed, and mocked, “WHAT! I pay YOU? Was that the negotiation? Come here.”

He looked at me strangely like I was the crazy one.

“Come here!” I said again.

I finally got him to come to my point at the front of the car. Another boda was approaching from down the road.

“Look. As soon as YOU hit ME (doing the math for him) I immediately stopped my car. I didn’t pull over, I didn’t turn my wheel; I stopped as soon as you hit me. Now watch this. I have a demonstration for you.”

He looked at me confused, not sure where I was going with it, so I reassured, “Just watch.”

As the next boda came closer I turned to watch him. As he approached the car and slowed I kindly waved him on so he wouldn’t have to pause at our crash site. To my surprise (just kidding) the boda and his three passengers passed by my car with no problem and no damage.

What I did next may have been over the top, but irrationality demands more elaborate demonstrations.

As the boda and his three passengers passed by with no problem I leaned forward in fake disbelief and clapped proudly. After they passed, I kept clapping, said, “Wow! Did you see that?!” and turned around to the driver whose mouth was wide open.

The best part was the group of children surrounding us who joined in the applause.

Then I got serious. “So you see. I parked my car exactly where you hit me. You had enough space to not damage my car. All of these bodas have passed with no problem and no damage. The broken mirror is your fault because you didn’t slow down. Now, you pay me.”

He continued to argue so I counted every passing boda who succeeded my test. I counted to ten before I gave it a break.

We went back and forth because this guy is the poster-child for irrationality. We had about 20 witnesses who were all telling him it was his fault and his responsibility to reconcile the situation. But, like I said, I can smell a snake.

He began pulling out every possible excuse. (I guess he realized the fake limp didn’t stir up my pity) When that failed, he tried every other way to put the blame on me. When all else failed, he called me racist.

At that point I got in the car and asked Titus to handle him, again, before I would lose it and throw a right cross.

Sadly, nothing panned out. It wasn’t his bike and he had no license, so even tracking the bike would lead to a dead end. This guy was truly a snake. He lied, blamed, made excuses, and acted the entire time. He wouldn’t own up to his mistake and every trap we set for him still couldn’t keep him down because the region has NO police and no way to turn in an immediate report to some authority in the area who could be of real help.

I took his name (probably fake) and the bike number. As my last move I threatened to go to the police but deep down I know they too are corrupt. I’d have to pay them to do their own job and most likely fail since the region is so far and we had no legitimate information on this guy.

We moved on.

I returned home late that night. To what? No electricity, no fan, and no electronics to even document this story. And, to top it off, our cook had broken my French press and I consequently messaged my supervisors to ask them to send me a new one and accidentally wrote, “no Cara for coffee until it arrives.” I thought it was too funny to correct and I am finding out what life is like without coffee. Maybe I’ll write a novel for that catastrophe.

Here in Uganda everyday is a bad day, truly. Every single day something goes wrong. I think if I ever have a good day it would be the day I don’t leave my house and the electricity remains.

But despite every surprise, roadblock, chaotic plot, and problem I realize that I have it made. You see, I’m on the same continent where Ebola is striking down the western nations. Warring neighbors surround me. I’m north and west of some major sex and labor trafficking zones. I’m east of a nation where a terrorist group kidnapped hundreds of young schoolgirls to be wed and never returned them home. I’m surrounded by countries characterized by war, terrorism, trafficking, and crimes much worse than the daily things I have to conquer. Uganda is recovering from her past and is trying to enjoy and maintain peace.

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In perspective I often think of my colleagues in the West working in Ebola stricken hospitals. I think of my missionary friends breathing deeply through the sound of bombs bursting down their very own street.

My bad days are bad … I’m covered in dust. I’m victim of corruption and liars. I find toads and lizards under my feet when I walk around at 4 am. I work with troubled children, deadly viruses and diseases, and extreme poverty. My car is damaged and my patience is constantly under pressure … But at the end of my bad days I always try to have a good laugh.

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Could the bad day have been more unrealistic? Could the bad day have been more convenient than a flat tire at the butt of Cassie’s joke? Honestly, in Africa, I’m absolutely sure it COULD get more unrealistic and “convenient.” Africa is funny like that.

Still, on your bad days, think of those in worse conditions.

And when it is all over, have a good laugh because there isn’t much else you can do.

From Uganda, Cara Hope

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