Joyce Meng's Blog

Day #13 - Youth Culture and Games

January 3, 2010

Notwithstanding all the troubles with the Solar Company, we spent a good day filming, interview, and playing games with the kids. We first finished up inventorying our pictures for the $50 campaign and sorting through our schedule. Afterwards, we went outside to film the completed sheds. Truly, I am deeply impressed with the sheer speed of construction! As many of the posters got destroyed in the move, I will help with recreating them. Unlike classrooms in the US where printed learning aids can easily be bought, here, the teachers have to do everything themselves. I look forward to helping out!

[Here, the boys cut the painted wood planks into small pieces for us to bring back to the United States. If you contribute $5,000, you can own a piece of the school! Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]


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Jia and I then completed the interview with Sula and Josh before going inside for lunch, a true feast today with beef, sweet potato, rice, spaghetti, beans, curried potatoes, and fresh pineapple. (Alas, fresh pineapple has caused Jia lots of trouble as she belatedly discovered a new allergy…)

We both wanted to sleep after lunch, but the teens found us and indicated that they wanted to play a game. Jia and I had come up with a combination of Truth or Dare / Never Ever to see if we can learn more about the older children in a relaxed setting – to get some footage we wouldn’t otherwise obtain in the formal interviews we conducted. With Isaac and Ibra around, both gregarious and extroverted boys, the game got off to a good start. Through the questions that were asked, we learned a lot about the children. For example, none of the children had ever left Uganda nor traveled by anything other than car. At some point, nearly all the children had been beaten in class by a teacher for misbehavior or academic mistakes. We used the “truth” questions to bring up difficult moral questions, from the stigma associated with AIDS to the role women play within society. The children and young people here are often very controlled by adults and demonstrate a great degree of deference, filial piety, and general obedience to authority. Life is a combination of work for the family, school, and a few hours of leisure, so the chance to see the kids in a completely relaxed setting yielded a lot of unique insights about their views on life and society. (Note: We caught everything on tape - when Jia finishes going through her countless hours of footage, we'll start posting and sharing with comments!)

Unfortunately, the rest of the day was rather wasted. Given all the delays with the roofing and solar panels, Abraham and his daughters arrived around 4:30 PM, later than scheduled. By then, I already knew that our original plans to go Entebbe Zoo wouldn’t work, as it takes about 30 minutes to get there in itself. I felt regretful because it was Aisha’s birthday, and not only were we tagging along, but due to the delays we caused, the trip itself would be fruitless. As the optimist, Joanita insisted on still going with hopes that the zoo would still remain open.

We arrived at the zoo and discovered that 1) we only had one hour remaining to see the animals, 2) admission was 5,000 for Ugandans ($2.50 USD) and 20,000 ($10 USD) for Jia and me. Somehow, even though Iria is clearly not Ugandan in her manner of speech and dress, she passed visual inspection for being “Ugandan”. The group decided it wasn’t worth it (as I originally suspected before we even left), so we left with the purpose of going to a beach resort. We drove around, attempting to find a suitable location, but Joanita decided each time that the entrance fees were too expensive. In the end, we went to the shore of Lake Victoria and watched the sunset.

Lake Victoria is vast, and as it was Sunday, we saw many families and children playing along the shore, enjoying a respite from daily work. At a minimal cost of 1,000 shillings per person (50 cents), we got on a highly battered, ancient row boat. I swear, part of the boat was likely held together only be duct tape! Amina and Joanita were too scared to go onto the boat, though I couldn’t find anything remotely unsafe – even if the boat capsized, we’d still easily manage to go back to shore. Because dusk heralds in mosquitoes, however, we had to leave before the sky got completely dark.

[Below are some pictures of everyone at Lake Victoria, enjoying the beautiful sunset and the refreshing weather…at least before the arrival of the mosquitos.]

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At Lake Victoria, Amina showed me her schedule of school fees, and on the ride back, I spent some time asking the girls about their schooling, tuition fees, and their family chicken operation. I had already promised a fundraiser for Amina when I get back to Oxford. Although I understand the high education expenses her family faces, I also do feel that as part of the Bbaale family, she has a strong family support network to help her through difficult times – a luxury not available to so many children in the village. Nevertheless, I am not one to renege on my promise, and will definitely follow through on a Uganda-themed fundraiser at Oxford!

We encountered bad traffic on the way back so we arrived home at 9:00 PM, much later than anticipated! I’ve discovered that in Ugandan life, a lot of time can be wasted in doing very simple things as a result of infrastructure problems. In budgeting time for activities, one must take a very conservative approach with the expectation that simple tasks – such as going to the city to pick up a few groceries – can cost at few hours! By now, I’ve gotten used to the frustrations and delays. At first, I found it difficult to reverse my natural tendency for impatience (at school, I control my time very tightly and expect almost instant gratification), but I’ve adjusted.

For me, the most fascinating aspect of youth culture in Uganda is the odd combination of knowing, but not having. The young kids here all surprised me in their knowledge of American pop culture. They have watched One Tree Hill, can breakdance and freestyle rap, imitate Michael Jackson, and listen to Beyonce and Alicia Keyes. Yet simultaneously, they live in a world completely different from our own. Imagine watching soap operas about the rich, beautiful, and bored of American society, yet barely eking by and struggling to afford tuition, food, and shelter. To know what wealth can afford, but to not have any discretionary income beyond basic necessities. To know about the power of computers and the Internet from a theoretical perspective through school, but finding the 500 shilling (20 cents) charge per twenty minutes at the Internet café too expensive.

In many ways, the globalization of media and television creates a situation akin to enjoying a large feast in front of a hungry man. In contrast, the kids in the village do not know and do not have – they are much poorer, but they also have less of a relative reference of their own poverty for comparison. In many ways, not knowing about the outside world makes them feel less deprived...and, potentially happier. I caught this sentiment in the games that we played, when Elijah asked some very pointed and bitter “Never Ever” questions regarding possessing items and traveling. From their questions, the kids expected Jia and I to own multiple houses and cars!

We ate dinner in contemplative silence before heading to bed. Tomorrow will be a particularly busy day with all the current students of the Peace School coming to campus, along with former alumni. We’ll spend a day collecting more drawings, interviewing the children and teachers, and documenting the impact of the Peace School.

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