Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The "M"-word.

When Ugandan’s learn that I have a girlfriend, I am often offered a wife on the spot.

“You take a Mutooro woman! They are very beautiful. Take this one!”

When I decline, I must always be sure to inform the speaker that, “yes, Mutooro women are beautiful,” and “no, I have nothing against Ugandans/Africans.” Once that’s diffused, I am inevitably asked a series of questions about our relationship. Two in particular always bubble to the surface:

(1.) How can you know that she is true to you?

(2.) Don’t you get feelings?

I’ve discussed my answer to the first question in a previous post, but obviously, it boils down to trust. Trust is often best conveyed by using the word “faith” in its place.

“Well, how do you know there is a god that has a plan for your every daily choice and future?”

“Because I believe in him.”

“So you have faith in him?”

”Yes, faith. I have faith in my lord and savior.”

“Well, I have faith in my girlfriend. I have faith that she does not want to find another man.”

“That’s good… but don’t you ever get feelings?”

And there’s question number two.

Feelings of course mean “sexual feelings.”

“Yes. Of course I do.”

“Well,” they say, giving me a deeply questioning look that says What do you do about them?

That question, if posed to any American child from somewhere around middle school age and up, has an obvious answer. To most Ugandan’s, however, the solution is not so straightforward. While perusing the manual outlining the “Presidents Initiative on AIDS Strategy to the Youth” (PIACY, pronounced “Pee-Aww-See”), I stumbled upon the reason why.

The book uses a question and answer format:

“Is it wrong to practice masturbation?”

Answer: In Africa and in Uganda, it is socially, culturally and morally not accepted. Likewise, religious principles do not allow this sexual practice.”

Why doesn’t the word “masturbation” jump into a Ugandan’s head as a potential solution to “feelings”? Because to participate in the act is an affront their country, their continent and their religion.

Straight from the PIACY manual, incorrect grammar/spelling and all.

PIACY doesn’t stop there:

“Does masturbation protect one from HIV/AIDS?”

Answer: It does not provide you with effective protection from HIV/AIDS because you are likely to end up in penetrative sex. Penetration is the predominant approach to sex in Africa. Many young people who practice masturbation as a “safer sex practice” therefore end up being emotionally triggered into penetrative sex, which increases their risk to HIV.

How are marijuana and masturbation alike? It turns out they are both gateway drugs!

Fear not. PIACY gives young Ugandan’s the means to abstain this devious act:

“How can one resist pressures to masturbate?”


(1.) Do not let your mind dwell on thoughts, pictures and literature that influence sexual feelings.

(2.) Avoid watching or reading material which arouses your sexual feelings.

(3.) Avoid hanging out with people who say and do things which may arouse your feelings in that direction

(4.) Be assertive and speak out your stand regarding your values.

(5.) Develop Godly principles and honor them.

(6.) Keep close company with people and friends who share your values.

(7.) Find active ways of occupying your redundancy period such as sports, music, drama, reading positive literature.

[Note: The exercise of picking each of these points apart is left to the reader to be done in one of their “redundancy period[s].”]

"Masturbation is wrong.
Do everything to stop it.
Yes it is possible to stop it."
["With friends like these, who needs enemies?"]

Needless to say, the super-majority of Ugandans choose the lesser suggested and HIGHLY effective method of both resisting the urge to masturbate WHILE relieving sexual feelings. They…

(8.) Have A LOT SEX, UNPROTECTED and with a VARIETY of sexual partners.

…the results of which are catastrophic:

The population of Uganda is exploding. As of 2010, there were an estimated 33.8 million people (49% of which are under the age of 15) living in a space somewhere between that of Utah and Wyoming. Following current trends (3.4% /year) the projected populations for the years 2025 and 2050 are 53.5 and 91.3 million, respectively. (Source:

The percentage of people infected with HIV in Uganda is 6.5-7% (though many believe these to be very optimistic), and the number is climbing. In fact, Uganda is the only sub-Saharan recipient of The United States Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) money where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has recently INCREASED. (Source:

So how do I handle the topic of “it” when it comes up in the conversation?

First, I tell my listener what PIACY suggests.

Then, I line those suggestions up against a wall and execute them with a quiet-rage reserved for a government who is systematically planting land-mines that will inevitably kill cities of innocents.

Finally, I dispel the myths (“No, you will not lose interest in wo/men.” “Yes, you will still be capable of producing children one day.” "No harry palms..." etc…), and I praise the benefits (“No HIV/AIDS!”, “No BABIES!”, “It’s FREE!” etc...).

Ultimately, we part. I’ve spoken. They’ve listened. But like a farmer who lays the seed, walks away and never returns: I’ll never know what’s grown.

And the weeds continue to strangle everything in their path.

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!).


P.S. These are old but no less relevant: Human Rights Watch, Success Story Unraveling

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My First Portrait.

After first noticing his drawings of other students and people done using MS paint, I was quick to praise the artist, an S3 student here at Kyenjojo SS. Unlike most of the students here - who do the same thing day in and day out, typing the same words over and over again exactly as they were first given to them by a teacher - he is using the computer as a creative outlet.

He found MS Word, he found the "Spray Paint" can and he hasn't looked back.

One day he came to me and says, "Masta', you come look."

And there it was: my first portrait.

It immediately drew a crowd.

Kids giggled and laughed all around, because there I was: a beard, my long straggly hair up in a pony-tail, my cargo pants and SSC shirt... even my long-worn bracelet (though he got the hand wrong).

[And what do I do when using the computer? I check Gmail, of course!]

I saved it to a USB like I have a few of his other drawings.

This morning he showed me yet another picture of me - this one done in a sketch book for is Fine Art class - only this time I was walking across the school yard with my backpack and water-bottle in hand. The picture was accurate right down to my Chacos.

While I am flattered by the sentiment, I must admit, it is just a bit unnerving (ahem, creepy) to realize that when I think I am sitting alone at a computer or walking across campus, I never escape the watchful, curious eyes of my community. And now, one of them might just be recording it with sweeping strokes of a pencil or mouse.

After 17 months in Uganda, there is still a small piece of me, deep inside, that screams when it knows that it is being watched. But every day, the scream diminishes.

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tetanus for Teaching.

About two months ago, my friend Charlene (a PCV, and also a fellow Virginian [she lives about 8 miles from my dad and we share 8 or so mutual friends... small world]) invited me and a few others to her Primary Teacher's College for a Science Demonstration Day. She asked that we bring around 5 demonstrations to show the kids and told us we would have three 30 minutes sessions attended by 50 kids each in which to teach.

For some reason... I wanted my session to steal the show, to bring the house down, so start a riot... And what accomplishes this desire with students better than the potential for DANGER and EXCITEMENT??!?!! (The correct answer is: NOTHING.)

I built a bed of nails!! (DUN, DUN, DUNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!)

This project in the states would have taken about an hour, maybe less with right power tools. Here in Uganda? It took about 6 hours of SOLID work. I had to locate the wood, haggle over the price, find a drill-bit, fix my stupid hand-held drill (twice), drill a shit-ton of holes, pound a bunch of nails through those holes, sacrifice my back to the evil contraption to see if it "worked", drill MORE holes, pound more nails and sacrifice my back again to ensure that I was successful.

It was AWESOME! And using it was even BETTER!

My original grid was 1 inch x 1 inch.

Here is my POS hand drill.

A close-up of the tip. Note 2 things here: (1.) The "drill bit" is actually a NAIL! The carpenter in town didn't have bits, but he said I could sharpen the tip of a smaller nail with a file and it would work fine. It worked GREAT, and I saved money on the bit! (2.) See the welding? Yeah, these drills are the six-sigma rejects that no one else in the world would accept... save Uganda. I had it tack-welded the first time (that failed). I had the guy use half a welding stick the second time.

Drilling A LOT of holes. There were around 400 nails in the finished board. On each of the 10 lines along the boards width, there were 22 nails. 22 nails on on would grain creates MONSTER cracks. Pre-drilled holes are a must (in the states you can just use peg board).

Here is the product after throwing nails into all of the original holes. That empty space is the location of what developed into a full board-length crack. I didn't put nails there in hopes that the crack would not propagate (it did anyway, so later I put in the nails).

Here is my back after my first try on the board. The inverted pictures shows the holes better. It hurt like HELL laying on this thing, so I had to add almost 200 more nails.

I placed the extra holes in the middle of each square. The big crack is clearly visible, but the bed didn't fall apart because of the added supports across its width.

FIERCE! It was hilarious traveling with this thing from Kyenjojo to Ibanda. As I walked by I kept hearing people say, "VERY! VERY! DANGEROUS!" while pointing to me. The cool thing was that I didn't even have to bargain down the Mujungu-price set by the Fort-Kamwengi and Kamwengi-Ibanda taxis like I normally have (I don't think they didn't want to risk my fury :)).

I saved the bed for the last demo. I gathered all the students together around the stage. Here I am inciting their cheers ("Listen, I'm scared of this thing! If I don't hear your cheers, I don't know if I'm going to have the strength to do it! CHEER, CHEER, CHEER!!!"
(Sorry about the blur.)

The first part is the worst. It does hurt a bit.

SUCCESS! It didn't kill me after all!! I love the faces in the background. People were cheering and clapping and jumping up and down. I never really thought I'd enjoy a stage... but on occasion, I definitely do! (look at that dirty butt!)

Of course others in the crowd had to try it out.

Try as I might, I could not get a girl to try the bed. But plenty of guys either volunteered during the demo or simply ran up to the front of the class when my back was turned to try it on their own. It was definitely a hit!

The bed of nails was a TOTAL success. It accompanied 4 other demonstrations that showing various applications of pressure.

While the kids may not remember the MATH behind the "magic," I doubt they'll ever forget the day when they saw an irish-potato get STABBED right through the middle by a 3.5 inch nail but then watched in amazement as a (part)-Irish MUJUNGU tried to go to sleep on a hole bed of the same damn nails a few minutes later!

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


P.S. How do you like my pink, cut-off denim shirt? The back is covered in white Hawaiian flower outlines. I am the epitome of elegance and taste!