Friday, November 28, 2008

starry night, starry dreams

Leaving Uganda was an adventure. Time is not simply African time, it is specifically Ugandan time which runs about 2 hours later on average than African time. I'd been hoping to have an hour or so to do some shopping and so Irene and I thought we had about a 4 hour window in which to relax before we took the bus to Bungoma, Kenya. Instead I ran from the bus station, spent 20 minutes bartering (actually got some pretty good deals considering the time constraints and skin colour), and ran back to catch the bus which left relatively punctually. Borders here are so remarkable. There is a queue, of sorts, in which 100 people squash into an area which is built to accommodate about 30. Those best at pushing get out a good 20 minutes earlier than those who were actually ahead in line. After my first border crossing I learned to box out. Since there is absolutely no personal space, and my body was pressed from all sides, I also felt not at all bad about jabbing a pushy woman in the chest to keep her out of my place in line, or to gently kick a guy in the shins if he got too aggressive.

Back on the bus, and 40 minutes away from the border, we were stopped for a police check to ensure we all had appropriate paperwork. One guy was taken off the bus as he'd walked from one border to the next, without stopping at either control, and simply got back on the bus without a passport or anything else.

Waiting in line to have our passports checked I enjoyed stargazing. It is so much fun to look up at the sky in another part of the world and invent constellations. I did see the plow and sirius though, Irene pointed them out to me, as well as my beloved manta ray constellation from Australia.

I didn't notice for quite a while that the men and women had divided themselves into separate lines to have an officer of the same sex check their paperwork. Thankfully I was following Irene or would have ended up in the men's only line without even realising what a cultural faux pas I was committing.

We arrived to Bungoma around midnight and were welcomed by the family of one of our members. They were so incredibly welcoming and Irene and I felt so at home while we were with them.

The next day we were scheduled to speak to a group of youth organisation leaders. If it weren't for meeting the family, I would have never wanted to return to Bungoma. It was my first experience with a roomful of corruption, and such blatant corruption! After the seminar they yelled at Irene and myself for almost an hour about not paying them for attending, at not providing food, and at not even giving them souvenirs of the day. I felt terrible for our member who had organised the event, he'd been hoping for synergy between WYA and a number of youth groups, at least we know now not to work with any of them.

Afterwards, a few approached me to reiterate their statements, and after I continued to refuse to apologise to them, one informed me about how hospitable that portion of Kenya was and invited me to spend the night at his house!

I spent the afternoon playing frisbee with the neighbourhood girls (after one of the participants that morning told me how impressive it was that I, as a woman, should engage a roomful of men in conversation - argument? - I made no effort to include any of the boys in the game and only taught it to the girls) sometimes female empowerment is genuinely necessary.

I also bonded with the little boy of the house who was three, by the end of the day he knew a few English words including doggy, yeah, and high five! The next morning he was so sad to see me in my rucksack he refused to say bye. I left the frisbee for the girls to continue to be empowered through playing sports - hopefully it works. (ps. Eduardo, that's where your frisbee is)

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