2007.09.21: September 21, 2007: Headlines: COS - Uganda: Speaking Out: Rushville Republican: Brian Dunn writes: I came to Africa to gain a different perspective

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uganda: Peace Corps Uganda : Peace Corps Uganda: Newest Stories: 2007.09.21: September 21, 2007: Headlines: COS - Uganda: Speaking Out: Rushville Republican: Brian Dunn writes: I came to Africa to gain a different perspective

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Brian Dunn writes: I came to Africa to gain a different perspective

Brian Dunn writes: I came to Africa to gain a different perspective

I came to Africa to gain a different perspective. Like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, I wanted to stand on the desk and see the world from a different point of view. Someone can gain valuable insight by putting themselves in another’s shoes. Needless to say, by joining the Peace Corps in March of ’06 I did that — but I still wanted more. I wanted to dig deeper and go further. That led to my decision to spend three days living in a two-room mud hut with a family of 11 out in “the bush.”

Brian Dunn writes: I came to Africa to gain a different perspective

Perspective on Africa

Brian Dunn
For the Republican

I came to Africa to gain a different perspective. Like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, I wanted to stand on the desk and see the world from a different point of view. Someone can gain valuable insight by putting themselves in another’s shoes. Needless to say, by joining the Peace Corps in March of ’06 I did that — but I still wanted more. I wanted to dig deeper and go further. That led to my decision to spend three days living in a two-room mud hut with a family of 11 out in “the bush.”

If you came to visit me in Uganda (and I’d love for you to, believe me) you would walk into my room and think it was a college dorm room, minus the stash of microwavable popcorn and mini-fridge. It’s quaint but full of family photos, Colts clippings, maps, Christmas lights, etc. It’s my little piece of home in Uganda. On the same token, it’s not true Africa life. I hear plenty of stories of what these families struggle through, but it’s difficult to relate, even on my modest Peace Corps salary. So in August I set out to live with one of the poorest families that Compassion supports.

When the father was summoned and told that I would be visiting, his response was, "I hope he is bringing a tent." This family lives in a thatched roof, mud home with two rooms that are approximately eight foot by eight foot. Oh, did I mention they have nine children? It’s African culture to have many children. Kids are a source of pride for a father. They are also additional hands to help around the house. Furthermore, children die in Africa, so having many is insurance that some will survive.

I arrived at their very humble home in the early evening. After some short greetings we walked through some banana plantations to a small shop to meet the local village chairman, as is customary when a guest comes to visit. There were a number of other villagers who were loitering around the shop, curious as to why a white man was there so late in the evening. Some of them were drunk and were trying to talk to me in the local language. They were quite friendly and impressed with my grasp of the language. I was later told that there was a great deal of excitement throughout the village knowing that a white man was sleeping amongst them. Upon returning to the house, Alfred, the father, and I shared a bowl of katogo, which is unripe banana plantain, mashed and cooked and usually mixed with just about anything, sometimes goat intestines. Thankfully, mine was mixed with beans. Among Peace Corps volunteers we sometimes refer to this as a "bowl of screaming souls." I wasn’t planning on eating my meals with them for fear of getting sick, but once offered I couldn’t refuse.

Late that evening (Ugandans eat just before sleeping), as we finished supper they told me that they liked to sing, so I had them sing me a song. An hour and a half later I was fighting sleep trying to listen to them sing. They did sing quite beautifully. They not only sang but they danced for me. It was really special and I began to realize how blessed I was to have them open their home to me and share this experience.

Time for bed. I set up my mosquito net and rolled out my foam mattress on the floor, they all sleep on the floor. Up until the Purdue team came to visit they only had one mattress between the 11 of them, which was given to the one Compassion-sponsored child, but now they have several mattresses, blankets and mosquito nets. I shared a room with the father and one of the young sons. They shared a small twin mattress. The rest of the family, nine of them, slept in the next room (remember, eight foot by eight foot). Sleep was hard to come by for me. When you have a house full of mostly young children, they talk, cry, fuss and squirm all night. Couple all of that with the rats I heard in the walls a foot from my head and it made for a long night. Rats generally can’t get through a mosquito net, but still it’s an unnerving sound.

The next morning it was time for work. Alfred and I spent the better part of two hours trimming up his small banana plantation. Cutting down dead leaves and cutting up fallen trees (though they’re not like real tree trunks, more like thick, juicy stems). After that the work was done for the day. It wasn’t harvest season or planting season so there wasn’t any work to do in the garden. I went about one half km down a steep hill with two of the girls to fetch 15 L canisters of water for the family from a bore-hole. It was a good water source and quite close compared to what many families had to endure. The older girls had gone to school for the day. All of the older kids were in school. Annet, the Compassion child, is one of the brightest in her class, despite the extreme poverty of her family. Thank God there are programs like Compassion International to provide these children hope for a better future. Only those who were too young stayed home. The rest of my day was spent reading Moby Dick while the villagers, especially children, gathered around to watch me read for hours. I had no idea that reading silently could be so interesting.

When my time was up I bid farewell to my new friends. I gave the kids some toys and the parents $25 for letting me stay with them. That $25 will be enough for the father to buy materials to construct a larger home, minus the iron sheets for the roof. Their main obstacle is owning enough land to grow crops to feed all of those children. All in all it was a surreal experience to see what village life is really like.

Brian Dunn is the son of Richard and Marilyn Dunn of Rushville. Add a comment at www.rushvillerepublican.com.

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Headlines: September, 2007; Peace Corps Uganda; Directory of Uganda RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Uganda RPCVs; Speaking Out

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Story Source: Rushville Republican

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