Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Rains Down in Africa...

So over the past month plus, it has sometimes been raining early in the morning, meaning I’m walking to school either in the rain or in the intense mud. This is more than what a lot of the teachers do... for many people, it "disorganizes" them, as they say here. Since cars, raincoats, and umbrellas are rare, walking to school while it's raining is a definite ticket for getting drenched, and a likely passport to sickness. I'm lucky because I have a rain jacket . But, when it rains, school is often a few hours late starting. It's the Ugandan version of a late start due to snow. Because, as the Toto song tells us, rain in Uganda is not a light drizzle. It’s an overwhelming, pounding, so-loud-it-drowns-out-any-other-noise, drops-so-big-a-single-one-could-drench-you kind of rain. This then means that walking to school results in a slip-sliding endeavor that I consider successful if I don’t end up facefirst in the mud. Also, this means that if a car or boda or bus goes past, it splashes all the standing water and mud up onto you. Luckily, today the cars were relatively considerate, and not going too fast, which meant that the splash only got below the knees (there have been times where I’ve shown up to school with my shirt covered in mud splatters… ah the joys of walking to schools on the romantic dirt roads of Uganda). Anyways, I arrived at school today (morning mass on Wednesdays) looking like a splatter paint drawing from the knees down.

Mass was great, lots of singing and clapping and kids squeezed into the church, and then as soon as it was over, I walked outside, to find that somehow, I had provided enough material for laughter that the teachers already standing outside the church were giggling. “Anna! You were digging in the garden this morning?” There are two things I should explain from this statement about Ugandans that I’ve realized (not to make overarching generalizations or anything like that). 1. The whole idea of embarrassment is just not a thing here. If you make a mistake, or something happens to which you’d be mega embarrassed in the states, here people just kind of laugh it off, and others around you will get a huge kick out of it, but in a truly loving way, not a malicious sense at all. 2. Ugandans like things being clean. Their roads are pure red dirt, there’s nothing which isn’t covered in the dirt after about 15 minutes of cleaning it, but they LOVE having clean things. You will see people washing their cars every single day, (if they have enough money for cars, they have enough money for that much water), washing their houses and porches multiple times a day, and even looking “smart” or very well put together is a high expectation. Granted, this looking well put together thing doesn’t have anything to do with matching… sorry JQ, I’m going to come back even less capable of matching… but that’s another blog post for later. But overall what I’m saying is that looking clean is a high priority for Ugandans. And, what’s clear is at this point, I was anything but clean. And, due to my skin color, mud seems to show up MUCH more obviously than it does on my colleagues.

So, one of the nuns called a girl who boards at Jude’s over and asked her to bring her basin and Gerry can (a tub for water, used by Germans during the war) full of water for me to wash. It was as if the whole school was mobilizing to get the mzungu teacher clean again. And then, it’s always funny for elementary school kids to see their teachers doing things that shows them more human and like them, and then especially to see a mzungu washing her feet in a basin just like they do… it was a true spectacle. So, with at least 25 kids staring at me in amazement, I washed off my feet and legs. Just another day at St. Jude’s, adventures with Madame Anna. And then of course, due to the hot equatorial sun, by the time I was walking home, you never would have known that it had rained.

The other big news of the day… sometimes I get a little frustrated with the whole teaching system. Calling it unorganized would be equivalent to calling chocolate cake "ok." Yesterday, I was teaching about how to find the area of triangles. ½ Base x Height. Ok, figured this was simple enough, especially after teaching finding the area of rectangles, and showing them that a triangle was half of a rectangle. As I was correcting their books this morning, I realized, they have NO idea what "half" means. They never learned fractions. That’s one of the problems with coming in during the third term of the year. Fractions are listed in the book before area, but I guess they never were taught. Makes sense right? Ugh. So then I re-taught it today just using divide by two, and all of the kids got the majority of the questions right, whereas yesterday, not a single one got any of them right. A frustrating thing, but an interesting lesson I think in learning to reframe things and ideas, and seeing how what might appear as stupidity actually is just misunderstandings of particular smartness. Oh teaching, you are always such an adventure.

Hope you all are doing well!

Love, from Uganda.


  1. I see a children's picture book coming from all of this. "The amazing adventures of Madame Anna." Thanks for sharing with us your stories!

  2. keep well away from the dolla dolla's and
    the minivans and the trucks and buses,
    Anna! and the monkeys... and the lions...
    and the chickens?
    you are an intrepid soul! love you

  3. Dividing by 2 might work, but not necessarily dividing by 10! Great (yet unfortunate) stories about the rain. Must be hotter there now than it was during the took days for things to dry a few of the times. Hope all is well with the full St. Joseph's House group. Wish Matt and Damian luck for me as they prepare for the journey home!