A Change In Scenery

Prequel: I’m Scott Romeiser and I am a sophomore chemistry major at ESU. This summer I got the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Uganda. Below is a summery of my trip.

Nearly every person dreams of going to Africa, however, very few actually get the opportunity to experience one of the most underdeveloped, mysterious, and stereotyped places in the world; the Dark Continent. The six weeks I’ve spent in Uganda (in Eastern Africa) have (dare I say it) been the best weeks of my life. In this long-awaited blog entry, I will highlight what my group and I did during our stay in Uganda.

Once our 24+ hours of transit were over and we were finally in Uganda, we stayed in Red Chilli Hostel, which is basically a hotel for confused foreigners who need to get acclimated to the country in a western-ish environment before they continue into the bush. During our first day in Uganda, we went to the largest slum in all of Uganda, Namuwongo. Really all I can say about the slums is that it’s a bunch of shacks that are so close together that people are literally living on top of each other. There is no plumbing, there is no sanitation, there is no school; but what the slum does have is a brothel. Fun fact, my tour guide for the slum tour, Rebecca (she is 14), called the brothel a “club” and I was like “do you go to the club?” (thinking that it was like Brickyard or Bourbon Cowboy in Emporia) then she told me that it was a place for prostitution and other bad things. Interestingly enough, Rebecca told me that you had to be 30 to get into the “club”; however, I know for a fact that that is not the case because teenagers (or even younger girls) make up the bulk of the prostitutes. Basically, in summary, American’s lawnmowers are housed in better conditions than the thousands of people living in the slums.

The next day we started the 14-hour (it was supposed to be 8 hours) trek to Ruboni Village in Western Uganda, situated in the middle of the Rwenzori Mountains. During our journey, we crossed the equator twice, ate some sketchy goat, and watched one of our chaperones puke out of a moving vehicle because of the sketchy goat. Once we got to Ruboni, we went to the community camp and crashed in our surprisingly comfortable beds.

The Rwenzori Mountains are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The steep sloped mountains poke into the clouds. There are areas on these mountains that seem inhabitable, however, nearly every inch of land is cultivated.

There is a stark contrast to the beauty of the mountains. The people of Ruboni live in mud houses with a thatch or metal roofs. The houses are normally one room and they are very small—about the size of a dorm room. The people have to fetch water from a well and carry it to their house (walking up to 3 kilometers uphill) then once they get it to their house, they have to boil it. The people also have to produce all of the food they eat—they grow maize, matoke, bananas, potatoes, and pumpkin and have to raise chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs, and cows (if they are rich) to survive. The people only have one income (unless they have a special skill like blacksmithing or tailoring) which is coffee, the only cash crop in the area. Harvesting coffee is not an easy task, and the price they sell it for is practically nothing. The next time I drink a cup of Ethiopian coffee at Starbucks I’ll remember the sacrifices a person made, just so I could spend an outrageous amount of money on a cup of coffee I don’t even need.

After spending 2 weeks in the Rwenzori Mountains, we traveled 14 hours to Murchison National Park via dirt road. We visited the most powerful waterfall in the world, Murchison Falls, boated on the Nile, and went on Safari. The entire park was so beautiful. While we were staying in the park (our hotel was of course Red Chilli) Hippos would roam around the grounds and scare all of the white people—it’s interesting, the entire time we were in the park, it was like we were not in Africa anymore. There were so many white people and honestly, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because all of the white people weren’t being sensitive to Ugandan culture. Literally the park was full of little kids not respecting their elders, public displays of affection, and booty shorts. The entire reason we were in Uganda was to experience the cultures of the country and the fact that the park was a place where there was no culture honestly shocked me and I didn’t like it. Oh well, at least the safari was cool.

After 2 days on safari we went to Kampala, the largest city in Uganda, where we would spend the last 3 weeks of our time in Uganda.

We stayed in a house that we rented. By Americas standards, it would be a good starter home, however, by Ugandan standards, it’s luxury seeing as a huge portion of the country lives in “homes” with no plumbing.

While in Kampala we helped with the facilitation of Edukey Gender Support Organization and we also did some touristy things like swim in Lake Victoria and white water raft the Nile!

At the end of our stay, it was very hard to tell all of the people we’ve made connections with goodbye, especially the kids. Actually, in hind sight, it wasn’t hard at all to tell people goodbye, I was so ready to leave and see my family. What was hard was the realization that I could leave this country. I could leave this place of gender suppression. I could leave this country with rampant pollution. I could leave this country where there are many infectious diseases that are present. I could leave this country where the standard of living is impossible to fathom. I could leave this country where the victim of sexual assault is silenced. I could leave this country where starvation is a huge issue. I could leave this country where an education is not a right but a privilege. I could leave this country that has corruption in its government. I could leave, but the friends I’ve made couldn’t. I’m privileged enough to be able to go to a developing country, see how these people live, and then leave, never to return. Do you know how messed up that is? This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to come to terms with. I will dig deeper into the realm of privilege in a later blog.

All in all, I’m glad I got to go to Uganda and I will remember the experiences I’ve had for the rest of my life.

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Picture: this was the view I woke up to every morning for two weeks. Ruboni Village, Uganda.

Life in the city – Kampala, Uganda

 

After spending 2 weeks in a rural village near the Rwenzori Mountains, we traveled back to Kampala, Uganda – one of the biggest (and most populated) cities in Uganda, for 2 and a half weeks.

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When we got to explore Kampala – it was like watching everything we’d spent a semester studying – a complex culture and society, a language, a way of living – come to life. To me, the city was beautiful, despite all the things that would make many others turn away.

Kampala is BIG, and while we worked and explored different parts of the city, our group stayed in a home right in the middle of a district called Kabalagala – (that means “pancake” in Luganda) which is located next to the Katwe slum. It was this stark contrast that we saw every day – we lived in a home that was protected by a gate and even had electricity some days and then would walk outside the gate and be confronted with poverty and reality.

Have you ever seen the movie Queen of Katwe? We actually watched parts of it in class, as we spent a whole semester preparing for this trip. The movie is fine – it contains glimpses of Ugandan culture mixed with the very American ideal that you can do anything regardless of social status, economic position, or upbringing. But it gave us a glimpse of what we’d see, and at the time, it was just the taste we needed.

In reality, the slums surrounding the city were something we saw every single day, without the lenses of Hollywood or the glamor of Disney productions. We met real people who lived there and learned about the effect it has on their lives.

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Uganda lacks a realistic trash disposal service, and when we were in Kampala, we’d pass by on the streets it wasn’t uncommon to see piles of trash every few steps – it’s simply their reality to throw a bottle or wrapper on the ground when they had finished with it. We’d drive through the city on the way to work with an organization called EDUKEY Gender Support, and there would be smog in the air, smoke from burning trash that would burn our throats.

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We’d buy breakfast on the side of the street – almost always a Rolex which is a fried egg on Chapati, usually from Ronald’s rolex stand up the road from our house – and hope we didn’t get sick. We did a lot of walking – a car is a luxury the average citizen doesn’t have – and our shoes were quickly stained by the red dirt roads. We spent 6 weeks without air conditioning or cell service and yet I reveled in every single moment, even the hard ones.

And despite all of that… I loved this city anyway. I loved it for all that it was, and even all that it wasn’t. There were always people everywhere – people with stories filled with pasts and futures that I knew nothing about. Shop owners trying to find enough money to survive. Teenagers laughing on their way to school. Kids out playing until dark. The beauty of conversations and stories and the love that was so prevalent in their lives. The kids we’d meet who, at age 12,  have seen and learned and experienced more than me, who were forced to grow up far too soon. I was constantly struck by how human we all are, with feelings and passion and the capacity to love. People are people, everywhere – that’s something that does translate across all cultures.

Camille Abdel-Jawad

Junior, English Major

Uganda 2017

 

Free

7/10/17
I’ve been in Uganda for nearly seven weeks now. My fellow travel companions have returned home, but for me–still three weeks remain in Uganda. While I was still in the states, when I was deciding if I truly wanted to extend my stay here beyond the planned time, I wondered if it would be worth it. To assist with my decision, I asked many people–family and friends, for their thoughts. But, I quickly learned that from each source came differences in opinions, which compiled–were not as helpful as I had hoped. So, I had to decide for myself.

In choosing to stay, I often wondered what I would do after the others left (something that I still wonder during stagnant times here). However, I don’t regret the decision. Everyday here, I continue to learn. For instance, today as I ran an errand with a friend, I conversed with a woman from Saudi Arabia. She has been in Uganda for about the same amount of time that I have. We joked about some of the Ugandan quirks, such as dangerously speedy boda bodas with drivers who transport possibly one, most likely two, and sometimes even three or more passengers at a time to their intended destinations. On the other hand, if you’re a tourist, they might take you to a completely different location or to the correct one, but they might follow an indirect path, so that they can charge you more, it’s pretty much a gamble! We continued to converse and eventually I asked her about her home country: ” How is it? Would I like to visit there?” And she hesitated. She talked about how Uganda is more “free” than Saudi Arabia.

As she spoke, I realized how different it is reading about gender disparity in textbooks, versus hearing about them first hand, versus experiencing them for yourself. She looked at my clothes–a t-shirt and knee-length shorts and said that in her country, I would not be permitted to wear them. Then, she pointed to her own clothes. “You would wear this–dark colors like this,” she said pointing to her own black, floor length, and long sleeve dress. Saudi Arabia is not as free as Uganda…which is an incredibly hard pill to swallow, not because I was learning this for the first time, but because I was hearing it with a new perspective.

To me, Uganda is not always “free.” Our time in this country began in the west. Durning our time in Rwenzori, more specifically, Ruboni my fellow university students and I had the opportunity to spend a good portion of a couple of days with families from the village community. Additionally, we were able to facilitate leadership training through the honors college with materials adapted from the Kansas Leadership Center located in Wichita, Kansas. Both of these experiences offered a plethora of opportunities to witness and live in a world that accepts gender inequality in way that we do not in the States.

Each student had a different experience when interacting with his or her host family. In my case, I felt incredibly blessed to have been placed in the home that I was. The family welcomed me and always made me feel comfortable. During my time with the family, I shadowed the wives of the household and ATTEMPTED to imitate them as the performed their activities. These tasks included: cooking, gardening, cleaning, and caring for their children. This vague explanation cannot begin to explain the arduous nature of the activities that I mentioned, but for the sake of staying on topic, I will not elaborate. In Ruboni, the men and women have different activities. A man has certain responsibilities and a woman has different ones. The roles are clear and seem rigid. Because we went as students, in an attempt to learn about a different culture, we did our best to respect their cultural norms–often times begrudgingly–and acted within them as best we could.

Durning leadership training, we worked with around a dozen community leaders. Three of the attendees were women. As the training took place, we found it nearly impossible to get the women to speak. In most cases, they remained silent and kept their eyes downcast. When we split into smaller groups, the woman in my group spoke more. During these breakout sessions, the groups were responsible for choosing challenges to address that the people face in the community. Domestic abuse was a topic that 2 of the 4 groups chose to focus on.

During leadership training and home visits, I was able to speak to two women from the village because they spoke English very well. From our conversations, I learned about their cultural expectations. As the woman, if she becomes pregnant, then she must go to the husbands residence to live with him and his family. She will take not only his name, but also his religion. In the village, women are looked at as property. If a woman is married to a husband, then the husband must pay a bride price to her family–typically cows, goats, chickens, etc. In the village especially, but in the cities as well, female drop out rates for school are higher than for males. In the village, we learned that the families of young girls choose to educate the boys before or instead of the girls because schooling for the girls is seen as a wasted investment, since the girl will eventually belong to her husband’s family, rather than her own, thus her skills will be utilized not in the family, but outside of it.

The list goes on and I could explain many more personal experiences and eye witness testimonies regarding gender discrimination in various scenarios, but my point is this…. In the process of running an errand–I met a woman who spoke of how free Uganda is, but as a woman from the states, it is difficult for me to recognize this freedom that she sees. At times, I feel that people can be overzealously patriotic, but–with humility, I can appreciate the freedom that I experience in America. However, this sweet freedom is tainted with a bitter aftertaste as I remember that in America, I am privileged. White. The freedom pool that with my tongue I lap from is not offered to all and many are parched.

Taylor Fuller

 

Fourteen Days in Rwenzori

 

06/09/17
Our time here has consisted of several highs and lows. When we arrived to the village, the entire community welcomed us with traditional dances and what we would consider field day games. We attempted to dance with the locals–and looked ridiculous doing so. We also played games with the children from the village.

Since then, we have visited with the families and we have learned about their daily activities and have practiced them by their sides–gardening, peeling vegetables, and washing laundry by hand. Additionally, we have presented course work adapted from the Kansas Leadership Center to provide strategic leadership training to members of the community.

The purpose of the training is to help mobilize the community to make progress on adaptive challenges that are present within their communities and homes. Strikingly, many of the challenges are similar to those that we face in the US. For example, issues they face include the quality of education, safe transportation, and harmony within families.

As our time in Rwenzori has come and now passed… what remains in my heart is the memory of the beautiful beside the ugly, and the good sitting right beside the bad. To explain, we awoke every morning to see beautiful mountains, lush vegetation, and running streams. We were introduced to about one hundred of children–who held our hands and touched our white skin. We shared smiles and traded family photos. But, in the same breath, we encountered many challenges. We learned that here, being born a man gives you a different value in the world than being born a female. We’ve learned that in many cases, education is valued, but unattainable due to fees that are unable to be paid, and basic healthcare is only for the privileged.

At home, I believe our hearts have become hardened in the midst of these challenges. My prayer is that as these words are read, we can be be empathetic. We can let the weight of these challenges press upon our hearts and allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable because connecting to people in this way–emotionally and spiritually–who are separated from us by land and sea is still doing something–even when it feels like there is nothing that can be done.

Taylor Fuller

A Day in the Mountains

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For the first two weeks of my six week stay in Uganda, I woke up at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains, where I spent a few full days with a local family to experience the life they live everyday and learn about the culture of the people in a small community called Ruboni.

The first family I visited was huge; two parents and fourteen kids. They live in one house that consisted of four bedrooms and a living room. The entire house was smaller than the size of my living room in my house in America. In order to get to their property, we had to walk up a steep hill for fifteen minutes. That walk is something they do every day, yet I struggled to do it once.

Once I got to their house, they had prepared breakfast for me. They gave be millet bread to dip in a smoked fish and cassava plant leaf soup. The advice their oldest son, Jonathan, gave me was to not chew the bread, but, instead, dip a piece of it in the soup, put it in your mouth and swallow it immediately. Chewing would result in the feeling of a sand-like texture that was found in the bread.

After eating, we began the hard work for the day. We hiked up the steep hill for ten minutes, where they had planted cassava. Here, the whole family pulled up and bagged cassava to bring back down to their house. Immediately upon our return from harvesting the cassava, we started preparing lunch. Pealing the cassava and Irish potatoes for nearly an hour, the food was thrown in a big pot that consisted of boiling water and grounded G nuts (the Ugandan version of a peanut). This is a typical meal for people in the area, as it is filling and all the ingredients grow well in the area.

While eating, the inequality between men and women that can be found in all aspects of life in western Uganda, were very apparent. The men would sit in chairs and eat from a table. The women and kids would sit on the dirt ground to eat. Women in this area are silenced when in the presence of men and women don’t look men in the eyes. These are just a few examples of the oppression women experience everyday.

After lunch, the family immediately started preparing dinner, which consisted of more Irish potatoes. Shortly after, I left to go back to where other students were staying. Collectively as a group, we all spent the evening sharing our experiences and what we learned during our time with different families.

— Trent Reinardy

Life in London

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London life was an experience that altered the way I view world and even the littlest things. The different things I learned on such a wide spectrum is what I will take away the most. In some of the most centralized places you can learn about the history of a place and how it impacted London and at the same time have a street performer in the background, or a group of tourist taken a selfie. I was able to get out of the big city and travel to Hampton Courts and Brighton Beach and experience a slower paste of the British life.

A few of the life lessons I learned: 1- The people make the trip. I could not have asked for a better group of people to travel abroad with. 2-  Trying public transportation for the first time in another country isn’t as intimidating as one would think. 3-  Although London was not a huge culture shock seeing all of the hospitality and acceptance London had to offer was inspirational.

Mollie Ponds

What’s a Future English Teacher Got to Say about London? — Site Title

Greetings! My name is Nick Clohecy, and I’m a senior Secondary [English] Education major at ESU. I’ll be entering Phase II this fall, and then I’ll be returning to ESU in the spring of 2018 to pursue an MA in English! The short answer to the above question: a lot. But—too bad for you—I’m also going […]

via What’s a Future English Teacher Got to Say about London? — Site Title

A community in the Streets

IMG_0840Hi my name is Ashley Weigand and I am currently a junior elementary education major. This past month I lived in the city of Granada, Spain to improve my Spanish skills. Since arriving in Spain I have noticed that there are many people in the streets all the time. All hours of the day. There are people walking, talking, and performing in the streets. Every day I see people playing an instrument or singing a song. My favorite things I have seen are the human statues. In the United States there are never people on the streets. Most people drive everywhere they want to go and do not socialize with strangers. Back home it is common to stay in your home unless you need to go somewhere and when you are at home you are most likely alone or not interacting with those who are home with you. But in Spain this is not a thing. My host mother told me that the streets is a part of your house. Many people spend time in the streets for fun. The streets is the place that people will go to socialize with other people. The people of Spain do not like to be alone, they always want to socialize with others. In Granada it is easy to see that this place is a community and the people that live in this community care about others and the place they live in. This is not common in the U.S. but should be. We must care about our neighbors and the people who live in the same city.

“Communication leads to the community that is, to understanding, intimacy
and mutual appreciation.”
-Rollo May

“Every successful person knows that their achievement depends on a community of people working together.”
-Paul Ryan

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Oh the Places You’ll Go: Finland Edition

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

I have wanted to go on a study abroad trip since I was in middle school. So when I heard that Emporia State offered an exchange program in Finland I jumped at the chance. Finland is well known for their education system and, as a Elementary Education major, I knew that I would get some great new perspectives by taking advantage of the opportunity. Since this would be my first time out of the country, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I had a feeling it would be amazing.

Preparing to go was a lot more work than I had anticipated, but I got through it all and the day finally arrived. Four other students, two professors, and myself flew to Finland. We arrived in Helsinki, the capital city, where we stayed for two days to do some sight seeing before heading to the university. One of my favorite activities included taking a ferry ride to visit a Navy island, Suomenlinna, where we explored what was left of the old abandoned fort, hiked along the coastline, and learned the hard way that geese in Finland are less than friendly. We also visited an art museum, the zoo and aquarium, and explored the street markets on the harbor. After our action packed two days, we boarded the train to Jyväskylä where we spent the remainder of our time.

The University of Jyväskylä has a very strong teacher education program and I loved learning the ins and outs of the Finnish education system. I took three week-long courses during my stay and learned countless lessons both in and outside of the classroom through lectures from wonderful professors, as well as collaboration with other students from around the world.

Some of the highlights of what I learned on my trip are as follows. There are no dead ends in Finnish education-you can go whichever direction you choose, and a high emphasis is placed on continuing education (you receive a sword and top hat with your PhD!). Young Finns are encouraged to play and explore – they learn through doing. Teachers are highly respected in Finland. Even elementary teachers must have at least a Masters degree and, as a result, teachers have a high level of autonomy-they can (for the most part) decide how and what they teach without worrying about meeting the criteria of standardized testing. Finally, I learned that much can be learned from simply listening to others and their perspectives. Some of the most interesting things I learned came from other students and their perspectives from their own countries’ education systems. By comparing places like Brazil, Hong Kong, China, the U.S., Norway, Germany, and Finland we were able to see what works in education and what may not be as effective. We also learned that what works in one country may not work in another simply due to cultural differences, but it is important to respect other practices and the people that implement them.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

Study abroad is amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone. However, as I have learned, it is important to remember that not everything will go perfectly. You might leave your purse on the train, your plane may get cancelled and you get stuck in Stockholm overnight, you will likely have some miscommunication with the locals, and you will certainly get very tired. Guess what though? Those bang-ups and hang-ups are important because they teach you things about yourself that you would not have learned unless you were pushed out of your comfort level.

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

This has been a tiny glimpse at my own adventure. There are so many more things I could share like the amazing food (reindeer, boar, pear ice cream, nettle pancakes…) or the people (generally reserved, but very polite), and much more, but I think you get the general idea. Thank you for letting me share a little bit of my experience in Finland! I hope if you haven’t already, you get a chance to make your own adventures abroad.

(The above excerpts are from Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess.)

Ashley Peterson

Unplanned Adventuring

          Hi, my name is Emma Dixon and I’m a sophomore Accounting major here at ESU. Before I begin, there is one thing you should know about me; I am a planner. I hate feeling incompetent or unprepared which leads me to make rather detailed plans for just about everything. So naturally, when I first signed up for a study abroad trip to London, I immediately began planning out every little thing I would do while I was there. I had a rather long list of all the things I had to see including Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Shakespeare’s Globe, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, and so on.  While I saw and did most of these things, looking back on my trip I realized that some of my favorite moments were things that could never have been planned. Allow me to explain.

          Getting lost in a big unfamiliar city isn’t something I would ever plan out or typically suggest, but, I discovered that when you have excellent company and plenty of daylight, getting lost can be rather fun. On our third day in London, friend and I were headed to the Tate Modern and being now fairly confident in our navigational skills of the city failed to consult a map for directions. For this reason, we managed to botch what should have been excruciatingly easy directions and wound up walking several miles out of our way in every direction except the correct one. Eventually, although we were too stubborn to concede defeat and just take the Underground back to our original location, we finally admitted that we should be looking at a map instead of trusting our obviously askew directional skills. However, this stubbornness allowed us to walk through a portion of London that we would have never explored and discover old buildings and monuments we didn’t know existed (we even found the famed Diagon Alley!)

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Leadenhall Market (aka Diagon Alley)

          That coupled with the great time spent with my friend made turned an ordinary Friday evening into a splendid adventure that I could have never planned.

           Another unplanned adventure I had while in London was Regent’s Park. Originally, I had no intention of visiting any park. During my early planning, I was set on doing as many sightseeing, touristy things as possible and a park just didn’t seem to fit the bill. However, after touring the historic Tower of London, I was convinced by a few friends to join them in their trip to Regent’s Park. It was one of the best decisions I made that entire trip. Stepping into Regent’s Park was like stepping into a world without time or worry. Entering this park after the being in the fast-paced, crowded environment of the city reminded me of a video finally being played at the correct speed when you originally tried to watch it in fast-forward. With its rolling green hills, shaded walkways, and beautiful gardens, Regent’s Park was calming and peaceful. Around me, people sat on benches or stretched out on the lawn breathing in the perfume of flowers and drinking in the beauty of the open and spacious atmosphere. There was a wonderful serenity about the place that invited introspection and a sort of pensive happiness. Without my friends’ encouragement, I never would have visited Regent’s Park yet somehow this unplanned detour became my favorite place in London.

 

          Now these are only a few of the many times unplanned adventures occurred over our stay in London not to mention the fantastic times I spent in Bath and Oxford with friends and no real plans. This trip has helped me realize that although planning can be helpful, I shouldn’t live my life locked into my detailed plans. Escaping life’s routines and plans every now and then, could lead to most of the most memorable moments of your life. So it’s my hope and prayer that you and I, whether we are traveling abroad or staying home, remember to ignore our premediated ideas every so often and enjoy an unplanned escapade.

Wishing you all grand adventures,

Emma Dixon =)