I’m the kind of person who usually likes to barter with people in the markets. It was a totally unique experience for me a couple of days ago, however, when the person we were bartering with was a policeman – who was expecting us to settle the issue “as friends” so that my friend did not need to formally get a ticket or pay a fine.
So – here is the story…
My friend was driving me somewhere when she evidently violated some obscure Ugandan traffic law because she was signaled to pull over by the policeofficer standing in the middle of the street. With theatrical flare the police officer told her what she had done, that the excuse of not knowing the rule was no good in Ugandan courts, that she would owe 300,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $188 USD) and get 30 demerit points on her license, and that we needed to now leave the vehicle and go to the court – only to return to the vehicle sometime the next day.
Having lived in Uganda for a while, she offered him 20,000 to settle it “as friends.” His demeanor then kind of changed and his counter offer “as friends” was 100,000.
Since our normal appeals didn’t work (didn’t know this law, the fine was too expensive, etc…), I started to try a new approach. Once I got past the initial gut reaction of thinking using police authority for personal bribes was sick and wrong, I kind of got into the action too and imagined myself in a street market with a vendor.
I had some left-over pizza in a bag, and I told him that we would offer him the very nice pizza and 15,000. He didn’t look too interested in that, so I pulled the pizza out, had him smell its appealing aroma, examine the slices individually, and tried to convince him of the superior nature of this pizza – it was such a tasty treat we should probably only have given him 5,000 or 10,000 and the pizza. Then since perhaps we were going down in our offer instead of up, he went over to discuss the issue with his colleague who was on the police motorbike watching. I’m pretty sure that broke the ice enough, because he came back and settled with my friend at 30,000 USH (about $18 US), since we were “friends”, after all.
As we drove away, the bizarre nature of that experience for me just made me want to “laugh and cry at the same time” (so to speak).
My only regret was that since we were friends and left on such good terms, I wish I would have asked to have my picture taken with him. The next day I saw a police officer and asked him if I could get my picture taken with him (so you could see what they look like), and he asked why. I told him “for fun” and he said something like– “That is not fun. Why would you want to have fun?”
A few minutes later, I saw another officer, so I took a picture of him as I was walking past. I didn’t think he noticed, until he kind of shouted at me –
“You! Come here.”
“Yeah?” (thinking to myself – ‘uh-oh, here we go again’)
“What did you just take? Can you show me the picture you just took?”
So I showed him, and he was not happy about it. He walked me to his colleague on a bike to discuss the matter. They asked me a lot of harsh and pointed questions about why I was in Uganda, and looked through all my bags. I had just bought some books, and the policeman on the bike really liked one of them and asked if he could have it. I told him, “no way, I just bought that” – and he seemed to understand. Somehow through the conversation, we laughed a couple of times, and then everyone felt a little more at ease. I offered to delete the picture so we could all leave as friends, and they agreed to that. I then thanked them for their time and kindness in wanting to meet me, and told them I needed to go because I was late for something.
They told me in a strict manner not to take pictures of anyone without permission, and I agreed that was probably the polite thing to do. As I started to leave, I took a couple steps and then stopped. I turned around back to them and asked them if I could get my picture taken with them, and they said they would really like that! So here it is. ?
The first picture of us together was taken by a random Ugandan guy that was walking past. When that didn’t work as well as I hoped, I just took the next one by holding my arms out and clicking.
The picture earlier in this blog entry is of a policeman actually doing something very useful here(directing traffic). There are too many crazy traffic jams, and at those times, you are grateful to see the police try to bring some order to the choas.
• Anyone else have any experiences while traveling where they felt like they were expected to bribe someone?
• Or, if you come from a country where bribes to government officials, teachers, police, and so on is the normal thing – what do you think about it? If you think it should be changed, any ideas on how?
One of the kids that someone I met here takes care of here said he was thinking about being a judge when he grows up. When asked why, he said, “Really good corruption money.”
And this picture of the Kampala city clock is just in case you were wondering…
I liked coming across this sign on the main street in Kampala city-center (click on it to see the full image). Maybe it is symbolic of what happens to people when they come to Uganda.
Well, in reference to my last blog entry, I knew I could do better if I had more time. So I went back yesterday (my first free day) and decided to spend as much time as I could with these kids – to find out more about who they really are, what their life is like, and what their real needs are.
Finding the boys
After making the 2 hour journey from Kampala to Jinja I figured I would start by going to the “American Super Market”. Only I did not see a single kid there – and it started to rain, so I was afraid I wouldn’t see any.
Well, on my way to the taxi park one kid popped out of nowhere with his hand outstretched.
I tried to talk to him, but he did not understand either English or the little of Lugandan that I have learned. A parking guard came over and tried to help me speak with him. Within a short period of time, three more of the kids came over.
We walked to a little table under an overhang where we could get out of the rain and I could talk a more with them. The guard and a man at the next table over tried to help translate my questions and explain to me more about what they knew of who these kids were and where they came from. The man who was helping me ended up being a teacher at a local primary school – a school with 600 children attending, 300 of which are orphans.
Learning more about who they are
These particular kids I was speaking with (whose names I found out were Mio, Moru, Ocuro, Abra, and Shira) actually came from the northern part of Uganda and didn’t speak much Lugandan or English at all, so even these men had difficulty communicating with them. But slowly we were able to get more information. They are from the Karamajou tribe, and came to Jinja either because of the insurgency (where their fathers had been killed) or simply because it was too dry and they could not grow any food. I asked the kids where they stayed and they told me “Masese” – a little squatter camp area out away from town for refugees. I asked them if they would take me to see it, and they agreed to.
The teacher walked with us to help translate. As we walked through town it seemed like more and more boys kept joining us until everyone in town was looking at our little parade. Many of the boys followed us to the edge of town, but did not want to go with me to Masese. Later as we were walking the little ones that came with said in Lugandan “The other ones had fear.” I asked why, but they did not give much of an answer, other than that they did not want me to see where they lived.
But five boys walked with us the whole way, playing with their “toys” (an old tire and used CDs they found on the street) as we walked. And it was a long walk – through a little squatter camp area, over a railroad track, through a huge field of corn – and during our walking we talked. The teacher found out that not all of them were orphans, as they still had at least one parent, and that some had already been helped by one NGO to be able to start going to school.
Without mentioning that I was the one who was the mzungu (white person), I told the teacher about the M&M story from last week and asked him to see if any of these boys had been there and what they did after the car drove away. I was touched to find out I was wrong about what happened. One of the boys explained that there were not enough M&Ms for everyone, so they broke some of them in half in order to give some to each boy.
Visiting where they live
Finally we reached near the place that they lived. I smelled it before I could see it – as there was a stench from a waste area which we had to walk past.
Shortly after passing it, we came to a crowd of a few adults standing and helping feed a couple dozen dirty little children who were seated on the ground. As soon as they saw me many of them gave surprised cries of “mzungu.”
In this house, someone had just passed away, and so they were in morning. It is tradition when this happens for visitors to come, sign the guest notebook, and leave some money – which I did. I then asked them if it would be OK if I took a picture, and they actually loved the idea. They wanted me to take as many as possible, in each place of Masese that I visited (one woman even requesting that I hold her baby for the picture).
We went one by one to each of the homes of the boys and heard a little more of their story. As one example, the boy in this picture lost his father recently, killed while fighting in the army, and his mother was left with 8 kids – some of which are pictured here. Everywhere we passed, kids (and some adults) would say excitedly “mzungu” and wave to me from their houses or alleys. We met the living members of the families of each of these five boys, and each wanted a picture taken. Each of them was in a difficult situation. I found the names of organizations that were already helping them. I gave the mothers just a small amount of money, and also this time had a lot more M&Ms – to make sure that each child could have at least one.
After talking for quite a while with them, it became time to go.
As we walked out of the settlement to the main road, the kids who walked with us kept asking when they would see me again?
“Anytime,” the teacher said – which he told me means you are not committing to anything.
As we climbed onto the back of a “boda boda” (a motorcycle that acts as a taxi) the teacher told me that they were going to miss their new friend.
The boda motorcycle had a hard time getting started with our weight (the driver, the teacher, and me) so the driver asked the kids to help push – and soon we had enough momentum that they waved to me as we drove away.
It is still a sad situation, however you look at it. But I guess at least this time I did not leave feeling like I had made the situation even worse.
– I took a little more time to find out some more about who they really were and what their needs were.
– I acted much more out of concern than guilt or expediency.
– I went into the situation knowing I needed a lot more M&Ms and with a better distribution method (I made them line up one by one).
– I gave money directly to the mothers and the teacher, who would hopefully get them things the kids need the most.
– I asked the teacher to also give me the names of the organizations that seem to be doing the most to help them already – which I can now contribute to.
– I also got the address for the primary school, as one of my friends who is a teacher in the US (VeNicia) wanted to get her kids to put together a package for them. I emphasized to the teacher that it should be a two-way thing and the kids in Africa should also give something to the kids in the US, even if it was just pictures they drew.
– [Here is a link to comments from the previous entry with some initial ideas about how the specific experience might be analogous to development/aid in general]
Still, my heart goes out to them. I realize that my impact may not be great or transformative for them, but I can at least feel some peace in believing there are actually some things we can do to make the situation a little better for them. And, conversely, that their kindness, noble spirit, and hospitality, regardless of their situation, has also made my life situation better too.
Maybe it is strange, but just looking at the pictures again and hearing their voices in my head makes me miss those kids (my “new friends”) already.
I did something this last week that I immediately regretted and continue to feel bad about – wanting to help but honestly feeling as if the situation was worse after my arrival than before.
I’m asking for your thoughts in what I could have done differently.
Thinking about it, I have started to see the experience as an analogy for how aid/development is generally given and received in Africa.
I was in a little village about an hour and a half outside Kampala, checking on some options of places that I can bring the participants of the upcoming TEDC conference. A friend of a friend was kind enough to offer me a ride back to Kampala, and so as a thank you I wanted to buy something to share with him.
Funny enough, we drove past the “American Super Market” (which was run by people from India) so in addition to taking a picture, I went inside to look for something to share. I got some peanut m&ms, and just outside the store gave some to this friend, a girl he was talking to, and then just to be nice also to the guard sitting outside the front door.
Before I knew it, a dirty little pair of hands attached to a cute little dirty orphan popped out in front of me in a motion of wanting some too.
My first thought was compassion, “Of course I want to do something nice for this little guy, when I have been given so much and he has been given so little, due to no fault of his own.” Just as I went to pour a couple in his hands, I was jostled as another pair of slightly bigger dirty hands pushed the other ones out of the way in order to try and catch the candy. Then another pair of dirty hands attached to a cute little dirty orphan joined them, and another, and another, until in what seemed like a matter of seconds, I was surrounded by hands and orphans. A lot of them had left their places sitting on the street near the building and now surrounded me. (someone told me nearly one in four children in Uganda is an orphan, mainly due to AIDS – although most of them get taken into live with extended family, these ones looked like they lived on the street)
I quickly counted heads (15-20) and how many candies were left in the bag (about 11) – not enough to go around.
I looked over to my companion for some advice or help; he just shook his head at me (like “stupid mzungo”) and walked quickly across the street to the car to start it because he was in a rush to get back to Kampala.
I obviously looked confused and at this point the kids were kind of pushing each other for spots at the front so that they didn’t get left out.
My first thought was to simply do nothing and keep the candies to myself so that it would be “fair” (or at least equally unfair for each of them) – but that thought made me feel selfish and guilty.
I was trying to think quickly but my friend was already in the car and it seemed like more and more anxious kids kept coming over and surrounding me.
So I just light tossed the bag towards them while I broke free of the crowd and hurried across the street to get in the nice, comfortable, clean car.
I looked back just once to see what happened, and instead of the candies being spread as equally and fairly as possible among all the orphans, they had fought and struggled over them until one or two of the bigger kids won all of them and the rest got none.
By then we had driven away.
Maybe you can see now why this situation keeps bothering me.
My question for you:
What could/should I have done differently?
Feel free to give simple answers or ones in which you creatively think out of the box. And don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings either, I’m asking for your honest thoughts.
After I get some answers to these questions, I’ll share a bit about how it seems like an analogy for current aid/development situations in Africa in general. But for now, I’m just interested in how you think I could have done things different with this particular incident?
Being in Africa, and reading about so much corruption, I reflected again on meeting Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday.
Time magazine (in their July issue) did a cover story on 8 lessons from his leadership principles. Coming across an interesting book in the Amsterdam airport about the history of Africa deepened my realization of how unique of an individual and leader he was. Much of the history of the African continent is a sad stream of leaders who have used their positions to exploit their people. In the case of Nelson Mandela it seems that the potential for absolute power did not lead to absolute corruption.
I read his biogaraphy “Long Walk to Freedom,” visited Robben Island, where he was a prisoner for over 20 years, and was later lucky enough to meet him at his home in Qunu shortly after his term as president had ended. His warm, welcoming personality and his self-depreciating sense of humor make him easy to like. His lack of bitterness over the harshness and struggle he went through makes him easy to admire. Sure he’s not perfect, but how many other political leaders do you know of where people will spontaneously make up songs about how much they love him/her? I heard those songs on the streets of South Africa, and still hear people throughout Africa and the world praise his name – and I think for good reason. He is definitely one of my favorite world leaders.
Do you have any favorite leaders? If so, why?
I wonder if anything has more impact on our future than the questions we ask?
First, if we take it on more of a micro-level, imagine going into any random meeting. You will see things differently and have a different experience if you are asking “How can I get out of this meeting as quickly as possible?” vs. “What meaningful things can I learn and/or contribute during this time?” vs “How can I make sure I don’t embarrass myself in this meeting like I did last time?”
The questions we ask reveal some about the assumptions we take into the situation, and also have an impact on the consequent experience we have.
As another simple example, when meeting a person imagine asking: “What does he/she think of me?” vs. “What is his/her life like?” vs. “How can I make this person’s life a little better?” vs “Why am I even talking to this person?”
Depending on which question(s) you are asking (consciously or subconsciously) you will most likely have a different perspective, experience, and outcome.
As I was conducting a review the last 10 years of research on papers presented at the bi-annual CATaC conference (Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication), I was again impressed by the questions we ask in a research context. They are all laden with assumptions (usually unstated) and have an impact on how the research is conducted – including what end up being the findings and recommended future research.
For this paper we looked at:
• Who is asking the questions? (where are they from, what discipline do they represent, who do they work with)
• What questions are they asking?
• How do they go about finding answers to their questions? (what literature do they cite, what methods do they use, what population do they sample, etc.)
• What answers do they find?
• What suggestions do they have for future research?
Additionally, I kept asking myself, what assumptions might they be making in the questions they address?
Even working with great colleagues like Javier and Brooke, it was a ton of work (reading at least some sections of all 199 papers) – but perhaps one of the best things I have done professionally or personally. I now have a better idea for what has already been done in this field, what gaps there are, and what lines of inquiry have been more fruitful than others. On another level, I am more conscious of the assumptions behind the questions I ask and the potential impact they might have. I wonder, out of all the possible options, are these really the most valuable questions?
• In your personal and/or professional life, have you ever had an experience where you noticed that when you changed the questions you were asking it altered the way you saw the situation?
• Do you ever stop to examine the assumptions you are making which led to the questions you are asking?
• Of all the questions you could ask, why did you pick the ones you are asking? Do you think they are the most important or valuable ones you could be asking or is it for some other reason?
As a side line of thought:
• Do you think we ask ourselves enough questions? Why as we age do we seem to lose some of the curiosity of children and ask less questions?
• If not all questions are created equal, how can I lead myself to asking better and better questions?
I am here now getting all the last minute details organized for the upcoming international conference and workshop on Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries (TEDC 2008). Just for fun, here are some of the interesting images that jumped out at me today while walking the streets of Kampala, Uganda…
What if you are not the “management”? Then is it OK to put up posters?
Aren’t you glad that some advertisements don’t come with pictures?
You probably couldn’t even comprehend this hall if you saw it!
I walked in here and asked them if they could make me beautiful. They said they had a lot of faith there, but not that much.
Don’t get your hopes up. No “slushees” inside.
And some others…
Everywhere I go, I am surprised how much people all over the world know about the U.S.
• When I was in Russia a couple weeks ago, a young man came up to me and asked me if I was from the US. Then he began to ask me all kinds of questions about the housing market and sub-prime loan crisis. He wanted to know when I thought the market was going to recover, and what the relationship was going to be between the stock market and the upcoming elections.
• When I was in France, a woman who was originally from Scotland but now living in Norway taught me some interesting things I didn’t know about the current US presidential political candidates.
• When I was in China, a few people talked to me about wanting to move to the U.S., one man describing to me the uniqueness of some of the freedoms we have.
• When I was in Finland, I heard a black man from Tanzania defend the current situation in America to a white woman from South Africa who was speaking against certain parts of it.
I know other countries are talked about (e.g. French president’s new wife, Spain wining the Euro 2008, Russia’s and Putin, Zimbabwe’s election scandal…) but the situation in the US seems to command so much of the discussion of ordinary people around the world. To be honest, sometimes the discussion has made me feel somewhat awkward to be from the US, and at other times it has made me feel some degree of pride – but always it makes me think what a big responsibility it is to be the focal point of so much discussion.
I heard the CNN news host Glenn Beck talk at the Freedom Festival on the BYU campus about how much America craves for a leader, but how the greatness of America was never found in Washington DC or any of its politicians.
He talked about how in America we all now have been bombarded with talk and recognition of all of the problems and all of the dangers we face – and now the whole world knows all our problems. We often talk so much about the problems we currently face, that we totally miss the blessings and opportunities that we so easily take for grant it. So what is it that contributes to the ways in which America is great?
There has been a lot of new technologies and innovations which have come from America:
• Light bulb
• Assembly line
• Artificial heart
• Safety pins
• Water tower
• Polio vaccine
• Cotton candy
• Blue jeans
But this is not really what he thought makes America great.
Where is the greatness?
From his message, at least part of greatness of America is captured in two phrases:
1. “We the People” – the first three words on the Declaration of Independence – in large print. This is the belief that government does not solve our problems, but we solve them by serving our families and communities. Glenn Beck said: “We can solve any problem. Not in Washington, but right here. The answer never comes from Washington, it never has… The answer comes like a beacon in these three words – ‘We the People’”
2. “In God we Trust” – this phrase should bring humility, not arrogance. It is the belief that if we humble ourselves and trust in God, He can guide us into an uncertain and difficult future to do things that will benefit ourselves and those we care about (both in and out of the country).
George Washington, the first president, was a good example of this – not looking for power of government position, not interested in being a politician, but simply in doing his duty to serve for the sake of freedom. Glenn Beck pointed out that when George Washington was making his stance at Valley Forge during the war of independence, he was just a short way from the government capitol (which at that time was Philadelphia). During the cold winters, his wife was the one who made shirts and pants for the soldiers. “The government and congress did not do much to help them then. The situation has not changed that much today.”
As a strange side note, one of the news stories in the U.S. this year is that the fireworks displays tonight might not be as spectacular this year because it was more difficult to get fireworks from China due to the recent earthquake.
So even in talking about the positive aspects of American society, I can not get beyond the reality of how interconnected the world is now-a-days.
Since we are so interconnected, I’m curious – from an international perspective what do you think have been some of the positive and negative impacts America has made on the world?
Most of us have been lucky enough to have had at least one great teacher enter our lives who somehow resonates with us and who changes the way that we look at ourselves and the world – awakening us from a sleep we did not know we were in.
Dr. Dillon K. Inouye, who passed away a couple days ago, was that kind of a teacher, mentor, and friend for me – literally changing the course of my life through the things I learned in his classes and from his example. Whenever I had a tough professional or personal question I could go to him and was constantly inspired and uplifted by his insight and perspective.
In honor of this great man, and also good teachers and friends everywhere (regardless of your profession), I wanted to pass on this link. It is to an article Dr. Inouye authored on Indiana University’s IDT Record concerning his perspective and invitation on what the central role of Instructional Design and Technology could be, and I think it also applies to all service oriented professions (as well as life more generally).
“Help: Toward a New Ethics-Centered Paradigm for Instructional Design and Technology”
“How should we define Instructional Design and Technology (IDT)? What is the meaning of our discipline? What is the meaning of our profession? A first step toward answering this question would be to determine which of our many goals and purposes is our central, or ultimate, end. What is our central mission and toward what should our efforts be directed? Until we could agree on a central concern, defining our field would be impossible. An inability to define IDT would be unfortunate, indeed, for no other success could compensate for a discipline’s failure to understand its fundamental nature and reason for existing. “If one does not know to which port one is sailing,” said Seneca, “no wind is favorable (1969).”
This article invites the discipline and its profession to consider a new alternative for the central concern of IDT. To establish a context, it first reviews three traditional centers of concern. It then proposes a fourth alternative so apt and so obvious that it is almost invisible. The article then uses Aristotle’s categories of the rational intellect to highlight the principled differences among the four centers; and finally, it explores some general and specific implications of the shift in focus for the discipline, the profession, and the constituent subfields of both.” http://www.indiana.edu/%7Eidt/articles/documents/ethics.htm
Although my friend and mentor Dr. Inouye is now gone, I know I will continue to learn from and be inspired by the things he has taught me in the many years to come (as well as laugh at the memory of his corny jokes). I’m sure I will also pass on the best things I learned from him to those that I am lucky enough to teach. Perhaps that is at least one mark of a great teacher – which Dillon Inouye truly was.