May 31, 2010

My First African Prison

There is a prison complex very close to where we live, it is about a 15 minutes walk and is called the Luzira Prison. At Luzira Prison, there are four separate units, one for those waiting for trials called remand, one womens prison, one maximum security prison, and Murchison Bay Prison. The complex is home to all maximum security prisoners in Uganda and serves as the referral hospital for all prisoners.

The prison population in Uganda is approximately 26,000 Approximately, 60% of all prisoners are on remand, meaning they are being held prior to being convicted and are merely waiting for trial. Most prisons have more prisoners than the intended capacity and therefore overcrowding is the norm. For example, Luzira Prison Complex  is the largest prison with approximately to be 6,000 prisoners while its intended capacity is around 1,500.

It was surreal to visit a prison in Africa. I have visited multiple prisons in the United States and knew that prisons here would be different, but I just expected different to be entirely negative. But the truth is, although the inmates do not have adequate food, educational, or health supplies, they have the freedom of movement and have a sense of community. Inmates in Ugandan are not caged like American inmates. They are not viewed as dangerous or something to fear. They wander around the grounds, were able to come shake my hand, and could gather freely.

African Prisons Project works on multiple levels to enhance the positive qualities of African prisons and to improve the negative qualities. A few years ago, APP was able to build and furnish multiple resource centers at Luzira Remand Prison.

This is the library that APP built. It is quite impressive and is fully furnished with books and three computers. The walls are decorated with inmates' artwork. 

For some odd reason the man in charge in the military uniform wouldn't let me take pictures outside of the areas that APP improved.

May 30, 2010

Meet Jonathan

Jonathan lives in the APP house and helps with the grounds and also volunteers at Mulago Hospital.

He is so helpful to me. He has been my escort, tour guide, and resident expert of all things Uganda. I think he assumes I know very little and points out everything and explains everything. It is fabulous.

In return, I answer all of his questions of the US. He was especially shocked that I do not have a maid at home and that American men do not hold hands.

i stole a baby

Meet Vivianne

She is the resident baby and is sitting on my lap as I type. She was afraid of me for awhile, but I forced her to adjust. If you look carefully she has snowmen on her outfit, most here will never see snow and do not know what snowmen are. Precious.

The House I Live In (with Alexander posing on the balcony)

Luzira Nights

First off, I live in Luzira, a district in Kampala. People refer to it as a suburb, but I do not think I agree. It is more on the outskirts of the city, but not a suburb in the sense of a suburb in America.

Last night on our way to a discotheque, we stopped at jaja's (meaning grandma). There had been lugandan rap music blaring from this party for the last hour. I did not know what to expect as we walked towards jaja's, but honestly, I had no time to develop expectations. We turned a corner and myself and Alexander of APP were rushed by the party goers.

They grabbed my hands and pulled me to the middle of the dance floor. I was greeted with hugs and handshakes that linger much longer than American handshakes and hugs. I felt comfortable instantly even though I was the only white person or "muzungu" in sight and everyone was staring at me.

The rest of the night we danced. Among children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents. The children grabbed my hands and the young men stared. Only one man came to dance with me, which led to an eruption of applause and laughter form the crowd.

There was no alcohol or food. The dance floor was dirt. We were dancing by the light of the stars and a few small lights from inside the small shanties they call homes. There were no decorations or preparations. It was just a simple party where everyone was smiling, laughing, and dancing their hearts out.

And Jonathan even said I was a good dancer...

May 28, 2010

Mulago Hospital

Today I journeyed in to the city of Kampala with Jonathan, who lives and helps at the APP house. Kampala is full of character and charm, but also full of dirt, dust, and lots of people.

Our journey started by climbing in to a 14 passenger matatu, which is basically a large taxi van that is very stuffy and a bit smelly. But on the bright side, they are cheap! We stopped to visit two shopping centers so I would know where to buy things I may need while staying here.

We then boarded another matatu to visit a patient at Mulago hospital that Jonathan had been helping care for. The hospital was not like any I have ever seen. There were patients on the floor on mats. Beds lined the hallways. People were suffering due to lack of blankets, space, medicine, and food.

While there I met a few amazing individuals who work to care for those who cannot afford healthcare. They gave me a tour, introduced me to a few patients, and tried to teach me a few words of Luganda, which I failed miserably at. The first patient I met did not speak English, yet her smile, hugs, and the way she held my hand conveyed that this woman, who was found ill on the streets and was now in a great amount of pain and sitting in the hospital hallways, was one of the kindest and most appreciative individuals I have ever met. She was delighted to be in my presence, her face lit up at my blue eyes, light skin, and youth. I think I made her day, and she made mine.

I have internet!

Being in Africa has definitely highlighted my dependency on the internet and my blackberry. In the states it truly serves as more than a calendar, directions, and communication, but also provides a sense of security.

But since I have arrived at APP's headquarters in Kampala, Uganda, I have stable and hopefully dependable internet. I am free to google and email as I please. Another perk to having internet is I am now able to share pictures with you from the last week.

I stalked this little boy in Hyde Park. He was the cutest thing, ever. He had a thick British accent and was adorned in the most stereotypical British outfit one could imagine. He was also playing hid and go seek with his friend who was not on roller skates and thought it was quite funny to hop fences and hide in places the other boy on roller skates could not get to. I could not help but giggle. This event made me think of Judy and how tickled she would have been by the two youngsters.

Did I mention we saw giraffes? While in Kenya, we stayed on a beautiful piece of land about 2 hours outside of Nairobi. The land serves many purposes and is the largest piece of land privately owned in Kenya. The most interesting fact about the land is that it is home to 10% of the remaining giraffes in the world! I will be returning to this estate and staying for two weeks at the Research Center there. For those of you concerned I would be living in a hut with no electricity this is the bed I slept in during our visit this past week...

May 27, 2010

I left a week ago...

and have more stories to tell then you are willing to sit and read.

I am now in Kenya and I am definitely a complete stranger to the everything Kenyan. I am so stranger to it my body has been rejecting it and has not let me keep many things in my stomach for the last four days. Beyond the few days of nausea and lack of food, it is beyond what I had imagined and hoped for. The people and the land are beautiful. They are both diverse and giving.

My travel companions for the last few days have been two individuals from the organization I am working with this summer, African Prisons Project. It has been amazing to spend time with motivated young people who are making a huge and positive impact in a place so far from their home, the United Kingdom. It is also refreshing to be with individuals who are compassionate about penal reform and are excited to speak of the ills of prisons around the world.

Instead of sharing all of my stories, I will share one. It comes from our visit of the Courson's Secondary School for Boys in Gil gil, Kenya. The three of us were asked to speak to a room of eager and well-mannered Kenyan boys who were brought in to the school by the Courson family due to their impoverishment. I spoke after my two British companions who are accustomed to speaking English in Eastern Africa. Although, English is spoken regularly and fluently by all, it is not American English, but a slower, kinder, quieter, more vowelled English. Needless to say, the boys loved and laughed at my quick, lazy, loud English. As their bright white eyes intently stared at the clueless American girl, I doubt they understood a word or even knew I was speaking English! The erupted in laughter and applause twice during my short speech and I promise they were not laughing because I intended to be funny.

I leave for Uganda tonight where I will meet the remainder of the African Prisons Project staff and become acquainted with the country, its people, and the prisons there.

May 22, 2010

Wanted:a travel buddy!

I know that I have only been traveling alone for like two days, but seriously. Lord am I an extrovert. Now I do not miss all the compromising and crabbiness that sometimes goes along with traveling with someone else, but I do miss having someone to share the small things.

Like the small red headed British child on roller skates yelling at his friend on foot who was totally cheating at hide n go seek by going on to the grass. (Pictures to come)

And when the guy from Mexico asked me the question he has always wanted to ask an American, "Can Americans make a British accent?".

Or the goofy European haircuts and outfits that are that much goofier when spotted with a friend.

I only have one more day of solitude because I am off to Africa tomorrow! Two colleagues, Alexander and Hannah, and I will be spending three days in Nairobi, Kenya before we head to Uganda.

May 21, 2010

Stop 1: O'Hare to Heathrow to Hyde Park

I made it to London. The headquarters of African Prisons Project and the first stop on my multi-destination trip.

I flew business standby from O'Hare to Heathrow. It was almost the worst decision I have ever made, but turned in to one of the better. I literally got on the last flight to London of the day and got the last seat on the plane. And by last seat, I mean a seat in business class. I officially can never fly economy again. I was greeted with champagne. I had a multi-course meal. The flight attendant was friendly. My seat reclined all the way. It was amazing.

I do love to travel, but I must say the actual traveling part is dreadful. The sitting in airports, dragging luggage, figuring out the public tranportation, and walking to the hostel with your 44 pound backpack strapped to your back part is not fun. It is awful. But the relief of getting to your hostel/hotel, taking a shower, and taking your first stroll around a new city is always worth the grief.

I love London already. I spent time in Europe a few years ago and I had no idea how much I missed hearing multiple languages at one time and admiring the architecture and history and diverse people the continent has to offer.

May 18, 2010

Out of Africa

I watched the movie Out of Africa for the first time yesterday. I know, I know its a classic and yes I named my blog after it before seeing the movie. But in my defense, the movie was created two years before I was born!

First of all, lets talk about how dreamy Robert Redford is...

Alright, now that that is out of my system.

Although, the love story was heart wrenching and the scenery and wildlife awe worthy, the part of the movie that caught my attention the most was Meryl Streep's character Karen's sense of ownership over the land, the people, and the continent and the way Denys, Robert Redford's character, called her out on her sentiment, as only a lusty, wise, and rugged Redford could do. As Karen fell in love with the country and it's people, her desire grew to better them through education and protect those who had lived on the land she purchased.

Her efforts seemed ironic to me due to her invasion of their land, her belief that imposing English upon them would "help" them, and her blatant superiority complex. As I watched the movie and as Karen grew to appreciate the culture, I had hopes that she would shut down the school that taught English and realize the people were not suffering or ignorant or what have you. This was not case.

This frustration caused by Karen's efforts will most likely reappear throughout my summer, but who knows maybe I will be happily surprised.

Karen Blixen: Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.

May 15, 2010

Breaking Out of Cheesy-ness

So my dad said that my first post was "cheesy".

I find this ironic and conflicting. Mainly due to the fact that my Clinton School classmates relentlessly tease me about not being cheesy enough or "chumbaya" enough or touchy feely enough. (I apologize for my lack of hugs and limited emotional displays and my pragmatism/realism. Ryan Olson, if you are reading this, I love you dearly.)

So classmates, the man who raised me called me cheesy. I just wanted to point this out to you so that you have a better understanding of where I am coming from.

May 14, 2010

Breaking Out of my Comfort Zone

I lead a comfortable life, especially in comparison to most throughout the world. But when I describe my life as comfortable, I do not only mean in terms of always having food on the table, a roof over my head, and, in all honesty, having everything and anything my parents were able to provide me. I also mean in terms of always being able to stay within my comfort zone. Many would say I take risks and I suppose I have, yet they were always calculated and studied, and on my terms.

The trip I am about to embark on, a trip of a lifetime, is calculated and studied and planned and organized, in true Julie fashion. (I really like Excel spreadsheets and To Do lists) Yet this trip is to Africa. To three African nations. To learn about prisons there and how one organization can work to make them better. And although I have emailed every possible contact person too many times, made as many arrangements as possible, and created a day by day timeline of the next ten weeks of my life, I cannot truly prepare for this trip. I cannot mentally and emotionally prepare for Africa, let alone prepare myself to tour African prisons and speak with the inmates who lack basic necessities and rights. This trip is not on my terms. And I am working on accepting that.

I can only learn and experience and do my best. I will have to stray from my timelines, deadlines, and to do lists and hand the reigns over to my hosts and the people of Uganda, Kenya, and Sierra Leone to allow them to show me their countries and the struggles they face. I will become okay with that concept, even if it makes me a bit anxious. I will step out of my organized and calculated comfort zone to experience Africa and all of its struggles and all of its beauty.