Learn something from everyone

I returned to Mbale tonight after spending some time in Lira and its surrounding villages.  Long bus rides and new towns allowed me to practice an old habit: learning something new from everyone I meet. Years ago, a friend said that getting to know me was like a job interview. I think I’ve toned it down since then, but I still ask lots of questions. I’m offering a couple anecdotes from the trip as an apology for the recent dearth of posts. (More on the actual work I was doing later.)

1. Our translator on the project

She is young, educated, and from Lira. I had a copy of the Daily Monitor (the opposition newspaper) in front of me while we waited for another colleague, so I used it as an excuse to talk about Ugandan politics. Like many Ugandans, she feels that Museveni has been better than past leaders (the bar is pretty low) but that 25 years in office is enough. She worries that people say they want change, but will ultimately vote for the devil they know. Regardless of what happens, she predicts that next year’s elections will lead to riots.

2. The Lira director of the Uganda Boy Scouts

I met him on the bus to Lira. He was in his 50s, still wearing his scout uniform because he was on the way back from a retreat. We talked about how Uganda had changed over his life. He felt the 1960s were the best years, and that it’s all been down hill since then. He’s hopeful that recent oil discoveries will lead to more resources for providing services to the “common man in the village”. It was also interesting to hear what he was interested in. He wanted to know how the US compared to Uganda, especially how the prices were different (how much would a bus ticket cost? how much would the bus cost?), what it meant to be poor there, what health care was like, what sports we play. He also translated a conversation that he was having with other passengers: they were making fun of him for only having three children. He was amused to know that I was one of three children as well, and that this was a normal family size in the US.

3. Just looking around town

I spotted a lot more muzungus in Lira town than in Mbale. The region definitely had an up-tick in NGO activity a few years ago when the LRA insurgency led to a number of local IDP camps. Support has declined now that many of the camps have disbanded, but there is a still a noticeable presence of foreigners for such a small town. The newest cars in downtown were all SUVs with NGO logos on the side.