Dirt Roads and Deep Conversation

It is currently dry season where I live, and we are having an extra dry one. I’ve heard rumors that we are going through one of the worst droughts since the 80’s. If you truly want to experience the effects of human caused climate change, move to a country that is economically dependent on agriculture without the infrastructure and resources to overcome bad crop yields. Think of the effects of a drought in the U.S, then imagine not having crop insurance, irrigation systems, and all the other stuff that limits the damage. Naturally as yields worsen, families get desperate and struggle, available work goes down, and crime eventually goes up. It’s not good for anybody. Not to mention that malnutrition is already a problem and currently being worsened by increased food prices.
Another side effect of this dry season has been on the roads, the unpaved variety of roads that is. The muddy roads of rainy season have all dried up and due to the extremes of this dry season have now surpassed being merely dry and have turned into powder. In an attempt to explain what exactly I mean by powder, picture a road made of powdered sugar, that is the texture of the dirt roads here currently. Some of the tracks left by passing cars go several inches deep just as the ones left on snow covered roads during the middle of a Missouri winter, and you can watch as the motorcycles struggle to maintain any forward motion just as one would struggle to ride a bicycle on a beach.
Outside of making it difficult for the boda bodas (motorcycles) to travel, all of this also creates dust. And not just a little dust, but so much dust it’s really difficult to explain in words. If you were to be walking down the road as a car went past, you’d end up looking like Timmy Timmons from the movie ‘The Sandlot’ after all of the vacuums explode on him while he’s in the tree house.
All of this dust means you generally want to keep the windows up in the taxi as you make your way down these roads.
If one were to have A/C this wouldn’t be a problem.
If one were to only be riding with the legal amount of people in the car this wouldn’t be a problem.
However, taxis here don’t typically have A/C and they don’t typically adhere to keeping to the legal amount of people. Let me tell you, when it’s hot and extremely dusty outside, the last thing on earth you want to do is pile in a car (we’re talking lap sitting and seat sharing) with no A/C and then proceed to drive down a dusty dirt road like it’s the final stage of a rally. To get home however, it’s what I do. Needless to say, the first thing I do when getting home is bath. I also have developed a new appreciation for khaki colored clothing.
It’s now been over a year since I moved to Uganda, and while most of these things are just a part of normal life here, it still feels crazy at times. From time to time I have to stop and remind myself that it’s a completely normal life for millions of Uganda’s that have always lived here. I remember I’m not special or earning a Cub Scout badge for surviving in harsh conditions. It’s a weird feeling on one hand to feel as though you are “roughing it” and on the other to be reminded that there are millions of people around you living just as you are, living just like you, often with even less.


Unrelated, this past week I was able to attend a training on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS using soccer as a medium of education. The program is called Grass Roots Soccer and you should totally check it out because they do amazing work. The gist of the program, as briefly stated above, is combating HIV using what people love to play all across Africa, Football, AKA soccer. This is a researched and proven method of diffusing education to the youth, who are often most susceptible to getting HIV. Part of it is playing fun activities with positive messages reinforcing behavior change, and part of it is creating a safe place to have honest conversations about HIV and what it means in many of the people’s lives here.
During the training we were able to go through most of the activities that we will soon be leading, and a few of them really stood out, not because how fun they are, but from what I was able to learn. At this training we were able to bring along our counterparts who are all Ugandans, and also the people we volunteers often depend on to do anything within our community. From these activities I was able to not only learn a lot more about my counterpart Joshua and several of the other volunteers counterparts, but just how different growing up and living in our two different countries truly is. One of these activities was about creating meaningful conversations, sharing what your hopes, regrets, and favorite moments from your life are. We grouped up for these conversations and it was half Americans and half Ugandans within the groups, and while sharing it was evident the similarities between answers—While all different, most had few regrets, hoped for better, and favorite moments always involved being around the very people they loved.

However, there was one big difference. Opportunity. That is, opportunity for obtaining what you had hoped for. Whether that was going back to school, getting married, or obtaining your dream job. While no one in the group had a free pass to attaining any of these things, half of the people in the group exposed the challenges they faced and it was easy to see that their challenges were far greater. It was a slice of humble pie to say the least. And while I’m sure it’s no surprise to most readers that people here are born with less opportunity than the average American, it’s still something we avoid confronting in why they have less. People here don’t want a handout, they want opportunity. A lot of people view foreign aid as a hand out and it’s not. It’s a means of creating an opportunity that might not have been available before.
Basically, the key message (at the training we learned to have “Key messages” at the end of every session), to apply at home or wherever you are, is to have conversations with people you don’t know and actually listen to them, don’t assume people getting help are a drain on society living in a government funded safety net, often times it’s not a safety net but the scaffolding that helps them build a life and create opportunity they might not have otherwise had, and last, always, always travel with some khaki colored clothing.

“A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water. “What are you doing, son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.” The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. “It sure made a difference to that one,” he said.”
― Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

“…the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect.”
― Zadie Smith, White Teeth



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