Complex, Confusing, Contradictory…

Posted February 22, 2010 by rnmyers
Categories: Uncategorized

This is my experience in a nutshell: The Ugandan culture is complex, confusing and contradictory.  Parts of it are endearing, warm and wonderful; others I can’t even begin to wrap my head around.

On this trip, the OTM Uganda Seva Challenge group traveled pretty extensively through the cities and countryside villages, and what grabed me most is the resounding spirit of a resilient and strong Ugandan people.  I have witnessed extreme poverty, deadly pandemic disease, ungodly sanitation, as well as toxic air and water quality, yet wherever I went, I also noticed an underlying authentic joy, trust and a richness in community that I actually yearn for in my own community at home.

That said, there is a very strange dynamic; a juxtaposition of customs and morals.  Some of what I’ve heard and observed that exemplifies this is below.

A local land owner and village community chairman (kind of like a Mayor) called Sam,  told our group about the incredible Central Ugandan customs and rituals to honor the dead.   Ugandans will often exhaust everything they have for funerals, even going without eating,  to honor their dead. There are days and days of sacred pomp and ceremony. As Sam explains the rituals, I am filled with a sense of awe.  I think: ‘Wow, in States its typically a 2 hour viewing, then a couple of songs, a prayer or two, a few kind words and done.”

In contrast, I’m told that in Uganda there is stigma and dishonor in being widowed.  A widow is often chased off the land she rightfully inherits, and is forced to surrender everything after her husband dies.

Another example. One of our amazing guides and guardians for this trip was an Ugandan man named Joseph.  He is the Country Director for Building Tomorrow, the international NGO  which builds schools for vulnerable children all over sub-Saharan Africa.   As our group was returning from an excursion one night, we noticed that for the most part local shopkeepers leave their goods outside rather than locking them up indoors.  Joseph explains that the goods left out won’t be stolen because there is a community agreement about stealing.  If the thief is caught, community members, not police, go after the perpetrators.  Men caught stealing are beaten, while a female thief is forced to walk down the street naked after community members rip the clothes off her back.  As he told me about the community agreement my first thought was:  “There is no way that anything left unguarded outside a store in LA or New York would be there the next morning, no way!”

However, this is the same Uganda where it is common and customary for a woman to be a chased by a man and if she can outrun or outfight him, she wins her freedom, but, if he physically overcomes her, she is raped and forced to become his wife.

One more.   The able-bodied men, woman and children of Gayaza Village sing and pray as they haul wheelbarrows, carry bricks on their heads, and build walls for their Building Tomorrow/OTM community school.  Again, I think: “In my town, this is done by a company that has little connection to the actual community. How incredibly cool would it be to have community members working on our local schools.”

Yet, although up to 65% of people in communities like Gayaza Village have HIV – men, women and children known to have the disease are often humiliated, shunned and disgraced. Further still, this is the country that has introduced a law so punitive towards homosexuality that some human rights groups say that it would allow authorities to imprison and even kill homosexuals.

Yes, this culture is complex, confusing and contradictory.  However, the more that I think about it, I recognize that there is a good probability that statement is true for all cultures.

And then I re-member my yoga.  Yoga classes around the world often begin and end with the greeting Namaste’.  For me, namaste has become so much more than a nice word or greeting.  It is a way of being, a foundational way of life that invites me to find God in every moment, person, event or circumstance – even the complex, confusing and contradictory ones.    That’s what the mystics of old did and those of today do.   So that’s what I practice –  right here, right now – even though, I often can’t explain, don’t understand and many times don’t succeed.    However, in every cell of my being I know that in the words of one of my favorite teachers “everything happens exactly the way it is suppose to happen in order for our souls to transform.”  So I just keep doing what I know to do – practice.

Advertisements

An Unexpected Gift

Posted February 11, 2010 by rnmyers
Categories: Uncategorized

As I was standing outside the birthing center of the Bishop Asilli Clinic in the Luweero  District listening to one of the Nuns describe a typical day, Sally, our trip coordinator, began to beckon me into the delivery room.  She says; ‘there’s a baby coming.’

I enter a dingy, approximately 10 x 12 room with two old examination tables covered in what looks like white plastic garbage bags.   Two Ugandan women, experiencing intense labor pain, were being treated by an assistant.  Sarah, a member of the OTM group who is a Doula, was giving a woman who was clearly full term breathing instructions as she shared her “Emergen -C” infused water.   No water was available for patients.

Sarah introduced me to Margaret, who spoke little English and seemed disgusted and confused about why I was there.   Drawing closer to Margaret, the repulsive stench coming from her body nearly knocked me out.  It had clearly been a long, long time since soap and water had touched her.

Another contraction began and Margaret reached out for me.  Fearing that I might faint from the funk, I took a step back.  Then I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and took a deep cleansing breath.  A sister was asking for help, the funk didn’t matter.   I held out my hand.  Margaret swiftly pulled her whole face between my breast.

When an examination by one of the Nuns determined that she was only 8 centimeters dilated, Margaret was  told to get off the table and go outside.  Reluctantly and only with help from Sarah and I, she got off the table and went to an area in back of the clinic.  There we met Margaret’s sister.

On all fours in the grass, Margaret indicated that she needed to defecate and did  – right there on the grass.  Margaret’s sister gathered banana leaves to clean her and Sarah handed me her scarf for wetting to wipe Margaret’s face as there were no towels.  Margaret, still on all fours in the grass, writhed and cried.

Sarah and I, insisting that Margaret was near delivery, coaxed the attendants to re-examine her.  They now agreed that it was time.  I held Margaret closely as Sarah continued her coaching work.

Struggling to position her on the garbage bags, Sally held one leg, as I held the other, and together, we scooted Margaret in position.  For an instant, I wonder how in the world I got here – in a hot room overwhelmed with the stank of body oder, defecation, urine and blood, assisting a woman who is most likely HIV-positive in childbirth.  I silently thank God, we open her legs a little wider on the stirrup-less table,  and see the emergence of the baby’s head.  After two more big pushes, we joyfully witness Margaret’s baby boy enter the world, exercising great lungs, weighing in at 3 kilometers. Margaret sees her baby boy and smiles big.

As the child is taken away, Margaret smiles at me, lays my hands on her belly and indicates for me to rub.  When the nurses return their attention to Margaret,  I continued to massage and jump as the placenta is released.  Margaret smiled big again.

Sally, Sarah and I joyously celebrated Margaret and her beautiful baby boy, recognizing that even with all the inadequacies, they were both very lucky.   Most woman in Uganda’s villages deliver their babies in a bush.   The death rate of woman and children in childbirth is insanely tragic.

When I inquired about Margaret and the baby the next day,  I was told that she was gone.  Mothers in Uganda spend hours, not days recouping after childbirth.  Though, I’ll most likely never see her again, I am grateful beyond words for the deep connection I experienced with this sister on the path.  Truly grateful beyond words.

Mama is Uganda Bound Again!

Posted February 5, 2010 by rnmyers
Categories: Uncategorized

Today is the day!  My bags are ready to close.  The 50 pound big boy filled with dental, medical and school supplies is ready to load in the car.  Soon I’ll be headed to the airport – embarking on my 2nd trip to Uganda.

Now, with all the practicalities handled, I can begin to really bring conscious contemplation to what is right in front of me.  I’m a set an intention, let it go, do the next good, right, honest thing kind of girl. The intention that I set for this trip and actually for all of 2010 is – ‘to serve’.  I’ve got a lot of inspiration for this intention including and especially the 22 other women on this Uganda journey.  And… the picture that I’ve attached below is another big source of inspiration for me and has been since my first trip to Uganda in March 2008.

One of the organization that we will be working with on this trip is called Building Tomorrow.  They are, believe it or not, based in Indianapolis, IN just like me.  I had no idea of they even existed until my first Uganda trip.  Building Tomorrow builds schools in Uganda.  I’ll write a lot more about them in coming blogs.  Anyway, when Seane and I met them on the last trip they took us to a village where a school was being built.    The materials are furnished by Building Tomorrow, but the school is built by the community.  The picture of below is of a woman in that community who was out in the hot, hot sun, wheelbarrow and tools in hand working to build a school!    She is the guardian of the child with her in the photo and while we know he is directly related, it was unclear whether he was a grandchild or great grandchild. We were told that the generations in between were dead due to AIDS.    All I know and my big inspiration is – seeing how she wanted that baby to go to school and what she was willing to do for it.

I so hope I have the chance to catch up on all of this while there, but really it doesn’t matter.  I am still so inspired!  I can’t wait to get out there and help build a school!!!

.  

And okay….now that you all know I’m from Indianapolis!  It would be just wrong to end this post without saying GO COLTS!!