Monday, June 28, 2010

First column from Uganda


Another good day here. I have wireless Internet access, a generous cell phone calling plan, and a new manly SUV. Planning continues for my first seminar, in Fort Portal, Uganda, in two weeks. I'm driving a little around town, which is daunting because of heaving traffic, gigantic potholes, and left side of the road driving.

For complete details on my peace journalism project here in Uganda, see

For more information on peace journalism in general, see

An impatient beginning in Uganda

The Parkville Luminary, 7-2-10

Damn, I’m impatient. And that’s a bad thing to be when you’re trying to get settled in to life in another country.

As you read this, I’ve been in Uganda for a little more than a week. I’m on a sabbatical/educational leave from my post at Park University for the next 11 months, directing and teaching a peace, electoral, and developmental journalism project. Peace Journalism teaches reporters and editors that the choices they make about what they cover and how they cover it have an enormous potential to either incite violence or create an atmosphere conducive to peace. Through seminars for media professionals, community mobilization efforts, and a public service announcement campaign, the project aims to prevent media-induced violence before, during, and after the March 2011 Ugandan presidential elections. This effort is funded with three separate U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development grants totaling about $270,000.

Ever since I learned that I was coming here last fall, I’ve been impatient for the project to get started. Now, once that I’m here, I’m impatient for the seminars to start (the first one is July 12), and really impatient for everything to be in place and perfect.

By everything, I mean chiefly cell phone access, Internet access, a car, and an apartment. I bought a car on my third day here. (This will be the subject of next week’s Luminary column). Also, I came to Uganda with a cell phone in hand and an apartment already booked. My apartment, incidentally, is really beautiful—as nice as my Parkville home. However, I was ticked off to learn that the landlord’s idea of fully furnished (furniture only) differed from my idea of fully furnished (furniture plus linens, cooking utensils, pots and pans, etc.). So, this has left me scrambling to buy stuff that I’ve never bought before in my life, like pillowcases, washrags, mops, and spatulas. It’s shocking how ignorant I am. I can’t wait for my wife, who comes in December, to see the mismatched sheets, blankets, and towel sets I bought. (In my defense, I am partially color blind). Also, she’s going to love our new “china”—actually, comically flimsy plastic plates and bowls, also in a rainbow of incompatible colors.

As for the Internet, I had hoped to be connected the moment my feet hit the ground at Entebbe airport, but no such luck. Instead, my colleague and I had to go to the Internet provider’s office and make arrangements, then talk them into agreeing to take a purchase order. Ironically, the access I have here in Uganda is much better than the access I have in Parkville. I’m on a wireless 3G network that provides me Internet access anywhere that my provider, the European telecom giant Orange, has a signal. I’m told that the Orange signal covers all or almost all areas of Uganda, meaning that I’ll never be without Internet, even in the dusty, isolated places I’ll be visiting regularly to teach. At home, my mantra is to not be in touch, to not be bothered. Thus, my cell phone is off at home unless I want to make a call. Here, maybe as a defense mechanism, my motto is this: the more connected, the better.

Now that my virulent impatience is momentarily at bay, I can concentrate not on virtual connections but on actual face to face interactions. My brief stay in Uganda has indeed highlighted my need to enhance how I talk with others. Now, I enjoy a good in-depth discussion, but have always been poor at the 30 second conversation. What we call small talk is anything but small here in Uganda. People here ask “how are you” and are actually interested in your response. In fact, this is one of the many things I love about Ugandans, since it indicates a caring, sincere, and open attitude that is often absent in Western societies. Ugandans’ polite social interaction is endearing and worthy of emulation, although I’m having a hard time myself making nice-nice with the guy guarding the door or the receptionist at the phone company. Naturally, these 30-second asides are difficult for me because I’m in such a big damn hurry to get someplace or get something done or maybe to save a buck or two. This impatience irritates me.

I am relieved to report, however, that I do possess some potential for redemption. Today, I had a nice discussion with a lady who served me tea about how wonderful it is to sleep when it’s raining. She was charming, and I enjoyed our conversation, even though it was just a minute or so long. Maybe there’s some hope for me after all. At this point, I’m just anxious to reach my potential soon, and quickly rid myself of this annoying impatience.

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