Friday, October 5, 2012


Each week in Uganda I face dozens of “aha” moments or moments of discovery. Sometimes I am the one amazed at what I’m learning, and other times the children or my co-workers are the ones learning and experiencing something from me for the first time. 

It would take me forever to explain every moment to you, and many of them would not have much effect on a person who has never been to a developing country. Two conversations occurred this week with some of my students and I think they are perfect to illustrate these moments:

1. One of my Mustard Seed Health Team members visited me at my apartment on Sunday. As most of the kids do, he wandered around the room asking me questions about different items. Most of the time I am not surprised that student visitors don’t know what something is because the way of life here just doesn’t require such objects (i.e.: pot holder, plastic broom, my laptop, my vitamins, etc.) However, little Wasswa caught me off guard when he grabbed a handful of napkins and asked, “What do these do?”

I said, “Those are called napkins, you can use them to wipe your hands and face as you eat meals.” He still looked confused, so I elaborated, “You know, at the restaurants they often bring napkins out with silverware and customers can wipe food or grease off onto the napkin to stay clean.”

He replied in a shy and embarrassed voice, “Oh, well I’ve never been to a restaurant before. I didn’t know these existed.”

What can a girl say to that? I’m sure I was taken to restaurants before I even had enough teeth to eat anything on the menu. Here is this 11-year-old boy who has never seen a napkin, and never been to a restaurant. I sent him home with at least 20 so he and his family could enjoy them.

 2.       I was playing after school with a group of nursery students when something on my wrist attracted their attention. My watch. The kids grabbed my wrist and pulled it closer to them and they said in their best English, “Teacher Kristen, look, it is moving!” I said, “Of course, this is a watch, it tells the time when these things move.” They said, “Yes, but it is moving!

It took only an instant for me to realize that many of them were under the impression that adults wear a clock on their wrist for fashion. Most watches break from wear and tear in Uganda, and they often run out of battery early on. When it comes down to feeding the family, paying school fees, or taking care of poor health, why would a person be maintaining their watch? Those children had never seen a working watch before. All they needed to be impressed was to see mine “move.”

These precious moments are some of my favorite times in Uganda. Each time I experience a moment about napkins, watches, or whatever else, I am reminded that the world is much more complex than I ever previously recognized.

With love,

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