Monthly Archives: October 2013

I Killed My First Bug Last Week

I grew up Buddhist. I spent 3 hours in church (we called it church instead of temple) every Sunday for 5 years, and then just a one hour service every couple of weeks for the other 15 years.

During this time I was told not to kill bugs, since it is possible to reincarnate as a bug or some other hungry animal spirit in our next life.

I remember killing ants when I was little, long before I started attending Sunday School. But it had been at least 15 years since I killed my last bug. It first started out as petty revenge on my family for making me go to church. “ew a bug! I can’t kill it since they tell me not to in church”. Then I’d half-jokingly start a whole lecture about karma and reincarnation until my mom eventually rolled her eyes and killed the spider for me.

I’d even do it as my mom was about to kill a spider. “hey mom, you shouldn’t kill that. It could be grandpa”. It was a joke, because my mom and I have a weird since of humor and frequently made jokes like that.

Eventually I started seeing them as things that I should let live since they weren’t bothering me.

Since I’m not Buddhist (and therefore not having any more excuses) I’ve simply ignored the bugs.

About a month ago I was reading in the mosquito net when I heard some buzzing around me.
If you’ve seen my earlier posts, you will see that I have been eaten alive by bugs since I’ve been here. At this point I was unwilling to get even one more bug bite. It was either me or the bug. I decided that I was going to kill it.

I’m sure I’ve accidentally killed bugs by walking on them or slapping them away when they flew too close, but that was the first bug where I was like “okay. I will hunt you down, and when you land I will smash you until you die”.

I spent minutes in the mosquito net trying to hunt my first victim. I even offered my juicy leg as bait. Then I spotted it, and prepared to pounce on my prey. It would tantalizingly fly near a landing place, slow down, and change its mind. I swear it was teasing me. After minutes of this, (with Wendy laughing at my determination) it finally landed on my pillow. I was prepared to pounce and then…

I couldn’t do it.

Ugh. It flew away and I was partially relieved, until I realized the consequences of my squeamishness. I would probably wake up with another set of mosquito bites.

By the time I tracked it down, Wendy was asleep. I held my breath, slowly removed my headlamp, and smashed the bug with the front of my headlamp. The thought of killing it with my hands disgusted me.

I didn’t have any new mosquito bites when I woke up.

Q&A session in Uganda – answering questions about homosexuality, politics, and other sensitive topics

We have been holding question and answer sessions with each of the classes at Mustard Seed School in Busota, Uganda and we’ve been getting a lot of interesting questions. The Q&A session usually follow the same pattern.

The session usually starts with students asking about the weather in Uganda compared to the United States, then goes into questions about the current time in the United States. As usual, I’m asked “are you from China?”.

From there we get questions about our main crops and our economy. Since I’m from California, it’s difficult to explain to the students that a large portion of the economy is from intangible computer programs that people pay lots of money for, and not from actually building the computers.

To answer most of the questions I say that the United States is very diverse, and that the answer is different in different parts of the country.

The questions range from “Is it true that in Chaina [sic] that they name their children after the sound it makes after they drop a spoon?” to “We hear that in USA even a young child is possessing a gun. Is it true and why?”

We hear that in USA even a young child is possessing a gun. Is it true and why?

We hear that in USA even a young child is possessing a gun. Is it true and why?

We inevitably get asked about homosexuality.

“Is it true that men can marry men in your country?” When I answer yes, it is usually met with shock and gasps.

homosexuality

Why is homosexuality common in America?
Why do gays have rights, yet it seems to be a bad thing?
Is it true that in some states of America, people of the same sex marry each other?

“Why do gays have rights, yet it seems to be a bad thing?” is usually the next question that’s asked. How am I supposed to answer a question like this? I don’t want to say something that disparages their beliefs, yet it is something I feel strongly about.

A student asked today why the whites make Uganda like homosexuality in order to receive aid. How do you answer questions like that?

Shortly after, the students asked “do you like it?”. The students weren’t asking whether we condoned the behavior; they assumed we engaged in same-sex sex and were asking if we enjoyed it.

The teachers sensed our obvious discomfort and ended the topic.

Topics like marriage come up, so I explain to them our process of dating, then engagement, then marriage. (Dating doesn’t happen here – the couple decides to get married, the man pays a dowry, and then the couple holds a wedding ceremony.) This was followed by questions about polygamy, dowries, and infertility. They were especially interested in the number of children a couple usually conceives – I told them that it was up to the couple, but that the average is around 2. This was surprising since the number of kids conceived per couple is much higher.

Then we delved into discussions on political issues and problems within the countries. The students usually ask about corruption and bribery in the United States, gun control laws, Syria, abortion, age of maturity, and immigration. They also asked “why does the US start so many wars?”

Good question.

Here’s a collection of the most interesting questions. Let me know how you would answer them in the comments.

syria

menstruationun

Wendy also wrote a post about the question and answer session. Here’s a link to her blog if you’re interested in hearing more.

People Love to Pet Me

As I was teaching computer class, I felt something brush my hair. As I used the mouse, little hands would come up and stroke my arm and hands. During assembly, I felt little fingers poke the back of my arm. The students try to sneakily pet us every opportunity they get.

The pathfinders all get this too. Little kids grab our hands as we’re sitting and start inspecting them. It’s cute seeing how fascinated they are.

Ben being pet by a kid

Ben being inspected

They think are being subtle, which is even funnier.

I told the students that I wouldn’t mind them petting me, as long as they asked. This was followed by about a dozen students running their fingers through my hair.

The teachers are fascinated too. A few asked if they could try to plait it.

This unauthorized petting scared me the other day though. While waiting on the bus, a man reached out suddenly and tried to stroke my face. I looked up in time and stopped him a few inches from my face by shaking his hand. We then had an awkward conversation where he said he wished he could marry me.

As we transferred buses, another man reached out of a van out of nowhere and grabbed my arm to touch it. A man reaching his arm out of a car usually indicates danger to me, so I panicked and yanked my arm away.

Both men meant no harm. It was a clash of cultures.

I’ve noticed that over here it is very common to touch other people. While shaking hands, people often continue holding my hand for the rest of the conversation. When people try to lead you somewhere, they take your hand to show you the direction.

I associate holding hands with a sign of familiarity and intimacy, so it’s strange to have my hand held so often. Often, men hold each others hands in public when they lead them places. It’s not a sight I’m used to seeing. Plus Uganda is known for not being queer friendly, so it’s definitely a gesture of friendship.

I’m think all the petting is a combination of fascination with the muzungus and boundaries that I’m not quite used to yet. Even though we’ve been in Uganda for a month, this is a cultural difference I still haven’t adjusted to.

“Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from the United States”

“Are you from China?”

“No I’m from the United States”

“oh but you look like you are from China. Are you from Korea?”

“No. the United States”

“Oh but you have such small eyes”

This inevitably happens in almost every conversation I’ve had in Cambodia and Uganda. People wonder if I’m actually American since I’m not white; I think the assumption is that Americans are only white.

Each time I have to spend a few minutes explaining that the US is a young country, almost everyone there are immigrants, and that my (great) grandparents immigrated here from China and Japan – that’s why I’m not white.

Wendy, Conor or Ben never have to explain this. No one doubts that they’re American. No one asks them where their grandparents are from. It’s exhausting. I’m tired of having to explain my appearance and prove to others that I’m American.

But it happens in America too.

I’ve had “go home chink!” shouted at me while walking down the street. I’ve been asked “where are you from? No, where are you really from?” (implying that I’m not actually from the US) asked more times than I can count.

Now when people ask us where we’re from I’m the first to answer for the whole group, simply because I don’t want to go through the entire ritual again.

Sometimes I just want to tell everyone that yes, I am from China/Korea/Japan*. It would make my life so much easier.

I got a letter the other day from a kid who wanted to be my friend. It was addressed to the muzungu “from Japahn”. sigh Here we go again.

 

*I’m not Korean but China, Korea, and Japan are the 3 countries people usually guess I’m from.

Dowry Debate

Kasese, Uganda

While in Uganda, I’ve had a few interesting conversations about dowries and bride prices. Here’s a link to my initial post where I recount my conversation about gender equality with some female teachers.

The week after this conversation, the students decided to debate whether bride prices should still happen. The debate took place on Friday. Only P4 and P5 were able to attend. P6 and P7 were busy. All the students crowded into a small classroom and took turns voicing their opinions in front of their peers.

debate

Each side had a piece of paper that they would pass around that listed the points. Students mostly read the points off the list and jumbled up whether they proposed or opposed the motion, so I did the best I could with my notes.
Here were the points made:

Motion: Bride prices should be abolished.

Proposers (get rid of the dowries)

Women should not be treated as property Women are not goats and shouldn’t be sold like cattle. Making women items that men can purchase also means that men can neglect their wives.

Dowries lead to sexual immorality among youth Some men cannot afford dowry prices, but they still have sexual desires. This could lead young people to have sex before marriage, which can potentially lead to HIV and the transmission of other STIs.

Dowries lead to late marriages Men who cannot afford dowries must marry later when they are able to afford the dowry. Some men are even dying without marrying anyone because of bride prices.

Dowries increase domestic violence Women cannot leave when domestic violence occurs because her family will have to return the dowry back to the husband. She is pressured to stay with her abuser.

Economic inequality Those without money cannot afford a wife. This is unfair to those who are poor.

Dowries increase poverty The student gave an example where a man didn’t have any cows. To buy a wife, the student explained, the man would have to sell his land to marry the woman he wants, but the wife can’t produce and help the man earn back the land.

Sugar mommies (this was a joke)

Women’s education gets neglected After most women get married, they do not continue their education. Bride prices also incentivize families to sell their daughters while the daughters are young so the family does not have to pay for education

Opposers (want the dowries)

Dowries decrease divorce Wives are obligated to stay with their husbands. If the wife divorces her husband, the family must return the dowry. Without the dowries, the wife will no longer feel obligated to stay with her husband. Interestingly, it was one of the female teachers who made this point. She argued that the dowries should stay because if her husband hit her, she’d be forced to stay so her family could keep the dowry. She saw this as something positive. That is definitely not the way I see it.

Creates respect for women Paying a dowry is a way for a woman to gain respect. It demonstrates that women have a tangible value and that someone is willing to pay a price for her. In this debate I was expecting the females to be arguing against the dowries, but surprisingly the strongest advocates and the majority of the supporters were females. I kind of understand it now. To many of them, dowries are seen as a form of respect, because it gives tangible value.

Helps families earn income The families who are poor can get more money when their daughters get married. This point was made by a P4 girl. She said that the dowry that her family received would go to her brother, which her brother could then use to buy a wife.

Creates unity between families After the dowry is paid, the families are now united by the dowry. It was weird to me that they saw this dowry as the magical uniting factor, instead of the marriage by itself. Many of the women asked me (in much better terms) what prevents people from marrying whomever they want whenever they want? A good point. Nothing is stopping me from marrying some random guy I just met.

Give men respect Men gain respect in his wife’s family through the dowry. I wonder if the kids think that men will get absolutely no respect from their bride’s family without a bride price.

Women get married anyway Marriage is inevitable, so families might as well get money for it. All of this debate seemed to hinge on the fact that not getting married was the end of the world and that every single person absolutely must get married.

Saves time It’s a waste of time for a woman to go to college if she will get married. No comment necessary.

Creates love You must have love in order to get married, and the dowry helps create that bond. I found this interesting, because this was completely opposite from what the women told me last time.

No dowries makes men thieves If you raise a female child and a man takes her without compensation, that man is a thief. I wanted to intervene here and ask them if a man is considered to be taken away from his family when he gets married. There seemed to be an idea that women leave their families, but men get to maintain their connections to their own family. That was the impression I got.

Without an exchange of money, women are prostitutes If you don’t offer a bride price and a woman has sex with you, that woman is a prostitute. This surprised me. They didn’t even divulge into the fact that in this scenario the man could be considered a prostitute as well.

Maintains culture tradition!

 

Conor writes about his observations of gender dynamics in Uganda in his latest post.

Dowry: A Lifetime of Debt

Kasese, Uganda

Earlier this week at Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda Conor offered to pour water for some of the female teachers. They immediately pulled their hands away and signaled to him that it was inappropriate; men cannot pour water for women.

When I joined the conversation, the women were telling Conor how kneeling when greeting and pouring water were one of the many ways women show respect for men. Conor playfully asked the teachers how they would feel if he knelt while greeting them. The women nervously giggled and didn’t give an answer.

Conor, Wendy, and I immediately recognized this as an opportunity to discuss gender (in)equality.

We asked the teachers to tell us other ways that women show respect to men. Women serve all the food and pour water. For their husbands they shine their husband’s shoes, wash his back, clip his toenails, and bring water and towels to wash his feet at night in addition to cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children (not to mention teaching all day).

Wendy and I explained that women don’t do anything like that in the United States; women and men are equal there and respect is equally given in a relationship. This was met with great surprise.

“But what about dowries? Do men pay the dowries there?”

Wendy and I answered that no, men do not pay dowries in the United States, and that our fathers would probably reject a dowry if one was offered.

From what the women told us, there aren’t any arranged marriages in Uganda; the women and men choose each other. Shortly after deciding that they should marry, the fiance meets the parents and asks for a price.The man returns with the payment at a second meeting, and then the couple is married shortly afterwards.

The wife then spends the rest of her life paying her husband back for her dowry.

One of the women said that there must be a lot more love between spouses in the United States. She said that the dowry and paying the dowry back erases the love that was once there.

I think the women realized that dowries are unfair, but I don’t think they could imagine a society where dowries don’t exist.

Apparently it’s a problem that’s on a lot of people’s minds. Later in the week when the principal was asking students for debate topic proposals, a female student suggested that we debate bride prices. The vote was nearly unanimous. Next week’s debate motion is “Bride prices should be abolished”. I’m excited to hear what the students will say. I will post an update next week on the debate.

Update: So Conor has been offering to pour water for the women. Most women flat out rejected his offer and pulled their hands away, but one woman accepted. As he poured, a group of 3 young women walked by. They nudged each other and then paused for a bit to stare at the odd sight.

Update: I summarized all the points from the debate in this post.