Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Musing Over Moon Over Manifest

Musing Over Moon Over Manifest
(Or if you like acronyms:  MOMOM.)

I took advantage of the two days I've had to take off from work thanks to my viral friend, influenza (kind of a pretty name, don't you think?) and finished reading Moon Over Manifest. When I started the book, I wasn't sure I'd like it. Depression era and the Midwest do not make my favourite setting for a story. The Wizard of Oz was bearable because Dorothy Gale wasn't in Kansas anymore.

Well, I'm glad I read it. There's a reason it won the Newberry Medal and was a New York Times Bestseller. Some of the best writing is on page 144:

...I thought I knew a thing or two about people. Even had my list of universals. But I wondered. Maybe the world wasn't made of universals that could be summed up in neat little packages. Maybe there were just people. People who were tired and hurt and lonely and kind in their own way and their own time...
...I admired how Ruthanne knew what I did not. That Lettie hadn't had her fill of gingersnaps. With six kids in their family, she had more than likely given up her own cookie and traded something for an extra one to share with us... 
...If there is such a think as universal--and I wasn't ready to throw all of mine out the window--it's that there is power in a story. And if someone pays you such a kindness as to make up a tale so you'll enjoy a gingersnap, you go along with that story and enjoy every last bite. 

Moon Over Manifest was a story within a story that detailed the making of a story. Yes, that's right. You'll need to read the book to get what I'm lousily trying to explain.

The makings of a good story, as described in MOM 

  • To write a good story, one must watch and listen 
  • When she tells a story, she's sort of removed from them.   She's the storyteller. 
  • Telling a story ain't hard... All you need is a beginning, middle and end. 
  • As much as I had a need to hear her story, she had a need to tell it. It was as if the story was the only ablm that provided any comfort. 

Two more quotes I have to throw in for good measure:

"Sometimes, when folks move on, it's hard to look back.  It's not their fault."

"The Baptist church, normally home to only the purest of Manifest citizens--meaning the ones who had parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents born in this country--was suddenly filled with strangers.  Each held his or her own jar or jug of either Velma T.'s elixir or Shady's whiskey."

Reading Moon over Manifest was a real treat. Abilene Tucker is part Tom Sawer, part Jean Louise "Scout" Finch and altogether a very memorable character.  Part of the ending was perhaps sweeter than I would have liked, but there was a twist I did not expect.  And yes, I did have tears in my eyes as I approached page 342.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Spewing Words Like Spray Paint from a Can

Spewing Words Like Spray Paint from a Can

"Blogging's not writing.  It's graffiti with punctuation."

I saw Soderbergh's latest film, Contagion, yesterday afternoon.  It's been described as a 'cold' film, and that's probably why I enjoyed it so much.

Now, going to a public toilet to urinate after watching Contagion, I did not enjoy that experience quite as much.  The friend I went to see the film with would not use his bare hand to open the door to the restroom; he used a handkerchief shield.  Über cautious?  Or just plain smart?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I quit.

I quit.

After only nine days of my intended-to-be-month-long experiment. I quit.  I don't know how they do it.  I do now know how Ugandan school teachers live on their salary in the current economic atmosphere where inflation is 21.4 percent.  Even being generous, not including rent or house cleaning services in my budget, I found out I cannot make it on only 300,000 Uganda shillings per month, not in Kampala.  Sure people do it, but life should be more than just survival, and as I mentioned before, there is a BIG difference between filling one's belly and being properly nourished.

And properly nourished I've not been.  That was a hard reality for me to face on Thursday evening when I was on my evening run (of only 6.4km), and I found it almost too difficult to complete.  Skipping meals does not facilitate marathon training.  As I realised how spent I was and unhealthy I was becoming, I considered pressing on, like the guy in Supersize Me when he discovered the severity of the health risks that sprung up during his McDonald's experiment.  Then I came to my senses.  It's just not worth it.  Yes, it's easy to assume that I live high on the hog and that's why I failed.  Assume what you like, but even James Mwase, the chairperson of UNATU, Jinja branch says that a teacher's salary cannot buy them maize flour for 15 days.   

There's a lot more the salary cannot buy.  At the point of quitting, my flat was without:
  • fresh vegetables;
  • eggs;
  • laundry soap.  (A friend recently questioned the frequency in which the drivers employed by her agency washed their clothes, pointing out their odoriferous state.  I asked how much the drivers were paid.  She wasn't sure but speculated around 400,000 UGX per month.  I replied, "Exactly."  If she wanted better smelling drivers, their earnings would either have to be altered or the soap could be provided to them.  When you can barely feed your family, fragrant laundry soap is not a priority.) 
Basically, I was out of the basics.  Nothing fancy.

Other things that really cannot be afforded on the current salary are newspapers and books.  I strongly believe that keeping up with what's going on in the world and sharing it with my students is a very important role I have as a teacher; therefore, access to this information is crucial.  Reading culture, reading culture, reading culture.  I've heard this term thrown around in Uganda since I arrived in 2002.  How are teachers going to recommend or get children excited to read books they've never read, seen, heard of?  How are people going to find time to read if they are too busy battling starvation and just trying to survive?

It has been said that an increase to the teachers' salary would be 'subversive to national development'.  It's also said that an increase of less than 50 percent can heavily impact the economy.  We're talking about an increase or salary of less than 300,000 UGX (just under $100 US) each month.  Is it really the teachers' salaries that are subversive to national development and heavily impacting the economy?  Come on.

Quality education comes with several price tags, and one of the greatest investments a school, district, nation has to make to deliver a quality education is in its teachers.  

Wednesday, September 07, 2011



Under the headling:  Teachers Divided Over Strike was this photo

with the caption, "An American volunteer helping to teach pupils... on Monday."

I still hope this is a stock photo with an incorrect caption.  In case you're unaware, teachers have been on strike, demanding a salary increase.  To sensationalise it, the media are reporting that teachers are demanding a 100 percent pay raise, emphasising the 100 percent.  The reality is, considering what they currently earn (273,000 UGX per month before taxes), even after doubling their salary, it will still be very low; they're actually not asking for much, especially when you consider that some people working in public office earn 15,000,000 UGX or more each month.  100 percent of very little is still very little.

It would really make my blood boil to know that this volunteer whose 'intentions were so pure', instead of relieving poverty, is actually tightening its grip by undermining teachers' efforts to earn a livable salary in Uganda.

Call it what you like.  I call it a scab.

Whose needs are being met?  The children's to learn?  The woman's to feel she's doing good?  The teachers' to be able to eat and support their families?

Where are Jack "Cowboy" Kelly and David Jacobs when you need 'em?

...that we got a ton of rotten fruit and perfect aim.

A summary of today's expenses:

3,000 UGX for lunch

Total: 3,000 UGX

Remaining with 199,700 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  keep busy at work.  The more you work, the better you can ignore hunger and the less time you'll have to go somewhere you'll be tempted to spend money.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Pre-8pm Crash

Pre-8pm Crash

So, I'm reading this fantastic book,  Moon Over Manifest.  Problem is, I'm suffering from exhaustion.  8:00pm, and I'm out like a light.  The plus side:  I spend no money.

A summary of today's expenses:

3,000 UGX for lunch

Total:  3,000 UGX

Remaining with 202,700 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  go to bed early.  Boring?  Yes.  Inexpensive?  You bet your ass.

Back on Track

Back on Track

Well, sort of.

A summary of today's expenses:

3,000 UGX for lunch
5,900 UGX for dishwashing soap

Total:  8,900 UGX

Remaining with 205,700 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  birthday parties are manageable with loans from friends.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Expensive Diversions

Expensive Diversions

I never really realised how expensive my running pastime was until I restricted myself to a very limited budget.  I run.  I'm training for a marathon.  I assumed that after covering the biggest training expense, the shoes, running would be pretty cheap.  

One word:  hydration.

I blew 9,700 shillings today on rehydration/refueling alone.  Then there was the expense of getting from the ending point of my 21km run back home.  I did public transport, took a taxi, and that cost me an additional 1,000.  So just over 10,000 shillings, my maximum daily budget, was spent before midday today.

This really got me thinking.  If I'm spending this much money on simply keeping myself healthily hydrated, how is the average teacher in Uganda able to keep a healthy diet?  There is a BIG difference between filling one's belly and being properly nourished.

In only the four days I've been conducting this experiment, I've caught myself cutting back on or skipping meals entirely in order to keep my daily expenses low.  I'm discovering that it is exceptionally difficult, if not next to impossible, to eat adequately on the salary that the teachers are currently earning.

So, it's been reported in the paper that "the government, beginning tomorrow, will use its head teachers to roll-call all its teacher" and that absent teacher are to be punished.  But who's going to roll-call the head teachers?  From my own experience, I'd expect it to be more likely to not encounter a head teacher at school than there be absent teachers.  I worked at a school where the deputy head teacher pretty much only showed up on the first day of school and never appeared again, yet he still drew his salary every month.  There was another school I worked with where the head mistress missed 13 out of 20 school days, repeatedly.  I won't deny absenteeism of teachers also being a problem.  However, many times when I'd discover the whereabouts of teachers who was not at school, I'd find them digging in a garden.  Hmmm...  I wonder why?

I must be honest and confess that I splurged tonight.  My friend, Barbarah, is in town from Malawi.  I've not seen her in over a year.  Another friend from Uganda who lives in the US is also in town, so we all got together at Katja's Kitchen in Bugolobi.  How could we not, right?  Yeah, my budget for the next week is ruined.  I spent 25,000 on my meal and drinks.  Yikes!

A summary of today's expenses:

9,700 UGX for hydration
1,000 UGX towards transportation
25,000 UGX for dinner splurge
6,300 UGX for milk and tomatoes

Total:  42,000 UGX

Remaining with 214,600 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  stay away from restaurants of any form.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Day Three, with Failure in Sight

Day Three, with Failure in Sight

Day three of my little experiment has left me less-than optimistic about it's outcome.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to fail to get through this month on the 300,000 shilling budget I gave myself, and that might be a good thing.  I'm thinking that might be what I intended to prove in the first place.

While staying on a tight budget is proving to be very difficult to me, my determination has led me to be a bit more creative with my Saturday activities.  Staying at home would be too simple, and, let's face it, dull.  So free activities I found myself doing today:

  • visiting Afriart Gallery and drooling over new works of art by Ronex;
  • visiting Ivuka Arts and narrowing down my search for an Anwar painting to three;
  • and a book orgy at Isha's.

Babs has arrived in KLA and is as gorgeous and fabulous as ever.

A summary of today's expenses:

5,000 UGX for beverages with a friend
20,000 UGX towards tranportation

Total:  25,000

Remaining with 256,600 UGX

I'm going to end this post with a clip from Maurice's show last night.

I'm afraid I'm gonna need an angel to carry me through the rest of this month.

Tip for those low on cash flow:  adopt the mantra, Free is for me!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Maurice's Night

Maurice's Night

Completely spent and exhausted after only two full days with the kids back at school, I went home to catch a quick disco nap before the Maurice Kirya concert at the Serena Hotel tonight.  (No, I've not fallen off the 300k wagon; I've had my ticket to the show for weeks now.)  Over the years, I've seen Maurice perform several times and in various venues.  Maurice is a gifted live performer; his talent and the energy from his shows has not yet been captured in his recorded music.  His has always been a fantastic show to catch, and tonight was no exception.

madandcrazy did a live blog of the build up to the show and then the show itself.

If you were not one of the fortunate ones who attended the show last night, head on over to madandcrazy for a periodic breakdown of the evening.

At one point in the show, Maurice channelled Chris Kattan's SNL Antonio Banderas.

Yes, when the performance hall was boiling, Maurice threatened to unbutton his jacked... and. then. he. did.  Too sexy!  Too sexy!

I've also got to mention that when the bodas came on stage during the performance of, you guessed it, Boda Boda, I was taken to the arrival of Maureen Johnson to the 11th street lot during a live performance of Rent (at 5:30 in this clip).

The only thing to do is jump over the moon.

In order to continue with my experiment, I skipped any and all after-partying and came home.

A summary of today's expenses:

3,000 UGX for lunch
6,000 UGX for beverage at venue

Total:  9,000

Remaining with 281,600 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  make friends who know people.  

Thursday, September 01, 2011

1st September

1st September

3,000 UGX for lunch
4,000 UGX for transportation
2,400 UGX for water and milk

Total:  9,400 for the day.

Remaining with 290,600 UGX

Tip for those low on cash flow:  learn where the free stuff is.  I spent the evening at an art exhibition where there was an open bar and finger foods came around quite regularly.