Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I sound really naive, but i'm posting anyways - December 18, 2003

My one main thought recently has been about the huge gap in 'general knowledge' that even very well educated Ugandans appear to have. My co-worker Sophie has a university degree (which is extremely exceptional in the African context) and has won an international award from Junior Chamber International, and founded a young professional association here in Kampala: in short, fairly impressive. But her lack of 'general knowledge', the things we would learn in high school or junior high, is really surprising. For instance, they don't appear to learn anything about science or genetics, because whe i explained to her about melanin and why she is black and i am white and how that developed, us being from sun-intensive vs sun-not-intensive (?) regions of the world, she looked at me like i was a loon, asked questions that indicated that she has never heard of genes, and later indicated that she was under the impression that i had just recounted some sort western-based mythology. I actually heard another (sunburned) white guy in a restaurant explain this same concept to the two african business men he was having a business lunch with, and they laughed their heads off at him, as if the story was absolutely nuts. Its actually sort of frustrating. Also, what with Saddam Hussein being captured, there's been some discussion around that, and they have been given the impression that he is some wonderful benevolent leader. (I'm sure the media accounts we receive in north america are very biased too, but still.) She is also was shocked, SHOCKED, to hear that people in developed countries are healthier and live longer than people who live in developing countries; or that crime or poverty, while still an issue, is much less of one than here. Its extremely hard to dissuade her of this. (Goodness I hope she doesn't find this weblog.) She really doesn't beleive me. Uganda also has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world, with 70% of women giving birth by 19; she finds it difficult or impossible to acknowldege that this is not a global norm; she thinks that in north america we must be all having abortions left right and centre if it is true, much as i try to explain the concepts of birth control and the right of the woman to say 'no' (a concept that truly doesn't really exist here; parents still sell their 13 year old daughters to old men if they can't afford to repay their debt of 6 goats, or whatever.) Its all extremely frustrating, because if she is one of the more educated people in the country, it is hard to see even into the long term how there will ever be enough of a critical mass of educated people for sustainable development to really take place.

I'm pretty sure that that whole previous paragraph will make me sound either really ethnocentric or really naive, or probably both; but those are the things that i'm thinking about so i'm putting 'em up here anyway!

Also, I've discovered one of the more horrifying phrases i know, which is "child-headed households"; used non-ironically, and distinguishing 'child' as to not include 'teenager'; the number of AIDS orphans has outgrown the number of community/family members who can care for them; you see families with small babies being headed by a 9-year-old sibling-parent out begging on the streets. Its really quite heartbreaking. I don't think i'll be as sensitive to the 35-year -old able-bodied bums in toronto after walking past these children, or past all the disabled and limbless people begging on the street here; we should all thank some higher power every day that we were born in a country with a social safety net.

Sort of depressing, isn't it?

I guess it would be worse if i never did notice these things at all, though.

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