Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mpora Mpora

Another long day, but in the end, it was actually a pretty great one. We went back to Nazareth Vocational with the intention of teaching the girls about marketing and financial management. I will admit that I was less than optimistic about the chances of having any kind of impact on the girls after yesterday's events, and today did not start off any better.

After playing a few ice breaker games with them, we split up into groups and tried to have an interactive discussion about marketing (I had cut financial management from my group's curriculum pretty much the second it was proposed). Instead of calling it marketing, we called it "what makes a good business". In typical Peace Corps fashion, we did not lecture or give the girls any answers, but instead tried to extract their them from the girls' own knowledge and experience. We asked questions like, "When you are getting your hair dressed, why do you choose the place you do instead of one of the other 300 salons in your one square mile town?" (Aside: Uganda is packed with struggling small businesses. All of them are either salons, tailors, bars, or mini-markets.)

At first, there was mostly silence. The few answers we did get were some mumbled regurgitation of what their under-qualified instructors had drilled into them. We heard things like, "they have many combs", "they have clean fingernails", and "that is where my Mom goes" were about the extent of it. Aside from these real gems, there was in the beginning, mostly silence.

This silence, however, is not like anything I have seen in America, and is, I think, worth noting. In America, when some is asked a question, they are well aware that they are supposed to answer it. Not knowing or not wanting to answer only causes panic because they know they have to say something. They may become flushed or stammer as they search for something to say. If all else fails, a very embarrassed "I don't know" will eventually come out. Here is a different story. Children in schools are rarely asked question that what? that the teacher will not answer immediately him or herself without breaking stride. (That was what? an example of something used all the time in Ugandan English, affectionately called Uganglish). In a standard classroom size of 75-125 students, it is very easy for most students to slip between the cracks. Anyway, when we PCTs would ask them questions, they would simply keep their heads down and wait for us to move on. It did not matter how many times we repeated our question directly at any one girl. Her will was stronger than ours, and she could easily wait us out. The very odd thing to me is that there is no embarrassment on their part. Unlike us, they aren't even aware that it's an emotion they are supposed to be feeling in such a circumstance.

Mpora mpora (slowly by slowly), things began to get better. I think that will just be the way of it here. Some of the girls began to realize for what appeared to be the first time that knowing a trade alone would not make them sucessful. Things like price, quality of service, customer care, being creative, knowing what people want, and offering something unique all began to come out of their mouths, and as they spoke more, you could physically see them building in confidence. Most of the ideas were coming from just a handful of my small group of 7, Juliet and Halima in particular, but I still considered it a huge victory. At the end of the day, those two even stood up in front of all of the girls from the other groups to share what they had learned. I was so proud in that moment, not because of anything I had done, but because I had watched as those girls had come out of their shells to show themselves to be both bright and confident. Grace, my partner from the day before, was in another group, and she also stood up to share what she had learned. She had apparently gained so much confidence that she gave me her phone number and asked me to call her before I left.


  1. David Emanzi! I adore you. Reading this made me SO happy. Be safe.

    Love from Chicago, Allie

  2. Dudey, you never had trouble getting a girl's number.

    love and miss you.