Friday, January 31, 2014

Day 10 of Internship: Culture

It’s been a while since I updated this blog. I believe blogging is not for me because I seem to lack consistency. However, in order to fully determine the accuracy of this statement I have to at least attempt to rectify the abovementioned inconsistencies and upload a new post.
By now, I have embarked on my internship venture. We have, since last week (Tuesday 21st), been in the throes of orientation – a lot of which involving learning about Uganda and Kampala – which, incidentally  is not just of value to the diverse group of interns that we have with us. Re-learning my city/teaching others about it has given me a very interesting/entertaining perspective of the area. I am also learning more about the part of the city that the office is in, namely Kiwafu in Kansanga. I actually live in Kansanga, and have for about 10 years, but my home is just a couple of "blocks" (the Ugandan equivalent of these) from Kiwafu so I have been learning more about the other side of home, which I had before only known as "where the shortcut cuts through".

I got to meet most of my team on the 21st and the following days. Did I mention that we are quite diverse? Before recent years, the intern team has mostly consisted of interns from the US but this year, we have, in addition to the 3 Americans, 4 Ugandans, 1 Australian/Hong Konger and 1 New Zealander. Out of the Ugandans, we have one person from the North, one Easterner, one person from the West, and me, another westerner but from a different tribe. We have Americans from California, Georgia/Netherlands (the European Country) and Texas. We are still waiting for one of the other Interns, who is currently stuck in Tanzania, his home country, with passport issues.

Orientation has been interesting, learning about different customs, cultures (we celebrated Chinese New Year with the Chinese-Australian Intern this morning), learning how different accents pronounce the word “water” – “wateh”, “wat’r”, “wota” – and basically getting to know our office mates.

One of the most important aspects I have learned about is cultural differences and how important it is to take that into consideration when interacting with people. I realized a lot about my Ugandan Culture that I have never considered because I have never had it highlighted, aspects like the way we tend to under-emphasize things – which has never occurred to me before, or how my habit of not looking at people in the eye, that I had to take pointed steps in breaking, was actually a cause of my cultural upbringing and not something personal.
I think it has basically been a week of growth to which I am sure I will owe a lot of my future skill in working with other cultures.

Tip no. 3 on saving Africa – learn about culture… your own included. J

Friday, January 3, 2014

T -17 Days (to go)

"This is the beginning..." was supposed to be the title of my first post  on this blog. But it is not quite accurate. The accurate phrase would, in fact, be this is exactly 17 days to the beginning (or possibly 16 - if you consider the fact that it is 6:30pm and the term officially starts on the 22nd whilst most interns actually arrive on the 21st).

So. In my architecture degree, I am officially required to - after 3 years of studying towards a Bachelor of Architectural Studies - do a year of internship in order, i guess, to substantiate my learning/get a break from a particularly trying course ("particularly trying" being a gross understatement in reference to the literal blood sweat and tears I exhausted into architecture... mostly tears).
Since I am, well, me, and I went through this huge personal crisis in my second year involving an article on (surprisingly) cadavers, that I saw in the varsity newspaper, which got me thinking of the trials of medical students, that in turn got me thinking career-related existential thoughts on my chosen life-path , well anyway, I decided that for my internship, I wanted to do charity work.
The challenge of this is, of course, where? I tried the obvious choice - the UN. Besides the fact that they didn't really have anything fitting my job description (gasp!) and for an organization that big - that I know from personal experience has incredible perks for employees (try over 50% of your kids fees paid by the organization - no matter what school they go to  - so I don't have kids yet - but really?!) - they do not pay for said (unavailable) internships (double gasp!).

 So, in this mish-mash of my slightly obsessive compulsive urge to over research stuff, I stumble upon an organization called eMi - I promise I didn't go looking for it - it was probably on some random person's CV/Linkedin that I checked out. In retrospect, I think God may have led me to it. I got really excited because the whole thing I was getting all depressed about was the fact that (ok follow me here) :- apparently medicine is the hardest university course but architecture is a close second and I am thinking, "well, at least through the rough patches, a medic can think of all the people that they would be saving through their degree but as an architect, I can't, through the rough patches, be thinking, well, at least I can be the new Zaha Hadid or something". Comparatively speaking, Zaha Hadid does a lot but change the lives of millions of people in desperate situations she does not - or at least not through starchitecture and designer perfume bottles. Not hating, btw, she was my hero for a long time and I do respect her for how far she's gotten - its just, her path in architecture will not keep me warm at night. (still with me?)

So eMi (Engineering Ministries International) is an Christian organization built around people using their skills as built environment professionals to spread the word and better the lives of  people in areas from the US to India to parts of East Africa and South America. I was particularly interested in their East Africa office because it was in Uganda, Kampala to be precise  - in other words, home. I later found out that it's one road after my home and a 30min brisk stroll and slight momentous pause for hyperventilation due to nervousness (for lack of a better phrase) from my home. Aka - 5-10mins by taxi (the one that sits 14 passengers) give or take a few for unreliability.

Yes. 17 days to go? I am Excited, Anxious, Looking forward to going, Working on my relationship with God, trying to live with my family, missing varsity friends, living life and trying to think of other ways to save Africa.
Tip no. 2 on Saving Africa - Have a plan. (Its harder than it looks. But more hopeful than it sounds. PS. still working on mine)