The last several weeks I have been thinking of Mr. Rau, one of my favorite teachers from Norcross High School, who was killed in a robbery in 1999.

Mr. Rau’s classes were enjoyable. He made the subject matter relevant and interesting. He also believed that one can change the world by working really hard. That’s probably what I remember the most. His dedicated efforts in helping every student. When I recall the times I’ve seen Mr. Rau in the hallways of NHS, I remember him as a person holding an Olympic torch. He greeted everyone. No one passed unnoticed.

I cannot believe it’s been over 11 years and 3 months since that dreadful day when I learned about Mr. Rau’s death. I remember feeling numb and in shock. I went to his classroom to make sure it was not a sick joke. I remember his writing on the white board. I remember the memorial service in a packed stadium. I remember the eulogy that one of his teacher-friends gave. He said that Mr. Rau had a professor at Emory University who compared teaching to spreading the light. I remember feeling so sad that I couldn’t cry. I also remember a woman who sat next to me held me when I began to cry.

As I start over at a new job I think back to Mr. Rau’s World History Class. As I look at the students and see their eager faces. As they look to me for answers, I think about Mr. Rau and ask myself how would Mr. Rau answer that question. I remember Mr. Rau never gave the answers. He asked questions and encouraged the student to come up with his or her own answer.

I believe Mr. Rau still lives in spirit, our memories, and in the lessons we learned. The light in him keeps on living and spreading.

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Aggression

July 23, 2010

Aggression is not necessarily bad even though it stems from impatience. The desire to do things NOW. The NOW. I noticed many people I encounter from my generation, the Me generation, who most likely got instant gratification when they were younger seem to exhibit this trait more than people I meet from other generations. Some people learn aggression from their primary caretaker, or a parent he/she identifies with closely.

There is nothing wrong in wanting to get things done NOW, but when NOW is the top priority one forgets about the feelings of people he/she interacts with, makes quick decisions and ends in repelling less aggressive people.

Aggression is not just unique to some people of my generation, or the US. Aggression is a cross cultural human trait–something we share with the rest of our species perhaps because of evolving in harsh environments.

Regardless of how we evolved, or how individual people acquired the trait (whether it’s nature or nurture), physical or verbal aggression can be dangerous to the individual and people around him/her psychologically and physically. Aggressive people break bridges in relationships and scare people away.

Several months ago a good friend told me about the significance of being aware of the feelings or thoughts that arise in oneself when one meditates. Instead of judging the feelings or thoughts as good or bad, he said to think about them as just being part of the state of mind at that moment.

If one feels aggression (or any other emotion for that matter), then it’s important to recognize and acknowledge it. Think about the possible consequences of aggression without judging oneself or the consequences–reflect on the long-term and short-term effects of aggression. After one thinks about it critically, then he/she can brainstorm methods that will work for that individual person and practice those when uncomfortable situations arise.

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Mahatma Gandhi

There are men in Uganda who have machismo tendencies–those who have a sense of entitlement. They’re more likely to get into aggressive confrontations with others.

I encountered one in a matatu(taxi) I took yesterday to get from the nearby town to our house. A guy came in and sat next to me and ended up pushing me completely over to the next seat. I asked him to scoot over a little. He told me to get a private taxi & said something in Lusoga and everyone in the taxi started laughing (here most women don’t say anything to men).

I decided to evaluate the situation and to see whether it was worth any to say anything. I decided to make him aware that I moved so he could have his seat. I told him that and added that he should be respectful.

I heard another man in the back say, “Muhindi (people call people based on how they look–this term is different from muzungu–which is a general term for foreigners–I personally find it very offensive since it’s an ethnically insensitive way to refer to a person) don’t quarrel.”

I decided to appear calm even though I was feeling upset. I replied, “musoga (a person belonging to the Busoga kingdom) you should listen to your own words.” After that several men decided to speak in Lusoga and laugh at me. I decided to think of something that would drive the message home that it was completely inappropriate for men to think they can get away with rudeness and that there are women who will not tolerate it (many African women tolerate obscenities from men). I decided that it was a teachable moment so I said, “someone needs to go back to a primary school to learn some manners.” My goal wasn’t necessarily to insult anyone but to communicate that rude behavior–no matter who does it–is not okay.

Everyone became very quiet; if Ugandans become quiet, then it most likely conveys that they are paying attention to you. People are more likely to listen if you shame their behavior while staying very calm. If you get into an argument, or look like you’re getting upset, then they just laugh at you even if you’re saying something meaningful. After I got off the taxi, I thanked the conductor, pointed to the back, looked at the conductor & told him that those men should learn some manners.

After I walked away from the taxi, they were still very quiet. Even though I felt upset at the situation, I felt I communicated something important to the men who felt they’re entitled to do whatever they pleased. I also believe that it was important for the women in the taxi to see that standing up for yourself might cause some initial discomfort, but people eventually listen. I really feel the women are not going to be treated as equals in any country if they’re going to just sit back and tolerate men’s behavior. It’s just amazing how much women I encounter here tolerate.

NB: I love Ugandan people and I’m learning a great deal from this country. My entry is not to create false notions or to generalize an entire nation. This was just one experience; nevertheless it’s still an experience.

Glad to be back

July 17, 2010

Has it really been 10 months since my last entry? It’s been too long.

Many things have happened since last September –for better or for worse. New country director, Thanksgiving brunch in Tororo, Kenya trip, starting up projects in the 3rd term (life skills, reusable menstrual project, & girls’ football team), traveling in eastern Uganda, mid service training, getting robbed, changing sites, Egypt, Israel & Turkey, meeting up with old friends & family, and finding a new job. It’s been an adventure! They say, Life’s Calling. How far will you go? I guess I’m willing to keep on going…

Hope to be back soon.