September 6, 2012

Uganda term proves eventful for student

Last fall, Knox College junior Kelli Kleitsch investigated post-conflict transformation while studying abroad in Uganda, where she encountered both adversity and delight.

Kleitsch lived with a family at a “homestay,” which she describes as being not “just one house. It was like a compound of five different houses with five different families, so there were always people around … there were always five or six little kids in the compound I always played with.”

She recounted one of her happiest moments in Uganda, the last night of her homestay.

“I made dinner for my family. I made spaghetti,” she said, “… and my little brother looks at me and asked, ‘why aren’t you eating?’”

Kleitsch explained why to him, to which he replied, “You told me [that] in America, you eat as a family, so tonight we’re going to eat as a family.”

“It was the happiest moment of my homestay,” Kleitsch said.

But not all of the experience was necessarily fun. During the first six weeks of the program, Kleitsch was living in a city in northern Uganda and did not travel much. She and other students were heading towards the capital when they approached a bridge and “some kids had cameras out, which you’re not supposed to do. You’re not supposed to take pictures of the bridge,” Kleitsch said. “They don’t want people taking pictures so [that] they can attack it or something.”

Soon, guards saw the cameras out and pulled over the bus.

“For some reason, they just focused on me,” Kleitsch says. “I don’t know why; I didn’t even have a camera out or anything.”

She was then made to get off the bus, where the soldier in charge “was basically telling me that I had to go with him to the barracks to talk to his supervisor about what I had done,” she said.

The tour supervisor attempted to argue Kleitsch’s case, but the soldier continued to insist. Only after delaying her for quite some time, the soldier offered, “I guess this one time, if you pay me a fee, I’ll let you go.” They had to agree to 50,000 schillings, or about $20.

“And that would happen all the time,” she said. “People would see foreigners, basically anyone who was white, and the automatic assumption is that they have a lot of money, because of the way the [current] state has developed with the war and stuff like that.”

She also recounted price discrimination overtly on the basis of race, as well as having to physically fight away from being kidnapped by two drivers of a motorcycle-taxi, called Bodas, while crossing the street from the hospital for a few minutes to grab juice for a friend from a food stall. “It was really scary,” she said.

While abroad, Kleitsch also had the opportunity to visit Rwanda, where she conducted a comparative study of genocide. While there, she attended a party at a hostel that reminded her just how far away from home she was.

“This was two and a half months into my program … and it was the first time any of us had heard Western music in two and a half months, and there were other Westerners around, and we hadn’t seen very many of them,” she said.

Johnathan Ebbers
Johnathan Ebbers is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in business and management. This is his second year serving as co-web editor for TKS. When he’s not studying or fine-tuning, he maintains the Knox College Department of Theatre website. In 2010, he participated in the International Programming Challenges competition, where his team came in 48th out of 143 teams in the region.

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