The change of pace to a more relaxed rhythm was easy to slip into in Uganda. If you tried to hurry, the slow movement of traffic, people and conversation would slow you down. Another expat designer at our studio site said she once was admonished for how fast she was walking on the sidewalk: “Hey! There’s no Rushing in Africa!”
The switch was stark when that pace sped up at airports on our way back to LA. In Amsterdam, a man was eating a sandwich as he quickly walked. Eating didn’t have its own time. I hadn’t seen that for weeks. In NY, the jamming rock music on the airplane as we waited for takeoff was so amped up it was making our heart beats race. As soon as people exited the plane, they rushed in a crowd to … go stand and wait in customs lines.
The differences between Western and African time being much as described in the link above:
This was written in 1999, but it might give helpful ideas about how Westerners may tend to have fixed, mechanical, “dead time” while Africans may tend to have “lived time” that is dictated by and responds to the forces of nature:
“Zamani is the ordered sequence of the events that took place in the life of the world. Sasa is what is now, what are the needs now, and what to do now. Time and reality end now, the future is unreal. There is no future yet. It still is to be made by the interaction of all forces in the world. Once made, it belongs to zamani.”
“It is not at all a bad idea to compare an African business agreement with a Western marriage. You marry when you feel you will roughly get out of your marriage what you wish and expect, but you will not sign a paper on when exactly, for instance, the first, second, etc. baby should be delivered.”
“In Kiswahili there is no obvious correspondence to the western expression “I have no time”. The closest you come is nilikuwa na nafasi bado (“I did not yet have the opportunity”).”
“Agreements are expressions of one’s needs, one’s capabilities and first of all: friendship.”
The day before we left Uganda I had the opportunity to visit the Gaddafi Mosque. It was a Friday, the day of prayer, and I arrived without a headscarf, skirt or long sleeves since I knew the tourist center would provide them. I regretted this decision as I waited, in improper garb, for about 45 minutes to be helped, and I hoped I was not offending anyone by being ill-prepared.
While in Uganda, we spent a lot of our time at the Treasure Life Youth Center, and the kids there were always so excited to see us. They would rush up, wave hello, want to hold our hands, be picked up, and talk at great length. I always felt welcome and happy at the youth center, in part, from their positive energy. I realize that Westerners tend to go to Africa and take lots of photos of kids. Well, you can’t help it… the kids are just too damn cute. Plus it is a lot of fun because many of them love having their picture taken. These photos are a little taste of the joy I experienced while spending time with the TLC kids.
paraphrased from what I can remember him explaining:
I live by the water channel, no– actually it’s a trench because water channels are clean and that isn’t clean.
Is it even possible to find legal content in Kampala?
And why aren’t dubbed DVDs by VJs not legitimate creative content on their own right?
Because power outages are common in Uganda, UNICEF is tackling the connectivity issue by preloading their devices with cached educational content for youth to access.
What if education and entertainment didn’t have to involve internet access?
This is a speculative design involving the MobiStation, a kit designed to become a “Digital School in a Box.” Prerecorded content by teachers are uploaded onto the solar-powered laptop and projected in other schools or health centers.
The MobiStation was designed to address the issue of children dropping out of primary school for financial reasons, teacher absenteeism, and quality of education in general (teachers in rural schools often cannot read or write English fluently).
What’s great about this kit is that it is so well equipped with a projector, speaker, and document camera. Projecting prerecorded content is great for viewership by a large audience.
But what happens when a child sees the same content over and over again? It can get very boring. Here lies the design challenge.
What can create a fun learning environment? What can we design so that passive audiences are active participants instead? UNICEF is currently finding outlets to generate user-created content to sustain interest and provide a platform for creative expression.
What the MobiStation is missing is a DIY-VJ machine!
Drawing from the rich VJ culture known through the dissemination of dubbed pirated DVDs or from visiting video halls, kids can VJ a video of their choosing from Luganda to English and back again. The first prototype of the device was deployed at TLC Youth Center in Kamwokya and I couldn’t get kids off of the microphone.
Whether they were “correctly” translating the film that was showing didn’t so much matter as much as tapping into a culture that youth readily understand and want to participate in themselves.
The machine is a simple electronic device that uses three relays to switch one audio source off/on. This allows kids to mute given content and create their own over it. Because the nature of on the spot translating (or actually, performing) can be impromptu and ad-lib, each performance is singular. It’s an experience for both the performer and the audience– just like how live VJ shows are.
The MobiStation will be its second phase of piloting; 50 toolkits will be sent out to remote villages outside the city. Because video halls and VJ culture is popular among villages and slum areas, the concept of voicing over visual content doesn’t need much explaining.
For informational workshops, UNICEF will encourage community leaders and health workers to watch preloaded content beforehand, and then have them voice over and explain the content live, while having that explanation recorded and saved. The live dubbing is useful in that the speaker can adjust and tailor the message to be audience specific, thus providing a stronger sense of community because it is coming from a known speaker.
This speculative design allowed me to think about the video halls in a broader context. Right now, the video halls operate within the niche of entertainment, but its value is continuing to increase so it has great potential to spread and remix with other spheres. The speculation allowed me to imagine VJ culture mixed with the educational goals of UNICEF. It felt like I circled back to what I was initially interested about informal systems and how some slowly integrate themselves into formal systems.
For the past several weeks I have been spending the majority of my time interacting with the youth at Katalemwa Cheshire Home in Mperewe, about 30 minutes from the city center of Kampala. Katalemwa is a rehabilitative facility for children ages 0-18 with physical disabilities. They provide a bed, meals, transport to medical appointments, and basic post-operational care. Aside from the more institutional responsibilities, Katalemwa has created a safe and supportive environment for the youth to focus on health and improving their mobility.
just found this note from a Ugandan high schooler on the back of the paper she gave me
Most Ugandans have two mobile phones belonging to two different telecommunication companies: Warid and MTN. Warid is cheaper than MTN and Ugandans are smart to decide which carrier to send texts or make calls based on their receiver’s service provider.
Can you imagine Americans trying to juggle two phones and knowing their contact’s service provider? No way.