Sunday, June 10, 2007

Host Family's Children and Our first attempt to teach

I have not written yet about our host's children. Today is the perfect opportunity after our experiences trying out our theatre exercises on them last night, Wednesday, June 6. Living with a house full of children is completely new for Kelly and me. Our host has seven children, four boys and three girls, and a girl who we believe is a niece. The eldest boy is away at university in Uganda. Living at home are boys 17, 11, and 8 and girls 15, 11, and 4. The two oldest are in secondary school much like our high school, while the other children who are in primary school. Kelly and I have developed a habit of enquiring whether the children have eaten while we sit down for dinner. The table is only set for three, our host and us. What we observed was after we finished the children would then be summoned to the table. First the baby girl, our host often feeds her from his plate or makes her up another. Then the eldest boy is summoned, followed by the other boys. After they have plates of food then the girls are invited, oldest to youngest. Kelly and I wonder if the children are excused from eating with us because our host wants time just with us to talk, which we don’t do much of over dinner. Perhaps it is formal to dine with guests alone, or simply he is thinking he is being polite and protecting us from the rambunctious activity of the children. But when we ask whether they have eaten, he always answers us that the children have already had plenty to eat out back. Out back is the multi-purpose concrete patio that is partially covered where the wood-fired stove is located, the meals prepared, and presumably eaten. Also the patio holds the massive water tank that supplies the home for all water needs. The wash is also done on the back patio and hung along clotheslines there. I believe some bathing is also done there as hot water is boiled on the stoves. The patio is also the soundstage. When 5:30 in the morning comes the singing soon after begins with the children waking up and getting ready for school. Many church songs are sung from the top of young lungs throughout the whole process of getting ready in the morning. The children have been our rooster.

Last night Kelly and I had a blast teaching them a few of the younger children theatre exercises: Spider web, Colombian hypnosis, and Great Game of Power. The middle girl has pretty decent English language knowledge so she was our translator for the other children. However, there were some key language gaps that left us showing the kids what we wanted them to do, and they mimicked us. For instance, the language barrier for “hypnotize” was pretty drastic as they had no concept, but we were able to describe what it meant to “act” hypnotized so they caught on to the idea. The language barrier was even more difficult we found with the Great Game of Power. Pieces of furniture are to be arranged by the kids so one item is the “most powerful.” Oddly, “powerful” as a concept or even “authority” was very difficult to get them to understand. They understood when we analogized to the President and how he was most powerful. Eventually they were able to parrot the examples of arrangements that Kelly and I created, but never really created their own concept. I think that the lesson concept of how certain people gain power by manipulating others could work very well with full translation by their teachers. We were pleased that the activities themselves were enjoyed by the children and could even be understood at a certain level even with language barriers. Next week’s meetings with school teachers should be very productive as we can report that some of the exercises were definitely enjoyed, which will help gain buy-in to the program. Receiving ideas and feedback on how the instructions translate will be exciting.

I have one more thought to discuss about the children. When the children arrive home after school we have seen Pastor shake hands with them in greeting. This mannerism Kelly and I have discovered to be rather odd. What seems so odd about it is the fact that as a culture they are so unbelievably affectionate in a physical way. They lay their hands on arms, shoulders, hands, and legs, even while just making a simple comment and explanation. When they shake they often hold your hand for a long time gently afterwards, or often embrace. But Pastor only shakes hands with his children, except for the baby, little Esther. He regularly hugs, kisses and holds her. The formal shake greeting seems at odds with a general culture of physical affection.

*** It has taken many days to find internet working well. It is now Sunday 10. I drove us into town and while chatting with our host we learned he has MORE kids!!! The eldest is actually has been around the house a couple times, but says very little. He has only really been visible at night a few times, so I assumed he was friends with the 15 year old boy and just hanging around the house. Also, there is an older girl that is a niece of our host that has been living with him since she was a little kid. Her parents were killed many years ago, back when our host was in exile in Uganda, and thus she has been with him most of her life.


Ethics in said...

Ex-Museveni Maid Sues Whitaker

The Monitor (Kampala)
6 July 2007
Posted to the web 5 July 2007

By Grace Matsiko

An American adviser to the NRM government on trade and investment has lost a preliminary appeal in a U.S. court to dismiss a fraud case filed against her by her Ugandan housemaid.

Ms Idah Zirintusa, a former State House employee, sued Ms Rosa Whitaker in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for fraud, unjust enrichment, and illegal interference with her earlier contract with State House.

Ms Zirintusa alleges in court papers that Ms Whitaker entered into a three-year oral employment contract with her promising four times the wage she earned in Uganda, full tuition at an American college, food, and shelter.

It is further alleged that Ms Whitaker promised Ms Zirintusa to make separate payments to support her family in Uganda.

In the pleadings, a copy of which Daily Monitor has obtained, Ms Zirintusa further says that Ms Whitaker violated various provisions of the US Fair Labour Standards Act, D.C. Payment and Collection of Wages Law, and D.C. Minimum Wage Act by failing to pay her the minimum wage and overtime fee to which she was entitled for the domestic services she provided Ms Whitaker and her friend Ms Pauline Harris.

Ms Whitaker worked as the assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa under President Bill Clinton, and during the early years of Mr George W. Bush's presidency.

In that job, she "developed and implemented the African Growth and Opportunity Act and other bilateral and multilateral trade policy initiatives towards Africa".

When she left the trade representative's office, Ms Whitaker founded The Whitaker Group, a consultancy firm that advises several African countries, including Uganda, on international business issues.

The Whitaker Group officials were recently in Uganda pushing for increased production of organic cotton to make apparel for the American market.

In her defence, Ms Whitaker argues that Ms Zirintusa could not sustain her claims because she was not legally permitted to work in the United States.

She also argues that her accuser is not entitled to overtime pay under either federal or Washington D.C. law because Ms Zirintusa lived in her employer's home - in this case Ms Whitaker's home.

Ms Whitaker bases her defence in part on the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) which makes it illegal for aliens to sue for breach of contract. In its ruling, however, the judge allowed Ms Zirintusa to proceed with the suit.

The court stated that nothing in IRCA prohibits undocumented workers from asserting their labour rights under the US Fair Labor Standards Act.

The court also ruled that Ms Whitaker acted fraudulently when she "made material misstatements of fact" in January 2003, September 2003, and July 2004.

The court found that Ms Whitaker falsely promised Ms Zirintusa that if she accepted her offer of employment, the American lobbyist would provide payments for the care and support of the accuser's family in Uganda.

According to the court's ruling, Ms Whitaker made these representations knowing they were false and Ms Zirintusa reasonably relied on the misstatements to sell her possessions at a significant loss and leave her family in Uganda to work for Ms Whitaker in the United States.

"The Court finds that these facts are sufficient to overcome a motion for judgment on the pleadings," reads part of the January 3, 2007 ruling.

Ms Zirintusa, who once worked as a catering officer at State House Nakasero, arrived in the United States on August 18, 2004 on a student visa.

On the issue of unjust enrichment, the court held that Ms Zirintusa proved that Ms Harris had received a benefit at Ms Zirintusa's expense by accepting domestic services without paying for those services.

Ms Zirintusa, who still lives in the United States, is now demanding full compensation for the value of the services rendered.

The court is yet to set a date to hear the Ugandan's compensation claims against Ms Whitaker. Efforts to reach both women for further comment were unsuccessful.

President Museveni's press secretary said he was not aware of the case. "If it is true that there was an employment agreement," Mr Tamale Mirundi said, "then that lady has a right to sue."

Justice for Idah said...

The Whittaker judgement could bring a smile to faces of nkuba kyeyo in America
September 18, 2007
A recent decision by a USA court could mark a turning point in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans living and working in the United States of America. An estimated 10,000 Ugandans are believed to be living in the US.

Many of these are engaged in menial work locally know as (kyeyo) in their pursuit of the ‘American dream’. However, many of our brothers and sisters have not found life easy in the US. They are tormented by the ever prying eye of the US authorities who are always on the look out for the odd ones- the unwelcome illegal immigrants. And yet these are the people that the affluent American society hires to do the odd jobs- those that attract little pay and are left for the casual labourer.

In a recent case involving a Ugandan citizen, a US court stated that un-documented workers (or illegal aliens in the US) cannot be prohibited from asserting their legal rights. Ms Rosa Whittaker, an American citizen who is a Uganda government trade and investment advisor, lost a preliminary application to dismiss a fraud case which was filed against her by her Ugandan housemaid Ms Idah Zirintusa. Ms Zirintusa, a former employee at State House, sued Ms Whittaker at the United States District Court in Columbia, for fraud, unjust enrichment and illegal interference with her earlier contract with State House.

Ms Zirintusa alleged in her pleadings that Whittaker entered into a three-year oral employment contract pursuant to which Whittaker promised her four times the wage she had been earning in Uganda, full tuition at a US college, food and shelter.

Ms Whittaker further promised Ms Zirintusa to make separate payments to support her family which she left in Uganda. Ms Whittaker was also accused of violating various provisions of the US Fair Labour Standards Act (“FLSA”), D.C. Payment and Collection of Wages Law, and D.C. Minimum Wage Act by failing to pay her the minimum wage and overtime pay to which she was entitled for the domestic services she provided to Whittaker and her friend Harris.

Like in most cases involving desperate Africans and their American or European masters, Ms Whittaker didn’t deliver her part of the bargain. And upon institution of the case in court she tried to play the ‘alien’ card arguing that because Ms Zirintusa like many Ugandans (emphasis mine) was not legally permitted to work in the United States, she could not sustain her claims.

Whittaker also argued that Ms Zirintusa was not entitled to overtime pay under either federal or D.C. law because domestic service workers who reside in their employer’s residence are exempt from the overtime pay requirement. She (Whittaker) based her defence in part on the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”) which makes it illegal for aliens to sue for breach of contract.

Fortunately, the judge was of a different view. Court stated that although the purpose behind IRCA was to eliminate employers’ economic incentives to hire undocumented aliens, nothing in the IRCA or its legislative history suggested that the US Congress (lower chamber of their parliament) intended to limit the rights of undocumented aliens.

The judge noted the fact that several courts in America have held that all employees, regardless of their immigration status, are protected by the provisions of the US Fair Labour Standards Act (FLSA.) Court thus sated that Ms Whittaker’s reliance on cases in which illegal aliens were not entitled to bring employment discrimination claims were un-convincing.

In this case court also considered one of the injustices suffered by Ugandans working abroad. And that’s fraud where people are lured into employment only to end being conned. The judge in the Ms Zirintusa case held that because she gave up her job at State House to take up Whittaker’s offer in the US, she had a right to claim her entitlements.

Then there is the issue of unjust enrichment ,where the foreign master will make you work like a slave and offer you a paltry pay. Court while considering the provisions of the FLSA that allow an employer to deduct the costs of food, lodging and other expenses from a domestic employee’s wages- stated that such deductions should be made after full payment of the employee for work done.

Much as there are many illegal Ugandan aliens living and working in the US, their rights as domestic workers or otherwise, should be respected. It’s only fair that one should receive a pay that is commensurate to work done.

The writer is a journalist and advocate
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