Monday, January 5, 2009

"Life in the U.S. ... Somehow"

So I'm home. We recovered some of my village pictures and posted them… and I'm currently sorting through thousands and thousands of pictures from my friends so I can make a scrapbook. This is probably the greatest challenge I have faced throughout the whole trip. It’s nice to be home and to be able to make a better comparison of Uganda and America and to be able to find practical applications for what I learned.

Since I have been home:

No one has offered me his crippled grandchild as a gift.
No one has confused the smell of bug spray or of hand-sanitizer with the smell of perfume.
I haven’t seen a single house plastered and floored with cow manure.
No one yells “white girl!!!” at me when I walk around on the streets (or “Muzungu Mama” or “Obama!” or “My Size”).
20-30 mangoes now costs maybe 50 dollars instead of 50 cents and if I just climbed any random tree on somebody’s property to pick 20-30 mangoes for myself, I would be breaking a law.
I am much less dirty and much more understood. And while you guys have been asking me so many questions, I have also been asking them of myself. Thanks for your thought-provoking questions!

Some of the questions that I will continue to try to answer… What is it that makes “development” such a difficult and daunting task? What is development? In what ways did America struggle post-independence and how are these similar to the ways in which so many former English colonies in Africa are struggling? How and why are they so different? Studying development studies for a semester left me with far more questions than answers (so I guess it’s good that before I left my teacher told our class that we get educated to realize that we are stupid… so then we can ask more questions… etc).

What is my role in another country’s development? What is the role of America and of the world? Are we doing more harm than good by pumping so much money and so many mandates into their nation? How necessary is it that we do this while they are trying to transition from dependence to independence? Does our role differ in different situations? Should we intervene in cases of genocide or epidemics or bad healthcare? Should we try to stop Kony from abducting child soldiers in Northern Uganda or tell President Museveni to stop torturing all those who oppose him so that the people can actually have a say in their own development? Should America fund their hospitals? Should private organizations do so? How do we stop the inane corruption at the governmental and non-governmental organizational levels?… Is how I just worded that question a problem? Is that problem caused by me being a nosy and self-righteous American? Maybe I should have asked how Uganda will stop the corruption.

One glaring difference between our cultures... which is also one that is very hard to put words to… is that “Ugandans are not whiners like the Kenyans. ” [nor like Americans which epitomize this culture of whining.] This quote was made by my homestay brother when I asked him if Ugandans will riot if Museveni takes power again (just as Kenya’s president tried to do last year). We enjoy the American Dream. We hope for, expect, and demand the best… and if we do not get it… we speak out, petition, and riot. This is in so many aspects of life—from marriage (one of the reasons our divorce rates are so high) to politics. Most Ugandans do not vote. One of my friends in Uganda interviewed the former National Voting Commissioner. This man not only quit his job but also stopped voting because it is pointless. My academic advisor’s husband is in an opposition party and was tortured. On a more personal level—a person whose child falls into a gaping, uncovered manhole in the middle of the street doesn’t sue anyone. A man laying flayed-open on a hospital bed for two days before his emergency surgery doesn’t shout “Malpractice!” at the doctors who are taking tea in the next room. And when the power goes out at the huge, regional hospital that can’t afford generators, people just expect to lose their loved ones. Stuff happens and Ugandans are much more accepting of this than we are. I think partly this must be caused by the fact that often their complaints are unheard. Another reason—life is harder there and they are just very strong and accustomed to struggle. I hid my tears when I was leaving my village mommy because it is inappropriate to cry about stuff like that in Uganda.

This issue is one which I suppose I believe needs a happy medium. Americans should whine less. If you burn yourself with coffee… maybe just use the philosophy of “stuff happens.” But at the same time—Ugandans are getting screwed over—and hard—because they don’t whine about stuff. Maybe they should be more entitled and feel more entitled than what they do. If they whined a little more, they might get a little more. I don’t know… is one way right or wrong enough to think that there should be change? …Changing culture is another huge issue.

Is there a way for a country to develop and retain its culture? One very apparent lesson I learned is that so much more traditional culture is apparent in the villages (versus in the cities). Another very apparent lesson—the villages are much much less developed. Can we have both development and tradition? How and in what proportions? Surely some traditions must be sacrificed for development. The tradition of one region in Uganda of smearing dung on the umbilical cord of a newborn can cause hydrocephalus and other diseases. So they must stop doing this to reduce the number of sick people. This is just one tiny, very specific example of how development and tradition sometimes oppose each other. Examining other cultural norms --such as having “no sense of urgency” or needing to breastfeed a child even if you have HIV, or circumcising girls so that they can have more respect within the community—would open another can of worms.

Alright… that’s as much as I want to think for now. I'm still on holiday. But thanks for everything. I hate to say all your support was surprising… but it might have been—just a little. I appreciate your love and interest. And last semester was truly the best series of experiences I have ever had. I plan on returning to Uganda one day… and who knows… maybe I’ll document those adventures, too.

But for now… I am happy enough realizing that I can find plenty of adventure and irony and funny cultural nuances here at home. My escape from bananas is not going unappreciated either. And afterall, I can still take a basin bath or give a goat as a gift if I really want to.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

“Just Some Wrinkles, No Regrets”

My stay here in Uganda is coming to an end. I am at the stage of trying to process everything I have learned so that I can take it back with me to America. I am also at the stage of compiling my hefty research paper of the role of counseling in helping to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. I am looking forward to our trip to Jinja next week and to spending the last week in Uganda with all my friends. This is probably my last blog because I am very busy with the last minute details.

I am excited to see people and to be home for the holidays. And I am sad to say goodbye to Uganda. Though I can’t anticipate that it will be my last goodbye. It will be interesting to see in what ways I incorporate this experience into my life in America. It was fun sharing a few of my experiences in Africa with you, and I will share any more that you want to hear.

P.S. I know I promised evidence of what Nick would look like in a gomis. But in the process of breaking, my camera erased my memory card full of pictures from the village, the ceremonies, the circumcisions, the family, and the friends. So… I will have to tell my stories another time in another way.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Have you ever wondered what Nick would look like in a Traditional African Dress?

There is now visual evidence of what this might look like. Stay tuned for pictures of me wearing a gomis. This week certainly has been cultural.

I was kinda the Maid of Honor for a Wedding I sorta missed. I was given the title of “Designer” (Maid of Honor) and “Guest of Honor” at my first African Wedding. I say “kinda” because I didn’t really have any special duties other than that I was one of the very very few people who could actually be transported to the church where the wedding happened. I say that I kinda missed it because I never saw them officially married by the priest. It was also a 4-hr Confirmation ceremony, and the bishop never once mentioned the wedding. So They were married at some point but maybe before the mass started… I don’t know. The weirdest part of the wedding: neither the bride or groom looked happy in the least. They smiled only when feeding each other and at the end when I took a picture. They avoided making eye contact and speaking to each other. If she wore black instead of white, the whole ceremony would make much more sense. It looked something like a funeral for their parents.

Everything was borrowed. They have a village wedding gown, veil, tiara, party supplies, shoes, etc… because of financial reasons. They ceremoniously cut a piece of sliced bread and fed each other with it and handed people small pieces since there was no cake. The open bar was two pots of millet beer with long straws.

Now lets talk about the bride price. A man must buy a woman before he can marry her. A pretty modest bride price might be 6-9 cattle. The parents determine the price though. The man and his family bring furniture, food, livestock, etc. to the family at the Introduction Ceremony. The bride price is a huge reason why divorce is not so common here. Parents must pay back the price if the daughter leaves. Many parents burn the bedsheets of the daughter when she marries to symbolize that she is not to come back.

The Introduction Ceremony: Parents are not to meet the person you date until you are engaged. They must then meet to make sure that he is not a relative. In-laws are not to be near to the spouses’ parents of the opposite sex. This means that my mother-in-law could not be in the same room (or would have to be in opposing corners) as my husband. They are not to enter the bedroom of the parents… At the wedding, Mama Angella feared to get into the car that was taking us home because it was owned by her son-in-law.

Now for Muzungu Bride Price: If a man marries a Muzungu, the price is at least doubled. This is because he has now risen in status and everyone in the entire village will respect him. As for their children: children are scared to play with them for fear that they might break. Because they are assumed to not work so hard, they are considered frail in comparison to full-blooded African children.

Yesterday I also saw a circumcision ceremony. As I mentioned before it is a circumcision year, and there have been many parties throughout my village. On Monday, I was swept away with a huge throng of people going home-to-home. The candidate and his family are painted white with flower. Drums follow him around and people dance on all sides of him. Men carry long sticks and tree branches. He wears a stoic expression and a fabric that forms an “x” on his chest. He blows a whistle but doesn’t speak. At the homes, he is given money. It’s essentially trick-or-treat where one person gets the treats but everyone is welcome to dress up and have fun. These marches go on for two days prior to the circumcision and are followed by parties.

On the third day of the festivities after more marching and a feast at the Uncle’s, the boy is cut. As a Muzungu, I was entitled to special viewing privelages. I walked into the arena, which was fenced off by a string on all sides. Hundreds of people were gathered to watch. I got to stand with the three cutters, the father, and the grandfather. The mother and all female relatives sit inside with legs straight and outstretched. They hold their breath because if they twitch at all, it is believed that the boy will also twitch. Was there a goat heart on a stick in the center of the ring? Of course. Were the boy and his mother completely smeared with cow manure? Yes. Was the boy carrying a headless, roasted chicken as he ran into the ring? Yes. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for the boy, there was so much commotion and pushing when he ran into the ring, hanging out. It happened so quick… he ran in and seconds later the whistle blew to signify that it was done. I say its fortunate for me because I didn’t see the actually cutting (which doesn’t last more than 3-4 seconds… if it does, the cutter is caned). I say unfortunately for him because (as is commonly the case) the cutter was jostled and an artery cut. They did make sure that the Muzungu got a good look and pictures of all the blood though.

Other customs:
If the boy doesn’t fear (flinch, blink, make a sound, cry), he is now a man. If he does show any signs of fear, the sticks carried by the mob come into play. He is swiftly caned. His mother is too (it is believed she must have moved and caused the boy to fear). The father hides. The boy is disgraced. All money, cattle, goats, chickens, etc that were given to him are taken away.

The reason he stands on a sack with dried, crumbled clay: The foreskin and blood MUST fall onto the sack. If they don’t, someone can steal them to bewitch the boy. Bewitching is one cause of taking so long to heal. On this occasion, no one who is not in good favor with the family is allowed anywhere near the house. They can be caned if they come. This is to further protect the boy from being bewitched.

The cutter… We asked how he became a cutter. He is possessed by a spirit and trains others how to cut. Right after cutting, he runs away. Because if he messes up, he is caned. (he was also bewitched). If he chops off the head… he is stoned to death on the spot. He is trained “medically” for instances such as this where he cut an artery. He simply removed a safety pin and a string from the boys vest and put two small holes in the organ. He threaded the string and tied it tight to try to stop the bleeding.

Ah I love how much culture is in the village… and I will bring home pics… but that’s all the descriptions I can give for now.

Other fun facts I have been learning in the village:
Popping Corn is a different species altogether (so next time Fajita Friday at school tells me I cannot add corn to my fajita because it endangers the cooks’ eyes, I can respond “sorry sir, but I believe you are misinformed about the nature of corn breeding. Now please allow me to properly enjoy this fajita”)

Water is quite a monster in the village. Sometimes we don’t have drinking water for most of the day, sometimes I don’t bathe for awhile. Retrieving water can take several hours and requires quite a bit of manpower.

The Wednesday after American elections, East Africa (at least) went crazy. Kisumu, Kenya held a public holiday. Women and men yelled in the streets of Mbale. In their eyes… An African man is now in charge of the most powerful nation on Earth. For a couple days I was called “Obama” instead of “Muzungu”

Also, one big problem in the village: girls married off at 11,12,13 years old. Many want to marry older men to get money. Many parents pressure them to marry so they also get money (bride price).

Also… Yay for taking 16 pills a day/ not really taking all the pain killers prescribed… for a Nile-Style chest and lung infection. Cough!

That’s all for now. You can email me any questions you want. Take care all!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The African Trail

“Mulembe!” =Hello in Lugiisu (My new language)

Ive made it out of the village alive and alone! For that fact I am very proud. When I first got to Mbale and was led to the village by my family, we walked for about an hour and a half from the main road to the house. We arrived at night and I realized I didn’t know so many stars even existed. My village is in the middle of miles of tewali (nothing/nowhere). Thankfully, I found out the next day that we had taken the long road. It really only takes about 35 minutes to get to a road.It still takes around an hour and a half to get to Mbale each day. I am proud of myself for memorizing the way. Here it is:

After you reach Namwanga from a taxi that most likely cheated you, walk along the path that could possibly be handled by a lifted AMC Eagle until you come to a collection of three huts, one of which has bricks piled in front of it. At this point, veer right onto a footpath (one foot in front of the other from here on out). Continue on this path until you get to a small group of “black-eyed susans.” Here, opt for the shortcut by taking a slight jog to the right into the middle of a matooke plantation. Pick up speed after you pass the mud house with white polkadots because you are headed fore the house of the crazy old man who might grab your hand and ardently repeat “I am your father!” Don’t believe him. Stay to the left of his house and take the trail that has the spiky grass bushes. Follow this until you get through the matooke. Take the next jog right after the 7 foot tall ant hill taking over the tree. While you continue through the maize and matooke and huts, continue to greet everyone you see (as you will be considered rude if you don’t). Also continue to dodge marriage proposals (pretending you don’t understand works well). Step on the ropes of the cattle as you are walking past, otherwise they might get spooked and trip you. After you come to the sight of the really tall and straight trees clustered together behind the water hole, you are getting close. Stay on the current trail until you get to Angella’s.

Sorry you will probably get lost because in the interest of time, I have lkeft out most of the trail details. But don’t fret. Being “lost” isn’t so bad. The other day as I walked during the sunset, I was singing out loud and trying not to pee my pants when I had a revelation. “This is how pineapples grow.” Wait! My family told me the pineapples were far. Great. I got caught up with Alanis Morrissette and my mind had left me. Thankfully a yell from a man named Titus Matete interrupted my newly collected thoughts and he was able to guide me home.

But the village is fun. America has nothing like an African village (that Im aware of). I am an hour’s walk from the nearest power outlet. Though we do have enough solar power to support a light and a tiny black and white TV. (this should make us question the excuse that solar power is too expensive. Our solar panels are held up by a tall stick and I live in a village that cant afford toilet paper). After my first hike into the village, Family Guy was on TV (white static with the voices of Peter and Lois). We eat our first meal of the day at 4-5pm and dinner at 11pm. I bathe in complete darkness. At this time, its fun to pretend I am blind and there are no cockroaches. I prefer to pee out in the open at night time because our latrine is also a hike that I don’t feel comfortable with at night time. Especially because I am very cautious of walking in the grass because of the poisonous snakes. More about them later.

On my first day in the village, I farmed with my mother. She taught me how to plant cassava and we toured the village. We stopped in a tiny hut with about 20 people in it gathered around a pot of warm millet beer. They drink out of 3 foot long straws… and they can start early in the morning. I tried it and its not so bad if you can get over the chunks.

On the second day, I also farmed (I enjoy wearing the same dress everyday like everyone else does). I also learned that because I am a foreigner, I am the village expert on everything from farming to first-aid to fake eyes. My mom (who’s a nurse) came to ask me what to do for a snake bite. “ummmm… tie it off. If it’s poisonous we find a doctor.” Yep it was poisonous so I ran with her to the village nurse/health center where a girl was crying on the ground with a banana leaf tied around her ankle. This bandage had been administered by the nurse. They asked me if I have anything for her. “Ummm. I can give you something to clean it and a bandage.” I also had stuff for bites and the itch she would later feel. Yay. I ran panicked knowing that I was the only one in the village who had the resources to get this girl out of the village and to a doctor. It was really scary. I brought her what first-aid I had and a glass of water to calm her. The nurse ended up having an antidote, and I got thanked for the “treatment.” I followed up with her, and the next day the only real treatment I could provide was entertaining her while she was bored and in pain. She has been living at our house and teaching me games… though her favorite activity is to touch my “smooth” hair. Although she always fails to braid it because it is too short… she has managed to tie strings from her skirt into it (and give me small baldspots in the process). We laugh and pretend I have extensions.

My mother is so kind. Her name is Wanjera Angella and she is a widow with a long story. We share a bed and she prays the rosary before bed and upon waking. She always prays for me to have a good husband and she wants to come to the wedding. She says when she gets to America she will be wearing the OSU Buckeyes shirt I gave her and will ask people at the airport to show her the way. She will then make posho and Calo for my family and visit the churches. I said I would know the perfect church docent for her (my own grandma). She is very old and I worry a little about her health but she is still very strong. She farms all day and I have personally seen her on multiple occasions carrying our small calf.

Also, as a fun side story… the night before I arrived in the village, I slept with my friend Jenna and some of the street children in Kisenye slums. They were so nice. Especially their “daddy” (a 17 year old boy named Johnson.) Johnson came as a Tutsi refugee when he was three. He is all alone. He recently got out of prison for being idle in Kampala. He enjoyed singing Chris Brown and Celine Dion to me. We danced with the kids and the song “No Air” will always remind me of them. When it was time for us to sleep, Jenna and I tucked them in with the blankets we had gotten from our friends and we sang them to sleep. (Everything from church songs to Ben Folds Five to John Denver… I had a fun little solo of “When you say nothing at all”… that one was for you daddy (if I knew any prince lyrics, I would have sang for you too mom).
Although I almost got no sleep at all, we got up bright and early and the kids walked us to our resource center so I could leave for Mbale. One the way to Mbale, we passed a large crowd waving machetes and playing drums. Some of them were painted white. For a circumcision. Every other year in November the school children are circumcised. Then the driver pointed ahead and said “my cousins are there.” We saw about 30 baboons. Later we stopped for one to cross the road.

I am now being kicked off the computer at the internet café so I will have more fun stories next time as I think this weekend promises to be amazing!! Take care!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Stay Tuned

Faithful readers… The blogger is currently in a very remote area, living without electricity and is many miles from an internet café. The next post should be within a week or so. Thank you for staying tuned…

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Best Week Ever!

My trip to Mbale started with a bang. After driving through the savannah and the hills, we drove up a mountain (on which we got stuck in the mud for 45 minutes) and watched the sunset over Uganda. We could see for miles and miles. The next day after breakfast, we went to Children’s Resotration Outreach and played with homeless street children and learned about the CRO program. CRO gives them two meals a day, counsels them, and supports their schooling, but unfortunately cannot shelter them. We had seen many children sleeping on the streets, so it was both happy and heartbreaking to see them being children during the daytime. We learned that one major problem for them is drugs. When one child was asked why he cannot give up drugs, he said that Mbale is cold at night and he cannot afford a blanket. “The drugs are my blanket.”

Even in Kampala, there are so many street children. You always hear that most homeless in America are children too… but the homeless children are much more visible here. Often they choose to be on the streets because street life may be better than their home lives. They often come from violent homes, and they choose not to go to school because they can make money on the streets. Unfortunately it can be a confusing moral dilemma about whether or not to give them money. Many of them don’t choose street life. Kampala has a large problem with human trafficking. Many of the children (and prostitutes) here are kidnapped from villages or sold by their parents and beg and work for bosses. Thus, giving money to children may mean giving money to their bosses so that they can acquire more children.

Now for the fun part!

Later that day, we got cabins on a hillside that overlooked Sipi Falls. If ever I can post pictures, you will agree with me that it is absolutely gorgeous. We went on a two hour hike to the base of the falls and stood in the spray from the water (though we were not allowed to swim because SIT is currently battling a lawsuit from another program about a swimming-related death). That night, after dinner when we were all singing around the campfire, I snuck to the top of the hill on which we were staying and stood alone in the dark on top of the mountain. From this island in the sky, I could see 360 degrees of other mountains and flatland and Lake Choga for miles and miles. My friend Laura called and had suspected where I had gone off too. She met me on top of the mountain and we decided to sleep under the African stars.

After taking all of our bedsheets and making a little bed on the ground, we talked about life, stargazed, and found shapes in the clouds. We actually saw a star slowly fall and burn out. The clouds above us started moving much closer and much more quickly and we thought maybe it was about to storm. But suddenly everything around us went white and turned to mist, and we could no longer see further than our little island. We realized that we were inside a cloud. We just looked at each other and then jumped up and started dancing. We danced for probably 15 minutes until the cloud had gone. After that we had little left to say and we fell asleep under the full moon. We woke up in the morning to the sun rising over Sipi Falls on our right. Muna, our “minister of transport”/ taxi driver, hiked up the mountain to watch the sunrise and filled us with some fresh parables (as he is accustomed to doing) to start the day. He loves animal analogies, and I think this one in particular was “be a snail. Leave your mark behind.”

The next day, we hiked up to see two other waterfalls and we stood behind one of them and got completely drenched before we split into groups and went into villages to do focus groups. My group spoke to farmers about cattle rustling which has caused a huge conflict in the region for the last fifty years. The Karamojong, a violent tribe in the East, believe that all horned cattle in the world belong to them and were stolen at some point. (interesting fact: one reason for the chaos and conflict in Karamoja is that they were neglected by British colonization. Great Britain said “geez, we are not going to deal with that,” and left Karamoja alone). They justify their cattle raids on the grounds that they are taking back what is rightfully theirs. They kill and rape and burn and pillage while they steal the cows. Cattle rustling affects everything from the education system to the health care system to the economy of Kapchorwa which is a two day walk from Karamoja.

We then left for the rural homestay. It was fun dropping everyone off and seeing where they lived… little mud, grass-roofed houses, hikes up undrivable terrain, baboon territory, etc. Any children we encountered on the way were scared of our car. One time we were swarmed by them until our taxi turned on. They each jumped back about 10 feet and briefly cowered. The last thing our taxi-driver told to us before we got to our homes was don’t walk without a man at night. According to him, the baboons are known to (to censor this for my 5 year old readers) forcibly have their way with women. He is kinda crazy. He said even a newborn male infant could serve as baboon repellent at night.

Our rural homestay was amazing. Cara and I got unlucky because we had a tin roof instead of a grass-roofed hut… and we had a mattress to share. Our resentment quickly faded though because we had a wonderful time in the village. They were very fond of feeding us… way way way too much! (For one breakfast … which people out there usually cannot afford to eat… we were served 30 matooke, an entire cabbage, and 4 pounds of rice). Our dad was the chairman on the local council and he took us all around the community to talk to farmers about our research on subsistence farming. We spoke to like 50 cassava farmers and one pot smuggler. We had two one-year-old babies living with us who liked to play with knives. Most children here do. I feel like I missed out when I was growing up because we were not allowed to play with huge machetes or run with knives. But I guess monopoly was the next best thing. Gotta make the best with what ya got.

Our gift to the family was a goat (also soap and salt). When the goat arrived by motorcycle, our dad was really confused, but the look on his face when he found out it was a gift was unforgettable. I have never seen someone so excited and so grateful about a gift I had given. He made plans for the goat—he will build a shelter so it doesn’t have to worry about getting wet, milk it for the children everyday, and borrow a neighbor’s male goat to impregnate ours so that he can save up enough goats to trade them for a cow. Cara and I also got to milk the goat. I accidentally shot both my dad and myself with the milk until the goat kicked me and I spilled most of the children’s breakfast on the ground. I wish I could post pictures!

On our third day in the homestay, Cara and I, hopped on the back of some bicycles and rode to Kenya. We freely walked past customs and wandered around Kisumu Road (two hours from Barrack’s grandmother). Nothing really exciting happened because all the cool shows didn’t start until after dark… but we did get really cheap tea and a stalker!

Our last day was bitter sweet. Our dad repeatedly told us we were good people (as he had told us the whole time). To thank us, he bought 2 one-foot tall mahogany trees named Cara and Alex. We planted them on his property and he promised that they would be there whenever we come back. He even said that he would water them everyday for a month and when Cara and Alex are medium-sized, he will make two cement stones with the names and bury them so that we can always know which trees are ours. He was so cute… and also very protective of us. He had a wonderfully welcoming family. We promised to send him pictures.

I am back in Kampala for now, but next week I will begin an internship with The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) in Mbale, Uganda. I think I will be working with counselors there and hopefully I will be involved in the outreach programs. I will keep you updated!!! Yay!

To those of you interested in learning more about schools and disabled people in Uganda:

Because education is seen as a way out of poverty, schools here are intense! A huge number of children go to boarding school (even when they are five). Two of my host siblings go to a really good boarding school. This is their schedule: They are woken by a bell at 3:30am. “If you are not in the classroom by 4, you just kneel” (they cane you in schools). At 4am, mandatory study hours start. Breakfast is at 6am. At 7am classes start. They have a lunch break and a 30 minute dinner break. At 7pm mandatory study hours start. They last until 10pm. The next day, they are again woken at 3:30am.

As for the disabled… again the disabled are much more visible in Uganda. There are so many more people with natural physical deformities (a huge reminder of the prominence and convenience of both plastic surgery and wheel chairs in the US). Also, many people are crippled in accidents and cannot be helped here. An incredible amount of people crawl around the city with sandals on their hands and calluses on their knees. Not only have I never seen people crawling around the city in America… but I have never seen them try to cross the road of anarchy on all fours. Every time I see a careening taxi with a man crawling in front of it, I hold my breath. It is kind of terrifying. I do enjoy seeing careening taxis with men on roller skates holding onto the back for a free ride.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Roasted Ants and the Choleric Slums

This week I have been further acculturated. I danced traditional dances with my sisters while the help were cracking up laughing at me. I also ate ants at tea time the other day. During the rainy season, so many flying ants are disabled, and you can find them in swarms on the ground after the rain. In fact, while they were cooking the ants, I walked around to the side of the house and found thousands of wings lying on the ground from where Kiisa had been preparing them. For those of you are interested in trying them the recipe is simple:

Roasted Ants:
Ingrediants: Ants (dewinged)

First, put the ants in a pot. Roast over a charcoal stove until they cease looking like maggots and turn brown (about 45 minutes over low heat). Remove from heat, put in a bowl, and gross out your friends or your foreign exchange student. Watch them eat the ants for your own entertainment.
Warning: the dismembered insect heads, legs, and bodies get stuck in your teeth. You may choose to pretend that the thorax caught in your molar is popcorn. To each her own.

While we are on the topic of food… I will talk about traditional Ugandan food. Food is only food if it is cooked and served with sauce. Otherwise it is not food (example: fruit is not food nor is chicken). Food includes rice, matooke, cassava, posho (millet), and potatoes. The sauces include beef, chicken, fish, gnut, and beans. I learned that chicken is not considered meat pretty quickly. When I moved into my home, I told my mom that I did not take meat. Fine. A couple days later she began serving me pieces of one of our chickens. I pawned them off on our siblings thinking she had forgotten. She was offended and asked me why I would not eat chicken. I think we were both confused, so she asked me why I told her I didn’t want meat but I neglected to mention I didn’t want chicken. Anyways, meat is a sauce, because it is mixed with water when cooked and the stew like liquid is poured over food. Gnut sauce which I have grown to love is ground peanuts cooked with water and salt (it doesn’t taste to much like peanuts). These meals are eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in HUGE proportions. I can stomach a dinner finally, but an African lunch is still ridiculous for me (I tell them I want little more than the amount given to Buwembo- the almost three year old who lives with us. I can barely finish that). Here no one ever leaves any food on their plate after a meal. The plates are left looking almost clean.

The meat (and chicken) is another story. I have been told that the beef tastes 10X fresher than America’s. None of their food or animals are given any kind of chemicals or pesticides to grow. However, meat here isn’t refrigerated when sold. It hangs everywhere in little stands without windows along the dirty streets and traffic fumes. Meat can be brought to the butcher from the trunk of a taxi, from a boda boda man, from someone walking with a couple cow legs thrown over his shoulder. Boda bodas can tie 30 chickens to their motorcycles. Some hang in front of the exhaust pipes. Another thing I learned is that most other countries don’t refrigerate eggs. Here, we have about 5 dozen eggs that sit outside my home until we decide to eat one.

Also, Ugandan tradition is to make extra food in case visitors come. In Uganda, visitors aren’t usually scheduled even if they plan on staying overnight. People just stop in and are always fed. For example, the town drunk frequents my home and gets a little food each time. Also, I will never forget being scared almost out of my seat on my second night in the homestay when our auntie literally popped her head through the curtained window in the dark dark night during our dinner to say “hi.” People are much more trusting and inviting. There is a saying that “In a house, there is no road.” Meaning people don’t come to your home in order to get something or go somewhere. They come to socialize, just to be there. I love that quote.
Okay, enough about food. This week was a real learning experience for me. As part of my gender studies course that I took last week with 5 other girls, we went to the slums this week with the Slum Aid Project. Many of the shanty houses I see on the side of the road are already worse than anything I have seen in America. But the slums are so much worse. They are buildings with about 5 or 6 one-bedroom homes. The homes are 10ftX10ft. We talked to families that share these rooms with 11 kids. Most of the families have at least 5 kids.

One of the first things that struck me about the slums was the awful stench. They smell like rotting food, burning trash, and the sewers that run through the slum which you have to be careful not to fall into. SAP does advocacy and counsels people involved in domestic violence, child sexual abuse, drugs, prostitution, etc . We talked to the community leaders and to citizens who lived in the communities. We saw hungry children, battered women… spoke to a former prostitute, to internally displaced persons from Northern Uganda, to refugees from DRC, Eritrea, and Somalia.
That’s all for now. I am leaving for another week of traveling yay!!