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!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mpanga Forest

So last Friday, I went to the US Embassy to vote. The security guard was surprised and looked at my driver's license. She said I did not look lke I was old enough to vote. I have heard from three separate people that I look 12, 14, and 16 years old. I think ths is partly because of my new do... but also partly because I am thin. Here in most schools, the girls are not allowed to have hair. Also, the women here are and want to be very curvy. In opposition to all of America's sketchy informertials about how to lose 10 lbs in a week are even sketchier Ugandan posters on the street advertising weight gain. The streets are littered with black and white print out with phone numbers at the bottom. They say nothing more than "Get Fat" or "For hips Gain" or "Gain Bums." I am considering calling one of these companies so that I can look older than 12.

On Saturday, I went with some friends to Mpanga Forest. I cannot wait to post pictures because it was absolutely gorgeous. We went on a 3+ hour hike through the dense tropical forest. Red-tailed monkeys greeted us when we entered. Huge Horn-Billed Birds also said Hi (Sqwauk!) The trees were massive... some so big that i don't think all twelve of could hold hands and reach around it. We saw rainbows of colors all over. We got a little lost, but we found some villagers working in the swamp (we had not seen anyone else since we arrived). A nice little boy looking down on us from a rock with a machete cocked over his head greeted us and his sisters showed us the way out of the forest.

After we left the forest, we were tired of walking. But because we were in the middle of nowhere, we had much more walking to do. When we got to the only road from there to Kampala, the skies opened and we walked in the pouring rain for 40 minutes until we hailed a Post Bus. In spite of us 6 soaking, dripping Muzungus yelling "Stop Ssebo!" it drove right by all of our friends who had been walking ahead of us. They were not very pleased with us. We had originally planned to drive to a hostel on Entebbe beach and spend the night and to see the Botanical Gardens and the zoo the next day, but we were exhausted.

Also... on my way home, I saw a funny boda boda (motorcycle/ moped) combination. A goat sandwiched between two men. T.I.A.
I then saw someone's rabbit (dinner) grazing on the trash on the side of the road. T.I.A.

On Sunday, I was home when one of our chickens was being slaughtered. Although I couldn't watch the head come off... I learned a good deal about what's iniside of a chicken.

Take care!!!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rwanda Whew!

Today’s blog will be longer and more somber than the rest. Last week really got me thinking, and many of the activities we did on our excursion to Western Uganda and Rwanda were sad and educational to say the least. We did have many fun and exciting experiences along the way though too. I stood on the border between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Rwanda’s natural beauty is incredible. We drove through mountains the whole way to Kigali, which is a beautiful city… and because Rwanda is run by a dictator, the city is much more organized and well kept than Kampala is.
To those of you interested in learning more about the genocide one good book is We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. Two movies we watched were Sometimes in April and Hotel Rwanda. Both are decent.
The day before we left on our excursion, I got a chance to go to Kiboga and work on one of the Building Tomorrow Schools. We met the children who will attend the school and worked alongside the community. We helped dig the foundation. Getting my hands dirty felt awesome because last year at school, I was a (small) part of a club that raised $35,000 to build a school. Plus I am totally an observer here, and I felt like I actually did something. The people were so nice and invited us into their homes. After we finished our work, the locals took us up to their old school which was a 45 minute hike up a large hill. A little girl named Sharifa held my hand the whole way up and excitedly introduced me to her teacher. The primary school was a single room with a chalkboard and a few wooden benches.
Our first day in Western Uganda we went to the United Nations Millenium Development Project Village and learned about the systems the UN is implementing in select villages in developing nations to learn how to help communities successfully develop. Then we went to a Rwandan Refugee Settlement an briefly spoke to the refugees about their situation. I think about half of all the refugees from the Rwandan genocide entered Uganda, and Uganda has been trying to get rid of them now that Rwanda is peaceful again. The refugees live in extreme poverty. The children looked like those you see in charity infomertials with bloated bellies and crusty faces. The adults looked disgruntled and angry that we were not bringing them food or money. They told us they were starving and didn’t have enough room to grow their crops. Uganda has cut back on assisting them partly because they want them to leave. Many of them do not want to leave because they fear further persecution and prosecution should they return home.
Rwanda has a very bloody modern history. When it was colonized by the French in the 1800’s, the Catholic Missionaries decided to categorize people based on physical characteristics (particularly the width of the nose and the skin color). They arbitrarily created two main groups—the Tutsis and the Hutus. The minority were the Tutsis (with thinner noses and lighter skin) and they were treated as more intelligent and given positions of control over the Tutsis. The Hutus were mistreated and then in the middle of last century they were told by the Europeans that the majority should rule the minority and not vice versa… so a genocide started. I don’t think the first one was as terrible as the second, but it displaced countless refugees and launched a period of crazy tension. In the early 90’s, the tension once again boiled over and about 1 million people were slaughtered (mostly by machetes and mostly Tutsis) in about a year… with the world watching.
So the Kigali Genocide Memorial is amazing. It is not so different from the Holocaust Memorial in D.C. You can learn a lot of history (about a few other genocides too), hear personal stories, see pictures and skulls, etc. It is located on a plot of land with several mass graves right in the middle of the city. The part that hit me harder than the Holocaust memorial is that I was in the city and surrounded by people who were there. Everyone living in Kigali was affected… was either a perpetrator, victim, family member, or friend. Our tour guides lost parents and several were refugees for at least 5 years.
We went straight from learning about the atrocities to talking to those who performed them. At the last minute, we decided to make a stop at the Kigali Prison. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully comprehend this experience. It was extremely bizarre and emotionally confusing for all of us. If I came to hang out at an American prison, I would expect to be behind glass or bars, with guard supervision… etc. This prison was nothing like that. We walked in… some of us were told to leave cameras, but we were not searched, and some people freely carried in pocket knives, etc. when we walked in, I felt uneasy about the fact that the prisoners were freely walking around in the same area where we were. Plus the prison seemed like a resort. I was surprised to see men and women in same sex groups but not physically separated. We walked into the administration building and a prisoner who was lounging outside the head office kindly smiled and gave me her chair. We learned about the makeup of the prisoners, people aged 14 are mixed in with the rest, there isn’t a problem with torturing prisoners (like in Uganda), the prisoners are very well disciplined and kinda self-governing in that they hold elections to elect leaders for different sectors, etc. … the windows of the office were wide open, prisoners ambled by, no gunned guards seemed to be concerning themselves with either us or with protecting the administrators. We learned that Rwanda got rid of the death penalty after the genocide because they “didn’t want to see any more death.”
On our way to the chapel where we would meet the prisoners, I actually asked if we had left the prison. I saw a small fence abuout a football field away and many town houses within feet of it. Then I realized prisoners were strolling along the fence and the guard was facing the other way. We were still in prison. So I asked if it was a low-security prison. “No. This is our high security prison.” Wow. We entered the chapel which was covered in murals of a white Jesus. After we sat down, I noticed prisoners start strolling in and sitting behind us. This also made me a little nervous. They kept trickling in and then moved to the stage in front. By the time we began asking them questions, they significantly outnumbered us, and the administrators were sitting in the front of them with their backs turned to them. Not a guard was in the room with us. And they all seemed so friendly to one another. They truly and honestly looked like a family. The prison felt like a big commune or home. What’s more, two of the women talking to us actually had babies—one an infant and the other a toddler, who was passed around between a few of the women. Children under the age of three live with their mothers in prison.
Anyway, several of the prisoners stood up to tell us about their involvement during the genocide. One woman was an announcer on RTLM, the most popular anti-Tutsi radio station that gave orders to the Hutus to slaughter the Tutsis. Others were leaders or teachers and killers, must were conspirators. We then asked them questions.
One: “This has happened so many times throughout history; how could it happen again? Why didn’t you see that history was repeating itself?” --- the man who answered told us that they were not taught about that stuff in class. They do not have world history until secondary school. They were unaware and hatred had been building up so long.
One of our students gracefully asked: “Yeah the government told you to kill, but you are all thinking and rational beings so what made you think it was okay to brutally murder so many people?”--- the man told us about how they were taught since they were young that the Tutsi were the enemy… were terrible people who were trying to keep the Hutus down and use them. They were animals.
They all spoke of prayer and seeking forgiveness. They all thanked the prison system for helping them reconcile. Some of us students began to doubt their sincerity once we learned that by confessing and apologizing, many of them could get off or lessen their charges.
After the talk, the prisoners wanted to get a picture with us. We walked out as many of them shook our hands and we didn’t know how happy to look in the picture… some had their arms around us, told us “thank you” in French.
We didn’t know where to go from there. All during lunch, we tried to process what we had seen… the atrocities and those who did them. I was excited to see a prison system that seemed to treat the prisoners so well… they seemed more than comfortable. Someone asked me “Well, is that justice?” I thought about that question for the rest of the trip.
Right after lunch, we visited a church that was the site of a huge massacre. The priest of the congregation led the Hutus to his prison where he was hiding 10,000 Tutsis. Only a few survived. The priest now denies it and lives in Texas. Walking in, you notice bullet holes in the tin roof and in the bricks… but the most striking feature is the huge heaps of the victims’ clothes that cover the benches and the floor around the outside of the church. Seeing children’s clothing was especially difficult… especially when you could see that it was ripped or had large holes in it. Two forgotten machetes lay on the altar. The tabernacle is still open because of the bullet that broke into it. mary glowed in the sunlight splattered with faded blood. And the place smells like dusty clothes… 10,000 musty outfits. Many massacres happened like this one, and the church memorials are set up similarly.
In the basement of the church, one woman who died during gang rape has a special casket visible under the glass floor. Outside, two mass graves lay open with stairs leading into the grave. We walked into the tomb which has shelves from the floor to the high ceilings. They go so far back that they are too dark to see the back wall. On the shelves are the skulls and bones of the 40,000 men, women, and children who were killed in the church and in the surrounding neighborhood. Both of our tour guides’ parents were in the grave. It was her first time seeing the church.
After dinner, we had a lecture about the justice system and about reconciliation. Millions of cases and thousands of judges arose overnight. Many judges are illiterate. The focus of the whole ordeal is not retribution but rehabilitation and reconciliation. They basically don’t want to put away all the killers and ostracize all the Hutus because then the hatred won’t end. I can’t imagine where this leaves the victims.
Well to change gears, we shopped in Kigali the next day and then drove through the back roads of Queen Elizabeth National Park… where we saw elephants, warthogs, Ugandan Kobs, etc. We saw salt lakes being mined, and the mountains and the sky right before the storm were incredible. So far since I have been here… I have seen four of the five international borders surrounding Uganda. I probably wont see the fifth because it is too dangerous.
And on a lighter note…. One of my Muzungu colleagues saw a hobo jogging naked through the busy street market. I will leave you with that… and possibly with a few of my pictures… which will reveal a fun surprise… though Aunt Rosie: be warned that you might not like what you see. I will post more later.
Also to those who read about “slashing” the lawns here… I learned how a lawn is planted also. 100 community members each take a handful of fully grown grass from a grass pile… and a stick. They dig a small hole with the stick, put in one little grass rootlet (a few strands of grass) and repeat every few inches for the next 2 days. Sorry the blog was soooooo long and arduous!

Friday, September 19, 2008

This past week was good and relatively uneventful. On Sunday night, I saw the Ndere Troupe with my host brother Chiganda and Kiisa th
e cousin. They are a really talented, traditional music and dance group that has performed internationally and on MTV. It is located in Kampala, but the dancers and musicians are from all over East Africa. They had all the Americans come to the stage and dance! It was really fun! Also one of their dances requires the women to balance clay vases on their heads. One girl was able to sing and dance with a 7 or 8 foot tall tower of vases balancing precariously on her head! (Being able to walk a short distance while balancing something on my head is on my checklist of things to do/try before I leave… It is not as easy as these women make it look).

I also went to mass with my host brother on Sunday. There was plenty of singing and dancing. At the beginning they just had an open invitation to the mic and people passed it around and sang a song for about 20 minutes. They told everyone to “feel free…” to move around and dance and sing. It was much more exciting than our masses.

After school on Monday, children were playing next door, and I went to visit them. At first it was pretty awkward because the only vocabulary we had in common was “Muzungu.” Although I couldn’t understand them, I think they were challenging each other to a game of Who Dares Touch the Muzungu (with something like bonus points for holding my hand and fighting off the other children from claiming the position). It’s funny how many of the children are so curious as to what a white arm or ankle feels like. I knew I had to find a common ground between us or I would just remain a weird novelty to them… so after one of them touched me on the arm… I tapped her arm back and then ran…hoping she would understand the game of tag… she did and I quickly became their friend. I was being chased by a handful of kids and swinging them and giving them piggy back rides (their favorite). They each kept shouting “nange, nange!” (“me too, me too!”) until I got tired. I sat them in a circle and was able to teach them how to play “Duck, Duck, Doose” --for the most part. People around here work all day and into the night, so it was nice for me to have a break to play again.

Tonight Kiisa told me to follow her with the torch (the Ugandan term for flashlight), and she walked out of the compound and into the black night without telling me what we were doing. I followed her through the matooke trees and maize and past neighbors’ homes before I found out that we were in search of medicine because Nalongo (my host mom) had a rough day. We walked into someone else’s gated yard, and then the quest got much less mystical and adventurous. She walked around the house and rang the doorbell and asked for the medicine. A woman gave her the bag of leaves and berries on her porch, and we left. This apparently nameless plant is boiled, and the broth calms the stomach and head.

Interesting fact: I have been asking people here what their favorite American movies are, and everyone in my family said “McGyver and Prison Break.” People here love Chuck Norris for some reason “He’s just so funny and strong.” Arnold Schwarzenegger is also a hit. Bootlegged movies and series are insanely cheap here. They sell DVD disks with anywhere from 1 to 10 movies on them for not much more than 1$. They also love American music (especially hip hop). They keep really current too. Many songs I am hearing for the first time here. Several months ago Akon and Wyclef came, and Rhianna is coming in a month or two. In addition to hip-hop, they just adore Celine Dion, and we have heard her CD’s play in more than one fancy restaurant.

Men hold hands a lot here. It is a sign of friendship though and NOTHING more. They hold hands much more than men and women hold each others' hands (affection of that sort is quite hidden). Homosexuality is illegal and punished by life in prison (where a gay man probably wont last very long).

Lawns are “mowed” here by someone swinging a machete or a stick with a small blade on the bottom. Apparently the entire golf course in Kampala is mowed by a crew of machete-swingers.

Mackerere University is like any college campus in the Midwest... xombined with a farm. While you walk through campus, you can see huge long-horned cattle, goats, chickens, storks, etc standing on the quad. By large classroom buildings are mini shanty towns, which is also weird. It is like a college campus and village on the same property... but people do lounge on the quads!

I probably won’t update the blog next week because I will be traveling all week in Rwanda and Western Uganda. We will be learning about the genocide, visiting the genocide museum and memorial, and going to Queen Elziabeth National Park in Uganda, etc. On Saturday I am going with some other SIT students to help with the building of a school. The Building Tomorrow Club of Notre Dame fundraised all last year and raised $35,000 for this school. I am so excited to actually see it become a physical reality now and to work with the community in the construction.
I will be thankful to get some fresh air outside the city. Kampala is filled with smog and dirt so much so that many of the students I am with complain of nausea from the fumes when they walk around the city, take a taxi, or when the classroom windows are open and there is a breeze. I get a sore throat after a thirty minute walk. The air is very very dirty here.

Also, I am sorry you are hearing so much more about me than about Africa. I will try to rectify that soon!!! There is just so much to tell... I don't know where to begin.

Weraba (goodbye) for now!!! Have a great week everybody! Hopefully you all have electricity (and school) again. At least Columbus is still standing.
Lastly, Go Irish!! I hope you didn’t think I wouldn’t find out that we beat Michigan, Uncle Bill !

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I am now called Balambi. My parents gave me an African name that corresponds with the clan I belong to now. In Uganda several kingdoms exist. The central and largest clan is Buganda. (Uganda was named by the British as a mispronounciation of the word Buganda). Within the Buganda Kingdom there are 56 clans. Each is represented by a different totem. My family belongs to the Otter Clan. The clan that a person belongs to helps determine that person's name. Here, they do not use surnames for a whole family... but what a person's name is points to the clan he belongs to. Now The maids call me Balambi.

Last Saturday I stood in the Nile River!!! When we got to the Nile in Jinja, I was pretty choked up because I could not believe I was actually standing at the Nile’s Source… at the source of so much history, etc. For me, it was an incredible experience. When we left the city, we were able to see so much more of the natural beauty of Uganda. We saw rolling hills and lots of tropical fruits and flowers and sugar cane. It is beautiful. We ate lunch overlooking the river and then had an orientation about our homestay near the banks. While our teacher was speaking, monkeys started wildly jumping through the trees 30 feet away from us. One even squatted for about 5 minutes on the closest branch and ate a banana and stared at all of us.

For moments like that… some of us less-seasoned African explorers say “TIA.” TIA is something Leonardo DiCaprio says in Blood Diamonds… It means “This is Africa.” Other times we say TIA include:

When you see a little boy carrying a machete that is nearly as tall as he is. TIA. When you see a baby girl sitting, momentarily-unattended, in front of mountains of bananas. TIA. When you see a roadside shop selling 6 coffins next to a fruit stand painted with the Coke Logo and unleashed goats are playing in front of it. TIA. When little boys run through town without shirts and shoes (or at times naked) and little girls with their baby siblings strapped to their backs stand on the side of the highway and beg. TIA. When you see a boy watching you from a distance who appears to be eating a stick… and when you ask him what he is eating he says “stick.” When you see a shoddy banana stand with a paper print out sign above it that says “We treat diseases.” When women carry (and balance!!!) everything from benches to bananas to huge bags of rice on their heads. When you see huge long-horned cattle, goats, chickens, dogs, and storks walking along the streets and eating the trash off the ground. TIA

Everyone here LOVES OBAMA!!! … King Obama!!! The country is full of campaigners everywhere. At the craft market, a poster-size painted portrait of him hangs. In another shop they have a pile of US 1$ bills with his face on the middle. People here also love to talk about Obama. When people find out we are from America they ask about him, about who we are voting for, if we are from Illinois “the land of Obama.” Every one of our lecturers has mentioned him. He is called the “Child of Africa.” One of the reasons they love him so much is that he is also from East Africa.

The rest of my weekend was also very exciting. My first homestay family cancelled at the last minute, I will no longer be living with royalty. I now live with Dan and Agnes Lubinga. Dan is an accountant and he works for the African Centre for Treatment of Torture Victims. He has lived in Mppererwe his whole life and is the consul (he runs unopposed every time). He is also in a night program to get his Masters Degree. Agnes is a housewife and has 5 children (including twins which makes her very special here). Because they have twins they are called Nalongo and Salongo. She also raises many chickens (though she used to have 400) and pigs. We have three housemaids and a cousin that lives with the family and also does work. They are very very nice people… and are wealthy here. Their house is really nice, and I have my own room. I have a toilet and a pit latrine and a shower (though I bathe with a basin). They have a gated compound including a garage for their car, maids quarters, a kitchen, chicken and pig coupes, etc. I guess I lucked out with accommodations… but many other students are certainly having a more eye-opening experience than I am. And while I feel safe inside the concrete walls, I feel isolated and oblivious to what is around me.

Unfortunately right after I met my family, I got sick. The first thing I did after I put my bags down was go to the bathroom to puke. After dinner, in the middle of conversation, I ran to the bathroom and didn’t really make it. My host mom was worried, and I went straight to bed. I didn’t get to spend much bonding time with my family the first night. The next day, the doctor told me it was food poisoning. I took some medicine and felt better.

When I came home, my sister came in and whispered “Mommy is calling you.” I was a little scared... She was standing in the bathroom with a basin drawn. I had just heard that another student had her mom “show her how to bathe” on the first night. Since I went to bed without a bath… my mom showed me the next night. When I came into the bathroom, she just asked “Do you fear me.” I knew that I could either laugh or cry about the fact that I was being bathed as a twenty year old… and about the fact that she was acting like I did not know how to do it or couldn’t figure it out on my own. I chose to laugh… I went along with it… but it was no less awkward. At least all my friends thought it was hilarious and my story was entertaining. They still ask me to retell the story, I have been told it is the best homestay story yet.

The next morning during my first taxi ride alone… (I had already drove 3 miles in the wrong direction the previous day with other students)… I got off too early and walked in the wrong direction. When I asked an old man the direction to my school, he said “you are lost!” and helped me hitchhike a ride with some random old people to my school. They were very nice (everyone here is!). After ten minutes, a huge truck hit the back of their car. We had to pull off to a side street and they haggled and argued over how much to pay for the damages…. I couldn’t understand any of it… The end of the story is that I was a little late to school… but I had another story to tell.

At home, I play Jenga and Uno with my host sister Agatha (8years old) and my host cousin Ronald (16 years old). Also one of my brothers is turning 18 on September 15th and he reminds me sooo much of Sam. I found an African version of him for sure. He likes basketball, wants to come to America for college to study law, is tall, is very proud of his expensive Air Force Ones, is a little cocky, listens to rap and hip hop, etc. I think they have very similar personalities and senses of humor. I will post a picture of him sometime. His name is Kato, and he was really fun to hang out with… except that he left for boarding school today, and I may not see him more than once or twice more.

On Thursday, I visited TASO (The Aids Support Organization). We took a tour of the hospital where patients can recieve free medical treatment and free counseling. The TASO choir and drum group sang to us some of their stories. It was so sad and so amazing to see how strong they were. They spoke of losing spouses and children to AIDS, of the stigmatization and losing jobs, and of the need for AIDS advocacy. It was a powerful experience. Uganda's situation has improved very much in this arena... but it still affects people everywhere you look.

On a lighter note... I cannot escape from bananashere. Bananas are also(much more visibly)everywhere I look. It is not only the staple crop here… it is everyone’s favorite food. We have bananas (matooke) for breakfast, snack, tea time, and dinner. I have lunch on my own in the city… and I am able to escape from them briefly, but my mom gives me bananas every morning to take to school with me. They serve them fresh, grilled, baked, boiled, mashed, in stew, in bread, fried, with Gnut sauce, mixed with veggies, etc. etc. etc. They even make beer with fermented bananas. They are everywhere you look on the side of the road. Matooke, Matoooke, Matooke!!! They have so much wonderful tropical fruit for cheap here. I have pineapple and watermelon and passion fruit or juice for breakfast… they have mango, and jack fruit, and papaya, etc… On the first day, I hid a half-eaten one in a zip lock bag and dumped it when I got to class the next day. I just cant eat so much banana!

Also, although Uganda is hugely Christian, many people who can afford to be are polygamous. We were told that marriages here aren’t necessarily about feelings but about money. And there is one word to mean “I like, love, or want” (njagala).

That’s all for now. Cya! Weraba!!!
Also... Check out the link to my pictures!!! I have posted some of them on Picassa. Well. I was going to but the power just shut off... We will see.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fun Facts and Ugandan Traffic

“oli otya” (olyo-tia) – how are you?
Response: “gyendi “ (jen-dee)- I am there.

So far in Uganda we have stayed at a hotel in the capital. We have walked around for hours each day, bargained at markets, and eaten goat and samosa. The city streets are insanely crowded!!! It is fun and exciting … but sometimes you cant even move, and the sidewalks can be dangerous. You have to watch where you are stepping in places so that you don’t fall into the sewage system or a manhole or get run over by a boda boda (motorcycle). Shops and vendors line the streets. Kampala has no ground level offices along the streets (save when you get to a nicer area where embassies and parliament are)—it is all commercial. People do live behind some of the shops though.

We just found out who our homestay families are!!! I am living with a princess and a software engineer!!! Just like my family at home! (except my host mom comes from real royalty). I have not met them yet. I have been told that they have around 6 kids, and they live in Kisaasa. Their names are Christina and Henry Tukke. Streets in the suburbs and most city streets are not named… so I don’t have an address at home. I am so excited for Sunday when we get to move in with them!!!

When we Americans walk through the streets people yell “Muzungu!” which means “white person” at us. It is not a slam or anything, they generally love us. Most Ugandans so far think that we are tourists, and their faces brighten so much if we greet them back in Luganda. They love talking to us and if we ever have questions or get lost, someone will kindly stop what they are doing to show us the way or to take us there themselves. People here are generally extremely friendly and welcoming to everybody.
Yesterday we had a “drop off” where we had to walk about the city. Two other Muzungus and I were researching internet cafes and newspapers. People at the primary school who were practicing their traditional and tribal dance performances started yelling “Mazungu!” and invited us to come watch them perform a ritual marriage dance and an Acholi dance from the north. The singing and drumming was so powerful and their dancing so energetic that it was hard to just sit and watch (My lack of booty shaking skills would have been a riot to them I am sure). I also had my first taste of bargaining from the market for my cell phone and purse.

Other interesting facts: My boogers here are black. The streets are covered in dirt (and trash,) and the huge number of diesel engines pollutes the air considerably. My throat burns after walking around for a long period of time.

Uganda—like Ohio—has lots of birds. Uganda’s birds--unlike Ohio’s—are 4 feet tall storks. They are huge, nasty, ugly birds who scavenge for trash and seem unafraid of humans. They are also toxic to eat.

Uganda has an endless supply of bananas. Most Ugandans eat “matooke” at every meal. Matooke is boiled and mashed bananas. It doesn’t taste too much like bananas, and it is very bland but good. They also have so many abundant and cheap varieties of tropical fruit, and I will certainly miss passionfruit juice back in the states. It is incredible.

Now I am going to tell you about another exciting part of Kampala life: the traffic!
The traffic here is unbelievable compared to what we have in the states. It is absolutely amazing. On our way to the city from the airport, I thought we almost got into a couple of car accidents. It turns out that we didn’t… that the drivers know exactly what they are doing.
First of all… Ugandan traffic is not organized like American traffic. And I don’t mean that it is dissimilarly organized… I mean that it lacks almost any form of organization. Only the main roads in the capital city have names… all other directions are given by landmarks… [ex) I live in this village on the Western side of the road that is behind two churches.] Only a couple traffic lights are in the city and these are usually turned off. Speed limit signs do not exist. (I think I have seen one road sign so far and it was a ‘no entrance‘)Cars travel on the left side of the road… but of course I have been in a line of cars surrounded on both sides by oncoming traffic. Taxis (Toyota Hiaces filled with 16 people), motorcycles, pedestrians, animals, bicycles, beggers and peddlers all share the road way, and pedestrians do not have the right of way. Motorcylces, walkers, and bikes maneuver through all “lanes.” I have heard that hurried taxis drive on the sidewalk. It is an absolute free-for-all. Cars do not stop and wait to cross the road… they move into the roadway perpendicular to oncoming traffic, right in front of oncoming cars, and pull in front of other drivers. The more energetic driver makes it first. When you keep in mind that Kampala is a huge, extremely crowded city and that the roads are COMPLETELY PACKED, the traffic seems like madness. It is. What we consider “bumper to bumper traffic” in America is a complete joke once you have seen the truth that phrase holds here.

The amazing thing is… I have not seen a single accident. Probably most cars have scratched bumpers, but they are so used to driving this way, that they are very good. All drivers must be at least 18 years old and have taken drivers education classes. They are aggressive drivers, but at the same time, they are all extremely calm and patient. Sometimes the cars make it into the spot they want immediately, and sometimes they block traffic for a few seconds… but no one seems angered. Unfortunately a huge number of motorcyclists and some pedestrians are not always lucky. (don’t worry I am not allowed on motorcycles for that reason).
It is also interesting that our advisor has come to the states 3 times and is absolutely mortified of our driving. She says that we have so many road signs that she can barely concentrate on driving. Also, she says it is hard for her to waste so much time waiting… for lights, stop signs, etc. Drivers do not wait more than a couple seconds here for anything.

So far life in the bustling capital has been very exciting!!!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Safe in Uganda

Hello all!
I am finally here! I am safe and sound in the capital. We are at an internet cafe to let our "worried-sick parents" that we have arrived. Our trip was exhausting... 20 hours through a Dutch airline system, but we were greeted at the terminal with the warmest of welcomes. Our advisors all seem caring, enthusiastic, and generous and had food waiting at the Jeliza hotel where we are staying for the first week.
So far the taxi rides have been interested. "free for all" is the best way to describe traffic here... and "kinda scary" best describes the madness of the rotaries. pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, cars, and busses all vie for spots on the road and no rules seem to apply for manuevering the road systems. it is definitely worse than New York City (at least there they have traffic stops, lights, laws).
So far the little taste of Uganda that I have got has left me excited for more!!! Our 45 minute drive from Entebbe was very eye-opening and the streets were crowded with people even though it was a dark Sunday night. I am eager to understand more of what I saw. Stay tuned to read about the city

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The time is almost here!!!

The time is almost here!!! Tomorrow morning I am leaving forNew York City, and I will fly out from there on Saturday. My flight will stop in Amsterdam and connect to a flight to Uganda. Yay!! I will have an Orientation for the first week, and from there I will be staying with a family outside the city until my research practicum starts.

I plan on keeping this blog regularly updated while I am there. (if you have questions or comments… or if I need to be reminded to update it more often… do not hesitate to email me or to post them on the blog). You can probably look forward to reading about my excursions to Rwanda, rural Eastern Uganda, and to the islands of Lake Victoria throughout the next 16 weeks. I will also be visiting many cultural landmarks, historical sites, national Parks, and the source of the Nile… So hopefully if nothing else, you can glean an entertaining story here or there from my blog. I will also try to share what I am learning of their culture with you all… So maybe it will be educational too.

If you have been dying to know how many airports with unpaved runways are in Uganda or how to contact the chancery here in the U.S. (or if you are curious about Uganda in general) one helpful site is World Factbook @ It is also a wonderful source for acronyms for those of you who like to play (and study for) the game Balderdash.

Thanks in advance for all your love and support!!! I will miss you all.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Blog is Ready

Uganda blog is online... semester starts in less than a month.