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