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.


Anonymous said...

Very very cool. Please keep it up, we are riveted.

- John and Laura

Lisa Lunn said...

Alex, your experiences, descriptions, and observations about life in Uganda have been fascinating! I can't wait to read more. If you think of it sometime, it would be fun to try out some recipes you've been introduced to in Uganda. Maybe some of the many banana variations? Take care of yourself!
Love, Lisa