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…