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!


Katy, Planet Perspectives said...

What a great experience you are having! I was a city girl when I lived in Senegal, with infrequent visits to villages. You must be so proud and amazed of what you can do out there by yourself, or should I say, with your new family! Congrats!!! I love your writing...

Anonymous said...

hey alex! this is kevin sickmeier. i hope you remember me, im on the leitwein side of the family, my mom and dad are ginny and tom. i hope everything is going well im so proud of you for doing this! even though it sounds amazing i would never have the guts to do it. to be without a tv and my laptop.....i would feel naked for sure! well its like 3 30 in the morning here so im going to bed but good luck with everything and have a great time!

Shelley said...

Hi Alex,

This is your dad's cousin's (Kitty's) daughter, Shelley. You may remember me, although it has been many years. I ran into your dad and he shared with me about your trip. I am so amazed and inspired by what you are able to do for others. Reading your blog is fascinating! My school and I partner with PIC (Partners in Conservation)each year to raise money and support for orphanages in Rwanda, as well as for goats, stoves, and various other means of support for the people. You are a blessing to all of us, here in the states and to those in Africa. My prayers are with you.