Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Week 7

Right now Meagan is sitting at the kitchen table writing her next blog entry on the Mac and Ginger is sitting to my right hand writing her notes for the day and both of us have our feet stretched out on the wooden coffee table. I’m sitting with my laptop in my lap, listening to Dave Matthews Band. We spend a lot of time sitting together, independently writing up our notes, occasionally stopping to verify someone’s name or a quote with the others.

I’m not sure what I’m going to miss the most about my time here, especially since I’m feeling homesick lately. I will probably need time back home to process everything. Physical distance and the distance of time help me see what I cannot when near. But I know I will miss living with Ginger and Meagan. We’ve spent so much time sitting, working together, in grad school and now here, and we are all entering times in our lives that are pulling us to different parts of the US. Meagan will be in New Orleans and Ginger will be in Oregon and from this point on in our careers research will largely be done alone. Just sitting and working with two women who I adore on a person level and implicitly trust on a professional level is something I’m trying to appreciate while I can.

I’m a bit maudlin today as we also reported our recommendations back to the foundation and I think it went quite well. We were able to document how Ginger and Meagan’s recommendations from last year have been implemented and have helped. The curriculum has become more gender balanced and inclusive of children who already are HIV+, for whom HIV education focused solely on prevention is not helpful. There are also drafts of children’s books now which were recommended from the first summer and countless other small ideas that came from their evaluation. I had a few small ideas to contribute too so who knows if they will be helpful in the coming years.

As Reverend Obed asked us about our personal sense of satisfaction beyond our professional input, I think we all got a little emotional talking about getting to be part of this organization. We are naturally critical by training and in the day to day we do focus on the weaknesses of SAS we want improved, but when you step back, it is rather inspirational. But enough sap; little less conversation, little more action!

We are also preparing for a trip to the West, which will serve as a treat to ourselves for working all summer without pay. We are going to Kabale, then Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where we will do a nature hike, then to Mhagahinga National Park where we will climb up Mt. Sabyinyo. Its peak is the international border for the DR of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda so we will be in three counties at once atop it. After that we go to Lake Bunyonyi and will probably be exhausted and manage little more than the dug-out canoe ride to the island our hotel is on. We get back Monday evening, have two days packed with work, then leave Thursday at 11:30 pm.

I’ll try to write before I leave about the trip and be sure to check out the absurd number of pictures we will upload 

The last few days have been jam packed with focus groups, observations, and interviews. It’s also been interesting politically. Last Friday South Sudan became a country and Monday the taxi drivers held a strike to protest unfair fees. There were still taxis out because the President agreed to meet the Taxi Union officials early in the strike, but the fewer taxis made prices go up and made boda boda fees almost double.

Monday I had the longest matatu ride of my life, figuratively and literally. It took me 2 hours to travel a few miles. I got on a matatu and it took forever to leave, then proceeded to stop at every possible point to pick up more passengers, sometimes passing the point and reversing back, only to eventually take off again without success. Then traffic jams made things worst and because I was in the front seat I was squished, sharing a row with three others instead of the usual two. Then the conductor thought it would be a good idea to over charge me. I had a 10,000 shilling bill and he gave me 5000 back when I should have gotten 8000 back.

Now 1000 shillings is less than 50 cents, but it is more about the principle than the price. The conductors think they can overcharge white people because we don’t know better and because they assume we are all rich and can afford it. That day I had had enough though and seeing the correct change available in his hand as he avoided my gaze spurred me to action. I got off the taxi and walked right in front of the man, demanding my balance. He gave me a 1000 bill and still refused to look at me as he called the names of the stops the taxi was about to go, attracting new customers. So I took a step back, blocking entrance to the van. That got him looking at me. I said balance and he put another 500 shillings in his hand for me to take, but didn’t extend it. To get the little gold coin I would have to step closer, allowing patrons on. I looked at his hand and then put mine across the door way, more obviously blocking entrance and said “balance sebo (sir)” in a patient, even tone. He made a smacking, tisking sound with his mouth, a common expression of disgust or disapproval here, and gave me another little gold coin.

By this point he was charging me 3000 for a 2000 ride and had tried to charge me 5000. I was happy with the situation and walked away knowing I had still been overcharged but not wanting to escalate matters further. When I told Ginger and Meagan about it they laughed, saying I was becoming a real Ugandan.

Earlier in the week the store owners shut their stores in protest and the electricity has been cutting out more than usual, the fruit of some tension between the government and the power companies. The newspapers are full of articles about the weakening shilling and the rising power of the dollar. After a focus group a mentor told us that most of the expensive apartments are sold in dollars, not shillings. Our neighbor told us her place was $650 US last year but rose to $800 this year and since our place is furnished it goes for $900 US a month! We also had to pull US dollars for our trip because the national parks take dollars if you are not a Ugandan.

It is odd to think about how much the US dollar impacts things here and how the citizens are holding their government responsible. Part of me thinks, what can the President do to control global markets? However a Kenyan doctor I interviewed that worked I humanitarian aid said in her home the price of fuel goes down when the global crude oil rate goes down. She said in Uganda it never goes down once it has risen. As the fuel price rises, so does the cost of food.

Only the well-off farmers also handle their own transportation. Instead middle men traders buy the food for low prices using the cost of gas as an excuse for why they can’t pay more. Transporting traders, not farmers, set the price. The doctor said few farmers are trained in keeping track of their inputs to get a profit and so they accept the traders’ prices. Earlier this summer I spoke with a sociologist who also farmed. He carefully kept track of things, but still only got 2 million shillings out of his crop after investing 3 million into it. He is a Ph.D., so it isn’t only about education and tracking. Many farmers are going under and that combined with the unpredictable weather in which season are shifting means crops are spoiling.

The humanitarian monitoring measures say there is a food shortage and that food prices are higher than ever recorded, though the UN recording only started in 1990. As a result people have been shifting to food that is filling but less nutritional en mass over the last two months. Basically it is a horrible situation, but opportune for me. Because I can see how this plays out on the ground. That said, all the people I’ve been trying to talk to are out of town because of this situation too, but I’m managing where I can. I was talking to a lady about it on the matatu today. You never know when you will find a helpful insight!

Well this is not everything I wanted to write about but the power is out and I’ve run out of juice. I’ll catch you on the flip side!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Milk and honey and ready made coffins...

We had the most amazing trip and I am certain that anything I can write will not do it justice. On top of that I have a lot of days to write about so please bear with this long blog.

First off, I feel like it is truly a privilege to get to travel. And I don’t even mean internationally. Many people here in Uganda never see beyond their village and the nearest town because they don’t have a car and travel is increasingly expensive with gas prices rising. So simply traveling a few hours away, which is nothing to me, is a big deal. Also, the land here is so diverse that driving an hour away means the landscape looks quite different and I have a sense of why Uganda is called the pearl of Africa. So many times I would look out the car window and think, “surely this is the land of milk and honey.”

The day before we left we did some errands and I had the most darling encounter that I must include. On the way to a grocery store we took a matatu and an old woman in traditional Buganda dress (gomes) got on and sat next to me. She seemed tickled to sit next to me and grabbed my hand with both of hers as if welcoming me to her home. We were in the front row and so the conductor was on the left side of her. She put her bag in between her and the man, squishing me into the right side of the van. Immediately upon getting on she made a huge production of looking for change in her bag, seemingly unaware of her elbows almost poking my ear. She took out two long sleeved shirts, shaking each out in case a coin fell out. She then rooted through her purse, looking perplexed at not finding a coin, and then proceeded to look on the seat around her and even on the floor incase a coin fell down there. In the process she felt my foot. It didn’t cash out.

The whole time it was evident to me and the conductor, if his smiling was any indication, that she didn’t have the coins for the ride. When it was time for me to get off I had a 1000 shilling bill in my hand for Ginger and I. The old woman at first thought I was giving it to her but I motioned that it was for us, so she continued looking in her purse. I had absolutely no doubt that she wouldn’t have to pay and when I got off the conductor made no effort to kick the lady out despite her inability to pay. She had us all smiling. She was old, thin, elbows everywhere, and working it. I adored her.

We left for Hoima, which is about 3 hours away, early Friday the 24th. As we were leaving the city I saw boda bodas that were bicycles and not motorcycles and asked if Ginger and Meagan had been on one. They had not, but it prompted Reverend telling us that boda bodas used to all be bicycles and originates from people getting transport across the border to Kenya and Sudan. Boda boda came from border-border, which was hilarious at the time. So often words we think are Luganda are actually English. Later that day we later found out what we thought was vayco was vehicle.

As we got away from the city the land was utterly beautiful and I was surprised to see pine trees next to palm trees. It’s funny how two familiar things next to each other seem so foreign. As we drove we would pass little settlements of a few buildings and grass roof huts behind them. The buildings have a porch extending the whole front of the building with a roof hanging over it and the double front doors were often metal and swung open and with the dirt walkways around them and the chickens, goats, and occasionally cows walking by I sometimes felt like I was in a Western.

We stopped for chai on the way in a town called Kiboga (sounds like Cheboga) and I had my first run in with a latrine. I had been warned by Ginger and Meagan about them but somehow had not encountered one yet. Since then and now as I write this I’ve come across enough that I cheer when I find a commode. But enough of that…

The drive, while beautiful, was interspersed with Reverend slamming on the brakes because when approaching a small settlement there would be a series of speed bumps. There were no warning signs for them either. We would be doing 50mph in the country and suddenly have to come to a halt. In the bigger populated areas there would be two huge speed humps that our car would bottom out over if we didn’t take them on at an angle. So between the times the brakes were hit hard and when we had to dodge dogs, cows, and pot holes, Meagan, Ginger, and I caught each others’ gaze and smiled often. This happened so often that my hamstrings were sore that night from using my leg muscles to keep me from slamming into the seat in front of me!

We finally got to Hoima and came to an organization SAS partners with called Meeting Point. The mentors we were set to meet were not there yet, so we visited two schools. Both the visits went well and there is a picture of me posing with a bunch of kids at Hoima Mosque Primary on Picasa. Our running joke is that any picture of us with the kids is like a bad Where’s Waldo. Many kids will stare or run up and wave only to run away and giggle once we acknowledge them. Usually one brave soul comes to shake our hands, which then starts a procession of hand shaking and often kneeling or curtseying, which is a traditional sign of respect for elders.

After our school visits we drove back to Meeting Point and met with the mentors about how the pretests had gone. Turns out the pretests had never been given, so our part of the discussion was rather limited. As we got back into the car to grab some food, the car wouldn’t start. Turns out our lights were on from the morning fog and forgotten in the day’s sun.

Our reaction? Laugh and pull out the peanuts! Meagan had been predicting there would be car trouble at some point, because what cross-country trip is complete without car trouble? That it should happen in a town during the day was ideal. We decided to walk into town, grab lunch, and then get the car fixed once our bellies were full. Of course as we finished lunch it started to rain and our jackets were in the car. Reverend was gallant enough to seek out jumper cables in the rain and we eventually were picked up and taken to our hotel.

By now you should be expecting something else to go wrong…

So we get to the hotel and find out the running water isn’t running. While I’ve become accustomed to this at our apartment on occasion, this time it really threw me for a loop. My first thought was, “Not happy with this room? Try another!” Then when I remembered the collection of jerry cans outside I realized there were no rooms with running water. Then I thought, “Let’s go to another hotel.” Wrong. The water not running was probably a systemic problem, not a hotel problem.

Then I had a truly optimistic thought: “We got here early. Maybe they are conserving water by not turning it on until more guests arrived.” So I asked a maid if the water would come on later and when. She unconvincingly said it would come on around 10pm. Yeah, she pulled that out of no where. By this point I was remembering where I was and decided to be happy there was a toilet. So we had two yellow jerry cans of cold water to wash with and now it’s funny how resistant my mind was to paying for a hotel room without water. Later in the night the power went out.

The next day we got up early to meet another organization called NAWCOLA. It took about four stops to ask people for directions, but we eventually found the place only to find it empty. We waited for awhile and then people started trickling in. The meeting went very well and I think that organization and SAS will have a mutually beneficial partnership.

Then we were off to Gulu! We took a road that was unpaved at first and bought some mangoes from a road side seller. We grabbed some jackfruit and cake from a gas station too so we snacked the whole way on fresh fruit. At some point Reverend told us to look out for baboons and monkeys. Not 2 minutes later we spotted some and Reverend pulled over so we could take their picture. There were maybe 8 baboons in a field next to a herd of cattle being tended by two men on dirt bikes. We got out of the car and walked into the field to get a closer shot. Not to scare them away, only I got closer and took as many shots as I could. On my way back to the car I stuck out my thumbs singing “opposable thumbs” over and over to the tune of Brass Monkey by the Beastie Boys.

Then we found out we would cross over The Nile and have a view of some water falls. We had our cameras out ready for that, not expecting that more baboons would be on the other side of the bridge waiting for food. They were so used to cars and people they came 3 ft from the door. Reverend said to feed them, so I grabbed the cake and nervously threw it out the window as if I was being held up. They ate it and looked for more, standing up on their back legs in anticipation.

We eventually got to Gulu and found our hotel room had water, but of course no electricity and that the three of us we would be sharing a queen bed. We were on the fourth floor and I rested sitting on a shared common balcony that overlooked Pece Stadium. The stadium looked like a high school soccer field with a track around it, worn from running. There were people playing soccer and volleyball, as well as a relay race and someone doing summersaults into a sand pit. The stadium had a tall cement fence around it and I got a picture of kids climbing up the wall to see the action.

That evening in the common room downstairs we watched a fantastically horrible Latin telenovella called Don’t Mess with An Angel. The acting was atrocious and the American English voices dubbed over the Spanish-speaking actors were absurd, yet it was nearly addicting. How is it possible I went to Gulu and I have found myself rooting for Juan Miguel and Marichoy, who are married but whose marriage is void because his first wife, who he thought dead from a plane crash, is alive yet mentally damaged? Words cannot explain.

Sunday, the 26th, was our day to rest and see the town. I had copied a map in my notebook and we walked through town and back in very little time. We went through the labyrinth-like markets and then came across a place called Coffee Pub. We walked in and Ginger said, “Oh look, we found the white place,” meaning we always manage to find the places the expats frequent. We should have known though, because few Ugandans drink coffee. Despite it being grown in Uganda, most people drink tea instead. But we got some fruit and after talking to Brian, a guy that worked there, we got a complimentary smoothie which was to die for.

In Kampala we keep on hearing the word mzungu and we hadn’t heard that in Gulu but we hadn’t picked up on the new local word for “white person”. Brian told us it was mona and after we knew what it was we heard it a lot. Gulu was such a small town though that we ran into people we had seen before. We later saw Brian walk into the common room of our hotel, presumably to watch Don’t Mess With An Angel. We also saw an American woman in Coffee Pub that we saw later in a restaurant and then again driving over the Nile on the way back. Small world.

Sunday we also met two mentors and made plans to visit their schools on Monday. In the morning we went to Lyibi Green Primary. We took some videos of the school children congregated that I hope everyone will enjoy. Our time there was really moving and before talking to the students we spoke with the Head teacher, Deputy and Director. They said they are parents to the parentless and that with the violence and instability of the North there are some students in 4th grade who are the head of the household, with five children younger than them, all HIV positive. They were particularly appreciative that their mentor was also receiving education in nursing because they have some students with HIV collapsing and need people who can teach and treat.

That sounds horrible but the air of the place was optimistic as if things were difficult, but getting better. Just a year ago it would not have been safe to travel to Gulu and the UN Humanitarian Office that has been in Gulu for the last several years is no longer there because things have become secure. The violence of the Lord’s Resistance Army and also the spillover from Sudan is over and people are moving back. Refugee camps are getting smaller.

That said, we all felt the scar of the past years. Ginger and Meagan said it felt ominous or like there was bad juju. I couldn’t put it into words for some days, but it didn’t feel like something was going to happen, but that it already had. It wasn’t until I tried to explain it to my Dad that I found myself saying “There were people missing.” Saying it then and writing it now chokes me up a bit. It wasn’t as if I noticed a certain age group or gender missing. I guess I just felt a void and a slightly eerie ghost town sense, despite the many people and bustling market. On our way into town I saw a sign saying “Ready made coffins,” which says it all.

What is odd is that the eerie sense was really subtly underlying and only something I could identify long after leaving. Otherwise I felt more at home in Gulu than I do in Kampala. I just prefer smaller places where the physical exploration is small enough you can see it all in a few days and you can more quickly move to exploring the social terrain. You can get to know the people quicker when it takes less time to know the place. Kampala is so big you could live there your whole life and never know all its nooks and crannies.

Of course no place is so serious that the three of us don’t get our laughs in. We were sharing a queen size bed and the second night we slept sideways on the mattress because we would have more elbow room even though my feet hung over the bed. We woke up to a man’s voice making the most horrible sound. I can only describe it as a cross between a moan, death rattle, and the sound you make when you stub your toe really bad. So there we are, sleeping three to a bed sideways laughing hysterically at some man the floor up.

Also, the night before I really wanted a beer but wasn’t sure if Reverend would judge us if he saw us drinking. We decided to have a round and after wards I wanted to return the empty glass bottles which are refilled and resold here. So I collected our bottles as well as the beer bottles left on our table before us and walked inside the hotel, only to run into Reverend with about 6 beer bottles in my hands. When I sat back down Ginger was still laughing at my horrible timing. Also, we met a guy named Simba. I’ll let you make your own jokes.

We went to another school after Lyibi Primary, but they were awaiting governmental inspection and so their plate was full. We immediately got on the road.

On the way back from Gulu we mentioned we wanted some of the small yellow mangoes and Reverend stopped by two women along the road who were selling mangoes. He haggled for us and said the price was 2,000 shillings ($1 US). We thought that was the price for 5 and thought it was a bit steep, but agreed anyways. Then before we knew it an entire bucket of mangoes was being dumped into the passenger seat foot well because that was the only place with enough room. Turns out we were haggling for about 25 mangoes, not 5.

We had sufficiently bought out those women so Reverend stopped twice more to get mangoes for himself. But apparently the mangoes we got were for juice and not eating, so then when we said we wanted mangoes to eat in the car Reverend stopped again, getting even more mangoes for himself. We got 5 huge mangoes for 1000 shillings and they were probably the best we’ve had. They were warm from sitting in the sun and had almost a caramel flavor in addition to being tangy. Even though our hands and faces got completely covered in mango juice and pulp it was totally worth it.

When I finished mine I wanted to throw the pit out the window but my side of the car was in the middle of the road and I envisioned some car flying by and busting a tire on it. So, still with juicy hands, I made a plan to reach across the car, over Meagan, and throw the pit out the window so it would be off the road. I warned Meagan I was coming her way with mango hands and pitched it out the window. What I failed to notice was, while I executed my mango pit evacuation plan, we were passing another car. So by the time I reached across the car and tossed the pit out, it was in fact placed in the middle of the road. Best laid plans….hmph.

I’m sorry this is so long and that it is rather far behind. Honestly, it took some time to process Gulu. I don’t know if this will be pleasant to read, but I think I’m writing this as much for my own documentation and memories as I am for any audience.

The three of us are joking we should write a book, so maybe this long blog is good practice. I brought along an amazing book called Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor which is about mothers, daughters, traveling and finding what home is in a foreign land. Every other chapter is written by the mother then daughter. Getting to hear a journey from two voices is so interesting and it reminds me of how my mother and I have taken profound trips together to Europe and New England. I’ve passed it to Meagan and Ginger and they are passing it along to others. I think Ginger’s mom is reading it now.

While I don’t think we could write a book about our travels like that book, we have thought we should write a book about the realities of starting field work as a new and fledgling anthropologist. We’ve already picked a title: “You’re Gonna Crash a Wake.” To anyone who hasn’t heard me tell my wake crashing story, give me a call when I get back. It’s worth the dime and happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm here and I like it. Good to know.

Its funny how if you get two things accomplished in a day here, it is a good day, yet when I think about all that has happened since my last blog there is too much to write about. I think this blog will be less a chronology and more about the things I don’t want to forget or that have made me laugh.

- I have adapted to, at any point, no matter how intently I am focused on something, to thrusting my arms out and clapping violently at the slightest hint of a mosquito. I also have worked past any hesitation at smacking any part of myself if a mosquito lands on me. The sound of me slapping my own ear is a new sound to my 28 years on this earth. It isn’t that there are that many of them. It’s that when they whiz by my ear at 3 in the morning I can’t sleep and I’m taking it personally. My kill ratio is not quite up to Karate Kid standards but what I lack in skill I make up for in gumption.

- Gerald, the day guard of our compound, is iconic. On our first day he forgot Ginger and Meagan’s names and said. “Sometimes we need to be reminded, because we are all human and forget things.” Last year when the water wouldn’t flow out of the cistern he said, “Let me do some small technology” and shoved a stick up the drain. Now, Gerald keeps throwing the loose vegetation and organic trash over our wall in our backyard. He has a rickety ladder he climbs and just dumps it. I have no idea what is on the other side of the fence, other than our trash. We have theorized there may be goats which eat the trash or a compost pile, but we don’t smell the trash nor do we see smoke from it being burned or hear goats bleating. My vote is Gerald has found a trash abyss, a full fledged crevasse, into which our leaves flutter down.

- We were at SAS and desperately needed caffeine before an 11 o’clock meeting, which was actually supposed to be a 10 o’clock meeting but we found out it got postponed when we arrived. So we go next door and ask if we can get coffee in the next 15 minutes, it being 9:40. The waitress says yes and I even change my order to coffee like Meagan and Ginger in order to save time. Ten minutes later three teas come out. None of us ordered tea, but we take it. We give her money immediately, saying we are in a rush, and have our tea. As Ginger and Meagan sip away and I gulp my chai burning my tongue, I get increasingly tense as my watch tells me we are late, more late, and then uber late. At 11:20 I ask how late are we comfortable being, probably with a little attitude. At this point we still don’t have change and I secretly want to hunt our waitress down for my shillings. Ginger and Meagan seem unworried.

We finally walk into the office at 11:35 only to find the meeting hasn’t started yet. When it does start at 11:45 it goes on for 30 minutes with us shut in another room. Apparently there was private business to discuss. So we wait in a closed office and just like when you wait in a doctor’s office I want to mess with things or dance for the rush from the risk of getting caught. Around 12:15 we are included to the meeting and it lasts much longer than it needed to. Conclusion, I am SO American and next time order more tea, I mean coffee.

- My wristwatch alarm goes off every night at 7:31 pm. It used to go off at 11:31, but then I figured out how to change the time. For the life of me I can’t figure out how to turn it off though. Meagan told me last year she had a wristwatch with an alarm she couldn’t turn off. Now it is lost somewhere in her car and she sometimes hears it and laughs. Turns out we bought the exact same watch and I envision smiling in my apartment back home when I hear it go off.

- Every other time Meagan steps in the bathroom at night the apartment is filled with her screams at the latest cockroach. This is the signal for us to take battle stations. Meagan keeps an eye on it, I grab a shoe or something and kill it then squeal and run away grossed out and Ginger picks up the dead cockroach with a patent-pending technique. We then yell at it as it is flushed. The weird thing is I’ve never seen a cockroach in there by myself. It can’t be that they hear me coming and don’t hear Meagan because 1) Meagan is loud and 2) I’m apparently so quiet that I keep on scaring Meagan. She says I’m a lurker. I feel like any day now I’ll turn around and see eight of them circling me. In related news, we bought some new toilet paper that said it was green. I interpreted this to mean it was from made from recycled materials. No, it’s green. Why isn’t there colored TP back home? Think of all the tacky pattern and seasonal colors we’re missing out on.

I’m making it sound like it is all fun and games here. Honestly, we are working a lot too. We finished processing the pre-tests which was really involved. First each test gets graded and tallies of correct, incorrect, unsure, or missing data are added. Then each test gets numbered and we record the student’s name and number in a book, then we record all 32 pieces of info from the test into an excel sheet. We were taking bets on how many we had and it was over 2300. Moses and the three of us have been working feverishly on two computers at once to finish them. Of course, when we proudly reported being finished with data entry the next question everyone asks is when the results will be available. That is what we are doing now and it is painstaking.

We also lost some hours of work because I accidentally coded several hundred tests wrong and had to work some magic with excel’s find and replace function. That was before we cut the files into smaller worksheets and our computers were bogging down too. I would make a correction and two minutes later it would happen. Meagan and Ginger were great about it though and when they had every right to push me in a ditch they hugged me, said it could have happened to anyone and suggested we grab a beer. Good friends. The beer wasn’t bad either ;)

After my confidence was shot from the rookie mistake, today was a good day because I was out making contacts for my own interests and had a great meeting with the HR guy at the Ugandan Human Rights Commission. Traveling around the city is really manageable for me and the city seems smaller every day. Tomorrow I head out again to more big name humanitarian organizations and because my emails aren’t being returned and I show up without an appointment it feels like speed dating. I show up, introduce myself, try to explain how great I am and why they should let me spend more time with them, then I try to get a number before I go.

I haven’t networked as much as I wanted to considering how exhausting the days are here and with not feeling my best due to the anti-malarial (got a new one at SAS clinic, yeah!) the days pass by quickly. We don’t have much time left. One month is nothing and we are traveling to Hoima, Gulu, conducting focus groups in Kampala, and also hope to make a trip to the southwest part of Uganda to Mary’s village. (Please watch the video of the amazing Mary give pre-tests on the photo link to the right). It is going by so quickly but before I came I set one goal for myself: get there to see if you like it. I’m here and I like it. Good to know.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 10th-15th

June 10th – 14

Last Friday we decided to go the Uganda National Center for Science and Technology. Despite having ethical research approval through both the University of Memphis and Makerere University, G&M still have to get approval from the government. This is a new requirement since 2008 and they still have not heard back with in acceptance or rejection despite having turned it in years ago. Lest you think its corruption, I have heard from three other academics that got approval in a week. But we were encouraged to give it another try so we headed downtown to the office which has no sign.

An hour of matatus later we get to the office only to find it’s moved to a location very near where we started from. By this point we were exhausted so we stopped to have some samosas and a banana split downtown. Not only is it hot downtown because the buildings block the air flow, but you constantly have to watch your step for boda bodas, cars, pedestrians, and vendors. Often a sewer or drainage ditch will lack a cover so you have to not step into the 2ft wide opening in the cement while also looking for the rare street sign and while also shaking your head no to all the boda boda drivers who assume we would rather pay than walk because we are white. Basically it is an assault on the senses and we usually find ourselves in need of a break after what would be considered an easy travel in the States.

So we get to the new location of the UNCST, go through a security check which involved a walk-through metal detector which wasn’t plugged in only to find they have no idea where the application is and the person who would know is on vacation. The girls didn’t expect much and we just laughed it off. That day we also had no running water and the electricity kept going out so we came home to bathing the old school way with a small basin and a thermos of heated water we got from a rain water cistern outside.

Saturday was a full day. We left early to go to Kyengera, a suburb of Kampala about an hour away via matatu. We went to the new taxi park (see in the pictures) which I’m told looks older than the old taxi park. Basically you have to know where the vans are going amidst a see of vans. We were going because our friend Moses who is helping us with our research arranged for us to come to a secondary school near his home so we could try our focus group questions out on an extracurricular club. Before that though he made us a fabulous meal at his home and we chatted to him and his friend Innocent while neighbors’ children came and sat by us and played with our shoes.

As we ate it started to pour rain and looked like a hurricane was outside. By the time we had to go it was still raining and we had to get wet on our way to the school. The focus group went brilliantly and Moses, who had never led a focus group before, was a complete natural. There were 25 students and for a focus group you want no more than 15, so it was a difficult task to get that many teens to talk about HIV.

We stopped back at his place on the way home and exchanged the wet coats we had for some sweaters. I had placed my purse down as I put the too-small sweater on when I heard Meagan shoo something away. I looked only to find a chicken in my purse. My purse was the perfect size for it and it took its time getting out as we shooed it. My only hope was that it didn’t leave any presents for me!

We walked down the road to try to catch and boda. By this point we are really wet, my hair looks like I just got out of the shower, my cloth shoes are acting like sponges, and the dirt roads are wet and full of puddles. We catch one boda which can seat two of the four of us but the other distance boda we flagged down can’t start. This was not inspiring my confidence. It finally starts only to fly by us so we have to wait for another. We get another and hold on for dear life with the rain hitting our faces and making us squint.

At the top of a hill the boda’s engine stops. I’ve seen matatus turn off at red lights to save gas and I hope that the driver wants to ride the hill down with gravity. Meagan and I kept up with Ginger and Innocent for a while, but when the road evened out we came to a stop. The driver starts frantically kicking the kick-start and after maybe 12 tries Meagan and I ask if we should get off. The driver ignores us and keeps kicking away. Keep in mind we are 1 foot away from the driver, Meagan is touching him, yet he doesn’t respond even when she says Sir! in Luganda. By this point Meagan, myself, and the peanut gallery of twelve or so people we stopped in front of are laughing. To see one white person is rare in this suburb. To see two on a broke down boda in the rain with a driver who is ignoring us as he kicks away is hilarious. I looked at two men who were really enjoying the entertainment and threw my hands up laughing.

Eventually the engine started and the two men threw their hands up in celebration as did I, only to have the engine die again in 4 seconds. By this point I said to Meagan, “This is ultimately pathetic. Here we are two white girls on a broken boda with a driver who is ignoring us, soaked and freezing with the cold rain, me with a too-small sweater and probably chicken poop in my purse. All you can do is laugh.

Eventually he got the engine going but had it revving high in neutral. Meagan and I held on for dear life because we knew when he put the boda in drive we would take off so we waved our goodbyes to the still laughing audience and clung to anything we could grab as he sped away. Both of us were thinking that if the boda slipped and we fell we would get completely covered with the terracotta colored mud. We would look like those mud people at Woodstock and have to ride the hour long matatu back to Kampala like that. On the matatu we caught I sat next to a nun so that would have been really horrible!

We got back and it was still raining. We were cold, wet, and exhausted and accidentally took the wrong direction, walking needlessly in the rain. By the time we got back home our only consolation was that we had running water and electricity. I managed to change into dry clothes then slept for a few hours. It was a great day but it wore me out.

Sunday morning we took it easy to recover but we had to prepare for the birthday party we were throwing for Joan that night. We had decided we wanted to make tacos because we love them and we thought Joan’s two kids would like them too. Keep in mind, Mexico is far away from Uganda and you can’t find salsa in stores here. So we made salsa, guacamole, and taco spices for the meet from scratch. We had to settle for nachos because we couldn’t find anything like a tortilla, but the result was fabulous. I kept having to go back for items we thought we had but didn’t, like a can opener and ripe enough avocados and CHEESE but after the fifth trip we had it all.

Joan loved her earrings and necklace and we also got gifts for her two kids, Louis and Lighten. We got them Roal Dahl’s books The Crocodile with Enormous Teeth and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we also ordered a cake (with some difficulty) from the local market. Joan said it was the best birthday she ever had and cried. Success! She even loved the food but her kids and house-girl Dafflin weren’t fond of the spices. The food here is really bland but Ginger made plain meat too so they had food to enjoy. Ginger did all the cooking and Meagan and I told her we are making that food again!

Monday I caught up with work as G&M went to a school observation with Mary. Mary invited us to see her village in the West and we are trying to plan things out amidst our other trips for SAS. A friend of our, Pharouk, saw me on facebook, said hello and that he would stop by the apartment shortly. I’m not used to people inviting themselves but that happens a lot here. He did stop by and talked for an hour then we all caught up with him at a restaurant named Alfredo’s with every kind of food but Italian. The electricity went out and bats were flying in the fruit trees above us. The fruit was so ripe that grape-sized fruit kept falling on us, making us spook. It was hilarious.

Tuesday we hit the data entry hard. Moses cam over to help and we had an assembly line going. One person numbered the pre-tests, another wrote down the numbers associated with the student’s names in our codebook, and two of us entered the 32 data points into the computer. After hours of work we got to student number 745 which was over 23,000 data points. Last summer they only had 600 students and now we are taking bets on how many we have. My guess is 2800, the girl guessed less but then they lost confidence and wanted a re-bet when we hit 1000. It’s like the games in kindergarten where you guess how many jelly beans are in the mason jar.

Wednesday we are getting new passport photos taken because we heard back from the UNCST and we have to do a partial re-submit of one form, a letter of recommendation, and new photos. Hopefully this will work and we will get IRB approval which allows us to publish. All fingers are crossed!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 1-9th 2011

It’s been a crazy week or so and I finally feel as though I’m getting my bearings.

June 1st I had my first observation of a SAS mentor in a school. Usually the mentors teach small classes but there is a new push to teach in larger schools, where the classes are 300+. Imagine trying to keep the attention of 300+ 6 year old students for 30-45 minutes. It’s not an easy task but Mary, one of SAS’ best mentors and the woman Ginger and Meagan call their African mother, makes it look easy.

We went to Buganda Rd Primary School and there are pictures up under Ginger’s Picasa account. It is a public government school even though they students wear uniforms and the parents must pay fees. When we arrived the kids flocked Mary’s car and then us as we got out. The kids would walk up to us and then just silently stare while others would play peek-a-boo, shyly running up only to squeal and run back if I looked their way. Many would say hello and ask how I was and yell Mzungu! The ones who had already said hello would come and touch my arm to see what white skin felt like. Mary said it was probably the first time they had spoken to a white person or even seen one. In the classroom the kids got extremely excited about having their pictures taken and they loved seeming themselves in the Polaroid we left with them. By the second class word must have gotten around because when I forgot about the picture, the students loudly said picture! picture!

The next day we went to the SAS office and then another school where the curriculum will move into. It’s really the only program of its kind, focusing on HIV education among primary school students with mentors who are in their classrooms once a week for the whole term. It’s a good thing that it’s so worthwhile because it makes the stacks and stacks of tests we have to grade and then enter into a computer worth it. If you see the pictures of papers on our kitchen table you can get a sense of how much work we’ve been doing. Its taken about 36 working hours to hand grade them and who knows how long to finish the database, but it will be great to know what the students know and don’t know. In one case a teacher was trying to help and graded them herself, but she got one wrong when she made her won key, which shows how important the information is for students and teachers alike.

Enough about our work…the bush crickets here are a delicacy. They are called grasshoppers here but are way bigger than the grasshoppers back home. We asked Grace to try them and ants, which were recommended by a guy we talked to at 1000 cups who was leading a student service/learning program with U of Michigan. Before Grace fried the grasshoppers she called me over to se how fresh they were. So fresh, that one was still moving. “Yup, they’re fresh” I said. I tried one of the ants then and they weren’t bad, especially since they weren’t alive! They tasted like a smoky earthy bacon-y spice. When we had the grasshoppers they tasted alright, but were really crunchy and I didn’t appreciate them as much as Ginger, who was dipping them in ketchup like French fries saying they tasted like soft shell crab.

After we had eaten we went to Rose’s house to say hello. Immediately we were given photo album after photo album of the wedding. It was funny to see ourselves in an Eritrean’s wedding album. Before we knew it a huge meal was brought out even though we said we had just eaten eventually we were offered coffee. Ginger and Meagan had raved about Rose’s coffee, but I didn’t understand what I was in for.

The coffee ceremony: Out came a box with an orange and white checkered straw woven mat folded on top. The mat was removed and put on the floor and a small almost cabinet looking thing was underneath it. It was placed on the mat and a tray with cups and saucers was placed atop it. The cups were the size of demi-task cups but without handles and more bowl shaped in that they flared out at the top. Then a small foot by foot square thing was brought out and the room started getting hot. I realized the box was an oven and there were hot coals being fanned through an opening on the side.

A small sauce pan was used to roast the coffee beans and after they were roasted the pan was brought in front of us to smell and appreciate. Then an electric coffee grinder was used and the beans went into a clay pot that was the shape and size of a rounded Bunsen burner with a rounded handle. The top was narrow and maybe an inch in diameter, but after the coffee warmed she would pour back and forth between it and a small pan like those used to froth milk at coffee shops. Ouw (like ouch)-a is the first round of the coffee after the roasting and milk and sugar were added first and then the coffee was poured in the small cups until it almost overflowed. There were what looked like small green reeds sticking out the top of the pot which kept the grinds in. We stirred the sugar in and the cup was so full it did spill over. It was unlike any coffee I have ever had. It was strong but had almost a cinnamon taste and a hot chocolate consistency. Then the second and finally the third and last round, ba-rah-ka (emphasis on ka), were served. For each round the same roasted coffee beans are used and new water is added and it is re-heated over the coals.

This whole process took over an hour and the investment in hospitality here is hard to describe. I thought people were hospitable where I come from, but Ugandans and Eritreans have us beat hands down. Since we have been trying to rack our brains for some equivalent American tradition to reciprocate with but it’s hard. We are making them some banana bread soon, but it’s not really the same social exchange.

The next day I stayed home as Ginger and Meagan went to watch Moses’ soccer team kick butt. I wasn’t feeling well from the previous night when the mixture of grasshoppers, ants, fish soup, and three rounds of Eritrean coffee eventually made me york. I probably get less cool points for not keeping the bugs down, but at least I tried. By the evening I was feeling better so the four of us went to watch the Ugandan Cranes play against Guinnea Bissau. As we arrived and bought our beers at the bar a group of guys blew their air horns to get our attention and then again when we walked away. It was actually hilarious and I’m slowly getting used to most people trying to talk to us because we are such the novelty. It’s annoying when everyone yells to get your attention in markets, but today we heard a new one. A guy yelled at us, “Hello African women! Hello African Americans!” All you can do is shake your head and smile.

I love trash talk here. While watching the game we overheard one guys say “You’re team is insecure.” What a sophisticated smack down! The Cranes won to boot. Earlier that day I had been washing my feet in the tub while in my pjs when the soap made my feet slippery and I slid in the tub when I tried to stand up. Relaying this story made the guys next to us who were covertly eavesdropping spit out their drinks laughing. We got to talking with them and eventually we discussed whether a guy should leave work when he knows his wife/girlfriend is in labor and culturally differences in telling people they are fat and ugly. One guy said in his tribe there is nothing you don’t joke about. When you meet a child you tell them “At least you’re not as ugly as your mother” and earlier Mary told Meagan and I to share a chair because we “Weren’t THAT fat.” She wasn’t joking though 

Sunday we went to church with Mary (there should be pics and a video of dancing) and then went to her home where a huge meal was made for us. We convinced Mary we could share two plates between the three of us, but everyone thinks we eat too little because they have one big meal a day. We had to tell them we eat more meals and so less food per meal. We spent the whole day with Mary, her fiancĂ© Henry, her children Julius, Judith, and Judith’s 3 month old baby Shem. He was a great baby and we just fussed on him all day. Judith told me that when women are 30 and unmarried here they are taken to church and prayed for. When they found out I was 28 Julius joked he was waiting to play with my babies like I was playing with Shem. I said I would invite him to play with my babies but that he would have to wait a long time, which everyone laughed at. American and Ugandan humor seems to mesh and unsurprisingly there are many US-Ugandan marriages.

Monday Meagan was sick with a sinus infection. It was sad for her but great for me because I finally ventured out on my own back to Buganda Rd Primary to meet Mary for an observation and to exchange supplies. When I got on the matatu there were two Arabic speaking men who had a friend pay for them and tell the conductor when they were getting off. It was nice not to be the most clueless person on the van. Mary did a great job and when the room she taught in earlier wasn’t available, she taught outside managing about 160 standing students and then managing a change of location when the room became available ten minutes into her lesson. You really have to think on your feet and be confident and encouraging with so many kids. I have a lot of respect for these mentors who are volunteers only compensated for their expenses.

Yesterday I met with a contact at Makerere University and it was a lovely campus and a great visit. Dr. Haroon Sseguya went to school with a professor of mine and we talked all about his work on rural agricultural development, politics, and friends and family. He even showed me lots of pictures on his computer from his fieldwork, graduation, and some of my professor and Meagan laughed that he really was Ugandan because it was the techno version of sharing photo albums which happens a lot here. He gave me some great insights and offered to help me with anything and again I was reminded of how amazing Ugandan hospitality is. I also felt good finding a new place all by myself and I haven’t had anyone grab me to get my attention yet. I don’t know if it’s because I’m taller than most people here (even the men) or if I’ve just been lucky so far. Either way, G&M have done a great job of preparing me for anything.

Today Meagan felt much better after a visit to the SAS clinic so we walked a lot, going to the open air mall called Garden City. I got my own maps and we pow-wowed our research plans over coffee. All the tests are almost graded and we are entering them into a database. We are planning our trips outside of Kampala so we can visit schools in other districts. I’m really excited to see the rural areas of Uganda and this coming week I will just cold call at lots of humanitarian organizations to make connections. It’s not easy to just show up, but that kind of friendly boldness is what I have been trained for so here I go….

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

End of Week 1 in Kampala

May 29-31, Sunday-Tuesday 2011

I finally made it into the city yesterday and today. I had ventured to the two local super markets before, but those where only a few minutes walk away.

We walked south on Kira Rd, then in the Mulago neighborhood there is a roundabout and we took different roads each day so I could see the most. The bigger roads are paved, with grassy medians and sidewalks or dirt areas to walk on both sides. People drive on the left here, so it makes sense that the trucks look for European than American. I haven’t seen one semi but there are lorries everywhere as well as motorcycles whizzing by and breaking traffic rules to get ahead and the abundant matatus look almost like the VW vans from the 70’s.

Amidst all this bustle people walk to where they are going, some at very slow speeds while others seem in a hurry, some in suits or sweaters and here I am sweating in a t-shirt. Closer to the city you find markets which run parallel to the road and are unpaved with shanty-looking stands made of metal or wood in which hardware, food, electronics, clothes, and cellphone/internet airtime are sold. I almost walked into a hanging headless carcass while stepping out of a boda’s (motorcycle you hire like a taxi) path. In the city people have shoes, maps, books, and food for sale laid out on the sidewalks while other people stand holding watches, belts, or even dark suits which are held and rested on the shoulders of the sellers. Generally they don’t speak up to get attention as the flow of pedestrians goes by. All this is movement happens without traffic lights. There are a few, but mostly right of way around round-abouts controls the flow. Of course, on my first boda ride the driver (after Ginger told him it was my first time and to go easy) went the wrong way around the roundabout. I was so busy holding on in terror while simultaneously grinning like a fool at the wonderful breeze that I didn’t notice.

I’m still trying to understand what it means to be a white American woman here. The girls warned me that men would flock to me because here I am the exotic, prestigious Other. Also people on the streets will call out to you saying “Mzungo!” (which basically means white person) or “Hallo. How are you?” While this seems friendly enough at first, it can be overwhelming when it happens almost constantly. Many times it is vendors or boda drivers who are calling out to you so it is more about trying to sell you something than being friendly. Also some men will call us beautiful or say they love us as we walk by. At home I reciprocate when people I pass say hello and that is actually one of the things I missed while living in the North. But here Meagan and Ginger assure me it will get old quickly and to just ignore it. I’m trying to find my own balance of being friendly yet ignoring the negative, demanding calls and it reminds me of the vendors in the middle of the mall who say “Can I ask you something?” as you are trying to walk by.

Lastly we had some friends over, Richard and Moses, on Monday night. We all watched as Moses opened his gifts from his girlfriend Sonja while on Skype with her. It was adorable and then we had a good meal together as we talked. Moses had written an essay/article about the racial implications of people calling us Mzungo and made a good point, it would be outrageous in the States if someone went around yelling “Hey black woman” all the time.

We also talked about the political situation here and the Walk to Work protests which have been suppressed by the government. Now the protests are restricted to people making noise by banging pans, blaring music, and hooting (honking) their cars and bodas for 5 minutes everyday at 5pm. I listened yesterday and didn’t hear anything, but we live in the suburbs. The people stopped protesting by walking to work because the government passed a law saying anyone arrested for protesting would be denied bail for 6 months.

Weeks ago there were protests which were stopped by the government with tear gas, rubber bullets, and real bullets that were fired into crowds. There are still armored trucks around in case protests occur again and Ginger and Meagan said the police presence has increased a lot. The protests were happening because prices have risen across the board significantly; in some cases almost double what they were last year. Part of this is inflation that is beyond the national government’s control but other things like national fuel taxes are skyrocketing. Richard and Moses had different opinions of who was responsible for fixing things but both agreed that most people do not have enough to live off of while the elite are getting richer through corrupt practices. It was a very interesting an necessary conversation to have and Richard and Moses were well informed and obviously were engaged in the politics in a way that many people in my generation are not.

This coming Wednesday we are going on our first school observation of the season and I will see the SAS clinic Thursday. It will feel good to jump into work. My grad student tendencies mean I feel guilty for going to long with working! We have put up pictures from our first week in Kampala so check out the “Our Pictures” link on the right.

Take care all and thanks for being part of this with me through reading along,


Saturday, May 28, 2011

End of Amsterdam and Beginning of Uganda

I’m sorry for the delay in posting! Between keeping the blog, diary, logbook for contacts and budget, and field notes there is a lot of writing. I should manage to write more regularly though as we have settled into a rhythm in our apartment and have secured internet access.

While I have a Flickr stream at the bottom of this blog, check Meagan’s blog for our pictures. I turned our Flickr has a monthly limit I would have blown past in our first three days so all our collective photos will be through her Picasa account.

May 22nd, 2011

When we planned on coming to Amsterdam we immediately planned to go to Haarlem. A friend had recommended it and I always like to get out of the cities for a day. It turned out to be my favorite part of our trip in Holland. As the girls got ready I looked up some things to see in Haarlem. Scott, and Australian friend we met in our hostel the night before wanted to tag along too. We had bonded over Aussie Rules Football and making fun of American tourists.

So we went to Central Station and hopped on a train. The trip should have only lasted 15 minutes, but we talked so much and were tired and failed to notice we missed the stop. What finally drew our attention to this was the trained stopped because it ran out of land. We had traveled to Zaandvort, a city on the coast (about 30 minutes ride) without noticing it.

So we stayed on the train and actually got off in Haarlem and walked to the church located on the town square. We had a nice lunch and then went to enter the church, only to discover it was closed. Apparently it was open all week except for Sundays after their service. It was also really cold and windy so Meagan bought very touristy socks with windmills to wear with her sandals. It was very fetching! At this point I felt like a heel because not only did I plan this for the girls, Scott had come along based on how excited I was about this church.

Having been thwarted, we made our way to Adriaan Windmill. It was truly impressive. The guide was a cross between a grandpa and Albert Einstein. He was a volunteer who kept the mill going and he took us up into the windmill. The engineering behind the mill was so impressive and large wooden pins were used as removable nails which allowed the windmill to be installed, used to drain the land, then deconstructed and put elsewhere to drain more land. Its odd to think of something that big as recyclable. It truly made an impact in wars and industry, development and the draining of so much of Holland. We all really enjoyed it and I think we all thought the windmill was our favorite part of Holland.

May 23rd, 2011

Today we went to the Van Gogh Museum and I got really animated relaying what I remembered from my wonderful art history courses. So much of the history of art is really the modern equivalent of the news because many people couldn’t read or write and even the Bible was read in languages not spoken by common people. Art was education, religion, and the news all in one and as such a powerful medium, it was controlled by those who were politically and economically powerful and some of the most revolutionary paradigm shifts in philosophy and politics have been preceded or mirror in art.

I knew that Van Gogh and the other Impressionists rocked the system but I didn’t realize that Van Gogh had pursued a career in the clergy but then pursued art only after his job at a church was un-renewed. His prolific and revered work all took place in ten short years from the time he began and taught himself to his death. The museum was organized by showing you his early work and the work of his contemporary mentors then showing you the linear progression of his work, followed by the work of those inspired by his work and the Impressionist movement.

Its so interesting to me because the idea that humans can perceive the Truth and reality of the world through careful, exact study (the school of thought in place before the Impressionists) compared to the idea that the world is perceived differently by everyone through the senses, yet each disparate version is valid (the idea presented by the Impressionists) is also present in anthropology. We discuss the first of positivist empiricism and the second as post-modern interpretivism or phenomenology. It made me feel connected to the moment in history because I have the same discussions in my classes all the time. It was also sad because when he was painting some of my favorite of his pieces his letters to his brother show that he felt like a stagnant failure. He died in poverty and you got a real sense of his melancholy. I didn’t expect it but we all got moved to tears.

After a great lunch at a hideously decorated place (look for the pictures of the mint tea and the cow print booth) we went to the Anne Frank Museum. You actually walked through the hiding place which was left unfurnished to remain as it was after the Nazi’s arrested and cleared out the home. They had models and pictures of what it looked like and had the actual diaries Anne wrote in.

Obviously there was a somber, solemn fell to the place, but I think the hardest part was when a video of her father, Otto Frank, came on. He was the sole survivor of his family, but Anna and her sister Margot thought he was dead and died within a month and week respectively of the liberation. Her father said it took him a long time to read the diary and what he was most surprised about was the depth and maturity of her thoughts. He didn’t know that part of his daughter. He said it made him realize that parents never really know their children and that part made me cry.

May 24, 2011

The girls slept in as I walked to an electronic store to get a cord to allow me to download pictures off my camera. I got there and he said it was one of two cords and we couldn’t tell which. He originally said there was a no return policy but when I tried to buy both cords he only sold me one and told me to return it if it was the wrong one. It was the wrong one and he did let me return it. A lot of the people in Amsterdam seem nice like that and not impatient with tourists, which is good because we are everywhere!

We met up with Scott, a guy from Melbourne Australia we met in our hostel, for lunch in the park. We munched on salami, cheese, bread, cherries, snap peas, and apricots by the pond in Vondel Park. It was really lovely and we talked and cloud watched for 2 and a half hours.

We then went out for dinner at the Supper Club. It was our one planned splurge and it was well worth it. The club had bed you laid on with huge pillows for support and tables on the beds to hold glasses. You had to take your shoes off before getting on the mattress and it had a techno meets Moroccan feel. Because the whole wall was set like this we talked to the people on either side of us.

The man to my right was from Munich and named Tobias which sounded like Te-beers when he said it. He had two children and we talked about how I get to see the world through the new eyes of my students just like he sees the world through his children’s eyes anew. We talked about idealism and optimism and my upcoming travels to Uganda. We talked for probably half an hour and it was really lovely. Each of the three courses were fabulous and after dinner people danced. It was nice to see people other than teens and twenty-somethings have fun and dancing. In general people seem more openly affectionate here than in the States, holding hands and cuddling in the park, and I like it.

May 25th, 2011

This was our last day in Amsterdam and we picked up Sonja from the Central Station. Ginger and Meagan met Sonja last summer who is a German with education in social work who came to Kampala for an internship and stayed when she fell in love with Moses, a Ugandan. Both of them formed a non-governmental organization which makes a soccer team for young men living in the slums so they have things to do and friendship. Last year the team won the league championship and I remember seeing a video of Sonja dance at the celebration.

We picked her up and all hugged, even though she just met me. She brought us gifts from Cologne and we ate lunch by our hostel. She said how difficult it was to stay in contact with Moses, her boyfriend, because his computer broke and they can’t use skype. Ginger thought of inviting Moses over regularly so he could use our computers to call her and she cried with gratitude.

We showed her the Albert Cuyp Market, then the flower market and some of the antique district. We then just sat for a beer in Spui Square and talked until she had to go. She was such a sweet person and I got a real sense of the times they three of them shared last summer. She even shared some Lugandan phrases she thought I might use and they reminisced about good times. When we dropped her off back at the train station we promised to stay in better touch.

With all the talk about Kampala from the previous summer and then packing up our bags for the next days travel it finally started to feel real that I was going with them. All my time in Amsterdam felt like a vacation and after it Ginger and Meagan would go toe Uganda and I would go back home. I had been going back and forth between feeling under and overwhelmed and as I packed and ate the German chocolates Sonja gave me it started to sink in. As we packed we also met a sweet guy from Poland named Chris who was so innocent, friendly, and enthusiastic in his English (which he had recently taken up) that we all were smiling. Earlier in the day I had run into two guys from Lexington who go to UK as well and it seemed like the world was very small and very friendly. Good last night in Amsterdam.

May 26th, 2011

Rule one to staying in a hostel: BUY EARPLUGS. A new guy in our room came in around 1am, and I don’t know how he didn’t wake himself up. I actually like rhythmic snoring, but his was like torture. I thought about waking him up and handing him a tissue so he would blow his nose, then realized I was being a cranky sleep-deprived American and wrapped the blanket around my head.

Rule one to flying KLM: one bag only and it better not be overweight. We got charged 100 euros for the second bag and if we had only one bag that was overweight it would have been 200 euros. Had we known we would have bought clothes in Uganda. I was on such a “I’m going to Africa” high I wasn’t too angry but Meagan and Ginger were ticked because they had an especially mean attendant. I homemade bloody Mary helped things significantly.

We then got on only to find out our flight was flying past Entebbe first to go to Kigali, Rwanda first, stop for people to get off and on, have the cleaning crew on, then flight back to Entebbe. We had just been joking about people unexpectedly ending up in a different country and then it happened to us. Easy flight; I hope to watch the ending of Tron on the way back 

May 27th, 2011

Today was my first full day in Kampala. We arrived late last night, but there was a mix up about which day we were arriving so our ride was not at the airport. We got a hold of Reverend Obed via cell phone and he said he would come to pick us up even though he expected us the next day. When we called him it was 10:30 pm and he was an hour away, so it was truly generous of him and his wife to commit to two hours of driving that late and saving us the taxi fare.

My first sights of Uganda were from the back of his car which was so full of us and our bags it bottomed out over bumps. I couldn’t see much, but with the window down I could smell this constant smell of burned matches or a campfire. Ginger said it was burning trash but it was a pleasant smell. As we left Entebbe and drove through the countryside to Kampala I could also smell that earthy, mushroom-like smell and honeysuckle and cow manure. As we got closer to the city the trash burning left so much smoke in the air that I first thought it was a part romantic, part eerie fog. We eventually saw some multiple story buildings and Ginger noted the one of a few stoplights in the city, which is amazing for such an urban area. As we drove I could see people out walking occasionally even though it was after midnight. We would pass bars with stringed lights and music pumped outside. I couldn’t see much though.

We eventually got to Kampala but had to stay at a hotel, the Kigali Country Club, because our compound was locked for the night. The hotel was beautiful, but absurdly expensive and we had already been charged 100 euros for having more than one bag from KLM. We paid it though because we were so tired and it was the closest hotel, but we laughed as we took every little item of shampoo and creamer, even the pens, because we were bitter about the price.

In the morning we then went to our compound which is a fenced in lot with maybe 6-8 apartments with a guard at the gate. I think most of the residents are expats from England, France, or Eritrea and there is a dog named Didi who is literally the most hilariously messed up dog I’ve ever met. I pet him anywhere and he falls over with both back legs trying to scratch his front legs. Utterly spastic! I will take a video so you can understand!

As we waited for Grace, (or as Ginger and Meagan call her, their African mom) to arrive and let us in I talked to Gerald, the day guard, who was extremely friendly. We talked about his family and mine, education, and about Westerners coming to develop Uganda. Afterwards I wasn’t sure how much of what he said was from being polite because he said Ugandans needed Europeans to bring money and intervene and he perceived me as part of that world, but it made me happy that I could have a conversation with a local Ugandan despite the different accents. As I waited I there were all these different birds calling and sounds of someone hammering something, a baby crying, birds chirping, and sounds of cars and motorcycles in the background that I made a recording of. I will try to get that online too.

Grace and another women (whose name escapes me,) came and gave us all big hugs, apologizing for the mix up which was not their fault. Grace will stop by twice a week to do some cooking and laundry and other things which would take up a lot of time which could be better spent researching. It is also good to contribute to the local economy through creating a job so it is a win-win even though part of me feels uncomfortable with coming to Africa and being privileged enough to have a maid. So far everyone has been truly lovely and I’m excited to meet all these people I have read about in the previous summer’s blogs.

Later in the afternoon Megan and I ventured out of our compound to walk to the Super Supermarket, maybe 5 minutes away. The road we live on (Old Kira Rd) is made of a terracotta colored soil (mirren) with rocks and trash. The soil color mixed with the terracotta roofs of some buildings compared to the lush green palm trees and vegetation is rather beautiful. Some places have colors in such high saturation that it makes things seem more alive. Kentucky is like that and I’m glad Kampala is too. I don’t do well in gray places.
The main road which our road feeds into is paved. There are ditches made of large orange stones and brown mortar on both sides with trash in them and since there are no guard rails you have to watch your step. Kampala is very hilly and the city is made of seven hills. The richer people live on top of the hills in mansions that are visible almost everywhere and the poorer people live in the valleys. It is a literal hierarchy.
When we got back we ate a delicious dinner prepared by Grace and ran out of water when we tried to wash the dishes. Fortunately we had all showered. Then we sat down to write up our field notes for the day and promptly at 8pm the electricity went out. We all laughed that I had officially been introduced to the Kampalan experience. I got tucked in my mosquito netted bed and when the lights came back on I scrambled to get free of the net to jump out and turn the lights back off. The nets are a little claustrophobic at first, but then comforting when you think about being safe from the bugs and geckos.

May 28, 2011

This morning was exciting because we got invited to a wedding reception. We noticed a decorated car, then bridesmaids and flower girls outside in the shared parking lot. We guessed it was a wedding so we went outside to see and found Rose, a neighbor and friend in the compound from Eritrea. It turns out her sister was getting married and she gave us all wedding invitations to come to the reception later on. To get to go to such important rituals and ceremonies is a big deal in anthropology so we were really excited.
Some of the bridal party were wearing traditional Eritrean clothes. The women had white long dresses with long sleeves and ornate colored stitching on the front of the dresses and along the hems. They also wore a linen/cotton white head scarf on top of their heads with their entire face and even their hair exposed. Women have their hair corn-rolled but the braid is done around a round object so it is raised. The effect is very stately and regal and Rose herself had ornate jewelry and was stunning in her traditional dress without the head scarf and the bridesmaids were in light melon colored spaghetti strap sheath satin dresses and high heals. It was an interesting mix of traditional and western clothes.

We then went out to make a big grocery run. We went to the Nakumatt market and it was huge and very much like American supermarkets. On the way back I fell down while walking, breaking an egg, a container of milk, and the soy sauce we had just bought. It wasn’t a big deal except I had already fallen in Amsterdam by tripping on a tram line at night. I ate the pavement pretty hard and scabbed up my right palm, elbow and both knees. When I fell again it was in all the same places. Really my confidence was hurt more than anything else and I’m tired of dealing with bandages in so many places and the girls were great about not minding the ruined groceries.

Grace and Annette came again today to do our laundry and they cooked an amazing lunch of matoke and g-nut sauce, something that tasted like collared greens, a chicken dish, and a salad with mangos. I think I could eat mangos every day. We then went shopping for a wedding gift and settled with a pitcher and glass set and some American peach preserves. Grace and Annette said they were good gifts and that we were well dressed for the event and we headed off using a matato (mah-ta-too).

It is basically a van with four rows of three seats. You can get to the back ones easily though because the side seats back folds down, then the whole seat folds upwards and sideways so you can get past it to other rows. Technically the van could hold 15 people including the front row and the “conductor” sits right by the door, opening it and jumping out, shouting in quick succession all the places the van is going, then hoping in as the van drives away. As the matato drives it honks at people it approaches to see if they want a ride. It’s a hectic production and people have to know where they are and when they want off in order to say maaah-sow, which means for the van to stop. I’m trying to get my ear to recognize the places and get a handle on transportation, but its only my second full day here.

So we got to the reception at 7:30 and it was supposed to start at 6. This was a classic case of Ugandan time because hardly anyone was there and they were still putting up decorations. Around 9 the bride and groom came in with a procession holding sparklers and doing the high pitched a-la-la-la-la cries often associated with Middle Eastern cultures. Meagan got a video of it.

Then we waited for our turn to eat as I talked to a young Eritrean guy about the food and what was going on. I knew Eritrean food was similar to Ethiopian food, which I have had but I still didn’t know what to expect. After getting a HUGE plate of food I brought it back only for the young guy I was talking to to ask why I didn’t get the white stuff. I thought he meant food that was white, but he meant that there was lasagna made especially for White people. He had earlier said he liked White people. I had no idea what to say to that and awkwardly said, “Thank you, I hope White people are nice to you.” I’m cringing as I write this! I now know how African Americans feel when asked for the Black perspective. But hey, it was better than hearing he disliked White people! I enjoyed talking to him though because he explained that while he was not related to the bride, because she was no longer in Eritrea and her family could not make it, all the local Eritreans came to act as a family. He said, they no longer have parents, family to be here for them, so now I am their cousin so they don’t get lonely. Eritreans call each other brothers and sisters which is a powerful cultural system for those away from their families.

We stayed for the cutting (and eating) of the cake and despite Rose’s explanation that there would be no dancing because the family was conservative and Pentecostal, there was plenty of dancing where the women stomped forward and back in a line and the men jumped up and down. It was a good time.