Monday, November 29, 2010

The other side of Kampala

Looking back at all of the picturesque scenes I’ve posted about, I’m realizing that I am keeping from you the other side of Kampala; the city center. I mentioned how Entebbe was different because you can breathe there. I don’t have pictures of downtown Kampala because it’s not very safe to be waving around an expensive electronic in most areas, but I’d still like to elaborate.
The first week here was my week of orientation. It was this week that I was very well ‘oriented’ to the smog-filled, pest-ridden, death-smelling experience that I have unfortunately come to associate with the city center in Kampala.
Traffic: People don’t stay on their side of the road, and there is constant passing between pedestrians, bicycles, boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis), cars, taxi vans and buses. All sharing the same unpaved road. There are no lanes painted, much less stop lights. Horns are the soundtrack to the city’s two taxi parks, which our guide distinguishes as “the two most chaotic taxi parks in Africa.” The roads are so bumpy from the potholes I have nearly hit the ceiling in vans multiple times, using all of the foot or so clearance between my head and the naked metal roof. Navigation is also a nightmare, since there is no actual route for any of the taxis or buses, and the road signs are all covered with advertisements, mostly for political candidates for the upcoming presidential election. The most common perpetrator of this guiltless, overbearing self-endorsement is by the current president, Musseveni, who many say will find his way to power whether fair democratic elections allow it, or not.
Sanitation: There is none. People (of both genders) pee on the side of the road. This is socially acceptable here because if you aren’t at home there is just literally no place else to go. So, this is what the pot holes fill with. The roads, sidewalks, even insides of stores are covered in garbage. There is no collection for waste here. People burn their trash in piles on the grass in front of their homes. When it rains, and it rains often, the entire city is a mud pit. All of this happens around and within the city’s many outdoor markets. Shavings from vegetables fall into the isles of the average Ugandan’s outdoor grocery, and continues to flow down with the accompanying brown mystery fluids. Flies are everywhere. This part really is just like the ‘save the children’ commercials.
Like I said, people usually call Mzungu or something like that but they are relatively friendly. There are a lot of bums, but overall I don’t feel any more harassed than I do walking downtown in Cincinnati.
There's really no way to describe it without photos, or a video, or something. But this is one part of Uganda I will not miss. The funny part is, to get basically anywhere that’s a driving distance, you have to go into the taxi park first. Like I said there are no routes. Busses go more according to villages. They go between the villages and the city center, and the means to getting to and around those villages is always different. It’s not ideal for planners or people who like to be in control of… anything. But for them, it works. And I’m slowly but surely getting a little more comfortable with the way things work for them here.


Weekend Excursions

I volunteer Monday through Friday, but the weekends are all mine. My hosts encourage the volunteers to explore Uganda, whether it’s spending a couple of nights in another city, or just a day trip to see some sights. So far I have stuck to the latter.
The first weekend I just relaxed. I organized all of my things, did a few items of laundry and started looking around for plans for the weekends in the future. Sunday I attended church with my host family and then to a backpacker‘s hostel for coffee and internet with my roommate Freda.
This weekend was much more adventurous. Saturday Freda and I took a day trip to Entebbe, the former capital of Uganda and the city where the airport is located. It’s in some ways the same as Kampala, but in other ways it’s totally different. The shops and types of businesses are very similar. What’s different is the air. You can BREATHE in Entebbe!The town is only 30 miles or so away, but it feels so different. People seem more relaxed and it is much easier to navigate. Freda and I walked around to find a hotel for her to stay at in January for her last night, since her flight is too early to drive from Kampala.On the way up we stopped at a swanky hotel called Lake Victoria and drank Fantas by the pool. They were almost a dollar a piece and we were shocked at how expensive they were compared to the same ones at a market.
Then we continued walking and stumbled upon an internet cafĂ© were I was able to upload a few blog entries and some pictures. We took our time, had some coffee on the nice, breezy patio and I tried the African’s attempt at Hawaiian pizza.After a little more walking we arrived at Entebbe Botanical Gardens, the final destination and original purpose of our field trip. It was such a great experience, thanks to a volunteer tour guide who knew all of the good spots, plants’ uses, and even showed us where the original Tarzan movie was filmed. Towards the end we saw a dozen or so monkeys. It was a perfect interaction, because they were familiar enough with people to come very close, but not aggressive at all. At first one thought a flower in my hand was a piece of banana, but as soon as I dropped it and showed my hands were empty the mommy sat back up, giving her baby a better grip around her torso.
We also saw spiders, a pack of napping wild dogs that didn’t care about us at all, and our guide broke open a termite hill to show us how they are organized.I kept saying how I’ve never really been interested by plants before, but this was a different experience. There were lots of plants that were indigenous like royal palms, flowers that I think Georgia O’Keefe would have gushed over, and all kinds of leaves. Some that felt like animal furs, some that were like sand paper, and touch-me-nots that folded inward upon contact. Many other specimens were imported, like cacti from Arizona. We learned the difference between the ‘good’ aloe vera, which I rubbed on my mosquito bite, and the poisonous kind which has a different smelling sap. Who knew there was a poisonous aloe vera?! Unfortunately they looked almost exactly the same.Anyway it was probably much more fun in person than I am making it sound in writing, but it was a peaceful, child-free experience that had perfect timing between my two weeks at Ttega. And with my lack of experience (or eagerness to gain such experience) with the African wilderness, I would be happy to call it my most nature-y moment in Uganda.

Sunday I went with Freda and Richard to what I'm pretty confident is probably the most peaceful place in central Uganda. It's a temple for an obscure religion called the Bahai faith. The religion itself reminds me of a cross between buddhism and unitarian universalism. The service was a little strange and not engaging to any of us three, but the campus was so beautiful it was well worth the trip to visit.
The photos don't do it justice, but the view of the city was amazing.
Then we went into town, to Garden City, where all the Mzungus shop. I ate fries and tried the ice cream that was called 'strawberry' but was actually pepto-bismol flavored. Then I found Nutella and all was well again.

I'm sure to have more weekend field trip stories to come =)


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ttega Child Development Center

Last week I started my work at the school. My hosts, Herman and Annie, just started the school within the past couple of years. It started with just one school room, and now there are 3-4, depending on what you would ‘count’ as a classroom.
The center has no electricity. They used to fetch water every day but just recently bought a reservoir and a tap outside. It has made vast improvements, even though it is still well below the standards for an American school. Their progress is especially noteworthy because almost none of the students can afford to pay fees. Annie told me their parents brought their children to school with a ‘payment’ of one broom (which is more like a bundle of weeds, hay and long grass used for sweeping) and two rolls of toilet paper.
Since the school was specifically built for children in such financial need, it has become much more than just a school to them. The teachers try feeding the children lunch as often as possible. This might have become a double-edged sword, because the children might not eat at home at all if the parents expect them to be fed at school. So when they are fed, those kids eat a LOT. It’s like they are just taking in whatever they can, while they can. The kids are also bathed properly (or as properly as possible) at school before they go home.
The money my hosts make from taking me in while I’m here is what they try to stretch to support their own family, the teachers’ salaries, the school, feeding the students, and so much more. They have also hired a Rwandan girl as a house servant. In Uganda having a maid is almost the norm. They are very inexpensive, if you can find one that’s trustworthy without an agency. Anyway I’m not sure what her background is besides that she’s from a very poor Rwandan and my hosts agreed to pay for her schooling and give her food and a room in their house in return for her service. She loves school and does her work happily. She’s so sweet and I imagine it’s pretty unlikely that she and her family weren’t effected by the Rwanda genocide in some way.
Herman and Annie are trying to build the school up as best as possible, to attract students whose parents can actually pay some tuition. They still welcome anyone though, promising that the fees are “affordable for everybody!” = ) But I can see where it’s hard, since they struggle to even have the kids’ basic needs met, like clothing, bathing and food.
I am providing Mama Mercy’s children uniforms, and some food for what I hope lasts for a few days’ worth of lunches. But with so many kids and so much need, I’m not sure how far what I can provide will last.
Anything donated towards my paypal account will be attributed to food for these kids in need at Ttega. Literally ANYTHING helps. My pictures of happy, well-fed children will make your day, I promise!

Welaba, Lucy

ps: more pictures of the center and it's students to come, i need to put my pictures on my hard drive!

Equatorial Hospitality

While Ugandans might have a skewed perspective of Westerners, they’re probably the nicest group of strangers you could live among.
Some Western customs that are kind of going ‘beyond’ what’s expected of us, are expected behaviors among Ugandans. For example, in the US if you have visitors, you might offer them a drink. Here, you have to eat something at anyone’s home you visit. If you don’t have time to eat a whole meal, you have a snack. If you are waiting for any considerable amount of time before the meal is served, you are offered tea and a snack while the food is prepared (this confused me a couple of times because I thought the pre-meal snack was the meal itself).
At home, it’s a nice gesture to help someone carry their things. Maybe a gentleman would do it to impress a woman or a young person would help someone older or less-abled. Here, it is expected for you to help someone carry their things if they have an armful and you cross paths. Even if they’re going the opposite way, and especially if they are your elder. Time here is much more flexible than Western standards, so I assume these kinds of community/group-centered practices are part of the reason. My culture guide also attributes it to the area historically (and somewhat currently) revolving around agriculture.
In the US, if a man says hi and asks how you are as you walk by him on the road, you’re kind of taught to wonder what his bad intentions could be. Here, it’s just accepted that strangers say ‘hi.’ But also, people here don’t creep you out with the WAY they say hi, like some do at home.
There is a general attitude of consideration for others that I really appreciate here. The other day I had walked up the road to a market to buy ‘airtime’ as they call it, to recharge minutes to my phone. This time of year is the end of the rainy season, what they call ’short rains’ and I got caught in one of those showers so infrequent at home, when the sun is shining as clearly as possible while it poured, even hailed, out of nowhere. There was an overhang which I had no problem standing under until the storm passed, but a lady from the next store over came out and told me to come in. I walked into her salon and she told me to sit down in a chair for the customers. Then everyone went about their business. I watched the rain, wishing I could eavesdrop on their gossip (if only it were in English!) for a few minutes. The storm left as quickly as it came, and they just smiled when I left and thanked them.
As simple of a gesture it was, I realized it was something that would have been pretty out of the ordinary in the US, where people just mind their business, or get an innocent laugh out of other people’s misfortune. And considering how little they have to give just makes me appreciate the hospitality even more. I’ve been taught how to be more courteous by example of many selfless Americans, but it would still be nice to be able to recognize (and better practice) these habits as a part of my own culture at home.

Welaba, Lucy

Life as a Mzungu

It seems impossible to fly under the radar as a Westerner in Uganda.
For one, the children are always excited to see you. They will wave from a distance and yell “bye Mzungu, bye!” and anyone trying to beg, sell something, or otherwise get your attention will call you by M’zungu, as well. Everyone says it’s really a favorable nickname, which I believe in most cases. Sometimes when I’m in people’s way (this happens a lot in the city ) people say ‘move, Mzungu’ or something similar, in which case I am sure they are at least a little less fond of me.
Secondly, the media has left most Ugandans with a very specific idea of what us Westerners are like. First, they think we all have A LOT of money. To be honest, most of them are probably right to assume that we have more money than they do. However I think our wealth as individuals might be a little exaggerated in their minds. Especially when it comes to students and people like me who had to get help and make sacrifices to get here.
They also think that white girls are ‘loose,’ as my culture guide puts it. Dressing appropriately means even covering up your legs. It’s strange, because to me, it’s just a leg! At OSU there’s practically a ‘no peeks of the cheeks’ rule and that’s it, haha so I thought I came with very modest clothing. But most of what I brought would make people uncomfortable for reasons of either too much exposure (even my V-neck t-shirts I’m a little uncomfortable in) or that I am way, WAY underdressed.
People here loooove to dress up. It’s amazing to me the type of clothes people wear to trudge through mud and dirt and ride and sewage or ride on motorbike taxis (boda bodas) in. Women who work all day in a garden or farm do so in skirts and dresses, and most women even wear some shorter heels.
I think my biggest mistake in preparation so far has been packing my clothes. I thought that dressing nice would make everyone else feel uncomfortable since they would be so underdressed in comparison, but it’s really quite the opposite.
Hence the blue and yellow number I picked up at a crafts market last week, featured in the cooking lesson photos.
Then, there’s personal space. Your personal space here is basically only the space you actually occupy. They shove 16-18 people into taxis, along with their luggage, crops for/from the market, building materials, you name it, into mini taxi buses that clearly state on the side that they are licensed to carry a maximum of 14. Yesterday I was taking a bus home and stood in the doorway, bumping back and forth between strangers who shared that space. It’s taken some getting used to, but I’ve gotten used to it and just laugh it off now.
It’s ironic how dress is so conservative, but friends (even two men) hold hands and walk with their arms around each other, strangers are forced to practically grind on each other on the bus, and the traditional dance is way more scandalous and booty-shakin than anything you could probably find in a Beyonce video.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The family I visited for the cooking lesson lives in a home with no running water. It has 4 rooms. Two of them are bedrooms for their TEN children. The third is the parents’ bedroom and the last (maybe the biggest) is for their chickens which are kept for their eggs.

Six of the family’s children are the parents’ biological ones. They have adopted the other four from Rwanda, the Congo and Uganda. One orphan is HIV positive, and all of them were found in very poor conditions.

The father told me that he removed dozens of chiggers from one of the adopted daughters. Only one of their children is a boy. They told me that having so many daughters and still adopting more makes people skeptical. Here, it is the girls who are responsible for house maintenance, fetching water, etc. So when a family with so many girls who, to put it bluntly, are valued for little more than their domestic work, people start to question the parents’ intentions.

It is obvious that these cynics are not realistically considering the time, energy, and money (especially considering the medications for the sick ones) that the parents give to their children, and how no amount of domestic work would make this a profitable practice, especially with a house of so many children to begin with.

Mama Mercy is working on making bricks (by hand) to make a chicken coop. That way the family can
occupy the space (already two conjoined rooms) for themselves.

Here, people’s comfort is put so far down on the totem pole, below their livelihoods, below their
family and other relationships, below their reputations among strangers in the community, and below their opportunities to help those around them in need. Half or more of Uganda’s population is under 18 years of age, and so many of those are orphans. In a society where it is already the norm to have anywhere between 6 and 10 children, it’s amazing that so many still take in orphans. There is a level of personal responsibility beyond a monetary contribution to an orphanage or other non-profit, like someone might justify in the US. While the need is greater here, the resources are so stretched that it outshines the compassion of the average American a hundred to one, in spite of our reputation here as givers.

Here is where I start to comment on Americans and their poor level of responsibility for taking care of their own, regarding fear of socialized health care, taxes, etc… but I’ll spare you.



A Lesson in Cooking

Friday I went to the home of some friends of my host family. Richard and I stopped at the market to get some vegetables on the way, and that day’s lesson was ‘cooking, the traditional way.’ Richard says that when I marry an African man someday, I will have to do this every once in a while.

First we had to cut down the banana plantains to make matooke (pronounced mah-toe-okay), and then banana tree leaves, the traditional African’s primary cooking tool.I wasn’t a good cutter. The way we hack and throw around those knives is a little dangerous, I think. Before we even began cooking, we had to prepare the leaves, removing most of the stem from the middle so that they would be flexible.
Cutting the banana plantains (kind of like potatoes). This lady came with a gift of green beans for the family, and stayed long enough to tell me how poor my cutting skills were, in the nicest way, of course. She made me laugh.The food is steamed in the banana leaves, so this was my attempt at folding them up into a tight bundle. It sort of fell apart later.I call this purple gravy. It’s made with something call G nut flour, water and vegetables. I don’t call it purple gravy out loud, just to save everyone from confusion and myself from embarrassment.
We put the matooke-in-progress right on top of the 'purple gravy' pot. They usually cook like this, heating everything at once, so that all of the parts are ready at the same time.

The stove.
We went to fetch water. Don’t be confused or think that it’s perspective making my jerry can look smaller. I’m pretty sure it was half (or even less) the size of (the eldest child) Fiona’s can.
It was far. I kept trying to turn back down the hill to go home before it was actually time to. I’m
convinced the walk to the water was much, much shorter than the walk back.They call green beans ‘french beans’ and green peas ‘cow peas’

3-ish hours later, the matooke was finished. We also prepared yams (not like in the US, they were white with purple spots) and cassava (you’ve heard about this if you’ve read any African literature).
“Mama Mercy” showed me how to fold the banana leaves and then use them like a spatula for serving.Then she started scooping right out with the children’s bowls, telling me “we just do it that way (with the leaves) for culture”

I couldn’t believe the amount of work they put into a single meal. I told them if I was in their position, I would just be lazy and cut up mangoes for myself all day. While our meals at my house here aren’t prepared in such a traditional kitchen, I still appreciate where my food comes from a lot more.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's 3-ish in the afternoon here on Thursday, which would make it about 70 hours so far that I've gone without running water. I got home after the longest day on Tuesday and all I could think of was how excited I was for a shower! I didn’t even mind that we don’t have warm water,because it is so hot here anyway, a cold shower would've felt great.
When I got home late my roommate said, in this order, "We don't have any water... You look hot." Her cute British accent made the bad news only a little bit easier to hear.
Richard, my teacher/host brother told me that they usually lose water supply in the dry season (which it’s changing into now) and that it can last 3 days to a week. But he said he thinks it will be back soon. He doesn’t mention why he thinks this, but I’m agreeing with him whole-heartedly.
I've been doing my best with what they call "bucket showers" using water from a jerry can, but I just can't really trick myself into feeling clean. Freda, my roommate, has been here a little longer than me. She knows her way around and has a plan for buying a night at the local backpacker's hostel, just to use the shower. She's free Sunday so if we don't have running water by then I am definitely going to be joining her.
I know I should be using my blog time to talk more about my silly complaints. So, here's a picture from the culture dance I went to last night.

eeeek! sorry I'm a horrible photograhper. can you believe I used to get paid for that?! haha.

i have a lot more and probably better ones, but i'm out of time!

Believe it or not, my flights into Uganda were all on time and pretty much problem-free.

-except they took my deodorant on the LAST one because apparently deodorant counts as gel, even if the label ont he front clearly reads "SOLID" >=(

I convinced my friend Andras to come keep me company at JFK, which was nice too. I didn't sleep much on the plane but was welcomed by my hosts with hugs and helping hands for all of my luggage. Herman told me one the ride home from the airport that by the end of my trip I wouldn't want to come back and that my loved ones at home should be worried. He said "it's not comfortable" like I'm used to, but that Uganda is a beautiful place with very friendly people. I can't argue with any of it so far!

The house is adorable and very cozy.
I share a bedroom and bathroom with a British retiree (but I think she's pretty young by American retiree standards) named Freda, who's been here a month and will stay for 2 more.
This first week I'll be learning the language and doing some sight-seeing, getting to know Kampala.
I don't have a lot of internet access but I'll update as much as possible!


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Departure Day!

The last few days have been a little hectic. I got really anxious and nauseous for a couple of days but with LOTS of moral support I ended up getting packed and to the airport without any plan-changing crises.

My mom came up to send me off, and today is her birthday! We went out for breakfast and I filled up as much as possible on my last American meal for 5 weeks.

It's been a running joke for the last week or so that every meal is my 'last meal.' I think I've had about 10 of those by now. I don't even think I will miss any food here, I ate so much. Everyone made sure to send me off with lots of gummy bears and worms, though. They know me too well. If I look like I've slept an average of 3 hours a night for the last week in this last picture, that's because it's true.

I'm sitting at the gate waiting for my first flight into JFK. (Almost) all of the anxiety has left and I'm pretty much nothing but excited! I wonder how far this will last into these 24-ish hours of flights.

Assuming that there's no free internet in the Brussels airport, I'll try posting within the next few days from Uganda (finally!)

Here's most of what I am going to be bringing with me to donate to the development center, thanks to support of my friends and family!

It was a lot harder deciding what kind of things to get for them, with no specific age groups or english levels, etc. There was a lot of consideration, i.e. is it okay for me to get them pencils and not a sharpener? With some advice from Tyler I tried sticking to really simple things that I knew they would use, making sure not to assume they already have other things to go with them.

i hope we get to play a lot of football.

ps: it's never too late to donate to my paypal ;)

The coordinator at the center said they really need monetary donations for a new latrine.