Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Meal of Firsts

After polishing up my basic Lugandan, with new phrases such as “Okuseera!” or “don't overcharge me,” I thought I was ready for the market. Our last night together as interns led us to the market, preparing a meal to serve for 35 people (this was also Jordan's going away party). I was appointed the 'chicken man,' and prepared a Chicken Raguu with tomatoes, onions, and carrots, and 'Southern Fried Chicken. Quick kitchen description - a smoky oven with a baby crying, an electric stove that barely functioned and another stove that was run by a propane tank (which soon ran out of gas), and a wonderful housegirl named Grace who showed me the ways of hacking a chicken – I would be understating the richness of this evening if I only called it a 'learning experience.' This was a complete immersion in Ugandan culture, beginning with the kitchen. I suppose you could say that my internship with St. Jude with be a transition to another core of Ugandan rural life, and that is the use of the land.

With orientation wrapped up today, discussing Budget and Work Plan preparation, I am more than ready.

I have arrived. The gates to my compound (literally) open up, and I am greeted by an open space, the chatter of chickens, dogs, and rabbits in the background, and the housekeeper 'Chaz' hammering in nails in a shed in the back. Unfortunately, Josephine Kizza is busy with meetings in Kampala, but even better – I have two mothers! Josephine's sister, Maria, or Mama Muto, greets me with her two god-children, 3 year-old Josephine and 4 year-old Paya. The children kneel down to me, and show such immense respect for those older than them. I am shown around the house, settling my things down into one of the girls' rooms. I soon realize that the house is not as full of children as I thought it would be – they are all away at school! Most children here attend boarding school, and two of Josephine's daughters have graduated from university and are already living in homes of their own in Masaka.

No matter – still such a beautiful home. Tiled floors, a nice television, accompanied by the traditional aspects of Ugandan life such as the kitchen, the tea (we have tea and biscuits at 6 PM and dinner at 8 or 9 PM!), and the family (the children sit on a straw mat on the tiled floor while the adults sit on couches). We watch TV, talk some, although Mama Muto's English is a bit rough, and I explain to here my passion for the simplicity of farming. I show her the hand-written card, thanking her, Josephine and the family for welcoming me, and she is pleasantly surprised (and entertained) to see that I have also written the letter in Lugandan.

I meet Frank, a local boy who works at St. Jude, and also Agee, a Japanese volunteer who has been here for 14 months and has his own farm nearby – these are experienced colleagues I will be working with. As I sit here writing this journal, the bugs begin to emerge and I must rest for the night – early morning tomorrow with tea at 7 AM and catching a ride with the St. Jude car to Masaka shortly thereafter. A thirty to forty minute drive is needed to get to 'downtown' Masaka, although that means a few main roads, dirty paths, and grassy hills. Look at the wonderful traditional shirt I bought today, only 7,000 shillings (about $3.50)!

Looking forward to the first day of work on Monday, and I will update you sometime next week.

Sula Bulungi (Good Night),


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Another Update - Cultural Expression

Been awake for about an hour now, at least I slept for a good while (we, as in Mike and the two Ugandan university students, Joseph and John, fell asleep watching Bayern Munich lose to AC Milan). Soccer is god here, by the way.

So quick update:
- learning Lugandan greetings, which are extended exchanges with varying levels of formality, each specific to the morning, afternoon, and evening. Most importantly, I've learned to say "I'm sorry" and "I don't understand," Simanyi and Nsonyiwa respectively. We went shopping today, and then for a 'cultural dance event,' which I explain at the end of this post. Aside from the lack of sleep I feel great - despite a huge lunch of Indian food and fresh pizza for dinner. I think I will simplify my diet today, just to be safe. I am enjoying the city ammenities, level of development, and sights, but I am definitely eager to get to Masaka - a smaller, simpler, cleaner, cooler, and safer town. We also had safety orientation yesterday, and that was, well, obvious. What was nice, though, was talking at length with Jordan, our FSD site coordinator, about his experience living and working here. I am also beginning to see the personal difficulties that ex-pats have in living and working here, especially in the NGO world (not many friends back home, iffy relations with families, lonely lifestyle, etc.). As much language, culture, attire, and behavior I may be able to adopt while I am here, I will never be Ugandan; yet, there is certainly a purpose to the presence of anyone is anywhere doing anything - it's just a matter of finding that purpose and owning its focus and meaning. We shall see what focus and meaning begin to emerge over the next week.

Will update you when we arrive in Masaka.

Tulabagané, or see you later!

A Performance to Remember:

We enter a 'cultural center' of sorts, with those big straw huts, art on the walls, these guitar-like instruments that look like miniature boats.

Walking into what appeared to be an open stadium, with terraced levels for tables, I see an open performance space with drums and instruments lined up.

What followed was a performance never to forget, simply Chirunji (Beautiful), as each ethnic tradition of Uganda was performed and explained with such passion of expression.

The dancers and singers, with their vigor and spirit, were all young. These youth, close to my age, were living their tradition, retaining in the face of such adversity. I have never before seen such cultural authenticity, such important expression, such incredible joy. We laughed, cried, and danced our way through the night, ending up on stage at the end of the performance.

What a night!

Will post once I am in Masaka, wrapping up orientation and preparing to move in with my host family on May 27th.

Sula bulunji! Good night!


Monday, May 24, 2010

The Initial Arrival

From my blackberry, as I can't sleep and don't want to wake the two younger college boys (rising sophomores from Gettysburg College and UNC) with my laptop:

When we landed at 645 PM last night, earlier thab expected, I was eager to land with some daylight remaining. That hope quickly faded as the sun was darting down the horizon like it was late to a meeting on the other side of the world, and I knew we had landed right on the equator. I walked off the plane into a bright and humid airport, a brightness that soon faded into a dimly lit darkness when we exited the airport with our luggage to the van. Two short men, appeared to be twins, fit as I hope to be by the end of this summer, load our luggage into two cars, and count 11 Americans - they keep telling us there should be 15 of us, and without an answer, I tell them that only the strongest survived the flight (a sleepless one, mind you).

The drive was peaceful, with explained majors, work assignments (they range from AIDS to microfinance) and hometowns - our two older guys, Ian and Luke, are both '05 Stanford grads - and I will be picking Ian's ear, as he begins at Duke's Env. Management master's program in the fall, arguably the best env. graduate school in the country. We are greeted at the guest house by a warm and motherly hotel manager, a candle-lit compound with picnic tables and a surprising deficit of mosquitoes, and told that we have arrived on the shortest day of the year. I can personally attest that yesterdat felt like the longest day of the year.

Chosen bedrooms and a delicious pumpkin soup later, I crashed. For about 3 hours. I finally slept solidly until 7 AM, and now as I finish this e-mail, the birds begin to quickly chirp and awaken, and the sun is faintly creeping up, waiting, I know now, for its hast race up the horizon.

My curiosity draws me to go and explore thse sounds (and take the 10 minute walk to Lake Victoria), and begin the day's adventure. So long for now, loved ones - the next few days are filled with orientation, language training, and meeting our host family. Masaka, here I come!