Sunday, July 3, 2011


So this is probably the longest entry that I’ve made for any one day, but its because it was probably the best day that I’ve had. I’m really going to be sad when we leave.

Today I overheard Annette, the lady who washes our clothes, telling Gerald the gardener, that we weren’t going to be coming back. He didn’t understand at first. He said, “yes, they go away and then come back after some months for June and July.” She said no and explained it again. The day started off emotional. Meagan and I left the house with every intention to finish writing and get caught up in preparation for next week. I think we are going to be super busy next week. Anyway, so we walked to Mulago hospital, and took a different route. We got a little lost, but a long the way we heard people singing as they were planting their crops for the season. It was lovely to walk beneath the banana trees listening to hymns and catch glimpses of the city between the leaves. Meagan and I spent the time reflecting back on this summer and the past summer, talking about things that we would have done differently and things that went surprisingly well, our development as researchers, and our development as anthropologists. A running analogy that we have been using is the act of blowing on a dandelion in hopes that some seeds will settle and grow. We have more dandelions than we know what to do with. I told her, “Now I know why they’re considered weeds.” But as always, we concluded that the experience has been positive, and that we still have a lot to learn (seeing as how we can still get lost and still need to ask for directions in a place that we are fairly familiar with).

We got to Mulago and the café was closed. Damn. So we took a boda to 1000 Cups, again took the wrong direction. This time we knew where we were and decided to walk the remainder of the way. As we walked we heard music coming from one of the schools where the Foundation has implemented the program, and we peeked around the corner to see what was going on. A construction worker (who had nothing to do with what was going on) saw us and coaxed us into going up around the fence to see, and we happened to come upon a group of traditional dancers and musicians practicing for an event. The director then spotted us and coaxed us to come to the front to watch the performance. We were so embarrassed and I’m sure it was clearly visible, but we managed to breathe and sit in chairs while they performed traditional dances and songs using traditional instruments from different tribes in Uganda. They were incredible dancers, drummers, musicians, singers. It is hard to convey because you could tell that they were actually enjoying what they were doing, and it wasn’t just a dance or a song. It was truly an artistic expression of an emotion and an experience and a culture.

Given that Meagan and I were already feeling sentimental, we burst into tears, increasing my level of embarrassment to astronomical levels. We couldn’t even look at each other. I don’t think that they could see us crying from the distance, thank God. Afterwards, we spent time talking with the musicians and dancers. We explained who we were. We even happened to have the children’s books that the Foundation has been working on per our suggestion. They wanted to take them away to read, but we had to explain that they were originals, and we didn’t have any copies to leave with them. They suggested that we hold an event so that they could come and perform for us. I’m certainly inclined, but they also said it would be ok if we come and watch them rehearse again during the week. You can count on that. It is an experience that you dream about when you are studying, and then while you’re in the midst of it you think to yourself, “I really am an anthropologist. I really can do this…well.”

Then we decided to continue to 1000 Cups. It was coming to 11:00, we left at 8:30 and still hadn’t accomplished anything that we had intended to do. Since we were on a roll of whimsical endeavors, we stopped in a dress shop, and spent another period of time since Meagan decided that she wanted to have a dress made. We picked some nice fabric and designed a dress. Then when we walked up we saw some our friends Frank, Ruby, and Joan. We got a smoothie and socialized. We also had to explain to Joan that we were leaving soon and that we weren’t coming back. She said, “but you come back in June.” We had to tell her that we weren’t coming back next June.

By the time that we were through, it was time to go home because Grace was preparing lunch for us - my favorite dish that she makes, Thai chicken for my birthday. Also avocados and gooseberries. I still hadn’t accomplished anything workwise, so I sat down to do a little writing. Got distracted again with phone calls from home, and then I needed to take a shower. Meagan and I switched rooms, and we made pizza. We’ve been making our own sauce, using pita bread for crust, and putting goat cheese and olives on top. I’m starting to like it better than any other kind.

We then went to join our friends for the evening. We got stuck in a jam on a matatu, and I had everyone laughing because I could understand some of the Luganda that was going on. I’ve been trying to learn a new word everyday. Today was “Banange!” which doesn’t really have a direct translation, but is something along the lines of “Oh my God!” Ladies use it a lot when they are gossiping and talking about the prices of things. They wanted to me to speak a bunch, but I’m just not there yet. I’m only just beginning to understand, which is an accomplishment in of itself to me. I’m really excited about how much easier it is getting to understand what is going on, even if I don’t understand every word.

We met with a good group of our friends to talk and dance and laugh. Our Ugandan friends like to make jokes about how white people dance. They say that the white people are always dancing to the next song. I thought that was pretty funny. They make these jokes because they are often surprised that we can at least keep up with them dance wise. I did do my impression of what they were talking about, dancing to the next song that is, and they were rolling laughing. I’ve also started doing impressions of them in my best Ugandan accent, which they love equally as well.

Mentor meeting went well, and we got a lot of good feedback from them as well. It was nice to see a lot of them again. Many familiar faces.

We have been talking about taking a trip out west, so we spent the day discussing and planning this trip. For me traveling (I guess it’s pretty obvious by now) is one of the best gifts, and planning those trips is a close second.

We also did some shopping, ate pizza, met some British missionaries who were working with orphan children. All around a great birthday.

More writing and trying to crank out the statistical results for our pretest to hand back to the Foundation on Friday. Meagan has spent a number of hours combing through and fixing errors that we’ve caught. All in all it has gone pretty well, and its exciting to start seeing certain trends emerge from the numbers. None of the trends are that surprising, but it is reaffirming to see those trends emerging in the numbers. It also means that we have been doing good work so far in past summers, before I was confident about what I was doing.

I have finally gotten all of my field notes written up, and I feel like I need to add some things that I forgot on our trip…so here is our trip to Hoima and Gulu revisited…
…except my visit to the UNCST. I don’t really want to revisit that.

By now, maybe you have seen the videos that we took at one of the schools that we went to. We spent a long time sitting and talking with the administration there. They were very good and warm people. Sometimes the Acholi get described as fierce and belligerent, and as with anyone I’m sure that’s true in the appropriate context, but everyone we’ve met has been warm and welcoming. This particular school was fortunate because they had an administrator who was also a nurse. That means she could provide counseling to many of the students for their health needs, but she was explaining some of the challenges that their school faces. Namely that many of the students are orphans, but still live in their homes with their remaining brothers and sisters. These “child-run households” mean that older children manage the home while the younger children are able to go to school if they are lucky. The head teacher said, “we have become the parents of the parentless.” The administration doesn’t know how to provide for these children. I wouldn’t presume to know the best way either, but its clear that the needs, despite the fact that the town is swamped with NGOs, are not being met.

I think that I’m still trying to process the experience, and I keep thinking about a speech that I made at a fundraiser for the Foundation in October. I spent my time trying to translate my experience into terms that were understandable to the audience, and why a program that offers education, counseling, and guidance is important. I said, “I’m appealing to you as parents, or as grandparents as the case may be, to support a program that in turn supports children in a place where an entire generation of parents has been lost.” (or something very close to that). At the time I was drawing on an experience that I had in a school where the majority of the students were refugees from the Congo or the northern part of Uganda. I still believe the statement to be true, but now that I have been to Gulu, it feels even more true, if that is possible.

The local tribe in this area are the Acholi. Their language is totally different from Luganda. I don’t think that it is even in the same Bantu language group that includes most of the languages in East Africa. Anyway I felt like I was at square one in terms of accent and phrasing. All of my Luganda words useless, which made it a little more challenging to get around seeing as how the map in our travel guide was wrong. It had two roundabouts on the map when there was only one in the city.

Later when we were discussing what was so eerie about Gulu I kept thinking about the one roundabout with the sculptures of the children in the middle reading books. There were many children going to school, but there were very few parents visibly caring for the multitude of children. I think Nicole articulated it best when she said, “it was obvious that people were missing.”

I woke up with the sun before the alarm. When the alarm started going off, I stopped it and replaced it with my own alarm noises for Meagan and Nicole’s enjoyment. They laughed at it, and at least it is more pleasant than some electronic buzzing irritating you out of sleep. I really don’t like alarms incase you didn’t notice.

On the way to Masindi, we saw a troop of baboons. That’s were Nicole’s thumb picture was taken. Past Masindi we went through small town after small town, each with its own set of speed bumps. We crossed over the Nile at a place called Karuma Falls, which also is surrounded by a forest conservation area. That is where we fed the baboons from our car. Later we read in our travel guide an explicit statement to not feed baboons because it makes them aggressive and they end up biting people. We aren’t very good tourists.

In the car we asked Rev what it was like to live here in the 70s and 80s. He told us that where we were driving, it was not possible to travel there in that time because it was controlled by rebel groups. It is hard to think of a place has only been passable for about twenty years. I forgot how beautiful the landscape is in the country side on the way to Hoima.

As we were about to leave for lunch after the mentor meeting. Rev realized that the car was dead because he had left the lights on. Seeing as how we would have to walk into town anyway to find someone to help us, we walked in to town to get lunch first. Luckily we packed peanuts in our bag to snack on along the way because it was almost 3:00 pm, and we hadn’t had a meal since that morning at 6:00 am. We’ve gotten much better about preparing for things that are likely going to happen. We stopped in a tiny restaurant, and the people were extremely nice to us. I wonder if they had ever served white people before. Not because the service was unusual or anything by Ugandan standards, but because the restaurant was so small, it only two tables in it. One inside, one outside. The man running the restaurant helped Rev get a jump.

At the hotel, I finally finished the book Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Anne Kidd Taylor. It is about relationships between older mothers and daughters. I really recommend it if you fall into one of those categories. Meagan, Nicole, and I have been passing around books, so I passed in on to Meagan. She asked if it was good and I said “yes, it almost made me cry.” Meagan goes, “ok, so then I probably will cry.” Rev sat in on the conversation, and also thought it was funny.

1 comment:

  1. lots of information to digest. I am sad that this will be your final summer. It has been such a great experience for all of you. I am glad you have been touched by the lives of the Ugandian people. I am very sorry for the children. I would love to go and work in an orphanage there. Still enjoying the book. Miss you. Mom