Monday, May 30, 2011

Catching up

Today we ran some errands in town and started to get in touch with our old friends. We went to 1000 cups and had coffee. Joan was there, and started screaming when she saw us. She is one of my favorite people here, and I think about her often while I’m in the States. I was really happy to see her, and it was the first time that I really felt emotional about being back again. We browsed the craft market so that Nicole could get a look at the different items. I had my eye on a couple of things as well. I hoping for a leather bag, and maybe some bark cloth.

That night we had Moses and Richard over for dinner. It was great to catch up with them as well. We were able to discuss the political situation with them in the country and get a feel for the situation. I wanted to discuss it with them in particular because as we were walking to the coffee shop and got stopped briefly by the police. They didn’t want us to be taking pictures in a certain area, and it wasn’t a problem, but it was a tad unsettling, especially for Nicole I think since she was the one taking the pictures.

Dinner went over well, and we gave them some gifts from Sonja and from Meagan. She had been looking for baseball t-shirts to give them from the states because they couldn’t find them here in Uganda. Even Richard was smiling when he tried it on. That is a rare occasion. I’m glad we got a picture of it.

5/28/11 Continued….

The wedding reception was a blast, and I am so glad that we saw our friend Rose by chance. We scrambled around to get a gift and settled on a pitcher with some glasses for juice, and some preserves that I brought from home. We had several different kinds but decided on peach. It would be hard not to like peaches right? I was also going to say in our note that peaches were a traditional fruit for us to eat in the summer time, but did you know that they are indigenous to China? We wanted to look it up before we said that they were native to America. Apparently, the Chinese have been infiltrating American culture for hundreds of years. Too bad people are only just getting upset about it now.

Anyway, I think the gift went over well. Meagan ended up being the one to give it to them. She had to walk right up to them front and center. She was really embarrassed. I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to do it. Anyway, I’m telling the storey out of order. We took a matatu into town, which was Nicole’s first ride in one. It went pretty smoothly, and I find that I’m not having very much trouble stepping by into Uganda culture, using the few Luganda words and gestures that I know. Seems like last year I had to mentally prepare myself before resuming normal activities. Also I have Meagan sharing the responsibilities with me which is wonderful and takes loads of pressure off. Again, a tangent.

So we found the place relatively easy (good feeling) and we arrived long before the wedding party. The invitation said 6:00, someone called and said 7:00, we arrived at 7:30, and the wedding party didn’t arrive until 8:30. =) I wasn’t really surprised, I figured we would be there early, but I didn’t realize that we would be about an hour early. The reception hall was elaborately decorated with all kinds of things the color of Tennessee orange. When the wedding party arrived, it was interesting to see the melding of traditional and contemporary cultures. The bride was in a Western white wedding gown, but a lot of the female guests were wearing traditional Eritrean attire. I is a long white dress with a patterned trim and then a white scarf that goes over the head. There is also a traditional way of wear the hair braided back like corn rows, but the braid them over a piece of material so the rows are long and sort of conically shaped. You’ll have to look at the pictures. The gold jewelry is also impressive.

Dinner was served in the traditional manner with njaara (the spongy bread) with lots of saucy meats, and you eat it with your hands. Someone sitting by us insisted that we eat a dish because it was “white people food”, and I realized that it was a version of lasagna. It was actually pretty good. We did our best to eat everything on our plates, but it was difficult to say the least. I wish that we could get away with sharing a plate without getting raised eyebrows. Meagan got what she thought was a potato and it turned out to be a whole egg. The incidences of whole eggs has become a running joke for us, if you can recall the story of the eggroll from last year where we thought we were getting a Chinese egg roll, but we ended up with a whole egg rolled in mashed potatoes and fried.

We had cake and dancing even though there wasn’t supposed to be any dancing. It was a Pentecostal wedding. There was lots of fireworks and confetti. At one point something caught on fire up on stage. Meagan gave our gift to the bride and groom. I was giggling because she had to walk right up to the front and give the gift directly to the bride and groom. She was so embarrassed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oh man, its been a long trip. Much longer than we expected….


Our last two days in Amsterdam were wonderful. On Tuesday, we actually gave ourselves some down time. We had a picnic in the park picked up a few items that we knew we would need in Uganda. We made a friend at the hostel who was Australian and he joined us at the park. I’ve never been to a park that got so much use. It was like the whole city was having a picnic together. That night we splurged and had a fantastic dinner at a restaurant recommended by Anne and Char called the Supper Club. It was wildly fun and the food was divine. We were so full that we walked all the way home so that we could sleep comfortably.

On Wednesday, our friend Sonja came from Germany to spend the day with us. We originally met her last summer while we are in Uganda. She and her boyfriend, Moses, has started a nonprofit in Uganda for slum children to play soccer. Moses also worked for us some last summer. In any case, they have become very close friends, and it was wonderful to see her again. We were crying over each other on the tram from the train station back to the hostel (approximately 15 minutes in).

I also think Nicole had a great time meeting Sonja. We were reminiscing about our adventures in Kyngera for the soccer party and Bulisa when we got stuck in the game park at the Nile, slept in a hut where goats were coming through the windows, and ran out of gas on the way home. It is actually one of my favorite memories from last summer.

We sat and drank coffee, walked around, picked up some last minutes items. All around it was a perfect last day in Amsterdam. We gave Sonja “a push” as they say in Uganda, and saw her off from the train stations. Again the tears were plentiful. That night we had snacks for dinner and spent most of the time repacking our now large disarray of souvenirs, gifts for people in Uganda, dirty clothes, clean clothes, electronics, etc. It was a lovely night, and I spent some time out on the balcony over looking the street. We were directly across from a musical hall, so I watched the people enter the hall dressed elaborately for the show.

And that’s how it ended, in what I feel was a European fashion. Sitting, enjoying the evening from a balcony, listening to beautiful music, and watching the people on the street while conversing with the people in your direct presence.

The next day we decided to spring for a taxi to take us all the way to the airport. Which turned out to be a really great investment given the amount of luggage that we had accumulated now that Meagan had her bags and Nicole purchased another bag while we were there. We didn’t have that much trouble at the airport, although they charged us for having two bags which is crazy, and I have every intention of writing a letter of complaint to every relevant party in that endeavor. I might call too, but I haven’t decided.
The flight itself was fine, although as we were taking of it was announced that we would also be stopping in Kigali on the way. We didn’t really have a choice, so we went a long with it. Getting through the Entebee airport was actually easy. I couldn’t believe how quickly we got through; however, when we called Rev to see where he was, he thought that we weren’t coming until the following day. Thankfully, he was still able to come and get us after a couple of hours. It gave us time to relax and take a soda.

At about midnight we left the airport and headed to Kampala. There were numerous road blocks along the way, which was interesting because the president was recently re-elected. I’m sure it wasn’t by an honest democratic vote, and there has been some civil unrest due to inflation. The men where in fatigues and wanted to be able to see in the car. I’m not sure what they were looking for, although I would suspect that they aren’t really looking for anything. The whole performance is more like a symbolic act of control rather than a specific action toward a specific goal.

There was a nice smokey haze over the neighborhoods from people burning their trash. It was a nice welcome to Kampala. We got to the compound with bottoming out only a few times. The poor car was laden with bodies and luggage. Of course no one was at the house because they didn’t think that we were coming till the next day. After knocking on the door for some time, we decided to stay at a hotel for the night. It was a relief to finally get into bed. By this time, it was coming to 2:30 and we had be traveling since 7:30 the previous morning.

We managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 9:00 a.m. to meet with Rev who had been by the house again without any luck. We took a quick breakfast, which was exciting because it was the first time that Nicole got to try some of the fruits that we rave about constantly.

We finally met up with Grace at the house. She was pretty upset, which I knew was going to happen. It was really nice to see Grace and Annette again. I brought her some Tony’s and I can’t wait to give it to her. She already had some fresh juice made for us. They got a few things in order and left us to take naps. I have since slept several hours, took a shower, unpacked, and had some dinner. I finally feel like I can recompose myself. I was so tired of living out of a suitcase, and having so many things. Nicole and Megan took a brief trip to the store. We decided that we would let Nicole have the single bed to herself for the first couple of weeks so that she has time to adjust. She is pretty excited though. The double bed is so large that Meagan feels far away even though I know she’s in it, so I think we’ll be ok sharing.

It’s good to be back. It doesn’t feel like I have been away for very long. I feel myself falling back into the pace of things more quickly this time. It is nice to have Meagan, who is experienced and confident, helping to run things. It is also nice to have Nicole, who is new but eager and easy to travel with. She is so smart, I know that she won’t have any trouble and then she’ll have the “I love Africa” bug the way that we do. She’s already ruined on the bananas, mangos, and pineapple.

The power and the water just went out. Welcome to Uganda.


We got invited to a wedding reception by our Eritrean friends. Very exciting. I'll report back to tomorrow on how it went.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


The pictures are up and we have a ton of them! Click the link to Meagan's pictures. I was the one who messed up and accidentally put them in two folders, but I'm going to hand it back over to Meagan after this point. Cheers and enjoy.

Last night in Amsterdam

We are packing up our things and buying last minute items. Our flight to Uganda leaves tomorrow at 10:30. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, but I'm ready to settle into our cozy apartment in Bogolobi and eat some passion fruit. We have done many things in the past couple of days that I need to write about. We are going to go ahead and get the pictures up. We've already had complaints. I'll explain everything later.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's Sunday and I need some rest

Yesterday we went to the flower market. I was surprised that it was actually more seedlings and bulbs than actual flowers. All kinds of tulips that I've never seen before. We also walked to another market that had tons of stuff. We had a picnic in the park for dinner. People were really congregating in the park. It was like a party. I enjoyed it a lot, and it has probably been my favorite meal so far. Just bread, cheese, fruit, raw veggies, salami, and wine and chocolate. The weather was just perfect and warm enough to sit in the grass comfortably in the sun. They have really good fresh rasberries here, and I ate a package yesterday and today. I think I'll get one tomorrow too. We went to the harbor then stopped for a beer. We all good time dancing at a disco especially because the Dutch don't seem to be very good dancers. We were showing up everyone. =)

Got up at 8:00 to go to Haarlem. It was lovely, although we weren't paying attention at first. We missed our train stop and ended up all the way at the ocean. We rode back and got off at Haarlem. It is more of what I think of as a typical European city with a huge cathedral, open square in front, and cafes along the edges of the square. The weather wasn't as nice today, so I ordered some hot chocolate and soup. Yummy. The church was closed (weird right?) as were most of the shops. We did tour a wind mill which made the whole trip. They are designed so smartly. One person can manage this huge and super heavy piece of equipment that is also a building. And for all different purposes: milling, grinding, and drawing water among other uses. They are also designed to be broken down and reassembled in a different location with ease. Huge wooden pegs that look like you could slay a vampire with them. I was really excited about it. There are still 1,100 working windmills in The Neatherlands. Our tour guide was this really sweet old Dutch man. If we wouldn't have been so tired, we probably would have gotten back on the train and gone back to the ocean, but we've really run out of steam.

Tonight we cooked a meal at the hostel, and we are having some much needed down time before we start again tomorrow. Gosh I'm tired.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

First day in Amsterdam

We have dropped back by the hostel for a brief respite before going back out again. Amsterdam is really a lovely city, and we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I forget how charming and walkable Europe is. It seems like simply because the cities in Europe are so old and people have been living in the cities for so long that humans have left their mark even in the air. I don't mean smog, pollution and the like but the way a drawer smells when you haven't opened it in a long time. The smell of human presence, and I find it very soothing. You never feel alone. People like to sight Amsterdam as a city of vices, similar to New Orleans, but I find that viewpoint, also similar to people's views of New Orleans, to be that of a simpleton. It is very rich town with offerings of history, art, canals, and the most gorgeous tulips among other things. We have seen some curious sights in the red light district, but it isn't nearly as tacky as I thought it was going to be. Europeans are always so subtle. Tonight we plan to have a picnic of cheese, wine, and fruit in the Vondle Park. Tomorrow, I think we will go to Haarlem, a suburb of Amsterdam and the original town which the American city of Harlem is named after. It is know for its architecture and cathedrals. On Monday we plan to go to the Van Gogh Museum and the house of Anne Frank. I have already bought some tulip bulbs that I think I'm going to have to sneak through customs into the states. We are hoping that our friend Sonja will join us on Wednesday in the city. On a practical note, Meagan's luggage still has not arrived. I hope for her sake that it gets here soon. Other

Friday, May 20, 2011

Holly Moley we made it!

Just briefly, we made it to Amsterdam safe and sound. Already been a little tricky, but not too bad. More later when I've had a nap.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

And thus, the conclusion in a three part trilogy....

(I wish I could make the type scroll)

Over the past year I have spent countless hours reflecting on my past experiences in Uganda, fulfilling my current obligations to our ongoing evaluation of the SAS program, and anticipating the new challenges and surprises that I will inevitably encounter as I spend my third summer in Uganda. At this point, it really does feel like a three part trilogy. For those friends and family who have been keeping up with me for the past two summers, hopefully you will share my excitement in seeing the people with whom I have built lasting relationships such as Grace who is our mother/housekeeper, Mary (who is also our mother) and her three children, Rev Obed at SAS, Dr. Bagenda. at the University, and Joan from the coffee shop. I'm sure that there will also be a new cast of characters to introduce.

I can already introduce one, Nicole Smith, who has decided to come with us for the summer as a member of our research team. She is the one on the left and Meagan is on the right in the picture. Nicole and I began our Master's degree at Memphis in the same year, and she was one of my very best friends while I was there. This past school year she has started a PhD in Medical Anthropology at the University of Kentucky and survived. She is interested in humanitarian aid and disaster relief in Africa, so we offered to have her come along with us to see what it is like. Meagan has also transitioned this year as she has successfully completed her Master's at Memphis in Medical Anthropology and has recently been accepted to a doctoral program in the Department of Public Health at Louisiana State University. She is moving down to New Orleans as I type. I have also spent the year in transition. I have decided to matriculate this September at Oregon State University in the Department of Public Health in their doctoral program (p.s. I'm looking for a place to live in or around Corvallis, OR if anyone has any real estate they need to rent). All in all I am enthusiastic about our research team, and I feel extremely privileged to be working with such a talented group of ladies who are also close friends.

Meagan and I have had a successful year working with SAS in the U.S. We have raised all of the funds to cover our trip through numerous and generous donations. If you are one of those people, thank you. Meagan and I also participated in a larger fundraiser for the SAS Foundation that has allowed the foundation to expand to several new locations in Uganda, particularly in Northern Uganda, which has experienced unrest for decades for political reasons. Being caught in between Sudan and Congo lends itself to turmoil. You might be familiar with the organization Invisible Children that has been working in this area to rehabilitate child soldiers escaping from the Lord's Resistance Army or LRA. It has rates of HIV as high as 10% of the population, some of the highest rates in the country. Let me go ahead and prepare you by saying that we are planning to travel to this area. It will be a new experience for all three of us. I am already looking to it with some trepidation. Every year, I have had an experience where I have come away a different person. In the summer of 2009, it was interviewing a 20 yr old prostitute in the poorest slum of Uganda. I was 23 at the time. In the summer of 2010, it was the bombing at the Rugby Club in Kampala the night of World Cup Final. A place where we frequented, but not on that night. I acclimate to the poverty in Uganda, but I never grow accustomed to the suffering that I see around me while I travel. I do not know this for sure, but I suspect that the suffering in Northern Uganda is more that any that I have been exposed to at this point. If you pray, start saying your prayers for this event, if you meditate, focus on this area, and if you don't do either of these things, just send me your best juju. Luckily, I'll have Meagan and Nicole. The three of us have already been through so much together that I have no doubts about our abilities to support each other in this particular experience and throughout the entire summer.

We will be leaving Thursday, May 19th. Feel free to call me in between now and then. We will be staying in Amsterdam for a week before continuing to Uganda. Trying to take advantage of the fact that we are passing through Europe, and this will probably be the last time for a while. We are planning to meet up with our German friend Sonja while we are there. You might remember her from last summer as the lady who started a non-profit soccer team for children in the slums of Kampala. We will be in Uganda from May 26th to July 21, and make it back to the States on July 22nd. Of course, I will be keeping up with the blog all through that time. I encourage you to leave me posts. It is always nice to be reminded of home and people who care about me. Also, feel free to ask me as many questions as you like, with the disclaimer that you have to be prepared for the answers. I will answer any and all questions.

For now I will leave and get back to organizing myself and this trip. Have a lot to go in the next week and a half. Much love.