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Tales from a Muzungu

Here's what I've been up to:

31 May Good News!

Today I was offered (and accepted) a summer internship with I-TECH, The International Training and Education Center on HIV which is a partnership between the University of Washington and the Centers for Disease Control. I'll be a "Strategic Communications Assistant" which is another way of saying Editor/Writer for large technical documents, powerpoint presentations, and website copy, among other things. I'm looking forward to it, and happy to have a small portion of that gaping, career-sized hole in my future filled, which lessens the stress of how I will pay the rent and eat this summer. Now I just have to continue my search and work on the looming ? after Sept. 16. It should be interesting, and I get to share an office with my friend Fiona, learn new things, work in First Hill, a new area for me, and it gives me hope that good things are to come in my future. (Of course they are, I just need reassurance once in a while...)

My brief time in PA is filling up already. Went to Philly on Friday and Saturday, with Mom and then Sarah, and then elder-sat on Sunday and part of Monday, then had a family dinner with Mom, John, Grandma and Aunt Carol on Monday night. I did my photo slideshow and souvenir show-and-tell from Uganda, which was fun. (Made the slideshow while watching a movie with my new elderly gentleman friend). Today is sort of a laundry and car-washing and odds and ends day, and it's beautiful out so we're going to play some tennis tonight and grill. Tomorrow night my mom and I are meeting her friend Vicki (another family friend) for dinner and catching up. Thursday night is John's family dinner that I am supposed to go to, and Friday I'm headed to NYC for the night with Sarah, and will attempt to meet up with Sharon, Alex, Ginger and maybe Mandy. I guess we'll come back Saturday afternoon and then I'm off to the Phillies game with Carla. Then it's a little more than a week and I'm off to the other coast! Time is passing quickly, as it seems to do these days.

27 May Readjusting

Things that are exciting so far about coming home:
    I can drink the tap water!
    No mosquitos!
    Mindless TV (I never really watch it, except now...but I think the thrill is already wearing off)
    I can call people! On a land line! And it doesn't cost ridiculous amounts of money per minute!
Ok, I think that's it for now. I haven't been to any stores yet, but I know that I'll have to fight the urge to buy and hoard everything, fearing that there will be random shortages. I've fought that battle before. I do need new clothes, so I will have to shop soon--there are a lot of sales this weekend. I'm sort of excited and dreading it at the same time. Shopping's much less fun when you're broke and unemployed. I do have a job though, this weekend, which will pay for my plane ticket to Seattle--I'm "elder sitting" - basically hanging out with a Karen's (family friend) father, who is mobile but beginning to have memory lapses, to make sure he doesn't do anything kooky. That will be a chunk of Sunday and part of Monday. Maybe more to come. Oh--my ticket back to Seattle is for June 14. Saturday night I think I'm going into Philly to hang out with Sarah and some of her friends. Monday I think will be a small family get together, belated b-day dinner for my aunt and with my grandmother, where I will show some of my Ugandan souvenirs and some pictures. No plans next week--more cover letter writing and jogging--then next Saturday I've got free Phillies tickets, and I'm supposed to go with Carla. I'm hoping I'll scare up some more plans as time goes on. The first few days of nothing was relaxing, and all I really wanted, but now I'm starting to get a bit antsy.. At least the sun is out today, finally, and my Mom is taking a half day and we're either going to the park or into the city to wander around. I need to get out of the house.

I had dinner with my grandmother at Spring House Estates, where she lives, on Wednesday night. When I visit there I feel a bit like a rockstar, as she feels the need to introduce me to everyone she knows, "This is my granddaughter from the Peace Corps, the one I told you about. She just got back from Africa!" and then I get fawned over. It's sweet, really, but a bit unnerving, as I feel I don't deserve it, being unemployed, but it serves as a nice balance to the frustration of job searching. Anyway, talking to her about what I did there, and the Centre where I worked, I could see a lot of unspoken questions in her eyes. Thinking about it later, I realised that some explanations are probably needed about the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and why adolescent centres are so necessary. The first thing that crosses most people's minds is that these teenagers must be very promiscuous, and why can't they stop/why should we help them? The important thing to keep in mind is that this is a very different culture--one that is evolved from tribal and animist traditions, not the Christian ones we've been raised with, and in a place where the lifespan, on average, doesn't exceed 50 and infant mortality has been quite high until recently, people have babies and marry young, and then die young. We're not operating in the same paradigm. Then, there's not a culture of monogamy. To those of us from a Christian tradition, it's hard not to see that as wrong or misguided, but it's simply the way things are. There are now quite a number of organised religions, Christian and Muslim, in Uganda and all of Africa, thanks to countless missionaries, and there is an attempt to introduce monogamy. This is also part of the 'ABC' (Abstain, Be faithful, Use a Condom) of HIV education that is the norm worldwide and really took off in the 90s in Uganda. But it's still not the norm--these things take time to change. And finally, picture any small town in America where there is poverty and/or little to do: there is a high teenage pregnancy rate. This is the same in most of Uganda. People are poor, they have little form of recreation, and teenagers everywhere are the same--they're bored, they're curious, they want to be adults. So they have sex. And, like some parts of America and many other developing countries, there is a sugar daddy/mommy phenomenon that makes it all worse. Poor young people, especially girls, latch on to an older person who gives them money or gifts in exchange for sexual favors. In the Caribbean, this was a problem with young rural girls who lacked bus fare to get to school, or older women who needed money for rent. This is the sort of promiscuity that results from power and gender imbalances in societies where women are largely powerless--they have little access to money, they have no control over the situation and cannot request that protection be used, and they cannot control the fidelity of the other person. Violence against women is common, even amongst married couples. Land tends to be inherited through males. Husbands can divorce their wives if she hasn't provided a child within the first two years of marriage. A man can beat you if you've entered his home (a clear sign of sexual acquiesence) and then won't sleep with him--it's not legal but neighbors and police won't say a thing. So there is a lot going on under the surfact that the unknowing foreigner wouldn't understand. Yes, there are teenagers having sex. But then, they are taught little of sex ed in schools (this is now starting to improve) and little in the homes, as this is largely taboo (that too is slowly changing), and universal primary education is very recent. There are millions of uneducated people that have little money or access to information, and all the societal issues I have mentioned, among others, and a huge HIV epidemic that has killed more than a million people so far in Uganda alone. There is nearly an entire missing generation, and that affects families--high numbers of orphans, limited economic support in cases where one or both parents die, education when teachers in rural areas die, and other infrastructure and the overall economy of countries when large numbers of those in the productive ages are dying. The virus is being transmitted to babies via pregnant mothers (either they don't know they have it or can't control it due to previously mentioned circumstances where husbands have power and aren't faithful), via sex in sugar daddy relationships, or just in regular teenage interactions. There are countless public eductation campaigns, but the biggest thing now is testing. The Teenage Centre where I worked was the first place to offer Volunteer Counselling and Testing in a youth-only environment, which is really important in terms of trust and stigma. They get tested and counselled, and now they can get reffered for treatment at other places. Anti-retroviral drugs have just become available in Uganda, but not yet at Naguru Teenage Centre. Since teenagers are the most vulnerable in terms of lack of information and power, if they become aware and learn healthy behaviors in their teens, the hope is that they will continue these behaviours and thus stem the spread of the HIV epidemic. It was working, and condoms were a big part of this.

Here comes a speech on condoms and politics. In the 90s, the Ugandan government was very supportive, and embraced the whole ABC philosophy. Now, bowing to international pressure, largely from US 'faith-based' interests now in power, they are tending to put more emphasis on fidelity and abstinence, even though studies show these alone have little effect on reducing HIV incidence. There has been a hational condom shortage for the past year in Uganda, and recently the Centre where I worked was out of condoms entirely during a 2 week school holiday, which the counsellors and service providers unanimously agreed would make the pregnancy and HIV+ statistics spike in the following months. When the story made the paper, a condom truck arrived at the Centre that day. (Politics are the same everywhere!) Naguru Teenage Centre and a few other organisations I talked to in the course of the interviews I did told me quite emphatically in off-the-record conversations that they won't take funding from USAID or other similar organisations that tie their financial support to restrictions on how it can be used. Many donors won't allow their funds to be used to buy or support condom education, which is particularly difficult when there is a whole warehouse full of the nationally provided brand that have been pronounced 'defective' and remain there waiting for inspection. No free local condoms and no funds to buy others--that's the dilemma faced by many of the NGOs working in this area. PEPFAR, the new US fund for AIDS relief, is similar in its restrictions on how funds are used. Many of those I met scoffed at this sort of AID, because it doesn't help them, or in their opinion, go to the real root of the problem.

Teenage Sexuality is controversial, and it's hard, without going into a long tirade like that, to explain why a focus on it is necessary in the HIV epidemic, and it doesnt just mean that these Africans are so promiscuous. In my grandmother's generation, that stereotype is hard, if not impossible, to fight. But in this one, hopefully we can do a bit better. Maybe this explanation is a step in that direction, and hopefully it makes a bit clearer the reasons why I went there to write about this centre, and what makes it so special--the first one of its kind in the region, and a continued pioneer. Please ask questions if I haven't been clear. It's always difficult to see things from the outside once they've become a part of one's daily existence, so details are overlooked.

It's been rainy and gray and cold since I arrived back in the States, and today is finally warm and sunny. I'm going outside now to enjoy it.

25 May I'm Home; wherever that is...

I'm not supposed to be here yet, but I am. I'm back in the US. I arrived very late Monday 23rd. At the last minute, things just weren't working out, and it seemed wise to just abort the whole trip to France thing. But even that wasn't as easy as I'd hoped.

First, leaving Uganda. Friday I finished my report, and went into the centre to to turn it in--burn it and all the supporting research materials onto a cd--and say some goodbyes. I left with the driver and went into town to the post office and the mall to see the travel agent. In addition to frantically finishing my report, I'd been scouring french travel websites (I now know all the travel lingo in french!) for affordable airfaire to Marseille, at Fannie's suggestion. Unfortunately we hadn't spoken about it earlier, because my travel agent in Seattle told me via email she could get a great deal, but it was paper ticket only and she couldn't get the ticket to me. My itinerary included arriving in Brussels on the 22 at 9 am, and flying out of Paris on 1 June. My options at that time were to 1) spend 250 Euro on two train rides, approximately 8 hours total, lugging my four heavy bags (2 suitcases, a duffel and a backpackand --a prospect which seemed more hideous the more I packed and thought about it or 2) spend the night in Brussels to get an affordable flight the next day, 120 Euro, to Marseille. Neither option was really appealing. So Friday morning, the STA travel women (a super nice lady) in Kampala, phoned me and asked me about my trip. She called me back and told me that she'd found me a cheap fare for Sunday afternoon, and we confirmed it. I told her I'd be in that afternoon to pick it up. She phoned again while I was at the Centre to confirm other information, and so I was sure this was going to work out, and I was so happy. I wanted to see Fannie and southern France, but not to lug those bags on countless trains up and down Europe by myself, and spend loads of money I didn't really have. In my excitement before leaving the house, I'd emailed Fannie and my mom the good news about the tickets, before actually having them in my hand. The voice in the back of my head told me this was a bad idea, but I ignored it and went on celebrating my good fortune.

The rest is predictable. I got to the travel agent, and she told me they were waiting to hear back from London regarding the ticket, there were some complications in getting that fare. I walked around the mall and bought a few gifts. Came back, she told me it wasn't available. We spoke some more, she contacted the airline directly, and I had to wait again. Went out and went to the ATM, found the giant herd of peace corps volunteers (still in town for the swearing in) eating ice cream and gathering to see the new Star Wars movie. Had some ice cream and chatted with them about how hung over and tired we all were. Went back to the travel agent: No luck. No ticket. It was now 5 pm. Went back to the teenage centre, said some goodbyes, and went home. I wanted desperately to sleep, but instead found ways to busy myself preparing to leave. I was so exhausted I could barely stand or move but was fueled by stress of knowing I still had to clean the house, pack my things, launder the sheets and towels and my remaining clothes in the morning, go to town and pick up my clothes at the tailor -- and do all that by about 1 pm. Plus, I still didn't know how on earth I was getting to Marseille. I went out to my goodbye dinner/drinks thing, which I'd organised very loosely at the last minute at Blue Mango, just down the street from the house. It was the Friday night Mongolian bbq, which is usually quite crowded but was empty that night. There I met Lloyd, Torsten, Christine, Elsabe, Adrian, Rian and Eugene for dinner and drinks. Torsten and I continued on to O'Learys where we found Anne and a few others I wanted to say goodbye to, but I found myself really forcing conversation. Not everyone came, and I was too exhausted to talk or to care about meeting new people or being friendly. O'Leary's is the heart of Kampala's social scene, and requires a lot of networking, small talk and patience for nonsense, none of which I had the energy for. I was really forcing myself to stay and to do more than passively stand and stare vacantly, although I'd become too tired to drink or do anything. I tried to say goodbye to Rian and got swept up in a crowd of drunken silly south african guys who urged me to stay and begged me to let them buy me drinks, which I didn't even want. Suddenly it dawned on me: why am I here? I'll just go home. So I said my few goodbyes, was followed out to the taxi by a new admirer begging me to stay (nice 20 yr old S. African guy who was actually very polite to make sure I got to the taxi ok), and went home and collapsed. Woke in the morning to frantically tackle my long list of things to do, and realized that more than anything I just wanted to go home. I felt so overwhelmingly exhausted that the thought of going to France, even if it were going to be easy, seemed like too much. And it wasn't going to be easy. On the other hand, not going wasn't going to be easy either. I had no airtime and couldn't at that late hour arrange to change my flight, and then, I really wanted to see Fannie and southern France. I wavered back and forth in the back of my mind all day. On top of all the aforementined reasons, my grandmother has been unwell. She's been recently in and out of the hospital, and since she is my closest and last remaining grandparent, and since my grandfather died while I was abroad in Saint Lucia, I felt this powerful urge to just get home and see her. I'd told her on the phone a week or so previously that she had to get well for my return. But then I'd only be home for about a week and rush off again, which was sort of bugging me.

So all day these thoughts nagged at the back of my head. I'd purposely kept plans for my France trip organic, because I didnt have much information and thought Fannie would be the best to decide it, especially once I was there with her. Plus, I sort of like to keep things open that way. A Ugandan friend in Kampala noted that I will hesitate to commit to most plans up until the last minute. It's true. It's sort of a Seattle habit, but my other ex-pat friends told me it was also the norm in their circle. It suits my minor commitment phobic tendencies, and keeps life interesting. You never know what will come up, although sometimes that policy also ends up disappointing. Like my Friday night get together, where only half of who said they were coming showed up; but at this point I was no longer phased. I'd been through it before, and honestly, I had one foot out the door already--if they didn't want to make the effort to say goodbye, so be it. So Saturday was frantic, and I barely got everything done in time. I was zipping my second suitcase, totally sweaty and dishevelled, when Juma showed up with the Naguru bus at 2:30 (thankfully he was late). By the time I loaded all my stuff in, shut off lights and fed the dog and organised him in the kitchen, and said goodbye to Richard, it was 3. We stopped at the clinic for final goodbyes but most people were gone. A few told me for sure they'd see me for the trip to the airport that night. Henry had left the coffee for me that his brother roasted (the organic beans I'd bought raw at Sipi Falls area), and they were still warm. We went on to Edith's place, where Jonah and I had our final lunch together--Auntie'd made my favorite, beans and chapattis and tangerine-passionfruit juice. I will miss her cooking. Cyrus, Jonah and I played one game of uno before the big football match came on--Manchester United vs Arsenal (my team vs his). It started to pour rain. Prossie and her sisters showed up, and one of the volunteers. I gave Auntie her new lesso (like a sarong), Jonah his stuffed giraffe, Cyrus his book, and waited for Edith, who was stuck in a traffic jam. While we waited, my mother called, twice. She had been thinking all day, as I had, about how my trip to France was sounding way too difficult and stressful, and not at all relaxing given the fact that I had little money, so much baggage, and that Fannie was going to be busy much of the time. We didn't speak about my grandmother's health, but the worry was there in my mind. I told her I'd been thinking the same thing, and we discussed my options. She called the airline and called me back. Because of my student ticket, I had to fly out of Paris, and the flight on Sunday night was full. I could fly out Monday afternoon, arrive late Monday night. I would have to arrange it in Brusssels at the United counter. We didn't confirm anything--I told her I'd get to Brussels, check flight options, consider them, and let her know my decision. Edith finally arrived more than an hour later, just in time for me to give her gift to her--a table cloth and placemats in earth tones--her favorite colors. And for her gift to me, and my family: a long piece of traditional cloth, which in her tribe, is shared by a grandmother, mother and daughter. I got to choose the piece I wanted, and promised to share it with my family. I thanked her in the Basoga tradition of respect, on my knees, and she hugged me and called me her daughter. We piled on the bus, in the rain, and Jonah saved the seat next to him for me, with Geoffrey the Giraffe (named after the Toys R Us mascot he remembers from his time in Seattle) clutched in his lap. We were supposed to be picking up Becky and Dennis, the rest of my crew from my days living at Ediths, at a nearby hotel where they were watchign football. We pulled up and waited, and they never came out. So we drove onwards, on back roads to skirt the massive traffic jam on the highway. We arrived late at the airport, and I said my many goodbyes, especially to Jonah, who wanted to come with me. I was proud of him for not crying, as I thought he might. I was exhausted and emotionally volatile, that if he cried, I would surely have lost it, so I was grateful he didn't. They helped me push my bags through, and I took a deep breath as my long journey with these heavy bags began. A man stepped forward and asked me to weigh them, but I was saved as he told me my flight was boarding and I'd have to rush through instead. Whew! Waved goodbye as I headed into customs, got on my flight, and slept through most of the flight, which went to Brussels via Rwanda and Kenya (as the cute dreadlocked French guy next to me muttered with a sarcastic sigh, "Kigali, Nairobi, Bruxelle- Super!")-- not the most direct path. I was helped along in getting some much needed sleep by a tylenol PM and 2 small bottles of wine.

In Brussels, we arrived around 8 am. I collected my piles of luggage, put them on a cart, and went to Brussels Air. I wanted to get my flights credited to my frequent flyer account, and also to ask about the flights to Marseille. As I reached the counter, I knew that I wanted to go home. And they couldn't credit my miles there. And they couldn't get me a cheap flight to Paris, but recommended the train. On to United, which wasn't open yet. So I went to have some breakfast, with the help of some Belgian travellers who assisted me in lugging the bags up the escalator to the cafe. Fueled on cappucino and a chocolate croissant, I considered my options again, and though I felt the lure of being in Europe, knew that already my bags were a hassle. Just getting to Paris was going to be a nightmare. And then there was the new headache: money. Somehow my mom and I had both overlooked the need for her to transfer more money to my acccount (we'd followed the system of her moving small bits from savings to checking regularly in case my card was stolen again: savings can't be accessed by ATM in Europe), and I had about 71 Euro (after breakfast), two bank cards that were seemingly empty, and 60,000 Ugandan shillings that no one wanted to change for me. (I'd counted on a departure tax; there was none and the change booth was already closed in Entebbe). After breakfast I went to United and organized my ticket home, but didnt have the money to pay for the change fee, so I had to have her put it on hold and go email my mother to call and pay it for me. I also needed to email Fannie about my decision and to try and reach Nina in Paris to see if I could stay with her. I had the feeling that no one but my mom would be checking their email though. My mom and I had discussed various options for getting me money, but due to the fact that I use credit unions, nothing was open on Sunday. By the time she could put money in my account Monday morning in PA, I would be on the plane in Paris. So at this point, The Game began. The game was called: "How to get from Brussels to Paris Airport the next day with four heavy bags and very little money or french language skills." It felt hopeless, and i could only keep myself in the frame of mind to find it challenging and humorous rather than depressing by picturing it as some cruel gameshow, like the episode where the Simpsons go on a show to win tickets home from Japan. After email (3 more Euro gone), I went to try and buy my train ticket to Paris, but was a bit short on money. Tried the cards, and both were rejected. Got snarled at by the train man and felt pathetic and hopeless--I was already failing the game! Went to the ATM and managed to coax 50 Euro out of one of my accounts. Eavesdropped on fellow English speakers to hear if anyone mentioned driving or taking a taxi to paris that I could share somehow. Went back and bought the ticket, and had only about 20 Euro remaining. The adventure began: carts couldnt go to the track so I had to take 2 bags at a time up and down the escalator. Got on the train and found my luggage locks, and locked the bags. No point in losing all the things I was trying to lug across the world... Met a nice German girl, who helped me get my bags up the escalator to the track at the Bruxelle Midi station, and then, feeling pity for a fellow traveller, gave me 5 Euro because she was worried I'd have nothing to eat for the day. I declined her offer, but pathetically accepted it when she gave it to me anyway. I didn't relish the thought of starving in Paris, in case Nina wasn't home. There was a strong possiblity of my sleeping in train station or airport that I preferred not to think about, but had to acknowledge. On the TGV, I had to put some bags on one car and some on another. i got my own two seats, and read my book, wrote in my journal and watched out the window. I had some dvds but knew I didn't have the attention span for a movie. I strategized about what to do when I reached Paris, and took deep breaths thinking about how to handle the luggage situation. The cheap one I'd bought in Uganda had already lost a handle, and the pull handle was no stuck and no longer opened all the way, so the option of balancing the duffle there no longer existed. Plus, the ring that held one strap of the duffel had stretched open (this had been slowly happening for a few years but I always forgot about it when I wasn't using it), and so had to rig up some other way to carry it. My muscles were already so sore that I couldn't imagine lifting anything again. We reached Paris Gare du Nord, and I got out and put my things on the cart and called Nina. Luck held: she was home and I could spend the night. The only catch was that they had guests coming and requested that I wait a few hours to arrive. That much I could do--I had a half bottle of water and a book. It was morning now in PA so I coaxed an international call out of my card somehow, and let mom know the new plan. She'd already confirmed my new flight. I found a bench and got out my laptop to write in my journal as I waited. (no free wireless there, to my dismay). Back to the game. Here's what I wrote: Still at Paris Gare du Nord, but things have improved slightly. As I sat on the train I thought about how funny this is in a twisted sort of way-like a real live reality tv show. Except I don't get some big pot of money if I win, I just get home safely and with my shit reasonably intact. Right now that seems prize enough. Getting off the train with my bags as the jaded Parisian (mostly tourist) masses thronged passed me giving me pitying looks but not offering help, I wanted to cry. Could only make it about 5 feet without stopping with my crap baggage. Was panting with the effort, exhausted, thirsty, and hungry and ready to give up. Enter improvement: saw luggage cart! And what I now think of as the game begins. I got a cart after getting off the train for my bags= 2 euro, used visa card successfully. Score 1. 21 Euros remain. Found a phone, called Nina, scored a place to stay=1 Euro; 20 remain. Tried to change Ugsh; no luck. 20 Euro remain. Got group of Americans to watch my bag so I could use the toilet=1 euro (the toilet not the watching); 19 € remain. Called mom using mastercard; 19 € remain. Bought a bottle of water=1.60 € (used some coins); 18€ remain. I'd been stuck in that train station for a few hours in my travels with Shawn in 1997, so even knew my way around. After a while, other English speaking travellers started asking me for directions, which I found funny.

At about 5, I went outside and got a taxi to Nina's mother's apartment, which was thankfully not far away. The taxi cost 9€, and lugged the bags through the door and up the lift to their apartment, ready to collapse. They took good care of me--fed me and let me shower. Nina and I took a walk to see some nearby sights that evening: the Moulin Rouge just down the street, and the Sacre Coeur Cathedral a bit further away (I'd been there before, but it's beautiful and has a gorgeous view of the city). We chatted that night, listened to Ugandan music and shared stories, and I spoke to Fannie. They had things to do early in the morning so I said goodbyes, packed and showered and did a bit of exploring before Nina returned from her French class to help me get my bags to the bus, about 15 blocks away at the Opera (a beautiful building). This was the worst part of the whole tranist phase, even though I had help. Those 15 blocks were sheer hell--my cheap suitcase was already lacking one handle and had somehow lost one wheel. Along the way, it lost the second handle and other wheel, and I was just dragging it along the ground by sheer force of will on a rim of cheap, thin plastic, begging it not to burst all over the sidewalk. I'd fixed the duffel strap using a padlock, but it was threatening to pull my arm out of the socket. The backpack, already containing my laptop and many heavy breakable things, had 2 small bottles of wine added to its heft (which I'd gotten to use up my remaining money). People literally stared at us as we lugged these behemoths across the sidewalk. I was straining and sweating, cursing my need to purchase gifts for others and vowing never again. Finally we reached the bus stop and waited. Nina helped me get my bags onto the bus, I shoved them into available spaces in/near the rack and collapsed into a seat. Only as we neared the airport did I realise that this is one of the world's biggest airports and I have no idea where I'm going, and don't speak French. The guy in front of me'd been talking in English to his friend, sounding as though he worked for an airline, so I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he was familiar with where United was located. "United?" the woman sleeping next to me blinked awake and asked. "I work for United. Where are you going?" It turns out she was trying to get on the same flight, on her way back to Tokyo. I thanked my lucky stars once again and we made our way inside together. The luck held, and my bags' weight was once again not questioned (good because I had no money to pay extra fees) and I repaid some travel karma by giving some pepto tablets and mints to a woman getting sick as she waited to check in. I've been there and know that nightmare (was sick on a flight from England once). She later thanked me in Chicago when she was feeling better. The flight was 9 1/2 hours and felt like it. There were individual screens and some decent movies, but it was a 747 with NO leg room. Luckily I was next to a very nice 25 yr old woman from LA, and we chatted on and off throughout the flight, and then spent our 3 hours killing time together in Chicago. Having company made it so much better. We had to get our baggage and go through customs and then recheck it again--the final stage of my baggage nightmare, I thought. I slept on the whole flight from Chicago to PA, and we arrived a bit early. I found my mother at baggage claim, and only one of my bags arrived. We filed a claim for the other one, and it was finally delivered sometime around midnight last night. The lock had been removed, but everything inside was intact (of course the lost one was the one with all the souvenirs, so I worried). Everything made it intact except the statue I bought mom for mothers day, which was not only broken, but shattered.

So I arrived, exhausted beyond description, at midnight on Monday night. Slept that night, napped and spent the whole of yesterday in a confused daze, and slept well again last night. Today I was up at 6:30 am, perky and ready to face the world, so I am clearly not all the way adjusted, but a big improvement from yesterday. It's rainy and cold. Jenn, my one nearby friend, left for our friend Wendy's wedding in London last night, so I won't gain any extra time with her by arriving early. Not many other people know that I'm back, aside from family. Today I unpack, tonight I have dinner with my grandmother. I've got a lot of sorting and shopping to do since I lack a spring/summer wardrobe (mostly destroyed and given away in my african/caribbean travels), there is a 2 week pass to the gym I used to go to (which my mom now joined), and I need to sort out travel to Seattle, jobs, and how I'm getting to Mark's wedding in Telluride in July. There are a lot of details to keep me busy while I'm here, but still some time to relax and readjust before the next adventure. I still feel like I made the right decision, coming home, but I felt twinges of desire to stay, once I was in France. I'd really love to spend some time in Europe again, but I think I'll go when the timing is better, and I can really relax and enjoy it. Hopefully, that will be soon. For now it's good to be back. I can't say I'm home, because right now I still don't know where "home" is--I'm at mom's home, heading to Seattle, which I hope I can call home again, if I can find a job. The game is over, and I made it home with all my bags (and .37 Euros in change!) and sanity relatively intact, but the adventure continues... Oh, and Mom yelled at me for eating my asparagus with my fingers last night. Got a few bad habits to shed as well as a few extra lbs of matoke weight.

20 May I'm going to have to stop eating with my hands

I realised this as I began picking up some fried eggs (!) with my fingers this morning, even though there was a fork right there. I think maybe I've always secretly wanted to live in a country where eating with hands is ok--isn't that half the fun of Ethiopian, after all? I remember in my childhood declaring that I was going to live like a native american in the teepee I'd built in the woods behind our house--come in for meals but would no longer use silverwear and also, not eat meat (in my mind somehow this all worked. I was about 10.) My declaration was met with my father's more powerful declaration: "Not under my roof!" or something to that effect. Somehow 20 years later I find myself in a country where this is all okay. Coincidence?

I'm feeling quite giddy this morning, the combined product of euphoria about finishing (!!!!!!) my 60 page report on the History of the Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre (a name which i can now type in under 5 seconds, i think, and will hopefully stop seeing in my dreams now that it's done), delerium from several weeks of stress, sleep deprivation, and caffeine overconsumption due to said report, sadness and stress about the fact that I'm leaving tomorrow, but anticipation about my trip to france and seeing everyone at home again. On top of that, I'm slightly hungover from the Peace Corps party last night.

For the second time in a row, I was supposed to meet Gaddi Vasquez, U.S. Peace Corps Director, and for the second time, he was not able to attend. Since he didn't come, neither did president Museveni, or the Prime Minister. Instead there were a few regional dignitaries, and a lot of people from NGOs. One cool thing was that they had all the RPCVs in the audience stand up and introduce ourselves and there were about 40, and many are now doing very cool things. I saw Renee, who I met back in Seattle, get sworn in, and she was surprised and happy to see me there. She introduced me to many of the volunteers and trainees, and I had a nice time at the reception at the Ambassador's house and later at the Red Chilli Hostel where the party moved afterwards. I didn't go dancing with most of the crowd, knowing I had the report to finish this morning, but one of the volunteers came and spent the night here. We chatted and watched a movie until late.

Now I'm off to turn in my report, pick up my plane ticket to France and do some assorted last minute errands. There will be more of those in the morning, along with packing and cleaning.

I woke up today and saw the blue skies and sun, looked out on the pool and couldn't believe I really have to leave this place tomorrow. I'm just not ready.

18 May Blue Africa

I was baptized with a new Hash Handle (a name in the hash club) on Monday night: Blue Africa. It's not very clever in that it's the name of the bar/restaurant where we had our meeting place, but I really like it, and that's what's important. I was so relieved it wasn't really crude. It was a Europe Day run, and there were free tshirts. They'd run out when I got there, but someone gave me his since it was my last one. The European commissioner came and gave a little speech. Torsten, a German friend, came and did his first hash, and Nico, my italian friend, returned after her sickness (and before that, mine). That made it harder to say goodbye. My Monday nights won't be the same now, and I hope to join the hash when I get to Seattle.

Tomorrow night there is a swearing in ceremony for new peace corps volunteers here. I believe that the PC Director, Gaddi Vasquez, is going to be here from the US for it, and possibly President Museveni. I called yesterday to get my name on the list, and an invitation card was sent over immediately. The admin assistant sounded delighted to be talking to an RPCV. It will be interesting to see how it's done on this side of the world. And since the director's visit to see us in the EC was cancelled last minute, that will be interesting too. There's supposed to be some sort of after-party that should be fun.

My report, still unfinished, beckons.

14 May Zebras!

One of my favorite poets is Shel Silverstein, and I always loved this poem:
I asked the zebra,
Are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or are you quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy days?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on
And on and on he went.
I'll never ask a zebra
About stripes
Again.


Zebras are amazing creatures. They not only have striped fur but striped skin underneath. They've always been one of my favorites--they're so beautiful and graceful looking. Since my planned trip fell through I ended up organizing one on my own--I hired a driver recommended by a friend and for a pretty sizable chunk of cash spent the day at Lake Mburu National Park to the southwest of Kampala. I couldn't get anyone to go and share costs with me or anyone I know with cars to drive me, though there were several last minute almosts. But I wanted zebras so I went for it, and I'm so glad I did. It's on the same road as the equator demarcation, but much further away, so I crossed hemispheres twice today (and sent a psychic shout out to Mathew P, who has been asking me myriad equator-related questions). The drive took about 3.5 to 4 hours each way, and we left early in the morning. On the way we passed some ankole cattle with their cool long horns, and I took a photo without the man herding them getting mad this time. Andrew, the driver, told me that this is because many people believe that the flash can kill the cows. We stopped in Masaka for a toilet break and were swarmed by boys thrusting bags of fried grasshoppers in the window. Andrew offered to buy some for me so I could try this local delicacy, but I declined. So culinarily unadventurous...

We arrived at the park and saw a few zebra from afar before we even entered the official gate, which was an auspicious sign. The sign informed us in the most polite Ugandan vernacular that "You are most welcome in Lake Mburu Natinoal Park." This wouldn't be funny to you unless you have lived in the where? In the country for a while. (yes, please!) After that I saw impala, topi, eland, bushbuck, waterbuck, zebra, warthogs, baboons, vervet monkeys, many birds, cape buffalo and kobb. I had seen many of them before but some not as close. We only saw one other vehicle while we were doing the game drive, so it was nice to nearly have the place to ourselves. And reassuring that I'd chosen wisely to hire a driver rather than take public transport and hope, in the offseason, that other rides would work out. The day was mostly clear with blue sky and clouds, and quite warm, which was great for animal viewing. I had all these worries that it would rain and they'd all be hiding, since many of the animals are best seen in early morning or late evening when we wouldn't be there. Because of the rainy season there were a lot of puddles and so we saw a lot of the animals drinking. There were loads of zebras and I got to see quite a few close up, and got what I think are some pretty good pictures. I'm working on getting them posted. I don't know why it was such an emotional expereince for me but when we saw the first zebras, I had this moment of epiphany where all my emotions about my experience here and leaving washed over me and I nearly teared up for a few seconds, and then it passed and I just couldn't stop smiling and wanting to jump up and down like a child with excitement about seeing pretty zebras. They look so much like horses it seems like you could ride one, but I bet they wouldn't be too keen on that. There are leopards in that park again but once again I was not lucky enough to see any big cats. Just means I have to come back to Africa someday...

It's been a great weekend. Went to a party on Friday night for Anne's birthday and another guy who works for that American Embassy, Matt's departure. It was a pretty swank affair which seems to be the norm for these events--you can throw nicer parties in Africa than you could elsewhere, which is one perk to living here I guess. They had a mongolian barbecue catered by the local country club (which offers this bbq every friday night, as does another nearby restaurant, blue mango) at her house, tables on the lawn under huge tents with an open bar and cake and even tshirts made commemorating the event. There were about 50 people total. Then we piled into two vans rented for the occasion and set off on a 10 bar pub crawl of Kampala. I made it to the first four before heading home (at 2 am) to catch a few hours' sleep before my safari. It was nice though because a few of them I hadn't been to, so that's a few more things off my list. Now it's back to burying my head in writing and finishing this history of Naguru Teenage Centre document, saying my goodbyes and sorting out last minute details. I've got my interview with Edith on Wednesday, as well as with one of her bosses (one thats gotten rescheduled. Nothing like the last minute....It's going to be a busy one and I may not write again until I've left Uganda and arrived in France. My flight is on Saturday night. Supposedly I'm going on the Naguru staff bus with Edith and maybe family members and a few staff members. Then it's off to my european summer vacation! :)

12 May How Much Coffee Can I Drink?

I am currently fueld by caffeinne and adrenaline. For the last few days I've done little but drink repeated cups of coffee and pound away at my trusty laptop. I've been sleeping a little, and showing up at work for a few hours to work in a different location. I've also been doing some souvenir shopping and other assorted necesseties. I can justify this overconsumption of coffee, despite knowing the awful effects it has on my body, as supporting the local economy. Ugandan coffee is quite good.

Today on my daily bodaboda ride I started to mentally say goodbye to the landscape and wax inwardly poetic about how I will actually sort of miss the brief dusty windswept rides on frighteningly unsafe modes of transportation. I used to walk but lately have been in a hurry so I have been riding both ways. I chat with Steven and Richard (gardener and guard), leave the gated perimeter of the house and walk down the rutted red dirt road lined with enormous houses, many still under contruction. Several look large enough to be embassies, or libraries or even boarding schools. The one that I live in is average sized for this area--nothing too impressive. Which to me is the impressive part. Sometimes I reach the end of the street or sometimes only halfway before being met by an enthusiastic boda driver. I greet him, hop on board, usually sideways, my feet facing to the left (as is the rule) if I am wearing a skirt, which is most days. I've gotten so this doesn't even feel unsafe anymore, though I am not wearing a helmet and only holding on to the back of the seat. We whip down the hill past the other big houses and at the bottom, make a right where the two sides of the economic spectrum collide. At the bottom of the hill, at Naguru Hill Road, is a small settlement of aluminum rondavels. The round huts and their roofs are made of metal of some sort, which must be very hot. They're very close together on land that may or may not be (most likely not) theirs, and interspersed with tiny rectangular mud huts which are likely for storage, cooking or latrines. The rest of the land is covered with sparse crops--maize and beans from what I can tell. At first I didn't think anyone even lived there, and that it was storage for grain, but there are always children walking in the area in brightly coloured uniforms from nearby primary schools (there are about 4 in walking distance), and someone confirmed for me that it is a small village. I don't know the name, but every day as I leave the swank neighborhood and go to the teenage health centre I'm struck by the contrasts of where I live. It's an odd place that I find myself personally in life right now--unemployed and overeducated; technically a middle class homeless person, which is a contradiction in terms. I feel frustrated and a bit pathetic around my expat friends here who have lives and paychecks and don't have to choose the cheapest thing on the menu and then inwardly wince when someone suggests we all split the bill, as is the norm I quickly discovered. In their world, I am the lowly broke volunteer. But as I ride local-style on the back of a bodaboda through the big-houses-and-landrovers section and turn at the squatter settlement, I always take a moment to check myself. I have never, and probably will never, except as a fluke, experience the kind of grinding poverty that many Ugandans live in. Granted, there is little comparison to the worlds that we inhabit--one could not survive the way they do in the US, or on so little. But my meagre stipend that I complain about 2x what I'd be making as a Ugandan working fulltime.

I'm not preaching or coming to any sort of socially aware point by describing this scene, I'm just trying to capture the sights and thoughts that I experience every morning while I'm here before I leave and it all slips away. I don't have pictures of a lot of the starker scenes here, because I don't have the heart to take them. I just hope that I remember.

My trip to Lake Mburu fell through this weekend, and I've been scrambling to try to put something together for myself. It's the offseason, so I don't want to go and stay overnight alone, mostly for safety reasons. And there's a party back here I could go to, so why stay there alone? I know I'd be up all night overly paranoid about hippos somehow breaking in. But I do want to see Zebras and will be heartbroken if I don't get to. This is the park to see them in, and it's only 3.5 hrs from Kampala, so it's do-able in a day. Drivers cost about $100 US a day, then fees for the park and for a guided game drive. It's a bit out of my league, but I will probably do it if it comes down to it. I'd spend $100 pretty easily during a weekend in the states or Europe and this is a big chance to see something I've always wanted to see in the wild. But my funds are dwindling, and I've still got a week in Europe which will sadly probably cost as much as several months here. I'm still trying to find a driver who will offer a slightly cheaper rate or someone to share the costs with.

I had to buy a new suitcase yesterday, because a carved wooden chair that I bought in the market on Saturday was too big (by 2 measly inches!) for mine. I agonized for a few days about how on earth to get it home. I scoped it out months ago, planned on buying it and got a good deal, and then faced the prospect of paying a small fortune to DHL it home. Finally, I hit on the idea of buying a new suitcase in the outdoor market. I went with some staff members yesterday and got one for 45,000 shillings, about $25. (about the same cost as the chair, sadly...no longer such a great deal) My other piece of luggage is a backpack, which I can fit inside the suitcase. It fits in diagonally, so I'll have to pack carefully around it so it won't break. Now I just have to pray that I make the weight restrictions for Brussels. My flight leaves at 8 pm next Saturday night. Edith and some of the Naguru crew will take me there and see me off, and first I will have dinner with her family. It will be hard to say goodbye. Right now I'm too busy to think about it.

8 May Bead For Life

Today I spent one of the best days since I've been here. I visited a project that a friend and colleague from UW, Devin, is working on with her mother here in Kampala, called Bead for Life. The website tells more of the story, but it was really a powerful experience to visit one of their 2 groups today. This group consists of about 100 people, mostly women (a few men) who live in a squatter settlement not too far from where I work, up on a hill. The land is dry and rocky and not much grows, and they live in small, spare mud huts with no electricity or running water. They are refugees from the civil war in the north, from the Acholi tribe. So this land, this type of food, music, dancing, language--none of it is their own. Most people in this settlement work in the quarry located on the hill where they live--the men dig and carry rocks, and the women sit on the ground in the hot sun or pouring rain with hammers and smash them by hand into smaller rocks. For this they make the equivalent of about $1.50 a day, on a good day. So enter the bead for life program. They can triple their income in much less harsh conditions, making beaded jewellry from scrap paper, which they sell locally but mostly in the U.S. via the website (hint, hint).

I'd been planning to go and the trip has gotten rescheduled several times since I've been here, so I'm really glad I finally went. The women were amazing and I'm not just saying that in a cheesy late night telethon kind of way. They truly were--kind, friendly and beautiful and way tougher than I'll ever be. They made me feel welcome though we barely spoke the same language in most cases, and let me take their pictures, hold their babies and in the afternoon when I was leaving, draped me with 5 of their hard-earned pieces of jewellry. I was floored. Of course, I protested, but they would hear none of it. I got some wonderful pictures and am going to send many of them back to Devin and the project so they can give them to the women. I'm so grateful I got the chance to meet them and be a part of it.

The bit that I saw today was where the beaders all come, weekly, and sell their beads to the project. There is a small building constructed there by the project for that purpose, with a narrow "office" area for buying the beads and an open courtyard where the meetings and waiting goes on. They must first be approved for the type and colors that are in demand, and then go through a quality control check (I did this for a bit today) and finally, they are paid. They are called in order, so they go one by one, and the others sit and wait to be called, beading more and talking while they wait. At the beginning, there are announcements and songs and a prayer, and they give away a small prize randomly, choosing a name from a hat, but the person must be there. If not, the next name is chosen, and so on, until someone in attendance wins. This is to encourage timely attendance (not common in most african cultures). Today the prize was a dress, donated by Torkin, Devin's mom. I donated a bunch of my clothes I am leaving behind today, so I dont know if they will simply be given to those in need or used as future prizes. But being there, I felt really glad I'd contributed in some small way. We went through half of the list, and I did some QC and then called names on the list, which was nice because I got to take many photos and meet the ladies. We broke for lunch--each of the 14 of us helping got a boiled egg, a piece of bread and a small banana. The day had started out foggy, cloudy, cool and gray but got sunny and hot. After lunch one of the beaders, Juliet, gave Torkin's brother Jim and I a tour of the area, including the rock quarry. I was hot and dirty and exhausted just walking around watching how they live and work. These people have it very rough. And they're luckier than their families left behind in the war zone...

After the tour, I had to leave and go back to my office. I knew about the project before I left the U.S. and thought about having a bead party (read how on the site) as part of a goodbye party, but now I definitely want to have one when I get back. So if you want to see some of their handiwork let me know and I'll invite you. Great stuff, and I can vouch for the worthiness of the cause. My favorite gift from today is a bracelet that the first woman I really talked to, Janet, gave me. Later, I held her baby so that she and her son could work while they waited for her beads to get approved. The main beads are brown, orange and white, and the surrounding ones are sort of purple and irridescent/sparkly. Not colors I would have put together and at first I was not so into it, though touched by the gesture. As the day went on and I looked at it more, I came to really like it. First, because it's something I wouldn't have chosen, but mostly because I've come to think of it as an analogy for Uganda itself: sort of muddy orangey-brown on first inspection, but once you've gotten used to it, you can see and appreciate the sparkly bits even more and you don't notice how sharp the contrast is--it just seems natural. I don't want to take it off :).



One other kind of nice thing: I wore my Naguru Teenage Centre shirt, and when we were introduced, I got to do a mini-commercial for the centre and the services they offer. I hope that some of them will make use of it now that they know, since the services are free. Recenty, one of the guards at my house who substitues for the night guard, Christopher, on his night off asked me about the Centre. A few weeks later, he thanked me and said he'd gone for a test (HIV) that day and had gotten good results. I was so pleased he'd followed my advice, and told him to be sure to keep it that way. I'm recruiting for the centre in my spare time, one person at a time.

After work, I walked to the highway and took a matatu into town, which is madness at 5 pm. Traffic in Kampala at most hours of most days is madness (no rules, too many run down vehicles, terrible potholed roads) but rush hour is a special brand of hell I'd not yet witnessed til coming here (when the rainy season first started and I was still staying with Edith, it took me four hours to get home one night. 4 hours to go a few miles!). But I made into town to the taxi park reasonably easy. The taxi park is also chaos--there's a picture of it on my yahoo photos site I think. I was afraid to go there alone until recently. It's a huge parking lot, surrounded by vendors hawking everything from fruit to flipflops to cds to underwear--everything imaginable, with hundreds of mini-busses crammed in and they do not sell passively. There are signs indicating which region the taxis go to, and occasional guys in white labcoat type jackets (Dr. Taxi?) who are there to direct you to the right place. Even so, just locating the right one can be a trial, and then once you do, it has to fill up, unless you are lucky to be one of the last few. Once on, vendors will shove pens, hair accessories, peanuts, drinks, candy, watches, belts, handkerchiefs, socks, even shoes ("soft wear, madam!") in through the windows. They won't go til you acknowledge them, but woe to you if you do, because that only encourages them, and they wait some more to see if you've changed your mind. Today I was unlucky to be the first one on board, so I bought a small packet of peanuts (partly because I was hungry, and partly because they were only 100 shillings (<$.10) and having bought something seems to help stem the tide of sellers) for the wait. In about 15 minutes it filled up, which was fine--I still had half hour to be at this week's hash run location, way out by Lake Victoria. Accounting for 15 minutes of traffic jam, I thought I'd still make it. When we finally got started, it took a half hour just to get out of the taxi park and into the jammed streets. I finally reached the location of the hash at just after 6:30 (it started at 6 and the run takes an hour), and had just given up and sat down to wait when the first of the runners returned 10 minutes later.

I was frustrated and disappointed because I only have one more hash until I go, the weather was nice, and I really wanted some exercise. The runs are really fun and a nice way to meet people. Luckily last week I'd met some people who were there, because my two standby friends were not. So I found them, and we gathered 'round with our water and fruit for the "circle," a pseudo ceremony for mockery, punishment and above all, drinking. The usual timeline goes: mock and scorn the organizers of the hash, make them drink; mock and scorn the new people, make them drink; mock and scorn the sinners, make them drink; declare a hash shit (worst sinner of all for real or imagined crimes), mock them and throw beer at them; and then announcements and occasinally naming a member with a "hash handle." Oh, and more songs and rude shouts and more drinking in between. Nothing is sacred, though each hash group goes about its business in a slightly different manner. Tonight I was called out as a sinner, for being late, and made to kneel in the circle while they sang at me and others. We were handed beers and had to drink them before the song ended or dump it on our heads. (I'd tried to redeem myself for being late by handing out water as the runners came in, but it only called me out). No worries--it was a free beer! You can't punish a hasher with beer--they'll just do it again to get more free beer. So afterwards we had food and they lit a bonfire, and it was really nice. The sky is so clear outside of the city, and the stars are amazing. I found a nice lawyer heading my way to give me a ride home, so I escaped the matatus a second time, at least. Now it's time to get some work done. The days are flying past. Tomorrow is Michael's last day! Then I'm the only remaining intern...

7 May I'm leaving in 2 weeks

I just got an email from the guy at the Grameen bank who I spoke with about maybe doing the 6 week project. He said they've decided not to do it that way, and instead sent a job description for a 3 month internship in Rwanda and Uganda for the same project. Sounds interesting, but I'm done with internships. I need a real job. So I guess it's back to plan A then: I'm leaving the night of May 21, heading to Brussels, where I'll take a train to Lyon and then another to Marseilles and spend a week with my friend Fannie. Then train to Paris, where I'll fly to Phila on June 1. I don't have a ticket for the next tentative leg of the journey, but possibly the 9th or 10th of June, I hope to go to Seattle. Depends on if interviews in DC become an option. Now that I know for sure that I'm going, I'm officially slightly frantic. I'm heading out momentarily to start buying souvenirs, and then spend the rest of the afternoon/evening writing my project, which is probably how I'll be spending the remaineder of my weekend. Last night I had a nice ethiopian dinner with Devin,(and her husband Mark), Anne and Edith, who are all former Evans students, which was really nice. I'd been up til 3 am the night before finishing up a cover letter and editing my resume, so I went to bed pretty much right after getting home, and slept late this morning. Except maybe going to Lake Mburu next weekend (I hope!) my life probably won't be super exciting between now and when I leave. That's okay, I've had a good time. 14 days--yikes!

5 May Weather Update

A friend emailed me after reading my last update and said "thanks for the hair update. what about a weather update?" So this one's for Jenn G.

It's the rainy season, merging into the cooler season. This year the weather is apparently funky here, as it has been everywhere. February was too hot, and now May is too cold. And by cold I mean that it should be mostly hot right now with occasional frequent and short rain showers. It's been rainy, cool and cloudy four days this week. Mid-60s. Sunbreaks. I thought I'd left Seattle, and here I just brought it with me to Uganda. I'm currently wearing a ski hat and sweatpants, but I get cold easily. I've had about 4 cups of tea today.

So the weather in southeastern Uganda is abnormal and not what you'd think of for Africa. I've got a pool but it's mostly too cold to use it. There are occasional exceptions and I seize them when I can. Saturday was beautiful, Sunday was nice in the morning. Yesterday I worked from home (LOADS of writing left to do for this project--it's crunch time) and it was lovely. Took a short swim at lunch, worked in bathing suit and towel for a few more hours, planning a longer swim later as a reward. Big Mistake. Thunderstorm rolled in and it's been rainy/cloudy/cool ever since.

Here's a random story unrelated to weather: yesterday as I worked from home, I took the flour out of the fridge (where I keep it to keep it ant-free) to warm up so I could use it to make pizza crust for dinner. I've had pizza exactly once here so far, and I'd finally located some mozzerella and some tomato sauce and I was really looking forward to it. I was on the balcony, typing away oblivious to the world, and then came in for a drink. Margaret, the housekeeper (who comes on Wednesdays) told me, "you'll never guess what Sancho did! He ate the flour!" Sure enough, I went in the kitchen and there was flour everywhere, all over the counter, the floor, in the laundry room, and bits of bag everywhere. I guess he'd shaken it up and tore it apart, spreading it all over. Yuck. At least she hadnt cleaned the floor in there yet. He eats everything, and I knew that, but FLOUR?? What a weird dog. So I still haven't had my pizza--didn't feel up to walking 20 minutes each way to the market just to get flour. Luckily, there was other food in the house to eat.

I'm in uber job search mode as well. It's sort of come in waves, and now that my departure approaches, it's even more pressing. I'm revising my CV for the ???th time in a few months, and sending out some targeted applications with prayers to the job gods. Send interesting leads my way.

3 May Should I Stay or Should I Go?

It's sort of a rhetorical question at this point, so don't start trying to convince me. In reality, the decision's not up to me--you can already guess that if the chance comes up, I'll stay. I've not said anything yet because it was a small possibility, but now it's more like a medium-sized possibility so at the risk of personal jinx, I will mention that there is a chance that I could stay on an extra 6 weeks (estimated) here in Uganda to work on a project analyzing the competitive environment for the Village Phone program here. Had an initial phone interview tonight, and follow up considerations will be happening on both sides. It's a good organization, and an interesting project, so it's likely I'd take it if offered. Also, I don't have a job yet, so it beats an additional 6 weeks of unemployment in the States. I'm here already, and it's only 6 weeks... So there it is. Will update as I know more. Just so you don't act all surprised if I'm suddenly not on the plane on May 21 as scheduled. (Maybe nobody really believed I would be anyway. To quote my Aunt Carol: "Your mom told me yesterday about you possibly staying another 6 weeks and I was not surprised. I actually thought you might not come back from St Lucia.")We'll see what life/Uganda has in store for me. I like it here and wouldn't mind staying a bit longer. Notice I said a bit... I'm also hankering for some U.S. readjustment time, sans homework/degree project.

Today the reality of going (probably? maybe?) and the fact that May is here and my time in Uganda grows short was highlighted by my goodbye party. There have been two Danish volunteers, recent high school graduates getting experience to apply to med school, who have been volunteering with me at Naguru for 3 months. I've also mentioned them before because we've travelled to Sipi Falls together, gone rafting and to the equator together, and gotten stomach illnesses most recently together. Today, we had a goodbye brunch together and then the Naguru staff threw us a party. Nina leaves tomorrow, Michael next week, and me the following week. (?) So they just decided to have one party, a decision which I applaud. It was nice to be remembered, and sort of took me back to those disappointed Peace Corps moments when my organisations blew me off. Hooray, I finally got some recognition, even though I'm not done yet. It was just a brief little get together on the balcony of the admin building, and they had soft drinks and cake and gave us some nice gifts: Nina and I got these sarong-things made of traditional local cloth as well as a shirt and a small purse. Michael got a shirt and a wallet. We all modeled our gifts, and I look terrible, but will probably post the pics anyway. It was very sweet, and we took a group photo afterwards.

Last week, Jonah came over in the afternoon and met Sancho, at long last. He's been dying to meet "my" dog and they became fast friends. I took a photo of them hugging, which I will also post. He talked of nothing else for the entire night, Edith told me. He's got school holidays for 2 weeks now and is not at the Centre in the afternoons, so on Sunday he wrote a note to Sancho and me, which I am saving because it's so adorable: "A Letter to Ded. Ded I send you the letter to you and Sankyo but I will tell you that Sankyo is a good dog and you." Is he not the cutest Ugandan little brother ever?

I was supposed to go to Lake Mburu this weekend, but it has been pushed back to hopefully next weekend. I *really* want to see zebras and hope I get to go. If I stay, I'd also like to make it to Queen Elisabeth Park. My friend Mike has also not been there, but unfortunately can't go last minute this weekend because of work. We might be able to organise it if I stay on though. There's a lodge that's supposed to be incredible that looks out on an elephant and hippo watering hole. I'd love to experience that... So now this weekend is rather open. I didnt get as much work done as I'd hoped last weekend; nor did I go souvenir shopping, so those are both on the schedule. The highlight of my past weekend was a pinata: there was a Disney pinata that someone brought back from the states for the 30th birthday. After the Euros beat the Americans in whiffleball (shameful!), it was a highlight for us all to use the same bat to bludgeon a pink disney fluffy thing and then eat too much candy before chucking it on the fire. The campfire was nice too... Love the stars here. I met a lot of people and had a pretty nice weekend, but nothing too spectacular. I finally felt well enough to go to the hash run again on Monday. I'd gone 3 times, and then missed 3 times, so it felt good to be back, and to have people notice that I'd been missing. This one was sponsored and in honor of the Dutch Queen's birthday. It was Saturday and all I know about it is that it's a festive occasion where people where orange. This was a long run with one of the stops at the Dutch Ambassador's house for orange liquor &/ or Fanta with the option of some raw fish appetizers which looked tasty but not mid-run, so I skipped it. Doing shots of weird liquor and singing some dutch song was enough. There are only two more Mondays, possibly, for me to run with the hash. Some friends I've made there told me they will try and get the group to baptize me with a hash name before I go, which seemed exciting til I realised all the names are crude. Maybe they'll forget.

My stomach is finally feeling better. Hopefully that means the medicine is working. I should be avoiding/limiting sugar, caffeine and alcohol along with it to avoid feeding the yeast, but that's going to be rather difficult here and now. I may have to give it a go when I leave here, but with a project to crank out and goodbye/other parties, they seem here to stay. Thankfully, yogurt can also help!

Enough about my insides, now about my outsides. If I had a better camera and wasn't still stupidly shy about it, I might try posting a pic to show all of my new fuzzy hairs on my head. I doubt they'd show, but up close &/or in sunlight I look a bit like a tennis ball (only not green). It's not allover fuzz, but there's quite a good quantity, and it seems to be staying put and growing longer. Touch wood. It's a far cry from normal hair but progress is being made. Reporting live from my pasty white scalp, this has been your hair growth update...

Was asking a friend tonight about her choice of souvenir and commented that I wish the craft market had a website so people could just tell me what they want. Now would be a good time to specify if you would like a li'l something Ugandan. Major choices consist of: small packet of local liquor, Waragi (tastes like gin), some sort of wooden carving/mask (choose sparingly, these are bigger/heavier..), coffee, batik (in which case choose animal or people/village life), basket (they are cool), fabric, local jewelry of some sort--probably beads, a change purse of local fabric or a wallet of cow fur and leather, um... the list goes on but you may have the idea. Batiks I've chosen thus far have been popular--nice colors--and they are a hit with me because they dont take much space or weigh much. There's a lot to choose from, I like a lot of it, and it gets a bit overwhelming. If people don't choose for me, i might decide I like everything and y'all get nuthin'.

It's a bit stressful to be preparing to leave and yet knowing that I might actually not be leaving. You'd think I would be more used to living with ambiguity by now. I've begun to prepare a bit for the possibility of staying, but to plan for leaving as though it's a fact. It will be much easier that way, whenever it happens!

29 April Healing

I've been pretty miserable all week. The three of us were all sick on Monday--Nina and Michael spent the night, and we intended to go to work. Instead we all laid around moaning and sleeping and dashing for toilets. Tuesday Nina got her results at the clinic: giardia. I had all the symptoms and was sure I had it. Had a quick visit at the clinic but couldn't do my test until Wed. The results came back: candida overgrowth. Candida is the yeast that lives in everyone's stomach, and in normal amounts, it helps to digest. If left to flourish unchecked, it can grow wildly and take over, where it turns to strands of fungus that interfere with digestion of nutrients and cause overall body toxicity. I've read about it before and wondered if some of my health problems weren't a result. It can be caused by taking an abundance of antibiotics (which I have taken many in my life and am now taking doxycyclene daily as an antimalarial) or prednisone (also taken), so it's entirely possible. However, the symptoms got worse right after rafting, so I wonder if there isn't something else going on. Regardless, I'm taking meds for it now. Thursday I felt worse than ever once I started taking the medicine--stayed home and was really ill all day. Today is better, so hopefully I'm on my way back to health. Glad I'm staying in town for the weekend. Tonight, meeting some friends out for a few drinks (skipping the dinner portion), and tomorrow there is a birthday party at Mike's. No plans yet for the rest of the weekend, but I have a lot of work to do on my project after being sick and sort of worthless all week. I slept a lot, read a lot, and watched a few movies. Hope this is it for my stomach problems for a while.

25 April Revenge of the Nile

The Nile is having its way with me, and with Nina and Michael. We must have swallowed gallons of it in our rafting drama, and now the curse of stomach upset lingers on. I thought it would pass, but as it has been alternately troubling all of us from late last week and into the weekend, it's time to see a doctor. Tomorrow. I've also got to see someone about my leg, which got a bad burn on Friday morning. I set off early for Kampala to catch the post bus, which leaves at 8 am. I got a bodaboda, which ran out of fuel on a hilly part of the highway leading into the city, and we coasted to a petrol station, where he leaned the bike a bit and the hot exhaust pipe touched my leg. It was just a brief touch, but it caused quite a burn. We sped into the city, where I found Nina and Michael already in line. I gave them money to get me a ticket, and with 15 minutes to spare, I dashed off in hopes of finding a first aid kit at a nearby hotel. The Grand Imperial, where we had our dinner, had nothing--no kit, no shop--but recommended a 24 hour clinic a few streets away (no pharmacies were yet open). With no other option to get something for the burn, and a 5 hour ride ahead of me, I had no choice it seemed but to get another boda to the clinic and hope someone would treat me fast. At that hour, and in a place where nothing happens fast, I had my doubts, but I had to give it a shot. The driver, of course, assured me he knew where it was, sped down the road, and then stopped and asked someone who also didnt know. I was ready to scream, so fed up with lying drivers. We did find it, moments later, out of luck, and I rushed inside to find an empty reception area. I rang the bell, and Dr. Habo came out--he is affiliated with the Naguru Clinic and teenage centre, and I'd just interviewed him on Thursday. Great fortune for me, otherwise I'd never have gotten help in time. I still almost didn't--Dr. Habo hadn't slept for a few days. He got me some cream, but just then they called to say the bus was leaving. I ran off with the cream (there was no change so he let me pay him later), jumped on the boda and we made it to the post office where my bus was the last one, waiting. The conductor for the bus paid my driver, since he also had no change. We got on the road, and the trip which should have taken 5 hours took 6. My wound, covered with cream, was painful and looking bad. We reached Mbale and had to take another taxi/bus. As we were heading to a largely tourist destination, we had to haggle for the price. The drive up into the mountains took another hour or so, and this time it was really beautiful-- a green and mountainous patchwork of farms and fields and huts of wattle and thatch (wattle is a mixture of mud and dung that hardens into a sort of cement, spread over a wood frame), with rainclouds threatening on the horizon. It was strange to see bananas growing at altitude.

We reached near Kapchorwa, where Sipi Falls is located, and got out at the Crow's Nest, a budget lodge built by community members and former peace corps volunteers, overlooking the falls from a distance. I'd been sort of dozing, looking out the window and listening to my mp3 player, and jumped up when the driver told us we were there. I'd taken some out the window photos earlier, so my camera was on my lap. Only after we'd paid, gotten our bags and begun to walk to the gate did I think to look for my camera, which was not in my bag. So drama #2 for the day began--the search for the camera. Guide 1 went with Nina and Michael to the hotel. He said he had the driver's number and would call. Another guide who'd met us by the road said he'd walk with me down to the road to look and see if it fell there. It wasn't, and we kept walking. It turns out we walked several km and then caught a ride on the back of a truck (speeding up curvy mtn roads as rain began to fall) to reach the driver as he waited for more passengers in the village at the top of the hill (near the entrance to Mt Elgon National Park--s a side note, Mt Elgon is the 8th highest peak in Africa, and borders Kenya). We reached there and found that he did, indeed, have the camera, and I was so grateful and happy. It could have been awful, and it was really stupid of me. He looked expectant of some kind of reward, but I'm really not keen on the corrupt system of payments, so it seemed wrong that I should pay him not to steal from me, so I just thanked him profusely and agreed that we'd ride down with him on Sunday. And we did. Patrick, the guide, had spent an hour of his time helping me so I gave him a little something. I ended up letting him down the next day though. He'd arranged with me to guide us, while back at the hotel, Nina and Michael had arranged with an official guide via the hotel. I had little choice, and Patrick was pretty mad at me.

So we settled in the cabin, being the only guests besides one other American woman, travelling alone. We had a cabin to ourselves. We had some food and drinks and read and talked for a while, and went to bed pretty early. Michael had some stomach pains, and they delayed our start on the hike in the morning. There are three big waterfalls in that area, collectively called Sipi Falls, because they come from the Sipi river. I guess I should refer to them as 1, 2 and 3--1 is biggest, 2 smallest, and 3 is medium-sized. We hiked from about 11 am to about 5 pm, covering officially 7km, but I think it was closer to 10. We hiked down to the first falls, then back up the other side of the cliff to some caves, where we saw bats and where some crystals used to be. Local boys had pretty much scraped most of them off to sell to tourists, but we saw some cool hollows where tiny new crystals were forming. Then we hiked to the second falls, where we could go behind and look out. We stood in some of the small trickles and got cooled off. Then we hiked further up to a "natural swimming pool" where we cooled off more, and finally, though many farms and fields, and past many more huts (and many calls of "muzungu" and "how are you?" "fine") to the third falls. There I got a nice photo of the owner of the land and his kids, who followed us for a long time, until we were followed by a large band of shrieking school children that we chased and played with as we continued our trek. Finally, we took a break at a small shop, had some cokes and found a farmer who sold us a few kg of last year's unroasted coffee beans from a nearby organic farm. That area is primarily coffee country, being cool and moist, but it was not yet in season, so hard to find. Finally, we made our way back to the lodge, where we relaxed and met the other guests, a french girl and some germans. The full moon was beautiful over the canyon and falls that night, but we went to sleep early.

Sunday morning we checked out and left at about 10, and made our way into Mbale. We got on a bus that made several false starts and seemed like the most dilapidated, untrustworthy vehicle--it sort of scared us. In the end, though, it took a shorter route than our first bus had, and we reached Kampala in only four hours, so it was worth the wait. Nina and Michael came to my house and we made burritos and had some beers. Big mistake, I discovered as I researched the source of our stomach pain online today. Since then, we've avoided caffeine, spicy food and alcohol--we're hydrating and eating toast and yogurt, and planning a visit to the dr. tomorrow, suspecting giardia from the Nile. None of us made it to work today, which is unfortunate because I had an interview scheduled, and they're hard enough to organize without rescheduling.

Last week was pretty productive, though, and I'm feeling much more positive about the outcome of the project. Only 7 more interviews to go! And lots of organizing and writing to do in the less than four weeks remaining. I'm glad that we went to Sipi Falls though. It was really beautiful and different from what I've seen here so far. Plus, it was nice to actually be cold at night! This week I hope to just get better, in my stomach and my burn, and get as much work done as possible. This weekend I will stay in town. There is a party at Mike's for his friend's birthday on Saturday, and I hope to do some souvenir shopping. No tother real plans. The next weekend I'm supposed to go to Lake Mburu with Elsabe, Adrian and Rian, and hopefully see Zebras. I'm working on posting pics of the falls, etc. now.. (on yahoo). The internet connection here at the house has been dodgy for weeks--turns out the repeater on the roof was damaged. They've fixed it, so now things are much quicker and more reliable, which is a great relief.

17 April Nile High

This weekend's adventure involved me getting the crap kicked out of me by the Nile. I was supposed to go to Sipi Falls this weekend, but that was rescheduled for Nina and Michael to have a driving lesson (It's much cheaper here than in Denmark). So we decided to go rafting instead. After a rather frustrating week at work consisting of a few good appointments and a few where I was stood up, I ended the week with a big talk with the director, which helped ease my stress a bit. I'm no less frustrated, but less stressed about it, which is a slight improvement. Time is running short and there's a lot to be done to finish on time. Anyway, following the talk, I came home and did some yoga and had a swim and felt much better. A few hours later I met some friends--part of the crew I went to Murchison with (Elsabe, Brett, Rian and Adrian) and a group of their friends at Blue Mango, a small guesthouse and restaurant on a main road near my house. I'd been told by several people to check it out, and I'm glad I did, as it's quite a cool place. On Fridays they have a Mongolian barbecue where you choose all the ingredients and sauce for a huge stirfry and there's a live band. So about 15 of us had dinner and some drinks and then the group headed off to Bubbles O'Learys, the Irish pub. I'd only intended to stay for the Blue Mango portion of the evening, but was easily persuaded to go out for a bit. I gave myself a midnight curfew, as I had to get up early for rafting. I got home after 1, which wasn't terribly off schedule...

Woke at 6, met the bus at 7:15 and we left Kampala around 8:30 after several more stops for people and breakfast at a bakery. We made it to Jinja in an hour or so, got signed up and sorted out with life preservers, helmets and paddles and split into groups. We had four boats full of 8 people plus a guide each, and a few kayakers and a few riverboarders. We were on the river from about 11 to about 5, with an hour break for lunch. It was a long, rough day, but a lot of fun.

That section of the Victoria Nile consists of some pretty serious class 5 rapids; some of the best-known in Africa, along with the Zambezi. I'd rafted several times before, and always had a blast, but always found it a bit tame for my taste. This trip was anything but tame; in fact, I might have liked it a bit tamer! I got pretty beat up. Not literally, but psychologically and physically a bit too. I'm quite stiff and sore today. We did 3 class 5 rapids and lots of others of lower classifications, and we flipped twice, once on a class 5, and once on a class 3 (I the second one was on purpose, since the cameras were there, filming the video they sell, and the guides like flips for the cameras). It was the first one that really wiped me out. It was a series of four waves, called Big Brother, and we flipped on the second one. I got knocked under the raft as we continued through two more big waves. I was under there for maybe 10 seconds, and went under and came back up several times. I could barely gasp for air when I'd get knocked under again and come up still under the raft. I got scared and started to hyperventilate from asthma. I got desperate, went under again, and got out but immediately got pushed over by a wave again. This happened several more times, and each time I came up, I gasped a bit, and so I could never get a real breath. Because I was scared and not breathing, I was doing all the wrong things--fighting it when I should have been relaxing and letting it take me. The current was strong, and there was so much whitewater it was hard to just stay afloat, and I was using all my energy just trying to stay up. I saw some guys from my boat and made my way to them, and they were both great. One talked me into a slightly calmer state and the other let me hang on his paddle and float along with him. About 5 minutes later we finally reached another boat and got aboard. About 5 minutes after that, I finally stopped shaking. I wasn't quite the same for the rest of the day. In the morning I had been gung-ho, ready to take the hard lines down the rapids, ready to take on the world. I was far more subdued after lunch, both in terms of energy and mental stamina. I was pretty shaken. Many people I spoke to about the trip said it was great, they'd loved it, but that they thought they were going to die several times. I knew what they meant after that first flip, and I wasn't sure I was ready to experience it again. I've never experienced anything like that before. In my morning stupor, I'd forgotten to take off two rings: the silver thumb ring I've worn constantly since I studied in Mexico in 1995, and the silver toe ring I bought when I finished Peace Corps last year. Both were more sentimentally valuable than anything else, and both were sucked off me by the powerful current (neither of them was loose fitting, so it's quite impressive). That was rather sad. Our boat had 8 people from six countries: Uganda, Sweden, Denmark, the US, Australia and France, which made an interesting group. It wasn't as lively as I would have preferred, but they were nice people, and we came together well eventually. We were all pretty knackered when we finished. After the long ride back and a few beers, I was ready to collapse when I reached home. I talked to my mom online, talked with a friend who was going to maybe come over, and then fell asleep at about 10:30. I slept straight through until this morning.

Today has been a bit lazy, but good. It was another sunny day--yesterday was the nicest day we've had in several weeks, clear and sunny and HOT!--and I spent the morning rehydrating and relaxing with my book on the balcony, gradually discovering each ache and muscle pull, and rubbing cream on my funny stripes of sunburn. I had 3 tentative sets of plans for the day, and sort of hoped none of them would pan out so I'd have an excuse to just lay around all day. Mike called first, so I agreed to make the journey out to his house, and turned down the other 2 sets of plans (lunch with Elsabe and the guys, swimming with Naseem) when they called a bit later. I took a taxi to Kampala, and braved the chaotic taxi park by myself for the first time. It wasn't so bad--the guide showed me which one to take and told me how much it should cost. So I got on, paid the conductor and and told him where I wanted to get off, after we finally filled up and left the park. From there it was easy. I got a scooter taxi and found Mike's place. He'd grilled some food and we ate, swam and hung out talking and later we watched a funny documentary about the Red Sox. This evening we met Ann, who he works with, and two other Americans also working for Chemonics that were visiting from DC for Indian food. Both times I've been to that restaurant I've come home feeling like I'm going to explode. Now I'm too full to sleep. There's a lot to do this week, and I hope I can disregard my frustration with the scheduling of my remaining interviews to just get on with the writing, because it's all I can do. I'm planning to go on the hash run, for the first time in 2 weeks. This weekend I'm going to see if I can convince some others to go with me to Lake Mburu instead of Sipi Falls. The Falls are beautiful, but I can hike in mountains and see waterfalls back in Seattle. I can't see Zebra and wake to hippos outside my tent there. With only a bit more than a month left, it's time for seeing/doing what's really important. So far it's definitely been an adventure, and mostly a good one.

11 April Back from Safari

This weekend was incredible--definitely something I will remember for a long time. I posted a lot of pictures last night and am trying to do the rest tonight. They're on my yahoo photos page, cleverly labeled: Uganda - Murchison Falls.

I guess chronological description is the way to go. Friday I took a boda boda to Bugalobi, several villages away (where Julian and Julius live) to meet the rest of the group at Adrian's apartment. Adrian and Rian are south african guys working here for two of the local cellphone companies, doing drawings and engineering-type work with cell towers (like many of my friends in Saint Lucia did). They met Elsabee, also S. African but here as part of her thesis for her degree from a Canadian university (an HIV program at the hospital) in town, and her two Canadian friends Michelle and Janelle who have been visiting for a few weeks. I met all of them because Christine (doctor from UW) lives with them. Also joining us was Brett, a doctor from MN working here at the Infectious Diseases Institute with Christine, and who I met at Easter along with the other girls,and Eddie, a Ugandan guy who works at the Marine House with US military folks, and hooked up with Michelle during her visit. A nice guy with a good sense of humor. Ok, so that's out of the way. We met and got picked up by the Red Chilli van, and drove about 4 hours to Masindi, the village just outside the park, where we had lunch. By then, we were all pretty much friends, and as a group, we had a wonderful time the whole weekend--no issues. After lunch, we drove about another hour inside the park and went to see the falls.

Murchison Falls actually consists of two falls. It was named for a British explorer, I think, who 'found' the falls way back when, and later the whole park was named after him. The water flows from Lake Albert, and later joins the Nile as it flows north, meeting the Victoria Nile, which flows from Lake Victoria on the other side of Uganda. So it's called the Albert Nile. This is the wet season, so the water was gushing at incredible velocity, and it was so powerful to see. We hiked for maybe 15 minutes uphill to a viewpoint where we could see both falls, and then hiked a bit down lower where we stood at the top of one of the falls and got drenched in the spray. Given the instense afternoon heat, it felt really good. I wanted to just lay in a puddle on one of the rocks and stay there all day. After that, we went to the Red Chili camp, a little oasis in the park, and got settled in.

There were three couples amongst our group, and then Brett and me, the non-couple (he is married and his wife, back in MN, is expecting). So they got cabins and we were offered these dingy little boy-scout sized pup tents. We were disappointed but sucked it up, til Brett kept switching between, finding none with intact mesh ventilation. My zippers were screwy. There were other, larger 2 person tents, and I don't know why we weren't offered them. We'd just decided maybe to pretend we were a couple and try to get one when the others checked out our sad situation and felt bad. They decided we could all split the cost for us to upgrade to the other available cabins, which cost more because they had a bathroom. It was a great offer and we jumped at it. It only cost us each 5,000 more and we slept in comfort with real beds, a fan (til they cut the power at midnight) and mosquito nets, and a toilet and shower. (there were collective toilets and showers outside, but it's nice to not have to trek outside in the night, especially when warthogs and hippos are on the prowl!) We put our stuff away, had many beers and had dinner. We were all in bed by ten, since we had to meet at 6:30am for our game drive.

We gathered in the morning, grabbed our bagged breakfasts (water, chapatti and hard boiled egg for me--one thing our budget safari lacked was coffee!), and got in the van. We met the other two groups of 8 at the ferry and we all crossed together. That was our first time on the Nile, and our first hippo sighting, except for Elsabee and Adrian, who saw the one grazing in the camp area in the wee hours of the morning. Once on the north side of the river, we did a 4 hour loop of the savannah in the north, looking for game. In the Masai Mara in Kenya I'm told the drivers drive anywhere in the park, but here we stayed on designated roads, which were murram as in the rest of the park, and in pretty decent condition. We clipped along at a pretty good pace. Our van, I should mentioned, was a typical 15 person van, except with the middle seat replaced wtih 2 captains chairs, and the top kitted out to pop up for ventilation and viewing. We made a lot of Lion King references (pathetic, but expected) throughout the morning, especially about how we looked like meercats peeping up out of the van. There was a gorgeous sunrise that morning which we saw first at the camp, as we left at daybreak, and then on the water, and finally as it turned brighter over the grasslands. I expected everything to be dry, but like most of Uganda, it was surprisingly green. We had our driver as well as a guide from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, who came equipped with binoculars and a gun.

Throughout the morning, we saw two of the 'big four' in the park (typically, people on safari talk about the "big five" of Africa, but there are no rhinos in the park): elephants and hippos. We didn't see any lions or leopards, which would have been a nice surprise but I didn't really expect to. We did see lots of other wildlife, including Kobbs, Jacksons Hartbeast, lots of deer-like animals of varying sizes (I've gottten them confused and forgotten their names now), Cape Buffalo, warthogs, monkeys, giraffes, and lots of birds including an owl, a crested crane (national bird) and some fish eagles. It was really amazing. We were all sleepy with the early start and the blazing sun, and had to fight to stop from dozing in the van and missing the game drive. I was the only one in the group, except maybe Eddie (not sure) for whom it was the first safari. The others had been to Kenya &/or Tanzania or other parts of Africa. Ellsabee had even been to Murchison before but was kind enough to organize it and join us again, even with a wicked cold. So we enjoyed ourselves, and with the exception of no lion sightings, no one was really disappointed. The highlights for all of us were the group of elephants drinking, including the one with only half a trunk from escaping poachers (he has to drink with his mouth instead), the enormous herd of maybe 25 giraffes we encountered in the road toward the end of our drive (my favorite part), and the long line of cape buffalo, staring at us like a scene from Braveheart, as though they were going to charge. Turns out they have poor eyesight and can only smell intruders--their symbiotic relationship with the white egrets means they know when a predator is coming if the bird flies off. So they would pretend to charge and then circle back around quickly--it was quite funny, actually.

We had a few hours back at camp for lunch and relaxation (and dreaming of swimming pools), and then it was off for our boat cruise. We went back to the same dock and this time boarded two big cruiser boats to travel about 17 km down the river to the base of the falls, a 3 hour trip. This time the highlight was yawning hippos, which I finally captured on film after missing about 5. The river is just dripping with hippos--they lay about in the cool muck of the river all day, and come up on land at night to graze. They're vegetarians and i think I read in my guidebook that they consume like 1 ton of vegetation a day or something ridiculous. I'm too lazy to check my facts, so don't quote me. So there were lots of hippos, and lots of camera-happy ourists. The boat was double-decker, so you could sit below in the shade or go above for a better view and a sunburn. I did both. We also passed some cool mud or sandstone (couldnt tell) cliffs where some birds called bee-eaters have bored holes and live in them, which were quite cool, and some hanging nests built by weavers, who all build their nests on the same tree. Eventually, we saw a few crocodiles, including a mom and baby, and this one that seemed to be sleeping with it's mouth open, just hoping something would crawl in. My head was swimming with half-remembered quotes from Rudyard Kipling stories I read as a child. It was hard to believe we were really on the mythical Nile, seeing these things. So much history has happened on that river. Eventually, we reached the falls, took more photos and turned around. The trip back was much faster, going with the current, which is quite swift. That night, we had showers and just a few drinks, an earlier dinner and an even earlier bedtime. Elle and Adrian went to bed at 8 and the rest of us played uno for an hour or so longer before turning in. We had to meet at 5:45 Sunday morning for our chimp trek.

Sunday morning we were up before dawn, and already in the van on our way through the park as the sun was breaking over the horizon. It was beautiful, and I tried some out the window shots, both to capture it and to stay awake, but with no success. Also only marginally succcessful were my out-the-window shots of the forty or so baboon families that were camped out in the road every 150 meters or so. I got one decent picture, and it's posted. There were moms and babies, and angry dads who shouted and stayed in the road till we honked--did everything but shake their fists in anger at us. They're mean suckers, and funny looking! Later, as we hiked, I was sort of scared we'd cross their path but thankfully we didn't. We also didn't really see any chimps close up. But anyway, we arrived at the trailhead and were met by our guide. Some nearby residents were gathered there in the parking area (also red dirt) collecting what are known here as white ants, or termites. These are commonly eaten, fried, in the rural rural areas, as are grasshoppers. I've not tried them, and hope not to. There were swarms of them, and they seemed to be big fat ones, (good eating, I suppose) moving in groups of two for a reason i never found out. Our guide wasn't much for talking, just walking quickly and quietly and scanning the treeline with his binoculars. It was a 3-hour trip and he forbade us from talking, which was difficult at first when we were still sleepy from the car, excited for the hike, and getting swarmed by black flies which we thought were tsetse, but our driver told us were another kind. (I hope!) We found one tree where they often feed and saw only a few black dots and swaying branches as they fled the scene. Later, at another feeding spot, we saw their brown shapes again way up in the trees. We stood there gaping, waiting for them to move again, when another group joined us. The father chimp didn't like this and let out a loud roar. A few moments later, there was a rustling sound and we realized he was urinating down at us, attempting to scare us away. This happened several more times, with the addition of things thrown down at us. No one was hit, and no one identified what the thrown items were--feces or otherwise. Foolishly, I'd forgotten my glasses, so the brown lumps in the trees didn't even appear chimplike to me. Luckily I'd seen them on the Fort Portal trip. So we gave up on getting peed on, and hiked the 3km back to the van, and drove another hour to Masindi. There we had a big lunch, and mostly dozed on the long trip back to Kampala. It rained part of the way.

I got home to a very happy Sancho, who was anxiously awaiting my arrival. He was in his crate at night, and let out in the day by Stephen, the gardener, who came in on his days off to let him out while i was away. He's still not quite convinced I'm not leaving for good again and has been very needy since then. He's a people dog. He might not forgive me when I leave again this weekend.

Yes, so there's another trip planned for this coming weekend with Nina and Michael to Sipi Falls, this time in the East of Uganda, near Mount Elgon. We'll probably leave Friday morning again on a public bus. It's about a 5 hour journey to the nearby village of Mbale, and then we'll hire a special taxi or bodabodas to the lodge. We'll spend two nights there, and go for a hike to see the falls saturday and around Mt. Elgon and then travel home on Sunday. The falls are supposed to be spectacular, and it will be nice to be in some cooler mountain weather after the heat in the north. Speaking of travel, I found a website tonight for the place we stayed in the crater lakes region at Lake Nkuruba, which will show you how cool that area is.

There is nothing special planned for this week. Today I organized an interview for tomorrow afternoon, and tomorrow morning's interview was pushed to Wednesday morning. Hopefully more will be organized. We have a visitor from SIDA, the centre's major funder, in the morning. Tonight I skipped the hash run because it got really rainy and cool in the afternoon and I had only packed shorts and a tee. The prospect of fighting a rainy traffic jam to go run on muddy trails in only a tshirt and shorts didn't sound appealing, and even less so when I found out neither of my two friends were going. So I grocery shopped and came home and cooked. Now it's ten and I don't know where the time went. It's almost time for bed.

I made the mistake of counting ahead on my little calendar today, and realized I have just about 5 weeks left. That's truly frightening--there is still so much I want to see, and still so much work to be done. It's going to be busy from here on out.

7 April Safari Bound

I'm leaving early in the morning for Murchison Falls, which is about 5 hours to the northeast of Uganda. I'm going with a group to stay in the Red Chilli Hostel camp. It should be a good time, and I'm really looking forward to getting away, and seeing rea; animals in the wild--there will be giraffes, hippos, crocs, elephants and chimps, as well as many other animals and birds. I can't wait! There will be stories, and pictures, after.

It was a rather annoying week, workwise. Had some good indian food last night, had some asthma issues due to lingering dampness, and got stood up for another interview. Finally got motivated enough to send out a few more resumes.

Not much more to say. More when I get back!

4 April Le Weekend

After a good weekend, it's always hard to get started on the week again. This was the third really good weekend I've had here, for no particular reason other than that I was busy, met new people and had fun. I've been spending too much time by myself lately, and it was nice to be social.

Last week started poorly. After the four-day Easter break, I rushed into the clinic early Tuesday morning for an interview appointment with a city council official. At 9, he did not arrive as planned. I phoned him, and he claimed 'urgent' business had caught him up and asked to reschedule for the afternoon. When he hadn't shown up by 3:30 that afternoon, I phoned again. He didn't take the call. So that day was less than satisfactory, and I felt frustrated but hopeful that the next appointments would work out. Thankfully, they did. Wednesday I had a great interview with a board member -- a doctor who is conducting an HPV study at the centre. Thursday I had two great interviews at Unicef and Uganda Family Planning Association - one a funder and one a partner organization. Friday was a pleasant surprise: a volunteer who had been involved for the first five years of the centre was given a letter that I wanted to interview him by Ivan, who saw him playing football, and appeared to meet with me on his day off. We had a really great interview and also a nice chat; we got off on tons of other topics and he told me some great traditional stories and legends about how the Nilotic and Bantu peoples of Uganda came to be - great stuff. Plus, he helped me bargain for some fabric when a gentleman came by selling it. So my week ended on a happy note, and the outside perspective phase of my research is finally begun and off to an auspicious start. This afternoon I am scheduled at Radio Simba, where the teen reproductive health call-in show is hosted. There's nothing else planned yet for the week, but I hope to get Brenda, the volunteer assigned to work with me, on that today. Nothing much happened in the way of a social life during the week. Monday night I went to the hash run, arrived late due to a wicked traffic jam from parents taking children back to boarding schools from the holiday, and had to run the whole thing with no breaks. My lungs, still recovering from the cough, didn't like that. Thursday I had Thai food with Mike, who I've met in a group several other times but we'd never actually gotten to talk. We had a nice dinner and he drove me home. Other than that, the week was pretty standard - work and home and an occasional swim if it was hot in the evening when I arrived.

Friday night there was a birthday get-together at an Irish pub for Naseem, a 23 yr old student at Makerere University in Kampala who I met on Easter. I came home after work to relax a bit and then took a taxi to the bar to meet the group, which was a nice mixture of female Ugandan students (most of whom she's known since secondary school), Danish students, and the Canadian visitors (who she met on the train from Tanzania, and I met at Easter) who I will be traveling with this coming weekend, and Elle, the South African woman they live with. We had a nice time, and those of us who remained late danced for several hours. I met some new people, including two Afghani guys working here, which was really interesting. A few of us left from there and decided to go to Rouge, a club in town, but when we got there changed our minds and just went home. It was probably for the best, as it was already 3 am. Saturday I had a few hours to relax and recover before attempting a transportation experiment I've been meaning to try: I took the new (shorter!) route to the road at the back of Naguru hill that Naseem showed me and caught a matatu to Kampala there, to meet Mike at his office in Nakasero, where many of the NGO offices and embassies are located. It was successful except for the bum navigation I was given by three fellow passengers, who were convinced I was heading someplace I had already assured them I was not, and failed to notice that the plot numbers were descending. Finally I ignored them, rapped on the window to stop the bus and got out, handed the conductor some money and began the long walk down the road in the other direction. (Now I know two things: where that taxi goes, and not to listen to fellow passengers.) I finally met Mike, and we headed off towards his house, which is out of town almost to Lake Victoria. It's a beautiful place on an acre of land with well-tended gardens, a view of the lake and a small round pool ('hippo pond') and even a fire pit. We chatted a bit, and then he played basketball while I read and took a nap. Later, Guy, who is English and working for a wildlife conservation organization, came over, and we had a braii - an African bbq. After dinner we took our beers down to the fire pit and spent a few hours talking around a bonfire, which was the most relaxing thing I've done in many months. Around 11, we tore ourselves away from the mesmerizing glow of the fire to attend a birthday party in town. I had no idea what to expect of this party, which was thrown by four foreign women working here that have birthdays in April, and had a theme of the movie 'Grease' It was quite a set-up, and I was regretful that I was almost too tired to enjoy it. They'd rented a sort of house/office for the occasion, and had really decked the place out. Inside there was a room where the movie was showing, flanked by a decorated table with a huge birthday cake. An adjoining room had a table laden with appetizers and flowers, and on the balcony, there was a DJ and a dance floor. The 'birthday girls' all had pink poodle skirts made for the occasion, and many other people came in varying degrees of theme costume. Off the balcony was a drinks tent and many candlelit tables dotting the lawn, each with flowers and snacks, and pathways lined with citronella candles. I'd have to say it was one of the swankest birthday parties I've ever been to, and it must have required a lot of planning. There was a good crowd when we arrived around midnight, about 65% foreigners and 35% Ugandans who mostly seemed to know each other through NGO or embassy work, or simply the fact that it's a rather small city. Had I not been so tired, this would have been a dream for me, because I could have danced and met tons of new people. Instead, I was tired from the late night and the long, relaxing day and in no mood to mingle or dance, so I sort of played wallflower a lot of the night, and watched the party happen like an out of body experience until one of the three people I knew there distracted me from my daze. I did meet a few people, danced a little, and enjoyed it, I just wish I'd had more energy. We left late with a group of people going to watch the US college basketball semi-finals on DSTV at a house one street away from mine, but I couldn't muster the energy, so Mike dropped me home. Sunday I slept reasonably late, did a quick house cleanup and walked to the supermarket and then Naseem and Ann (her friend I met on Friday night) came over to swim. Several of my co-workers had told me they wanted to come and swim on Sunday afternoon, and I sent them SMS messages to invite them but none came. So we had a girls day -- swam and listened to music, and then cooked together, had dinner and then watched a tape of Sex in the City. When they left, around 8, my mom and friend Jenn both got online so I chatted with them, and then it was time for bed. Unfortunately, I didn't get much sleep due to the neighborhood dog chorus, who like to practice their wailing at ungodly hours of the evening. Not only does Sancho join in, due to all the open windows and the high ceilings and hardwood floors, I get his barks in echoing surround sound. Once again I will be exhausted for the hash run tonight.

The internet access here was screwy all last week, and really frustrating me. It was working great last night, and so I had high hopes that the problem, whatever it was, was fixed. Today it's back to its old tricks again. I think it must be a bandwidth issue, and not a problem with my computer or the server or wireless router here, because in the evenings and weekends it works better than in the day. The strange thing is that messenger will connect, so it taunts me by telling me how many new messages I have, but the email client won't open to let me read it. Occasionally, a page will open, but then it's so slow the next page will time out before it connects. Since I’ve been trying to do research in the mornings, this is a really annoying situation, and I'm not sure what to do about it.



I haven't mentioned hair lately, but there is some small bit of good news: a few more patches have sprouted since I’ve been here, and the existing ones are growing like mad: my mom trimmed those before I left, and I've had to trim them twice again in the 2 months I've been here. If only that growth would be spread out across my head more slowly, instead of concentrated into a few fast-growing patches, I'd be one very happy lady. But at least the emergence of some more fuzz on my head and more eyelash and eyebrow hair is positive, albeit slow, progress. It would be nice to know whats making the change in my body, so that I could encourage it, but I'm no longer indulging theories and experiments to figure it out, because that was disrupting my life and driving me crazy. Something good is happening and I hope it continues.

I started reading Dan Brown's 'Angels and Demons' on Saturday, which is sort of eerie because it takes place when a Pope has just died and the conclave is taking place to choose a new one, and since the Pope died on Saturday night, that is what is taking place right now. I also recently read a different book that described some of the politics around this event. Because of this recent influx of information, I'm taking much more of an interest in the process than I otherwise would have, as a non-Catholic and essentially a non-practicing Christian. It's eerie when life matches fiction like this.

This week will also be a short one- I'm scheduled to visit Murchison Falls National Park, in the northwest of the country, this weekend with a group of 8 people on an organized tour. We leave from Kampala early Friday morning and return on Sunday, and sleep in a backpacker camp in the park. I'm really looking forward to it.

28 March Red Dust, and More Bananas...

I read somewhere recently how Uganda is known for its bananas. I found this exceptionally amusing, given that I spent 2 years previously in one of the Caribbean's leading banana producing islands. Coffee is one of Uganda's big exports as well, and of course, like other coffee-producing countries, hardly any Ugandans drink their own real coffee; they drink instant. At least here it's Africafe and not nescafe. I can't seem to escape bananas. It's a good thing I like them!

Friends here have recently been asking me what stands out the most to me, or similarly, what I will remember most about Uganda when I've gone. These are valid, and difficult questions, and I find them really difficult to answer. I've spent the weekend with these repeated questions lingering at the back of my mind. I think to the first, what was most striking when I got here, I would say it was the green-ness. Kampala is a very green city, with grass and trees and flowerinng plants everywhere in the vicinity of the seven hills of Kampala and beyond. I haven't travelled widely yet, but I know to the far southwest towards Rwanda, Tanzania and the DRC it is cool and green and there is abundant farming of things I wouldn't have associated with this part of Africa: apples, strawberries and pears. The Fort Portal area where I visited was also quite green, with rainforest-y swamplands, many crater lakes and tea plantations, and on the way to Masaka when I visited the equator, the rolling hills were home to scrub brush and occasional papyrus swamps, as well as fields of maize and root vegetables.

To the second question, what I will remember when I leave here, I'm still not sure. I've given really pathetic typical tourist answers so far: the weather, the fruits, the friendly people, but the answer is much more complex, and I don't know that I'll know it before I'm gone. The closest guess I can give is that it won't be any one obvious thing, but more likely a small collection of minutiae that make up the unspoken details of a life somewhere--the practically indiscernable way a Ugandan says "mmmm" in several different ways that can mean "Yes," "No," and "I'm not sure," depending on context; the way the weather changes from scorching, dry, hot to chilly, windy and rainy in the course of an hour; the look of quiet acceptance and despair when someone goes to visit someone who is "sick," (usually with HIV), the odd mentality of greeting someone by their skin color and not understanding how this might be offensive; the way visitors to an african home are expected to eat and drink (asking permission is rude) whatever is available; the meticulous cleanliness of people who live in a country where everything, everywhere, is constantly covered in a thin layer of red dirt.

This is how I've spent my Easter weekend: Thursday night we had our work dinner, and I already wrote about that and Friday. Saturday Julian came by to finally see my place, and he left to go watch rugby finals. I decided to enjoy the nice afternoon at home, and read and swam a bit before going to see the end of the second half of the second championship match. It was great fun and very crowded. Beer flowed, music played and people started dancing as the match ended, and the dancing and drinking continued until late in the night. I stayed along with friends and acquaintances until after 11, dancing on the grass on the rugby pitch. When we finally decided to leave and head to Julian and Julius's neighborhood pub, GC, fireworks started and we laid on the grass to watch them. Later, we joined a sizable crowd at the small pub and I got a ride home around 2. Sunday morning I woke late (after the early morning barkup call, a daily fixture at 7:30 am), and dressed and headed by bodaboda to a brunch in lower Kololo, at the base of the hill closer than mine to Kampala (where the Thai restaurant and irish pub are located). Christine, a doctor from UW and Seattle working at the hospital here, lives there with several canadian visitors, a south african girl and briefly, her husband who had to return back to Seattle. They had a nice gathering with 15 or so people: Americans, Canadians, S. Africans and Ugandans. We ate, chatted and then continued to sit and talk until late in the afternoon. Afterwards, a girl called Naseem who lives near me walked home with me (an hour's trek) to show me another route to get home. I learned which side of the hill I live on, and how to get there from the other side--I had never approached home from that angle before. With no transportation and no one to guide me on a regular basis, I live a pretty sheltered existence. I chatted with mom, aunt carol and grandma online last night, and went to bed after reading and watching a movie.

Today I woke late again, and have spent the day reading, swimming, cooking and chatting online--a typical day these days. My goal for today is to finish the Dark Star Safari book. I'm listening to reggae and half-reading, half-waiting for friends from work (Julian, Ivan, Martyn) who told me 2 hours ago they are coming over. I have to leave in about an hour to go the hash run with Julius, so I wonder if they will actually make it. I have my doubts. I am not good at waiting, and am extremely frustrated these days with "African time." Most people don't know me as extraordinarily punctual, but my typical 5-15 minute cushion of lateness pales in comparison to the "2 hours late or not at all" mentality here. Making plans is a horrendously trying exercise that makes me sometimes just prefer to stay home alone. In fact, I wonder if it won't have transformed me into a punctual person. The re has been a visible trend of late--the more late people are, the more on time and therefore irritated I am. Yesterday I left a half hour early for the brunch, having no idea if I'd find a bodaboda on Easter Sunday, or if they'd know how to get to my destination. The first boda I got, at the end of my street, had no idea where Kololo was. It's not more than 5 km, so it must have been my accent. I even showed him in writing (the directions in an SMS), though. So he took me to the market, where I found another boda who claimed to know the place. I read him the directions, showed him the directions, and he took me to the right area. Then he took the first right, and I reminded him we needed to have taken the third left. He didn't get it. I told him turn around to the main road. After several more similar incidents, I showed him the directions again. He said we were on the wrong road off the airstrip, and went to lower kololo terrace, where i had first told him to go. Then he drove around, turning randomly on roads, rather than following the instructions we were given. I kept telling him we were going to a house, on a road off of that road, but he proceeded to keep looking for plot numbers on that road, not following directions. I called Christine, got directions, had her talk to him, and then a few minutes later, she called again, hearing the motor, to tell us we were on the right road. After all of that, I paid him 500 extra, even though he seemed to have gotten lost on purpose, or was just incredibly stupid. He demanded an additional 1,000, and I just laughed and went inside. My friends just arrived, so I'll write more later.

25 March Tom Waits, Chicken Soup, and Rain

It's Good Friday, a public holiday here in Uganda, and I'm celebrating by doing absolutely nothing. I woke late (well, not counting waking coughing to the muezzin's obnoxiously loud call to prayer at some nearby mosque, and the 7:30 am bark-up call for pee and food), and have since been checking email and reading, enjoying the breeze until a storm recently rolled in. And coughing, but less than previously.

For me the celebration began last night with the quarterly dinner with the staff of the Naguru Teenage Centre. This is oe of the perks to working there, a really nice touch in a low-budget nonprofit anywhere, but especially in E. Africa. Edith is a very nurturing boss in some ways, and does her best to support staff and make it feel like family. Normally, these dinners are low-key and held at her house, but this one was made into a more special affair to celebrate the graduation of five staff members from a counselling diploma program recently. Staff members are encouraged to study, and given leeway to leave work and even a small stipend toward tuition, which is an extremely generous perk to working there. Edith's dream for her staff members is that they all study and go for every opportunity available to them. So at any rate, last evening found us all piled in the staff bus, decked in our cocktail party finests, to the Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala, a pretty nice place. We had an upstair terrace, overlooking the dining area by the pool, uncovered. The moon was out and full, and the sky was luckily clear (an iffy prospect in the rainy season). We had beverages, introductions by the graduates, and a buffet dinner that was one of the largest and nicest meals I've had in my time here. Most of the staff, who tease me constantly about not eating enough at lunch (I really don't eat much -- it's hot, heavy, starchy and bland, and I eat for subsistence but dont much enjoy the lunches) could hardly believe the amount of food I mounded on my plate and consumed. I hadn't eaten much this week, due to being sick, and one friend commented that I'd eaten for the period from last Sunday to this Sunday and could now just rest all weekend and not have to worry about cooking! Too funny. Anyway, after the dinner there were graduate speeches (Ugandans love to make speeches), and then speeches of congratulations and praise from the audience members (similar to the wedding reception I attended) and then there was some fun: a "hot potato"-like game where a wrapped box filled with papers containing a question or activity to be performed was passed from person to person, table to table, and the person holding it when the music stopped had to draw a paper and perform the act request. This was fun until the sound system died, and then people started singing songs, which was quite entertaining. At this point there was beer and wine and cake, and things got a bit rowdier, and the crowd began dwindling (the younger and more religious going home) until there was just a small group of us. Despite having a lingering cough, I took a matatu with them to Julian and Julius's neighborhood pub and stayed for about 2 hours until I got a ride home from their friend George. It was a nice night.

After spending several days home alone suffering from the flu, I was sort of dreading the prospect of this empty weekend gaping before me with no plans. I'm really enjoying living in this house, yet sort of fearful it will make me into a recluse: it's much easier to chill out here, solo, and relax than to go to all the effort it takes to try and create a social circle for yourself in a place where you're still new. It's especially tempting on a day like today, where it started out hazy, the sun peeking out and looking promising for a while this morning, but the afternoon has turned thunderstormy and gray. I graduated from the upstairs balcony with laptop and coffee to the downstairs balcony with book and OJ, and then to dining table with book, chicken soup and Tom Waits drowning out the rain, wind and thunder. Now it's just gray, and I've switched to tea and digestive biscuits, getting ready to launch into this book again. Reading this morning of Theroux's travels in E. Africa has reminded me of a few details of life here I haven't given due time to describing, but have meant to.

First is handwashing and hand-eating. At most Ugandan (and I'm led to believe, E. African) eating establishments, there is a jug, basin or jerrican of water and a nub of soap for diners to wash before eating. This is partly due to an awareness of hygiene in a rather dusty and harsh environment, but more because food, especially more traditional types like millete porridge, fish and meat, are eaten with the hands. There is a place called Joy's in town where I sometimes go with Joel &/or Felix that for 4,000 shillings (less than $2) serves a very large fried whole tilapia, avocado slices, cooked greens and cassava or rice, which is inevitably very good but too much for me to eat. There is no silverwear to be found in this place, and I would not attempt to ask for it and risk being stared at in horror. At lunch, we use forks, and at Edith's house, silverware is used. At the wedding reception, forks were optional. The more rural the occasion, the less likely silverware will appear. I've read and been told that in some places in Uganda and other places in E. Africa, one should not eat or pass food with the left hand, as this is considered the one that is used for toilet functions. So it is mostly the right hand used for eating.

He describes how the villages in Uganda had much more of a burned out, abandoned, hopeless, temporary feel to them than those in rural Tanzania, despite Uganda's more stable economy and government, as a result of the long difficult Obote and Amin regimes and the terror they weilded on the land and population. This reminded me of reading about this period in the Abssynian Chronicles, where the characters travelled to the north in the early days after the Obote 2 regime (just as brutal as Amin's), and along the roads, where there are wooden stands erected for familes to sell the surplus from their small subsitence crops of yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, watermelon, potatoes, bananas,and beans (which makes me wonder how anyone sells anything since everyone is growing the same things), they were instead filled with human skulls, lined up for identification and as a memorial by the living to show the absolute demolishment of their families, homes and lives. On my trip to Fort Portal a few weeks ago, this struck me as we passed through tiny villages and I saw these same stands, empty or filled with sparse produce, and envisioned the horrifying thought of seeing them lined with skulls. It is beyond my comprehension to think of what that period was like. I haven't spoken about it with many people, because many people do not speak about that period, but some have told me their families were exiled to Kenya or Rwanda, and others have confessed to losing family members. Some still have family members in the war-torn area in the north, and cannot go to see them, or know of their safety. These people cannot sleep in their own villages at night for fear of being murdered, their children kidnapped and taken for child soliders in the ongoing guerilla war by the LRA against the government that has claimed countless lives and kept millions more in refugee camps for more than a decade, living on next to nothing in a hot, dry war-torn zone where little grows and no one goes, save UN jeeps and relief trucks. I haven't been there, and will probably not have reason to go. Part of me knows this is something no one should ever see, let alone experience. But part of me wants to go there, to try and help, to at least see it and make it real. Part of me thinks it is something every human should see, so that they never again take for granted what they have.

I didn't mean to go off on that topic, but with the world paying only scant attention to what is happening in Sudan, Uganda's refugees have been all but forgotten. The situation is nearly as bad here--at least peace has been declared in Sudan. And then there's Liberia. And Eritrea. All these other conflict zones I'm now hearing about, facing similar situations. In the 50+ years the developed world has been attempting humanitarian aid as a profession, and there is still famine, poverty, strife, war and conflict--now, it seems, more than ever. It makes me wonder why I, and other people, want to do this kind of work, and if we can ever make any progress. The simple fact is that there's no easy, blanket solution. Some development projects work; some don't, for the same simple reasons that things succeed and fail everywhere: motivation, planning and follow-through. We're humans, and we all make mistakes. In my mind, it's better to risk mistakes in helping improve someone's standard of living than to risk mistakes in helping to sell some people more things they don't need. But that's just me. (And I'm someone who purchases and owns things she doesn't need, like anyone else.)

But back to Easter weekend. It's still pretty wide open, with enough space for exciting plans to miraculously (in the spirit of the occasion, I suppose) appear, yet leaving time for necessary final flu-recovery. I've just been invited to a Sunday Easter brunch with an expat crew who work at Mulago hospital. There is a rugby semi-final match tommorrow. If the sun ever comes out, i will swim and maybe others will join me. There is talk of going to a club Saturday night.

Next Tuesday and Thursday I have a few of my bigger interviews scheduled, and a few more supposed to be interspersed in the week as time allows with board members and clinic administrators. I'm now waiting for Edith, between juggling fieldwork and administration, to make phone calls to some of her key contacts to set up remaining appointments, and I hope this will happen soon. The clock is ticking, but slowly the project is coming along. My research on the possibility and options for a website continues.

Happy Easter, everyone. And may all your eggs be the yummy-yet-nasty, too-sweet Cadbury kind.

23 March Still Coughing, After all These Days

Late last week I began to get that tired, achy feeling where you know you're about to get the flu. Large amounts of vitamin c administered after-the-fact did not fend it off, and the situation was unhelped by me going out Friday night (though not late) and attempting to host a party on Saturday. More on that in a bit.

First, I want to talk about politics, and to commemorate the halfway point of my time here (Monday). Elections are coming up in 2006, so the political season is well underway. This time, it's historic, because political parties are being allowed for the first time in many years. After decades of brutal military dictatorship, current President Museveni and his leadership outlawed political parties until 2006 (a sort of kinder, gentler dictatorship). He is running again, but after nearly 20 years of rule, some say it is time for him to move on. Yesterday there was a loud political rally in the Nakawa Market - a large outdoor market near the Naguru Teenage Centre where I occasionally buy produce, from early afternoon until late in the evening, which I could hear from home as though it was in the yard. Tonight there is another, and I can hear it through closed doors and open windows, for all the world sounding like fire and brimstone preaching of an old-time tent revival. Some of the debates I've heard on the radio have been in English, and so I've understood a bit, and have had friends here try to explain to me the differences in the parties. Like politics anywhere, they are hard to spot between rhetoric and bashing the other candidates.

The National AIDS Conference was this week, and sadly, I wansn't able to go. There was a hefty fee, and only staff were included in Naguru's delegation. They had a table, and there were 8 different information sessions, I'm told. (Pride point: the staff made new brochures, using photos I took and Publisher, which I taught them to use. Pat, Pat, goes my hand on my own back...) The timing worked out such that I got really sick with the flu on Sunday, and spent the three days entirely at home, resting, watching movies, drinking tea and juice, and reading. So I was grateful for the guilt-free sick time. In those 3 days, I finished two books, got halfway through a third, chatted with friends and family online, and watched 6 movies (three of them were the entire Star Wars trilogy, all in a row on Sunday). I also played many games of "ball" and "stick" with an increasingly needy Sancho. Today I wasn't feeling entirely well, but went to work just to be around other people and motivate myself to do something more productive, which is rather difficult on the cusp of a four-day holiday (Easter) weekend. I did leave the house Monday evening, to go to the St. Patrick's day hash run. I knew I shouldn't but i *had* to--it was St. Patricks, and there were rumours of draught Guinness, which turned out to be false, though there were free t-shirst. I made a deal with myself (a clear sign I'd been spending too much alone) that I could go if I walked, instead of ran. This was a wise decision, because this one was extra long and hilly, with a mid-way stop for green beer and drinking songs at the Irish Ambassador's residence. While walking I befriended a nice Italian woman, Nicoletta, I'd seen at the previous run, who is also newly arrived and working here. She gave me a ride home.

Today I had an interesting lesson in idioms. I told a board member that I wanted another day to tweak the questions I was to ask her, and told her she's the first one I'm speaking to, and she may be a bit of a 'guinea pig.' The Danish volunteers were sitting nearby and asked me what that means, and feeling foolish, I explained that I guess it's a reference to animal testing, though I'd never really thought about it before. They laughed and told me that in Danish they have a similar expression, only theirs is 'test rabbit.' I guess we're all sort of sick, then.

Right, about the party. Well, since I don't want to talk about it I'll put it off til last and first say that I went to dinner on Friday night with some people I'd met before and some that I hadn't. I got back into touch with a friend of a friend, Mike, who I'd met when I first got here and not seen since. We spoke on Friday, him telling me he'd be busy with fieldwork and a friend's visit until mid-April and we could definitely get together then. I played the pity card, and he gave into my pathetic ploy, and invited me to his dinner plans that night. As it turns out, I'd met two others that were there previously (British guy, Belgian girl, both who visit prisons for the International Red Cross) and had heard about Kimberly, who works with Katrina, in whose house I currently live. (she'd been one who got the "do you know Lisa" call a few days previously when searching for the keys, so we had a laugh about that.) It was a nice group of 9 expats - 2 German, 3 British, 3 American and one Belgian - who met at a Thai restaurant about 3 neighborhoods closer to the city centre than where I live (an area called Kololo). It was a quite good restaurant, and since Thai is my absolute favorite, I hope to go back. Next door there is an Irish pub, which was featuring a big party for (the day after) St Pats, which cost 35,000 - close to $20 (including food and Guinness, which would have been a great deal had we not just had food and drinks). Several of our group had tickets and those of us who didn't decided instead to go to Just Kickin', a popular sportsbar in Kisemente, just a bit closer to where I live. (I would see the Irish bar Monday night at the Hash, anyway) We had a drink there and then Jenny, who was leaving the next day for Gulu to work with child soliders (as was Simon, for the Red Cross) and I shared a cab home. A reasonably quiet night, as I was home around 12 (knowing I was falling sick, I made this concession) but it was good to have socialized a bit in the expat scene and made some acquaintances if not friends. My experience here has been the opposite of many expats, in that I have to seek out the friendship of other foreigners since I'm surrounded by Ugandans. Now that I'm living alone, I have to seek out everyone. But after Saturday, I took comfort in the fact that I'd met some new foreigners to socialize with.

So, onto Saturday. Five staff members at the Teenage Centre where I work graduated the previous week, and as I was looking for an excuse to invite folks from work over, since it was nearby and they all knew it was big, had a pool, etc. I wanted to make a gesture of friendship and solidarity, and make a point that just because I'm a muzungu and I now live in a fancy house, I'm not all uppity. So I invited everyone to an afternoon pool party on Saturday, starting from about 2. I was ready by 1:30, as the sun went in and clouds rolled in, and drizzle started. Bad pool party mojo. Knowing African time, I sat and waited. And waited, and at 3, was wondering would anyone come? Bad weather continued, as it was cloudy and cool. At about 4, two American doctors that I know came, and soon after arrived the first carload of staff. It was mostly volunteers, who soon started acting bored. I'd asked folks to bring something to drink, and gone to a decent amount of trouble to plan, shop for and cook Ugandan foods, knowing that food, and not just snacks, are expected at Ugandan parties. I couldn't support the cost of the food and drinks, so said I'd have juice and coke and folks who wanted beer could please bring it. The first batch arrived mostly empty-handed, which was fine. (I'd made it clear that I didn't mind, just that there wouldn't be drinks if people didn't bring them.) We turned on music, chatted, and a few began kicking a soccer ball around. It seemed low key and a bit slow, but I assumed with the next car load it would pick up. A few more came, but one, Anna didn't return. She had a rugby match to referee, and said she'd be back. That wasn't to be, as I lost many of my closer friends, who'd said "I'll be there" to the lure of the rugby pitch. All afternoon and evening I got calls and SMS messages telling me "we're on our way." Some guys started watching a movie, I put out the banana cake and it was nearly devoured, and then some of the group left in the early evening, and we waited for a bit to serve food, for those who were "on the way." After a bit, I put out the food: rice, beans, chicken soup and a tray of salad (cabbage, carrot, cucumber and tomato)--simple but reasonably traditional and filling. One of the girls, Mary, helped me season the beans Ugandan style. I was complimented on my cooking, and people ate well. Sancho enjoyed the table scraps. Without drinks or the remainder of the crowd, things never really picked up. It was friendly, and quietly sociable, but hardly what I would even venture to call a party. Two guys who don't work at Naguru but are friends of staff (and consequently me), Andrew and Cosimus (sp?) stayed later than everyone, and we played cards and watched movies until after 10, which was the best part of the night. By 11, I was in pajamas, watching part of a movie until I fell asleep on the couch, just in case those "on their way" friends came. They never did. And they didn't apologise until today. In fact, no one called me for the next 3 days. Today, Henry said he was upset I hadn't told him I was sick or he'd have come to check on me. I laughed, as I wasn't aware I had to report my illness to get sympathy. I was hurt by the absences of my friends, particularly Julian, who had been my co-planner, and one of the graduates it was supposed to be for. None of them came. I'm disappointed, and though I'm not holding a grudge--these things happen, especially when you try something like this in another culture--but I'm not having another one.

So this is another four day weekend, and I have no plans. I hope that among the new people I met last weekend, and with the Danish volunteers back, I should be able to find some plans. Already the Naguru crew is clamoring for my time--wanting to make it up to me, I guess. Ivan wants to come swimming Friday. Julian wants to have drinks Friday night. Henry wants to drive me home after tomorrow's staff dinner and go for beers (provided I'm better). Thursday night I'll do, but the rest are on hold pending checking plans with my expat friends. I'm not feeling up to getting disappointed again this weekend. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll get included in someone's Easter celebration and if so I'll describe it. In the meantime, quality time with myself, Sancho and the new house this weekend means I finally feel at home here, and can sleep through the night without jumping every time I hear a strange noise or the dog barks. I now know he barks at everything, all the time, especially birds and other dogs barking. So it wakes me, but doesnt freak me out. The house is in a gated, walled compound, with a guard 24 hours a day. Plus there are locks and a big dog, so I feel safe. And lucky to be here. And ready for the next adventure...

Some books about Africa I've read or am reading while here (besides my travel guides): Abssynian Chronicles, Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown, and Elizabeth of Toro: The Odyssey of an African Princess. I'm about to start reading Sahara and Africa in Chaos: A Comparative History. I strongly recommend both the Abssynian Chronicles and Dark Star, so far, as great books, though they certainly mean more to me reading them in this context than they likely would have otherwise.

Today I got a lift to work with a neighbor who is a member of Parliament. This morning I was met at the gate by a clan of nearby children who have become my new fan club, but not in a cute way. They followed me up the hill this afternoon (I got off the boda boda at the steep hill of the construction detour), saying "bye muzungu" (the universal children's phrase for those who don't know English), and "give me money," followed by shouts of random denominations: "10,000? Ok, 1,000. 500. 15,000? 600." It was obvious these kids had no idea what these amounts meant, they just wanted them. I waved goodbye, and when Richard, the guard, closed the gate, i told him the things they'd been telling me, and that tomorrow I was going to tell them it's "bad manners" (a big expression here for anything rude or unseemly). He gave me a few Luganda phrases for go away and leave me, and they started sticking their hands under the gate, taunting me. He finally told the cheeky kids to go away or he'd beat them (in Luganda), which was followed by the patter of small feet running away from the gate. I bet they'll still be waiting for me in the morning.

17 March My First Crisis

Monday I went on my first Ugandan hash run on Monday in the outskirts of Kampala. It was a bit different than the one I'd done in Antigua, but that could partially have been because we got lost and were late to that one. For this one, I went with Julius (Julian from Naguru's twin brother), and arrived on time. We met at a supermarket and went running for about 5 miles (1 hour) on the Indiana Jones-esque narrow, rutted dirt roads in the area, as well as down even narrower walking trails through fields, over fences, on drainage pipes, and along a highway back to the meeting place at a supermarket and bar where there was trash talking, beer drinking, and finally, food. As a newcomer, I was forced to stand on a crate (along with about 8 others) and introduce myself. There was a set of questions newbies were supposed to answer, but the girls got "special" (read: harrassment) treatment. I got as far as, "My name is Deborah, I'm from the U.S. (loud cheer), I'm here working in an adolescent health clinic and.." insert comments from the peanut gallery. I guess here, it'd be the G-nut gallery.
"Are you married?" "No!" (cheers, as everyone before me had said yes, and one woman had her husband with her, which got her a beer poured on her head)
"Are you looking?" "No!" (Given the smart-ass group, I should have said, Depends who's asking, which is closer to the truth, anyway.) (boos)
Final catcall: "Are you rich?" "No!" (boos, and shouts to get down.)
After the introductions, they sang a song during which we had to chug our beers and if we didnt finish before the song was through, had to dump the remainder on our heads. Having been through this in Antigua, I chugged quickly.

I just got an email from my mom wishing me Happy St. Patrick's day. I hadn't realized that it was. The hash on Monday is going to be at an Irish pub, with draught Guinness (a big deal, as it is not normally here!), so I'll just celebrate then, I guess. Unless drinking a Nile Special Lager and watching "The Life of David Gale" on DVD can be considered celebrating. I came home from work tonight, swam for about a half hour, read for about a half hour, and then cooked a jambalaya-type thing for dinner. I was already showered and in pyjamas by the time I got mom's note about the holiday. Oh well.

At the hash I met some nice people, one of whom is the president of a local Rotary club. I told him that I was here on a small grant from the Seattle Rotary club, and he invited me to Tuesday night's meeting, at the Kampala Club. I agreed, especially since I've agreed to go and speak to the Seattle chapter upon my return, I thought that this was a very appropriate thing to do. Plus, Rotary people are usually very friendly and very involved in their communities--good people to know! So Tuesday I went to work more dressed up than usual, in a business-y tan sheaf dress with black sandals and a black jacket. After work, I took a boda-boda to Shanghai, the Chinese restaurant next to the Kampala Club where the meetings are held. Based on a previous meeting I'd been to in PA and the location, I assumed there'd be dinner. I also expected to give a brief introduction of myself. I was right on the second expectation, but wrong on the first. There were g-nuts on the tables, and members/guests purchased their own drinks. One thing that struck me as very Rotary but very un-African is that things moved like clockwork: the meeting started and ended exactly on time, to the minute. I did get to speak, and was allotted 3 minutes--enough to say who I am and how I came to be in Uganda and at the meeting, but not enough to mention that the UW is sending another intern this summer and they need funding for that person. I'll have to continue to work on contacts for that.

The meeting was nice, though, and afterwards I got a chance to meet and chat with several very nice members. One, a visitor from nearby Port Bell, invited me to his chapter's meeting next week, and then gave me a ride to Nakawa (near where I work) where I could catch a boda-boda home.

I did, and upon arrival, got to the door and opened my bag to find that the house keys were not clipped to the key clip inside the front pocket, where I'd put them. I remembered checking that they were there earlier in the day, and then wondered if maybe I'd moved them somewhere "safe." I dumped out the bag on the ground and searched it several times, my breathing growing more shallow as a panic rose inside. No luck. Only then I remembered the list they'd left me, including the number for the woman with the spare set of keys. I'd been reading it only that morning, and intended to go put the number in my phone, but got distracted by something and never did. I briefly entertained delusions of a Lassie-type episode where Sancho would fetch me the paper from the coffee table and hand push it through the kitchen window's burglar bars to me, before thinking of the much gloomier reality: It was 8 pm, and I had only a recollection of Carolina pointing down a street and telling me that Lisa lived in number 29. (Or was it 28? Damn memory!) The streets up here in this neighborhood are dirt, and they are named and all-but deserted at night. The houses are all ensconced in walled, gated compounds, most with guards. And dogs. And big cars, so no one really walks, except the household help, and me. Some are not numbered, and often the numbers are in no apparent sequence. So I wandred maybe .5 km down my street, down another street and finally to her street, Carolina's voice echoing in my mind as I tried to remember, was it #28 or #29? I tried also to breathe deeply and silence the voices screeching, "What if you can't find it???" in the back of my mind. The alternative was not good. I'd called Edith, my local mother-figure, before I left the house, and she told me if I couldn't locate the spares, I could just come home. So it was great that I wasn't without a plan B, but the problem would have been getting there. Boda-bodas up here at night are very few. I am female, white, and was wearing dressy clothes and worse, had my laptop in my backpack. I was a huge target. I feared to stray out of this neighborhood, because on the way between here and the highway, at the bottom of the hill, is sort of a rough village. Friends at work had told me in no uncertain terms not to walk there at night. So I didn't want to consider plan B.

My best hope was to locate #28 or #29 and see what I could find out, and maybe if it wasn't the right house, they would know the neighbors. I was 85% sure it was #29, but first located 28. There was a clear trend that odd #s were on the left, evens on the right, which helped, but across from 28 were 2 gates with no numbers, and though there were guardhouses, I hesitated to knock when there was no number. (My own house has no number on the gate, however.) Further down the road seemed rather dark, and I was starting to get freaked out, not knowing how safe I really was. I decided to knock on #28, since it was numbered, lit and had a guard on duty, according to the security sign. The guard opened for me, and I explained I was looking for Lisa. He went to check, and came back with the woman of the house, Liz. I briefly explained my story, and she took pity on me and let me in. She didn't work where Lisa works, and didn't know her, but (as a white woman, Canadian) felt I definitely shouldn't be out there on my own in the streets wandering. She and her daughter adopted me for the next hour or so, offered me a drink, clarified my story with me, and then got on the phone, calling friends who knew friends who knew friends--the good ol' muzungu network--until they tracked down Lisa. She wasn't at home anyway, but out to dinner. So we chatted until she arrived. Turns out the daughter, Tracy, is a journalism grad who's been here for about 9 months and is working at an expat magazine, The Eye. She's well connected socially, likes going out, and also doesn't have a car. So I could have a party friend. They were both so incredibly nice and I feel beyond grateful to have met and befriended them. Beyond their help, it was also nice to have met some neighbors.

So I got back to the house, but didn't sleep well that night. Sancho and other nearby dogs barked all night, and since I was already a bit sleep-deprived, it only fed my paranoid delusions of something terrible happening if someone found the key (guard dog and guard and locked, barred windows and doors aside). Don't freak--it's a very distant possibility that worried me mostly because I was so tense and over-tired. Which became worse after being up nearly the whole night. Margaret, who cleans the house, arrives at 8 am Wednesdays, so I'd set the alarm to wake for her. I couldn't go back to sleep once she was here, so I drank a pot of coffee and got to work. I felt ok in the morning, but fueled by not much more than caffeine, I decided to take my malaria meds and vitamin tablet. Bad idea. My stomach started aching something fierce! Exhausted and ill, and not feeling comfortable leaving the key with Margaret to leave with Stephen (the gardener) to get in the afternoon, due to the previous day's fiasco, I just decided to stay home. I finished up some work, did some reading, and watched a movie. At night, I drank a beer, took Tylenol PM and went to bed early. Thankfully, I slept for 9 uninterupted hours, aided by a long rainshower. It was still gray, cool and rainy this morning, and really hard to get out of bed. I hope to sleep well again tonight. I hesitated to tell the key story, so that no one would worry about me. Really, there's no need. I only told it because the randomness of the neighbors at #28 taking me in and actually finding this needle in a haystack person with the keys for whom I only know her first name and where she works, was pretty incredible. The keys were not at Naguru (I called yesterday, and checked today myself), and I haven't heard back yet from the Rotary President, who I've asked to check with the restaurant for me.

Today my friend Alex, who lives in Florence, Italy, wrote and told me a travel agent friend of hers found her a ticket from Rome to Entebbe for a pretty good deal. I wrote back to tell her about costs and places to visit, so she can decide if she can swing it. I hope so, not only because it would be so fantastic to see her and share this beautiful house, but because it would make travelling to my other intended destinations much more fun as well. It would make sense for someone to visit me from Europe, rather than the US, since it's about half the cost.

Today I also gave out invitations to my pool party on Saturday. I decided to have a little swim party/get together to celebrate my new place and congratulate the 5 staff members from Naguru who graduated. I also invited Devin and Mark, Felix and Joel (though he will be in Kenya), Ann, George (Julian's friend who has driven me home both of my late nights out) and Peter's friend Andrew, sort of a friend to Naguru staff. That's a little more than 30 people, but I'm guessing maybe half will come. Should be fun.



13 March Home Alone

I moved into my new place on Wednesday, so the week has been rather chaotic. Tuesday night was a big football match: Manchester United vs. Milan in the FA cup. Sadly, Man U lost, and I lost a lot of sleep, because I had to pack late that night and get up very early in the morning to get a ride with my stuff to the clinic. I had intended to move the previous day, but Tuesday was a holiday, and I only found out on Monday afternoon that it was International Women's Day, and therefore I wouldn't have a ride to work--no ride, no moving my stuff. So I spent all day reading and playing with Jonah, which helped ease his sadness a bit. He hasn't been taking the news of my move well at all--there have been lots of tears.

So I moved! I spent two days here with Katrina, John, their two-year old son JR and Carolina, their nanny, who is from Colombia, and a friend of the family. It was rather chaotic because they were scrambling to finish up work and get packed to leave. Thursday was Carolina's birthday, so we had a nice dinner at home amidst the packing frenzy, and they left early Friday morning. None of us slept much because JR and Sancho, sensing the chaos, didn't sleep much. Friday I worked and went out til the wee hours at a graduation party for a co-worker and friend, Julian. Yesterday I spent the day getting the final low-down on how everything works around here from Carolina, as well as watching movies and swimming. Went to the rugby club for a few beers with friends last evening, but skipped out on Julian's celebration part 2 going clubbing. I needed some sleep. This morning, the ongoing conspiracy to deprive me of sleep continued as a co-worker decided it was a good idea to phone me at 7:45 am. Argh. So today is for relaxing and catching up on sleep. I'm reading, swimming, watching movies, playing around online. Some friends might come over later, or they might not. Either way, I'm not leaving the house.

Last weekend was really fun. I left Friday morning at 8 on the post office bus from Kampala. They have these really nice coaches with overhead racks and big seats that leave at scheduled times for a set price, stopping at several points along the way to deliver mail to rural post offices. I took 4.5 hours to Kyegegwa, a tiny village in southwest Uganda on the way to Fort Portal. There I met my friend Felix, who works for a deaf project in that district which helps to improve opportunities in area schools for deaf children. When I met Felix at the wedding a few weeks ago, I told him I'd brought some pencils and wanted to give them to a school. We arranged that I'd come and meet the kids that day and deliver my small donation in person. The school itself is about 4 km off the highway, so we went on the school's motorcycle. I met the head teacher and saw the main school building and some of the regular students, then went to the newer building where the deaf children have their classes. There is also a newly built dormitory for them to board, since many of them come from far away, and travel is expensive and inconvenient. The kids were waiting for us, and assembled quickly. We did some introductions, with Felix translating for me and the head teacher, and then each student introduced themself with their sign name. Felix suggested that I needed a sign name and they should make one for me: they chose a gesture that indicates my two pairs of earrings. I was flattered and excited to have a new sign name. I got to show off my meager sign language skills and spell out my name in the ASL alphabet (Felix had taught me good afternoon and thank you as well), and the two children who wrote my name on the board as I spelled it got an award: some temporary tatoos I'd brought. I demonstrated by applying them to the 2 girls, and gave the rest of the package to the teacher, who will use them in place of gold stars for good work. They seemed happy with the pencils, though I felt like it was pretty lame and wished I had much more to give. The school has only a few benches and a chalkboard, and the dorm is just bunk beds and mattresses. There's no running water, no electricity. It was a real awakening for the city girl muzungu.

After the kids left for lunch, Felix and I went back to the village, I met some kids while he did some work, and then we caught another bus to Fort Portal, which is further west in the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). I was really looking forward to seeing the Rwenzoris because I know that they're big and imposing, some of them glaciated and up to 14,000 feet. (Sadly, I dont have the proper gear with me to attempt a climb with one of the guide services, but if I come back someday, I'll come prepared!) From the town, you could only see green, but it was so refreshing to see mountains, and reminded me of course of Seattle. Fort Portal, which my guidebook calls Fort "Pot-hole," is sort of a sleepy little mountain tourist town, with a decent variety of small hotels and restaurants. It's surrounded by tea plantations ("shambas") so there is a rural farm atmosphere in addition to the tourist draw of the nearby national parks: Semiliki National Park, Semiliki Wildlife Preserve, and Kibale National Park, as well as nearby crater lakes. Felix had been there for a work conference before and so we stayed at a small, cheap guesthouse/cafe he'd been to before, with shared bathrooms. Once we got there, we were officially tourists, and encountered some of the typical minor travel snafus that make for good stories later.

First, the guidebook recommended a few good places to get Indian, and as Ugandan food is very bland, I welcomed the chance to have some spicy food and Felix agreed. The woman at the hotel told us one was closed, but the other was definitely still there, serving Indian. We walked to the other side of town, found the place and sat down, only to discover the menu was just typical Ugandan fare. After a debate with the waitress, who had no idea what we were talking about, and considering the other options were probably the same, we stayed and had some food and beers. We went back and went to bed early, knowing we'd have a full day in the morning, since we hadn't yet chosen our destination. I didn't sleep well, as I woke to the sound of something scratching near my head. Thinking it was a mouse, I quickly got my maglight from my bag, and discovered an enormous cockroach inside the mosquito net with me. I wanted to be tough but I hate the little buggers so much, and have a serious aversion to them anywhere near my sleeping body. I cowered at the other end of my bed, light beaming on the similarly frozen insect, and seconds passed like hours as I tried to strategize. Felix woke up, and played the hero, though he didn't succeed at killing it. We turned on the light and waited for it to come out; when it didn't, he went back to sleep and I tossed and turned, finally succumbing to sleep and nightmares about cockroaches crawling on me. I don't think it returned.

In the morning, we had eggs and (instant) coffee and tried to find out information about transport to our possible destinations. I had three places in mind and left it to Felix and the ease of transportation to decide, as he had a tighter budget and a better understanding of how things worked than me. We couldn't find out much about travel to Semiliki, which was our original destination, and since Edith had warned me excessively about how bad the roads were on that side (especially now in the rainy season), we opted to head the other direction towards the Crater Lakes and Kibale, where there were more attractions to choose from. We figured we'd get there and then see what we saw, depending on local information and transport. We got on a taxi headed for Bigodi, where we intended to drop our stuff at a cheap guesthouse listed in the Lonely Planet, and see a small wildlife preserve that boasted hundreds of birds and many kinds of primates. After that, I hoped to convince Felix to go see Kibale with me, despite its heftier price tag. The taxi turned out to be the single scariest public transport of my life: a white-knuckle journey at breakneck speeds (in excess of 80km/hr) down a rugged, rutted murram (red dirt) village road, veering dangerously off the side to play chicken with another taxi. Felix asked the driver twice to slow down and he laughed; we picked up an older woman who began screeching relentlessly at him to slow down or let her off, which only seemed to egg her on. Felix and I had made the mistake of sitting in the front, next to the driver, with full view of what seemed like imminent death. I held my breath, hung on, and cursed silently in every langauge that I know, and whispered "Catonda wange!" (Good Lord!) to Felix, who concurred. It was the longest, yet fastest, 35 km ride in a "death taxi" I ever hope to take. Somehow I fear it's not the last, though... He did slow for some children and for a family of chimps, including mothers with children, that crossed the road at some tea plantations near Kibale (known for its chimp tracking). We got out in Bigodi, and found the office for the preserve. There we found out our guesthouse was no longer open, and checked out the new one on premises, which was twice as expensive. We decided instead to see the preserve and then head on our way back towards Fort Portal, intending to stay at one of the guesthouses closer to Kibale. On the 3 hour walk in a rainforest/swamp area (extremely dry for the beginning of the wet season), we saw 4 kinds of primates--red-headed colobus monkeys, gray-cheeked something-or-others, a shy black and white variety, and a chimp--and about 50 of the 180 birds known to live in the area. It was a nice introduction to the local wildlife and we both enjoyed it. We decide to walk until a taxi passed, as they are scarce in that area. We passed through a few small villages until we reached the entrance to Kibale, and caught a taxi. We'd hoped to stay in a guesthouse along the way, but there were no signs, so we presumed it had also closed down. (Damn Lonely Planet!) We quickly devised plan #3: take the taxi to CVK resort, which purportedly had cheap rooms available and was by Lake Nyabikere. After walking about 5 km in the midday sun on the hot, dry road, we were ready for some cold drinks and food, so we planned to get lunch, drop our stuff in a room, and then hire bikes and head back to Kibale to see the chimps at sunset. Having seen some primates in the morning, I was fired up about the chance to see more, as well as some other wildlife, and offered to foot the hefty entrance fee for the rare opportunity. However, it was not to be. We reached CVK, and as promised, it was by a lake and had rooms and a restaurant, but prices were more than double what was listed in the guidebook, and clearly targeted for muzungus. We had lunch and cold drinks, and got the chance to see some incredibly cute vervet monkeys playing in the trees beside the restaurant. Having no choice but to continue consulting the now-distrusted guidebook, we decided to go further into the crater lakes region about 5 km and try our luck at Lake Nkoruba, hoping there'd be rooms at a rate close to the one listed in the book. After another long, hot walk uphill through tea plantations and past several beautiful crater lakes, we knew we began to beseech the travel gods for an end to our wandering--we knew we couldn't take much more walking. We finally reached Lake Nkoruba (and boy was I grateful for Felix's local language abilities as we had to stop several times along the way to clarify directions) and found that there were rooms and they fell into the affordable category. Thunder bellowed and clouds rolled in; we put our bags down in our thatched-roof banda just as rain began to fall. We got something to drink, showered (outdoor bucket contraption) and settled in to relax. We had the place practically to ourselves--the two other guests returned late and left early the next morning. The lodge consists of several bandas on a hill overlooking a view of the surrounding area, with the Rwenzori mountains and Fort Portal in the distance. A short walk downhill is the lake, where there is a small cabin and we saw two kinds of monkeys in the trees (Black and white and vervet). We had dinner by hurricane lamp (no running water and no electricity), listened to Felix's small portable radio, and went to sleep early. The food was the best we had on the trip. It was cool and dark due to the rainshower, and we slept late.

After breakfast and a walk to the lake, we ventured off to find a taxi to Fort Portal, and found a local car heading there that took us for a small fee. We immediately found a bus leaving for Kampala, and jumped on. It was crowded with people and luggage, as many people were returning to work in the city after visiting the village for the weekend. The conductor found me a seat and promised Felix one soon, which turned out to be a lie. Crowded in a middle seat between a sleeping man and a mother of two small children, I realized the truth of the African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child." I had the four-year old on my lap, in addition to my backpack, for most of the trip, and caused a small battle to erupt when I produced one lollipop (given to me by Jonah) for them to share. It was a long, hot 6 hour journey. I took took the taxi home from Kampala, greeted the family, showered, ate and collapsed from exhaustion. That left little time for recovery until my move on Wednesday.

Prior to my trip, I had a week of stomach upset. The previous weekend, I'd been out til the wee hours at a danceclub with some co-workers, and came home and slept most of the day Sunday. When I woke, I was exhausted and overheated, and I had some chapattis and ground beef with Cyrus and Edith, which immediately felt like a mistake--too heavy and greasy for my tired and confused (and usually non-beef eating) body. I felt ill and tried to sleep it off before leaving for Naguru. Every Sunday night at 8 there is a radio call-in show on adolescent reproductive health issues, and once a month it is held in a community. I'd been invited to take photos (my second one), so I had to drag myself there. It's interesting, despite being in Luganda so that I understand very little of what goes on. That night, I spoke to my mom on the phone, watched some soccer, and went to bed. My stomach pained on and off the following two days. Finally, Tuesday night the pain intensified into nausea, and I woke up several times in the night to be sick. I stayed home Wednesday and wondered if I'd be better in time to travel on the weekend. Stomach flu and intense heat was not a fun combination, and I lay there reading, dozing and dreaming of the swimming pool in my new house. Thankfully, I recovered, and was able to travel.

So that's the past two weeks in reverse order. I've posted pictures from the trip and hope to get photos of the house and my new buddy Sancho, the Brazilian mastiff, posted soon. Now that I've got home internet access, expect to see more updates and photos, and look for me on messenger if you're so inclined. It's kind of lonely up here on the hill, but I'm feeling pretty happy in my new "palace." The fact that I lucked into this incredible opportunity is still amazing to me; I hope my luck continues into the job search. I'm still sending out resumes. At any rate, for the next two and a half months, I look forward to enjoying my drastically improved standard of living (despite doing it on budget only one notch above my peace corps pittance). There's plenty of room for visitors if anyone can score an affordable plane ticket!

I should also mention that luck seems to be running in the family at the moment, so I can't hog all the glory. My sister Cindy scored a new job in Colorado, just outside of Boulder, where she and her husband Dave will be moving soon, and I look forward to visiting. They'd been wanting to leave Arizona for greener pastures. Also, my cousin Audra, just finishing med school in Pittsburgh, is pregnant! And her mother, my aunt Janet, who works for Microsoft in Seattle, got a promotion, though it is mixed news because she was considering a move back east, where she can grandmother more effectively. Life has been smiling on all of us, and I hope we continue to be so blessed.



28 February 2004 Quickie

I wrote the update below to post last week and then forgot to put it on my flash drive on my sole trip to the internet cafe. I'm not sure why all the ugly html is showing up in the text instead of doing what it's supposed to. Next Monday, the 7th, I move into my new place, and I should have the time to fix it. This weekend I watched Rugby, went to a club and a Teen Radio programme outreach that was held in a community between where I live and where I stay, Ntinda. The five kittens at the house are getting big and fat and so adorable. Last week after jogging we found a small abandoned kitten on the side of the road (strangely, it was black and white like the kitten I similarly rescued in Saint Lucia) and brought it home. After a day of rest and warmth with the other kittens and feeding with a syringe, it was recovered and feeding as usual. This morning I found it dead and was very sad. I am working on plans to head to the western side of Uganda next weekend (Kampala is toward the southeast) to visit a local friend, Felix, at the school where he teaches and donate some school supplies I brought and then travel on towards the Rwenzori mountains to Semiliki National Park. I'm looking forward to my first real trip out of the city, though not so much the long hours on crowded busses and bad roads. I'll report back on the adventure.



21 February 2004. Happy Anniversary to me!

Sunday was my one-month anniversary in Uganda. It was also quite a good day. In fact, my whole weekend was pretty good, though not especially exciting—I had plans every day, which sort of made me feel like I finally live here and have things to do.

Last week, I didn't write an update because I didn't have a lot of online time and didn't feel up to describing several things that were in progress or waiting to happen. It's also been extremely hot for the last week, so much that simply getting through the day has been hard work. This is the hottest time of the year, but until last Sunday, it wasn't bad. The weather's now been kicked up a notch: the air is dry, the sun beats down, everything is dusty and the moisture is just sucked from skin and body as soon as it is consumed, or so it seems. One good side effect is that I haven't been eating very much, especially at the big meal midday. Red dust is everywhere and I wonder if my toes and ankles will eventually be stained that color. I've never had to wash my shoes so often.

The last two weeks have been busy for me. At work, I helped edit and finalize the annual report. It was 50 pages, and after 3 days of editing, we got it down to 30, and I took most of the photos and designed the cover. For those three days, I had to be told when it was time to eat, and time to leave. I lived and breathed that document. At home, I have been busy reading employment ads (which I save from internet adverts to my flash drive), deciding which to apply for, and tailoring resumes and cover letters. I have applied to 2 so far: United Way of King County (Seattle), and Northwest Medical Teams (Portland). There are several more I need to address this week, based here in Kampala, in Nairobi, in Brighton, England, in Indonesia, Seattle, and 2 in Wash D.C.

I've also finished reading most of the books I brought with me, already, which is not such a great thing. I have two left, but thankfully two more should be arriving from Mom this week, along with my long-awaited ATM card, access to money and freedom. That will be a huge relief. I've started reading a borrowed copy of "My Life" Bill Clinton's autobiography, and last week had some bizarre political dreams as a result.

I've gotten my mobile phone working, though not very well. That's been its own drama. A friend here, Lloyd, gave me an old Motorola he bought when he first arrived here, and I bought a SIM card for it. He didn't have a proper charger for it, and none of those I tried worked; it needed to be fixed. So I had to pay to get it fixed, and then buy a charger. This would not have been such a hassle except for the fact that without my ATM card, I've been on a miniscule budget, and this phone expense sapped most of my cash. Once all of that was done, I discovered that the batteries are nearly spent, and so it only holds a charge for half a day, a full day if it's not used much. This is not ideal, so after all of that, I still may need to just get a different phone. But having that has at least improved my social life so far.

Since the wedding, I've been to two more cultural events and one tourist attraction. Last weekend, I went to see the Equator mark, about 40 km outside of Kampala to the west. I went with Nina and Michael, two Danish volunteers that arrived a little over a week ago that will also be working in Naguru for 3 months. (They're 18--Ann stayed with Nina's family when she studied in Denmark, so now Nina has come here with her boyfriend to get some experience before going to University.) One of the project managers from Naguru, Henry, has a car and agreed to drive us there. It was one of those wickedly hot days, and it's slightly more than an hour's drive. There are a few souvenir shops and cafes marking the spot, but it is otherwise simply a line demarcated with a concrete monument (there is now a photo on my site and the yahoo photos page), and even a pay phone should you feel the need to call someone to announce that you've got one foot in each hemisphere. There is a guy who, for 5,000 shillings (about $2.30 US), will pour water into a funnel 10 meters from the line in the northern hemisphere, where you watch it swirl clockwise and also in the southern hemisphere where it swirls counter-clockwise, and at the marker supposedly goes straight down. Friends told me it is worth the entertainment value, (and they are still arguing about whether the mark can be so perfectly demarcated that 10 meters in that direction would really make such a difference--apparently so, thanks to satellite mapping) but sadly, my budget is so miniscule at this point that it was too extravagant for me. Instead, we splurged on iced coffees in the equator café, a nonprofit enterprise that benefits AIDS orphans, and then drove home. We ogled baskets and drums and carvings at the pricey souvenir shops, but knew they would be cheaper at the craft markets in town. I got some nice photos there, and of papyrus growing on the roadside on the drive.

After the road trip, we went to a birthday party for Mary, a friend and workmate of Ann's. Nina and Michael are staying with her family, in their compound but in a separate building with a bathroom, bedroom and small sitting area. It was a nice gathering, but the power went off just at sundown and stayed off for about 3 hours, so there was no music and only candlelight, which sort of dampened spirits a bit. At midnight, Ann and Prossie and I left, exhausted, though the cake had only just been served and the music and dancing were just beginning.

Later in the week, there was bad news. The manager of the service providers who I had just spent Saturday-Tuesday with working on the annual report, lost his older brother. He died Tuesday night after a long sickness from HIV, and left a wife and four young children. Thursday was the burial, and most of the staff members went together, traveling in the staff bus. It was a long, hot, dusty drive to the outskirts of the other side of the city, to the family plot of the clan burial ground. There were about 200 people, many in traditional dress, who gathered by the grave to pray and sing, and then file past the grave and throw a handful of earth. We didn't attend the church service, but the only differences I could see in the burial was that the grave is dug and filled by family/friends, and according to clan tradition, all graves face a certain direction. This family is a member of the Buganda tribe, (the largest in Uganda, which is why their language, Luganda, is the most popular of the local languages) but I'm not certain of the clan. For the Buganda and Busoga (Edith's tribe), women kneel before female elders and greet them in a certain formal way. I had done it with Edith's older cousin "Mommy", and with her mother, and again practiced it along with the other female staff members, for Peter's mother.

Friday night I was supposed to go with a small group to see a comedy show at the outdoor theatre where I saw the Ndere dance troupe perform my first weekend here. At the last minute, we found out it was cancelled due to a death of a staff member's family member. Since we had all met up at the rugby club across from the mall right by Naguru, where Ann trains, we just stayed there until about ten and had drinks and talked. There is a bar, and satellite tv, and some guys barbecuing meat near pool tables, all overlooking the rugby pitch, where concerts are also sometimes held. Saturday afternoon, I joined some staff and volunteers for an outreach to a secondary school east of where I stay, towards Jinja, a boarding school. Though these educational talks work best with smaller groups, the whole school--1200 kids from ages 13-18 turned up. It was hot, and loud and difficult to keep their attention to talk about reproductive health but it seemed to go fairly well. I was the photographer. Saturday night, I went to a party with Joel (American) and Felix (Ugandan), and met an older, formally dressed Ugandan woman there, and impressed her by doing the proper greeting, kneeling and saying 'Osibyotya, Nnyabo' (sort of 'how do you do, madam') It was a proud moment for me. Felix met me in town and took a taxi with me to a party at the VSO office to celebrate the arrival of their new group of volunteers. It looked to be a nice party, with food, drinks and drummers, but we left immediately because Joel wanted to go to another party for a departing Danish guy. That party, where I got to show off my few Lugandan phrases, was very quiet, and we left at about 10 and had a drink in the nearby bar area, which is very crowded and lively. I went home by taxi (bus) at about 12:30, as I was very tired from the hot day.

Sunday, as I said, was a good day. All week, I had been buoyed by some information from Devin, who I know from the Evans School at UW who is here working with her husband. She met some Americans working here who are leaving from March to May and need a house sitter. I've been putting the word out about needing a place to stay, and finding few to no viable options, so this seemed an incredible opportunity. Devin emailed us, and I emailed in response, but heard nothing. Sunday, Katrina called and invited me to see the house and meet them (her husband John and 2 yr old son JD) in the afternoon. At 1, I met Christine and Bill, doctors from Seattle, who are working here at Mulago hospital. We were joined by 2 of their roommates, also working at the hospital (all Americans in 30s), and the Belgian director of the Infectious Diseases Institute (a gorgeous new building funded by Pfizer) there and his wife, at Rwenzori café for drinks and snacks. At 3, John picked me up to see the house, on Naguru hill, about 2 km away from the Centre where I work. It is gorgeous: 4 bedrooms, sitting area, dining room, porch and balconies, and a pool. Super mega bonus: There is also wireless internet! After spending several hours together, we got on well and agreed that it was a great favor to both of us,(dog/house sitter for them, free beautiful house for me) and will work out. They will leave in early March, and I will go to stay with them a day or two before they leave to get used to the house and dog (a huge, friendly mastiff), and they return the day after I am scheduled to leave. They took me out for pizza with them for dinner, which was a great treat for me (I had just realized I was craving some sort of American food) and so the whole day was a fabulous celebration of my 1 month anniversary. I came home and tried to write cover letters, but was too excited, thinking about my new opportunity, to focus.

In two weeks, I will be living on my own, with a huge dog, nice house and a pool, and will have daily access to fast internet. I will be able to talk to friends and family (finally!) on instant messenger, and watch dvds on a decent size tv. I look forward to it.



Update, week of 7 Feb, 05
Happy Birthday Bob Marley.

Sunday would have been Bob Marley's 60th birthday, and apparently there was a reggae show here. I would have liked to go, but it's difficult for me to go out (or "move") as they say here, at night, given that where I stay is pretty far out of the city--20 minutes or so with no traffic. And no traffic is a rare thing--there are traffic jams everywhere, all the time, for apparently no reason. Saturday at noon, I was on my way to a wedding with my friend Joel, and even on his motorbike, we were stuck in jam after jam. We actually missed the vows, but mostly because we anticipated that it would start late, as most events do, but it was on schedule. The remainder of the wedding and the reception was very nice, and I'm glad that I witnessed it, though I didn't understand much as it was in Luganda nearly exclusively. The bride works with the deaf (as does Joel), and so there were translators into sign language for the many deaf people in attendance. From sign language, he was able to translate to English for me once in a while. The major differences from a typical wedding in the US that I noticed were:
  • There was more dancing. This was a born-again Anglican wedding, if you can believe that. Apparently there are born-agains of every faith and denomination here. So there was no alcohol or non-Christian rock at the reception. But every so often, the bridal party would come out from the tent and do sort of a conga line-ish dance around their tent (the bridal party tent was in between a bride's side and groom's side tents, outside, in a horseshoe shape) Later, after the food, they all paraded down a white paper 'aisle' between the tents back to the center, and then the music started and everyone danced. Most people, anyway.
  • Speeches: anyone and everyone from the reception can and will get up and make a speech, usually beginning with praise for the couple and the ceremony but then onto any number of topics including family, religion, politics, traffic--this takes a long time.
  • The bridesmaids act as hostesses during the reception, serving cake and mingling about.
  • No kissing. This is explained later.
  • More performances. Maybe this wedding and reception were unique, but in attendance were two full choirs--one hearing and one deaf. They both performed songs and dances at the wedding and the reception, and were quite good. (The bride works with the deaf, as does the person I attended with, so there were a large number of deaf people at the wedding, and translators)
  • I laid pretty low on the weekend, but still had some minor adventures, including the wedding. I was home by 8pm Sat and Sun nights, and watched English football on tv both nights. I hadn't been feeling well on Friday and stayed home; some mysterious stomach upset that sort of came and went all weekend. Sunday I learned to make chapattis in the morning, and for lunch and dinner I had only chapattis and beans, which seemed to sit okay. In the afternoon, I joined Joel and his friend Felix, a Ugandan who also works at a deaf school about 3 hours outside of Kampala to the west. We went to Ggaba, a town just outside Kampala on the shore of Lake Victoria with some small 'beach' hotels, where we had some beer and shared a large fresh tilapia (fried whole). It was really nice, both the fish, getting to know Felix more, and getting to see a new location.
    A few other observations I haven't yet mentioned. Public displays of affection, especially kissing, are uncommon and frowned upon. Even at weddings, I'm told, the bride and groom do not kiss, though we missed the vows so I can't vouch for the one I attended--they did kiss once during the reception. However, holding hands as a sign of friendship, even between men, is common. Someone may take your hand in conversation and hold it for a period of time, or hold it when walking. Considering that homosexuality is a total taboo, it's an odd contradiction to see men or women (but more commonly men) holding hands walking down the street.
    Another thing to get used to is guns. At banks and many public locations there are guards or police with shotguns. At first this caught me off guard (pun unintended), until I realized there are many armed guards in the U.S. but they are carrying concealed weapons, rather than shotguns. There's just something a bit more unsettling about a shotgun to me. That said, I'm certain that the gun ownership rates are astronomically higher in the States than here, so perhaps I should rethink my feelings. I guess I'm just uncomfortable with weaponry, in general (which is no big revelation to anyone.)
    There is a lot to learn, and more to say soon about tribes. There are maybe 20-30 tribes in Uganda, and are divided by region. There is still tribal leadership though as I understand it, it is mostly ceremonial and most government is by local and national government since the time of colonial rule. More on that is explained below. The family I stay with are from the Busoga tribe, which are located in a large area surrounding Jinja, where I went last weekend. Clothing, marriage traditions, language, and customs all differ by tribe. I'm told that marrying between tribes is becoming more common, but still not the norm. There was recently an article in the local paper about the stereotypical traits of different tribes, suggesting that people should use this as sort of a horoscope to determine personality when dating/marrying. Arranged marriages within tribes are no longer common, but there is often still a dowry. Depending on the tribe, it is given by the man or the woman, and is given at a very formal ceremony where permission is officially granted by the bride's family, called the introduction. (Livestock and other expensive gifts are given.) I would very much like to attend one of these if I get the chance. There are a lot of traditions around naming as well, with most Ugandans using a tribal name given at birth with some sort of meaning, and a given name. For example Felix Mugisha. It's common for people in Kampala to write their names in that order as though, like a western name, it's a first name and a family name. But each member of a family has a different name, deriving from the same tribe, so it can go in either order. The more traditional way is Mugisha Felix. Mugisha means to be lucky. So you can address people by either name, and it's appropriate.
    I'm still adjusting to the dialect of English spoken here as well. There are several consonants that are substituted for each other, for reasons I have not yet ascertained. L and R are the most troublesome to me. I sit here next to boxes of supplies labeled 'Nagulu'. R. Kelly is called, by most people, R. Kerry. K also sounds like 'ch' but only sometimes documentation, which I am here to do, is dochumentation. Kireka, the village before where I live, is chireka. The Rwandan capital, Kigali, is called 'Chigari'. I've read that b and v are sometimes interposed and f and p, but I haven't noticed it much yet. Very confusing, especially when to me, the words are already difficult to differentiate, based on sounds that are nothing like I've ever heard before. "Gwe jjangu" means "Come here (you)" in the sense that you would call a child to you immediately. But it sounds like Japanese to me. Other times, like Saturday morning, I would *swear* to you that the family members are speaking Italian, and this Luganda thing is all an elaborate ploy to confuse me. I think it's the tendency to add the letter 'i' (pronounced 'ee' to the end of words in a seemingly random fashion. For example the news report playing on the nearby radio just spoke about 'parliamenti' Sometimes it sounds appropriately African. Slowly, I am learning to recognize, if not say, commonplace words. The speeches at the wedding sounded to me, instead of complete mumbo jumbo, like "blah blah blah car blah blah bride blah blah blah sit blah you blah blah love blah, blah blah thank you" etc. My progress feels very slow, but for only a few weeks I suppose it's not bad. Certainly better than if I was staying on my own, or working with other foreigners. I am exposed to the local English and to Luganda all day--at home and at work. My latest word victory is "mumaso awo" which sounds like "masow" and means "stop" on the taxi. I was having problems getting the conductor to listen to me. I'd say "stage" (meaning bus stop), and they'd ignore me. Then I'd knock; another request ignored. Finally, I learned by listening to yell 'stop' in Luganda, and now they stop and everyone stares at me for speaking the language. You're a freak if you do, freak if you don't--at least now the bus stops for me.

    I spent an hour and a half this morning at Uganda Management Institute, which has a high speed internet connection (a rarity), and is 5 minutes by matatu or 20 minutes on foot from Naguru. Connections here are fastest in the morning on any day, so I wanted to start the week off feeling like I had finally tied up some of the many loose ends left dangling when I left the U.S., as well as to save some job search information to my flash drive so that I can apply and send my applications at a later time. I had this grand plan last week to use Outlook and dialup from home, to log on, get messages, log off and read and reply offline and then log on and send, which would have been convenient and economically practical. One hour of dialup is 10,000 shillings (as opposed to 3,000 at the high speed café or 1500 at a regular café), and I wasted half of it just trying to configure it, finally realizing that Yahoo mail no longer supports it for their free accounts. I am considering how to import my address book to a Yahoo Canada or UK account, which still do this, so if anyone has suggestions, I'd love to hear them. I wish I'd have figured of all of this before I left home, because it's really cumbersome to do at a slow internet café, especially when there is so much I need to do during my 2x/week internet sessions. Anyway, I finally read the replies to my first dispatch, (only had time to reply to some, sorry!) and finally got it sent out to the remainder of my address book. I also finally looked at some things people had sent, and one of them was from the local US Embassy: information for personnel about the country. There are links with similar information elsewhere on my site, but here is a summary of some of the basic country info that is more informed and succinct than I could probably do:

    Uganda, roughly the size of Oregon, lies across the Equator and is located in the center of the African Continent. The country is divided into three principal geographic areas: a fertile plateau, lowland swamps, and a semi-desert region. Lake Victoria forms part of the southern border. The capital of the Republic of Uganda is Kampala.

    Uganda has an estimated population of 25 million. Africans of four ethnic and linguistic groups--Bantu, Nilotic, NiloHamitic, and Sudanic, constitute most of the populace. English is the official language.

    Uganda is located on a fertile plateau in the center of Africa at an average altitude of 4,000 feet. The plateau is bordered on the east by the Kenya Highlands and Mount Elgon (14,178 feet) and on the west by the Rwenzori Mountains (16,791 feet). It is crossed diagonally from southeast to northwest by the Nile River, which begins its journey to the Mediterranean near the town of Jinja on Lake Victoria, about 50 miles from the capital, Kampala. With an area of 91,000 square miles, Uganda is roughly the size of Oregon or about the size of Great Britain.

    Kampala has over a million residents and lies near the shores of Lake Victoria about 20 miles north of the Equator. Its altitude ranges from 3,622 to 4,500 feet. Built on a number of low-lying hills, the city is surrounded by green rolling countryside dotted with small farms. These farms grow mostly matoke bananas, cassava, and maize, the main staple foods of Uganda.

    The average temperature in Kampala ranges from a high of 85 degrees F at noon to a low of 60 at night. The temperature changes more during the course of each day than it does from season to season. The hottest weather occurs from October through March.

    Kampala has an annual rainfall of about 63 inches. During the rainy seasons--March to April and September to October--the weather is cooler. Frequent, heavy thunderstorms last from 30 minutes to 1 hour. It seldom rains an entire day, even during the so-called rainy seasons. Wind gusts that accompany downpours are sometimes strong enough to knock down tree limbs and even an occasional tree. Red murram dust, which can be a particular problem during dry periods, effects Kampala dwellers when venturing beyond the main asphalt roads.

    Kampala, a city built on seven hills, began as a settlement near the Kabaka's palace at Mengo. In the 20th century, it has developed into the largest city in Uganda, dominating the country's political and economic life. The current population in the capital is around a million inhabitants. Kampala was granted the status of a city during Uganda's independence celebrations in October 1962. Before that the capital was Entebbe.

    Except for the city center itself, the seven hills on which Kampala lies are covered with shady trees and subsistence crops, giving it the appearance of an extended village. One of Kampala's attractive features is its tropical lushness. Kampala has everything a busy capital could offer: congested streets, heaps of shops, immense Hindu temples, churches, mosques, embassies, street markets and stalls, the high court and government buildings, and modern and old style are chaotically mixed together.

    Uganda's tourist industry, once an important source of foreign exchange earnings, is slowly rebuilding, and hotels and lodges are being renovated. Uganda has seven national parks that are rich in flora and fauna including the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, containing slightly more than half of the world's gorilla population. Uganda is an equatorial country of astonishing contrasts, diversity of habitats and one of Africa's richest birding destinations. In fact, Queen Elizabeth National Park is thought to have more than 500 different species of birds, more than in all of North America.

    Uganda's economy has great potential. Endowed with significant natural resources, including ample fertile land, regular rainfall, and mineral deposits, it appeared poised for rapid development at independence. Unfortunately chronic political instability and erratic economic management produced a record of persistent economic decline that left Uganda among the world's poorest and least-developed countries under the Amin and Obote regimes. This has turned around however, and the small landlocked country has sustained a 6% economic growth rate through 2002, a success story unmatched in most of sub-Saharan Africa.

    Agricultural products supply nearly all of Uganda's foreign exchange earnings, with coffee alone (of which Uganda is Africa's leading producer) accounting for about 65% of the country's exports. Exports of hides, skins, vegetables, spices, cut flowers, and fish are growing, and cotton, tea, and coffee continue to be mainstays.

    Before Europeans arrived, much of Uganda was divided into four kingdoms. Bunyoro Kingdom, in western Uganda, was ruled by the "Omukama. (king)" The son of the Omukama broke away and formed his own kingdom, which was known as the Kingdom of Toro. Its ruler was also known as the Omukama. The Omukama also ruled the Ankole Kingdom, situated in the southwest. When Europeans first came to Uganda in 1862, they found the northern shores of Lake Victoria controlled by the Baganda, a people who had developed a complex agricultural society ruled by an absolute monarch called the "Kabaka".

    Responding to an appeal by the explorer Henry Stanley, who visited Uganda in 1875, missionaries began working there in 1877. Today, 80% of the population is Christian, including Protestants and Catholics. The rest of the population is Moslem (15%) and animist (5%). British hegemony was established in this area in 1893 through a series of protective treaties with the Kabaka and other local rulers.

    The decision by the early British administrators to govern the country indirectly through African chiefs and rulers resulted in the country's original development as an African territory. Land ownership was reserved for African chiefs at an early date so that almost no European or Asian rural settlements existed.

    The population is estimated at 23 million. Africans of four ethnic and linguistic groups--Bantu, Nilotic, NiloHamitic, and Sudanic--constitute most of the populace. The Bantu, the most numerous of the four groups, includes the more than 3.5 million members of the Baganda, the largest single ethnic group. Ugandan society includes more than 30 individual ethnic groups. Uganda's population is predominantly rural, and its density is the highest in the Southern regions. Until 1972, Asians (mostly from India) constituted the largest non-indigenous ethnic group. In that year, Idi Amin expelled over 50,000 Asians who had been engaged in trade, industry and various professions. Since taking power, President Museveni has invited the Asians back to Uganda. About 3,000 Arabs and a small number of Asians now live in Kampala. Most Europeans also fled during Amin's rule and after the Liberation War. Currently, the expatriate community numbers in the thousands.

    Almost the entire European community, most of the Asian community, and all of the educated Africans in Kampala speak English, the official language. The other major languages are Luganda and Swahili, though the latter isn't spoken much east of Kampala or in the capital. Most members of the Baganda tribe prefer to speak their own language, Luganda, which at least 4 million people speak or understand.

    Community sanitation and public health programs are inadequate throughout Uganda and subject to frequent breakdown. Almost all of the maladies of the developing world are represented here. Residents are subject to water and food-borne illnesses such as typhoid, hepatitis, cholera, worms, amoebiasis, giardia and bacterial dysentery. Malaria is epidemic in Kampala and throughout Uganda.


    This week I am applying for two jobs I found posted online: one in Seattle and one in Portland. The volunteer is starting this week as well, so I need to start working with her, though I'm not quite organized myself--still finishing that outline. Ann has some Danish friends arriving tomorrow for 3 months to volunteer in the clinic. She may be taking them out this weekend, so maybe I'll finally go dancing or to a club. Tonight (Tuesday), I am meeting up with Christine who is here from UW, either a doctor or a med student (something medical). I'm also supposed to start training with the rugby team, but I didn't go yesterday. Maybe tomorrow.

    When I checked email Monday morning, I forgot to check the Superbowl scores. I kept thinking of it when I was busy, but I was focused on email and job information, and only remembered again when I left. Cyrus watched Sky sports news last night and gave me the bad news about the Eagles. Cyrus was glad because he likes the Patriots, and wanted something to gloat at me about after the Manchester victory over Arsenal last week. We are diametrically opposed in sports teams we support, except for the Mariners--there we can agree. RIP, Eagles. I am so disappointed. I hope it was at least a good game.



1 February 05 Muzungu learns a few words

I've started to learn a bit of Luganda. I can say: thank you, thank you for cooking, how are you, I'm fine, Ok, come here, and have learned the formal greeting in the Basoga tribe, where you greet elders on your knees. (I did this at Edith's mother's house on Sunday.) I understand a bit more than I can say, but it certainly isn't much. I'm feeling frustrated with my slow pace of learning, but it isn't an easy language, at least to me. I'm also beginning to be better at understanding the sound and nuances of the local dialect of English, as well as how I have to speak (accent and word choice) to be understood. It's an ongoing process.

Last night, the water went out. Rather, it went out Sunday, but we were using tank water without knowing it, and last night it went dry. There were some jerricans of water around, so we were able to bucket shower and do dishes. Today we're filling up the jugs at Naguru, but hopefully the water will return soon. We're all anxious for real showers, and to stop using the pit latrine outside. The water rarely goes, I'm told, but the power usually goes out once a day for at least an hour at a time. These are inconvenient, but life manages to go on regardless.

Right now I'm sitting in the room where blood tests are taken, trying to focus on my work and not get woozy thinking about what is happening just a few feet away. It's supposed to be the dry season, but has rained several times in the last week, with a heavy thunderstorm this morning. Now it's clear skies and sun again. Once when it rained last week, I was actually cold and wore a sweater. Not so today, I think. Devin, a colleague from my first year at UW, is coming for lunch, and later Joel, who works at the international school, is coming to pick up some books I brought for him. I hope to post this later today, if I can get to an internet café.

Nothing much is planned for this week, except maybe getting my mobile phone working, and possibly going to a wedding on Saturday. Oh, and tonight is a big football match: Manchester United vs. Arsenal. The TV at home was damaged in a power surge on the weekend, but will hopefully be fixed by tonight. I may go to a nearby hotel with Ann and Cyrus to watch it. They're both Arsenal fans, and when I studied in London I used to cheer for Manchester, so that will be a fun rivalry.

It was a busy weekend and end of week. On Sunday night, Tabby gave birth to five kittens, and I watched my first cat-birth. Now there's plenty of entertainment around the house, as we watch them grow, and attempt to keep her from taking them and nesting in our rooms. Watching the birth was fascinating and disgusting. I had no idea that they eat the placenta and chew off the umbilical cord.

Sunday I had my first full real day of independence. I woke around 9:30, had tea and fruit, and then Lloyd called. He's a friend of my high school friend Christie, and she'd emailed him and another friend, Mike, to let them know I was coming. He invited me to meet him and another friend at a café in the strip mall by my office. Rwenzori (named after mountains here) is a newish café that is sort of like an upscale Starbucks with more food. I met Lloyd, who is here doing microfinance work, and Simon, who is British, and here with the International Red Cross doing prison visitation. After lunch/coffee, we went to Lloyd's apartment building to hang out by the pool, where Mike joined us. I hadn;t brought a bathing suit but thankfully wore a sundress and was able to get a bit of sun and dip my feet in the pool. At about 3, they left to go various places and dropped me near town. I walked the rest of the way, and spent some time exploring the streets of Kampala. I got a better feel for a small section of it, now.

Lloyd gave me an old mobile phone, a Motorola, so I took it to get looked at. Turns out it just needed to be charged, and I need to buy a SIM card for it this week. (At 20,000 shillings, that is far better than the 100,000+ it would have cost me for a new phone.) Later, after I showered and ate, Prossie and Becky (staff members who live nearby) stopped by to get me and we took a taxi to the office, where we met other staff and travelled to a nearby town to host the first offsite outreach radio programme. The show is on the air every Sunday night from 8-9 pm, hosted once a month at the clinic and otherwise in the studio. It was all in Luganda, so I didn't understand much, but enjoyed it anyway. It was held in a small village primary school, and the power had been cut, so there was one lantern to light the way. We brought a generator with us for the power to transmit the show. It was facilitated by radio and clinic staff, who took calls on the air and questions from those in the audience. I took photos, both for the clinic's benefit, and possibly for my own documentation project.

Monday, after reading all of the background information and the portion of the writing that Edith began before my arrival, I began editing. (I edited on paper as I read, but began the computer edits today.) As I wrote and revised, and revisited the themes that Edith and I felt should be included, and as we discussed my work plan together, I finally got a good picture for how to organize the information. This is a huge breakthrough!! Now that I have the structure, I can use the information that I have and create an outline. The gaps in the outline will guide me in the information I need to gather, from existing sources and in the course of my interviews with clients, staff, government officials, community leaders and peer organizations. It seems less unwieldy to me now, though there is still a lot of work to do. I'm supposed to get a volunteer, maybe as soon as next week, who will assist me in most of the fact-gathering processes of the project interviews, research and data review. This will make my work easier, and also mentor this person to work in the research and documentation project here in the future. Woohoo! now I'm a consultant, a project manager, and managing staff.

Speaking of woohoo, I got the sad news from Cyrus that there are no Simpsons on TV here. I'm sad. I think they have it in South Africa, and there are many S. African imports here-products, stores, telelvision shows, etc. I'll just have to settle for renting or buying cheap pirated dvds, or getting hooked on the local soaps (no comparison to Desperate Housewives, to be sure!). So far I haven't watched much tv except the local news, CNN and the E. African equivalent of MTV, showing Ugandan videos in English and Luganda as well as some from Kenya and Tanzania in Swahili.

On Sunday, we took Diana home to Jinja in the early afternoon, to see the house where Edith grew up as well. On the way, we passed through one of the biggest forests in Uganda, where monkeys and other animals can be found (though we didn't see any) and several tea and sugar cane plantations. Just before Jinja we passed over the Nile, and the dam there that is the main source of power for Uganda (95%), Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. I took a lot of pictures of the Nile, as that area is supposedly one of the sources of the Nile, called the Victoria Nile because it flows from Lake Victoria. It's a popular place to raft, with Class V rapids, and I hope to do it at some point. In the distance, we could see Lake Victoria. Jinja is the fourth largest city in Uganda, and looked like what I would consider a small town in the U.S. The outlying villages were quite small and on a less developed scale than in the suburbs of Kampala where I am staying. Off the main road, which was quite potholed and with large rocks strewn about, the roads were unpaved red dirt. Though scooters and bicycles are major sources of transport everywhere, they were particularly common once we left the outskirts of Kampala.

Once we got to Edith's mother's house, I met her nephews and one of her brothers. He sat talking to me about his travels in the region and discussing some of the areas of Uganda with me, using maps, while off in the distance I could hear the call to prayer at a nearby mosque. Outside, I took a family "snap" before we headed to Diana's house. I saw my first giant anthill there, and took a picture. As we got in the car, large numbers of children from the nearby playing field gathered by the car to stare at me, the muzungu, and wave as we drove off. This happened everywhere we stopped. I began to feel like I was in the zoo-the car my cage-and that I was being observed in my natural habitat, everyone waiting for feeding time.

We ate roasted meat on sticks on the way there and home, as well as a variety of banana, roasted. On the trip there I had chicken, and on the return trip I tried a skewer of goat meat. Surprisingly, it was quite chewy but good, and didn't hurt my stomach (as it had the two previous times I'd tried it, stewed, in St Lucia).

We got home after dark, and there was no time to jog because I was expecting a call from my mother. When we returned home, we had the starchy portion of dinner-beans, tomato sauce, rice, yams, and of course, the omnipresent matoke. I'm told a meal without matoke isn't considered a meal here. (Though school children and prisoners are both fed posho --cooked cornmeal that looks and tastes a bit like grits--and beans.) My mom called, and later, I got another pleasant surprise. I went outside to throw some rubbish in the bin, and didn't know the dog was out. Snoopy, the guard dog, stays in his cage all day, but is out in the yard at night, protecting his turf. He's friendly and playful to those he knows, but is quite fierce if he doesn't know you. All week I had been on a campaign to get Snoop used to me, standing by his cage and calling to him as he fiercely barked, jumped and even chewed at the wood on his cage, trying to get out and get me. A few times I feared he'd really break free, leap over and bite me. Tonight though, I went outside, and was surprised to see him next to me, just sniffing me. He didn't growl or bark, and even followed me inside, as I slowly moved indoors.

Thursday and Friday also marked the beginning of my new fitness plan, where I began running on the road that goes around the national stadium, on the other side of the highway (about 5 minutes away). On Thursday night, Cyrus and I jogged there for about 20 minutes-we did about a half lap of the stadium plus the trip there and back. The next night, Diana, Prossie, Dennis, Cyrus and me went, with the girls walking, and Dennis, Cyrus and me jogging. We did two full laps of the stadium-probably about 3 miles in total. My knee really began hurting on the second lap, but it felt good to run again.

Friday, I sat in on my first VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing; HIV) group session. Though I can blame the heat, I think that my discomfort during the session was due mainly to my own medical wimpiness. The sessions are conducted in large army green military-style tents on the lawn behind the clinic's main building. (Naguru is really a compound, rather than a building, which offers many adolescent reproductive health services. The main building is large, partially a medical and pediatric unit of the Ministry of Health, and the other end is the teen health unit where there are two treatment rooms, a dispensary, and a waiting room as well as restrooms. Behind that is the postnatal ward, and behind that, an antenatal treatment tent. Beside that are the VTC tents-one for individual counseling, one for group sessions, and one that serves as a waiting room, with benches and educational videos playing. Beside those are two other small buildings-both administrative.) In the early afternoon, the sun beats down on the tents, and despite the ventilation (no fans, yet), it gets quite hot. I was sitting in a chair on the edge of the tent, not even inside on the benches with the 8 young teens in the session, and yet I got dizzy and nauseous, and barely made it through the hour-long session without getting ill.

The counselor met with the 8 teens, 5 girls and 3 boys, and asked them for their permission for me to observe, explaining who I was and that I am a volunteer with the Centre. With their approval, she proceeded, launching into a discussion of HIV testing and how it is conducted, the procedure at Naguru, the fact that it is free and confidential, and that a group session is followed by individual testing and then individual counseling. She also discussed with them their knowledge about HIV, its transmission and about other STDs. She asked for their understandings, corrected misconceptions, and showed pictures and posters to explain concepts where needed, like how HIV attacks white blood cells, which weakens the body and causes AIDS. She also showed some photos of what certain STDs look like, and how they can relate to HIV or cause problems on their own. After discussing all the ways HIV can be transmitted, she asked each person for their plan, should they test positive today. At that point, I looked around the tent at the 13-15 yr olds, and felt totally overwhelmed with the magnitude of the AIDS crisis. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be Faith, or the other counselors, and have to face the reality of countless HIV positive young teens each day, helping them through a dire situation. Later, I spoke to her about how I felt, and how she deals with it.

Because of confidentiality, I don't know the results of that group's tests, but I saw her face, and I know that it didn't look happy. There must have been a few positives in there. One couple was getting tested together, and they didn't look older than 13. No kids that age should have to go through something like that! On my second day here, Martin, another counselor, told me he'd had a very tough session where he had to give some positive results, and he couldn't get it out of his head. Sometimes it is a result of incest or abuse, he said, and that is particularly hard to handle. The counselors also answer a toll-free helpline, and sometimes answer questions where they have difficulty not laughing-dealing with misconceptions or myths about genitalia or sexual practices-and that balance must be what gets them through the job. Many of them are trained in counseling at school and some are pursuing further study.

While the testees wait for their results, they watch educational videos in another hot tent. Inside the main building, other teens watch different educational videos on a donated large screen TV while they wait their turn in the treatment rooms with midwives. It was there I sat in on my first group discussion, held each day in the waiting room (Monday-Saturday) by a counselor or volunteer. (Most of the staff here started as volunteers.) The discussions focus primarily on the ABCs of STD/HIV/Pregnancy prevention, but with a special focus on abstinence. There, the teens can ask questions and discuss them as a group (as well as on the hotline and on the weekly radio call-in show on Sunday nights.)There is no sex education at most schools, so this, as well as whatever community outreach is done by this and other organizations, fills that void.


25 January 05 Hakuna Matata

I'm here! Today it has been one week since I left home. I arrived safely late last Wednesday night after two days of travel. My flights from Phila to DC to Brussels, then Nairobe, and then finally the Entebbe airport outside of Kampala went largely without incident. The final leg into Entebbe was delayed by about 1˝ hours so I was completely exhausted and dazed by the time I went through customs, picked up my luggage and found Edith. Somewhere in their, my wallet was either lost or stolen, but luckily, it didn't have great wads of cash in it, or my passport. Naguru, the Teen Health Information Centre where I'll be working, had apparently decided to give me a small fee for my work there, so they are advancing it to me until I can get a new ATM card sent. So it's inconvenient, but not the end of the world. The hard part so far has been getting access to email to communicate about it with my mom so we can work out the details. So far I've only been online twice.

There are internet cafes in Kampala, but the clinic where I work is outside of the capital--actually in between where I am living (with Edith and her sister, Auntie, her niece, Anna (23), and sons Jonah (6) and Cyrus (16)) in a suburb called Bweyogeddede and Kampala. I went to one on Thursday with Anna and two young staff members from Naguru who live nearby, and they gave me a small tour of the city and took me to eat local food in an outdoor market. The internet connection, as expected, is quite slow, and it's about all I can do to read my mail and delete all the crap before my time is up. But please email me anyway J - I'll get to it eventually.

Kampala really is a pretty developed city. There roads are reasonably wide, and paved, though potholed, there are tons of taxis (what we called busses in the Caribbean - 15 person vans), or matatus, and also scooter taxis, called boda bodas, which careen through the crowded streets at breakneck speeds, ignoring all traffic laws, it seems. But Kampala's traffic can be bad, so they are known to be the one escape through traffic jams if necessary. I have been in several matatus, but not yet on a boda boda. There are about 4 tall high rise buildings, and several international banks and a Sheraton hotel. There aren't any major fast food chains here, to my great relief, but there is a knockoff Dominoes pizza. Like Saint Lucia, small vendors with umbrella stands or wooden shacks line the streets or any available corner of real estate, including the already crowded sidewalks. Kampala seems bigger and more city-like than Castries did, but there are many similarities to the appearance of Uganda (thus far) and the culture and lifestyle.

Language issues are also similar for me. UK English is taught in schools, so it is the common language, but most people converse either partially or completely in a local language, of which there are about 8. I've learned a bit of two so far, but it's not easy learning a language that is not based on latin or any of the romance languages I've studied thus far. As when I was first hearing patois, most conversations sound like "mwah mwah mwah"; a la the Charlie Brown teacher, to me, with an occasional intelligible word thrown in. One word I definitely recognize when in public is "muzungu" which means foreigner. I've had people call out to me or talk about me using that word, but so far it doesn't feel as derogatory as "femme blanc" or &"white meat" or "white gyal" did in Saint Lucia. Most people are either trying to get my attention or get me to buy something when they say it, which will probably get old, but isn't such a big deal. Once again, though, I am visibly foreign and there is absolutely no chance I can try and blend in, no matter what. Even if I spoke all the local languages, I would still be a muzungu I think.

Food is also very similar to the Caribbean: Bananas, mangos, pineapples, oranges, yams, rice and beans are staples. Breakfast is tea and bread and fruit. Lunch is a big starchy affair: rice, beans, yams or "irish" potatoes, matoke (mashed plantains and tomatoes with seasoning) or posho (mashed cornmeal), a cooked vegetable-sometimes greens or eggplant and squash or pumpkin-and some kind of meat (so far I have had fish, beef and chicken). Dinner is the same. Due to a stronger influence of Indian food here, there are also chapattis, which I really like, and can be eaten in place of rice with the meal. People drink fresh fruit juice with their meals, and tea in the morning and evening, which is a local tea boiled with fresh milk (hooray, not powdered!) and mixed with sugar and sometimes ginger, sort of like chai. I often have breakfast with Jonah, and lunch at Naguru with the staff, and then dinner at home with whoever is there, often at about 8 pm or later. My stomach is still adjusting to the eating schedule and the heavy, starchy meals (again!).

It seems sort of like I just got here, and sort of like I've been here a pretty long time. Living with a family is giving me a nice feeling that I am welcome and belong here. Because I am connected to work through home, I've already built up a little network of people that I know, or at least I will come to know. Thursday, as I mentioned, I went to town with Anna, Jonah, Dennis and Prossy, as it was a Muslim holiday and schools and work were closed. In the evening we just relaxed at home, at dinner and played cards. I brought regular and uno cards, and we've spent a lot of time playing card games. Friday Diana, Edith's 14 year old niece, came to stay for the end of her school holidays. I went into Naguru with Edith, but left early in the afternoon after a tour and sitting in on a youth discussion session and lunch because jet lag had kept me awake all night. It wasn't until Saturday that I finally felt normal again. Friday evening Edith and I went to a Chinese restaurant with Karen, a nursing student from Portland who had been in the clinic volunteering for the week, her friend Allison who has been working here for PSI in HIV work for a year, and Devin who went to UW Evans School with Edith and me and her husband Mark, who is here doing his fieldwork for natural resources. We had a nice dinner, and I was glad for a brief return to more normal foods for me, to give my body a break from the onslaught of differentness. It felt nice to have a brief glimpse at a social life.

Saturday I woke and had tea, eggs and toast with Jonah, and then we went for a walk around the area, exploring. It was really hot that day-about 87 degrees-and we must have walked at least two miles. I took some nice pictures of the view from this area, some of the houses, billboards, and the stadium, etc. Then I taught him to use my camera and he took some good ones of people at the house, including Alihihi and Musisi, who help out around the house. There are also three cats and a dog here. The house is enclosed within a wall, has a nice garden and four bedrooms, a kitchen, sitting area and eating area, and two bathrooms. With Edith and Jonah in one room, Cyrus in another, Anna in another and auntie in the last room, it's the right size. However, now that Diana and I are here, things are a bit more cramped. They're being really nice to me and I currently have my own room, but that may change this weekend when we rearrange when Diana leaves. I'm not sure if I'll stay here the whole time but for now it's a nice setup and I'm glad to have a local family and a home base. I'd feel pretty lonely if I was on my own right now. Even though it's similar to Saint Lucia where I lived for 2 years, it's still a different country with a different language and culture, and it will take some adjusting. The staff at Naguru so far are really friendly and accommodating. Anyway, Saturday afternoon we went to an electronics store for me to look for a converter, and then across the street to the rugby club where Anne plays. Her team played first (though she was out with an injury) and then two men's teams played. We met up with some of the Naguru staff there, and got to listen to part of a concert (Jamaican music!) playing in a field behind the club. We were there most of the day, came home and bathed, had dinner and played more cards. Sunday was hot again, and I spent most of the day at home. Went down the road to a shop with Anna where I got an internet card to use for dialup on my computer at home. We calculated that it should have lasted about an hour and a half, but it only lasted just barely an hour. It was enough time to clear out most of my email but not to really write much or update my site. I tried to load photos, but it took too long. I really only unsubscribed from a few lists and that was it. I'm going through internet withdrawl, going from wireless dsl to completely wireless in the low tech way! We played more cards, Cyrus and I raided each others music collections. Sunday night we went to a local dance performance at an outdoor amphitheatre called Ndere, which was really beautiful--featured different types of traditional dances from tribes all over Uganda and even one from Rwanda. Later, we watched my Pirates of the Caribbean dvd. The power has gone out at least once a day, but usually only for about an hour. We light candles and get by. (It's hard to play uno in the dark--the green and blue look the same!)

Yesterday was my first real day at Naguru. I began reading the background documents that will form the basis (or beginning of it) for the organizational documentation I will be doing. That, talking to a few people, and lunch took most of the day. I am also fortunate that I've been going in with Edith and today I left with the afternoon driver, so I'm saving on transportation expenses (good when you've lost your wallet!). Today I met with the Program Officers for the different departments (documentation, training, services, outreach) to discuss how things work and what they see as the key challenges and their vision, so that I can get to know how everything works, and who people are. This week I will meet with other staff, finish reading available information, and begin outlining a work plan, as well as do a session with the Officers on Thursday or Friday on how to use Microsoft Outlook Calendar and scheduling tools. Tomorrow is a holiday for the ruling national "movement" NRM (so called as political parties are not allowed until 2006), so tonight I'm going out solo for the first time--meeting Joel, an American who is working here that I have been emailing for the last month or so. We're going to see some local hiphop. Next week we will form the work plan for my time here, and I will begin interviewing staff members and maybe some of the clients as well. The following week, I get a volunteer who will help me with some of the meetings and tasks involved in such a massive undertaking. Documenting 10 years of the clinic's existence, not only the services and how they've changed, but the staff capacity and the physical space and the trends and decisions that caused the changes. As the only clinic of its kind in the region, there is a lot to say.

This week/weekend I may begin to have a social life. There are a few people I've been introduced to via email before I came that I hope to meet up with, and may end up going out socially with some of the Naguru staff. I'm mostly adjusted, but still occasionally have issues eating/sleeping at the proper times, so hopefully this week I will finally become adjusted.

I'm taking medicine for malaria but so far the mosquitos don't seem to be too bad where I am. I sleep under a net, and put on repellent particularly between sundown and sunrise. There are a few cockroaches in the house, and though I should be used to them by now, they still gross me out-especially the big ones. There is one somewhere in my room right now, and I'm trying not to think about it. So far, East Africa is a nice place with great weather and friendly people. January is the hottest, driest month, which is nice after the cold weeks I spent in PA. I'm with good people, and they're taking care of me as I slowly adjust to life here.



17 January 05 Leaving tomorrow!

So this site is as done as it's going to be before I leave, I guess. I'm still in the process of packing so I don't have time to write much. Check back, and send me emails. Can't wait to see Africa, and Uganda!