Hostels, Religion, and Chickens–Oh My!

Hey Everyone!

I’m sorry I haven’t written an entry in a little while.  We were without electricity in Kakira for most of the week, which meant I couldn’t use my computer (it was pretty dead after I came back from Jinja town), and then some problems with my host family left me without the energy or enthusiasm to write much.  I won’t give too many details on here, but if you’d like to know more, feel free to send me an e-mail or facebook message.  Don’t worry, though, I’ve spoken to the FSD site team and the situation is in the process of being resolved.  I’m still doing my best to maintain a positive attitude, and other than that, my experience here has still been great!

The other interns and I had a great time in Jinja town last weekend.  It was great to see everyone and catch up on the experiences we’d all been having with our host families and host organizations.  There was definitely a wide variety within the experiences.  Some people had been really active at their organizations—in the field every day, making friends with their supervisors (one of the younger supervisors even came to hang out and drink with us that night), and some had been doing a lot of sitting around and reading materials about other programs.  One group, unfortunately, seemed to be having issues with their NGO, as some of the junior members didn’t seem to understand what their purpose was, and was exploiting the fact that they were white to intimidate members of the town into paying their debts on time.  Definitely an uncomfortable situation, but the FSD site team seems to have taken care of things well, and when I talked to the interns yesterday, they were very excited about the program they have been starting to develop!

People had great stories to tell about their host families too!  One girl has a sister exactly her age who she’s bonded with and has shown her many exciting things to do in their town.  Another has a very sweet host mother, who serves her salad at every meal (even breakfast) because she mentioned that she liked salad (you’re supposed to be careful and make sure you say “sometimes,” because Ugandans tend to do that kind of thing…she forgot to).

Everyone seems to have gotten addicted to a terribly cheesy Nigerian soap opera (dubbed over in English) called “Beautiful But Unlucky.”  Unfortunately, my host family doesn’t have cable, so Emma and I can’t keep up with it.  Greg and Erica always fill us in at work, though.  Mostly, we watch music videos ranging from Michael Jackson to Dolly Parton (country music is HUGE here, would you have guessed that?), but mainly consisting of Christian rock and Gospel music.

People are very religious here.  It’s not socially acceptable not to have a religion in Uganda, although it’s mostly just because people don’t quite understand it.  One of the guys from our program is an atheist, so they advised him to pretend that he practiced a religion.  He decided to adopt Judaism, which, as those of us here who are Jewish have found, comes with its own set of complications.  There is a small Jewish population in a different part of Uganda called Mbale, and apparently a synagogue in Kampala, but most people I’ve encountered have never heard of Judaism, and don’t really seem to understand the religion (“So do you believe in Jesus?”).  Most people are still pretty accepting of it, though William, my host brother, seems to think that I should be Catholic, and has told me so on a few occasions.  Still, there are a wide variety of religions in Uganda.  Even in my family, some members of the family are Catholic and some are Pentecostal.  My host sister is even a born-again pastor.  Greg’s host father is Christian and his host mother is Muslim—I actually live just down the road from a Mosque, and I’m frequently woken up at 5am by their daily calls to prayer.

After we filled each other and the site team in about our first weeks, they surprised us all with a cake for Esme’s birthday. It was from a bakery in town, we’ve been told it makes the best chocolate cake and apparently it’s run by a grumpy Australian woman. Here’s the birthday girl, just after she blew out the candles!

The cake was pretty good, but I miss the bakery I go to back home—they’ve definitely got better chocolate cake.  Actually, they really don’t eat much chocolate in Uganda, it’s very hard to find, I guess because they export it all.  Sweets in general are not terribly common here.  It’s funny, because Ugandans take ridiculous amounts of sugar in their tea, but almost everything else is more savory than sweet.  We tried some doughnuts the other day, and they were nothing like the kind you’d find in America, they mostly just tasted like bread.  It’s been disappointing for me, with my enormous sweet tooth, but I guess it’s healthier in the long run.

That night, we stayed at a hostel called Backpackers, which we’d eaten dinner at during orientation.  This is where most of the muzungus stay when they visit Uganda as tourists.  They offer all kinds of touristy packages and programs—rafting on the Nile, safaris, etc.  We might do one of those programs during our time here, either over a weekend or during the few days we have after our official program ends.  Originally, we were planning on going out and hitting some of the clubs and bars in Jinja, but we were all pretty tired by the time everyone checked in and we got coordinated, so we just hung out at Backpackers for the night instead.  They have food, a bar, music, and games, so there was still a fun nightlife-type atmosphere.  We were joined by some of the younger site team interns and their friends, as well as the supervisor for one of the NGOs, as I said.  We made friends with some of the other tourists, as well as some native Ugandans who, I suspect, like to hang out at Backpackers to pick up foreign girls.  A very flirty Ugandan man was trying really hard to get me to come dancing with him, but of course, I graciously declined his request.  Here are some pictures from our night there:

 

(Note: Maria was not even drinking that night.  She was sober when that picture was taken.)

 

On Sunday, I went to the market in Kakira.  They have extra stalls and special goods that they only offer on weekends, then.  It was pretty cool, although all I bought was food.  I had a Rolex for the first time–it’s nothing like the watch, it’s basically an omelet rolled up in chapati bread, which is a type of flat bread, that’s sort of similar to Indian Naan.  Chapati is my favorite Ugandan food, so far.  I was feeling pretty bold and open to new experiences that day, so I also tried grasshoppers.  They’re a delicacy in Uganda.  Here’s a picture of me with my first one, and one as I’m about to eat it:

 

Turns out they’re not bad.  They fry them, so they’re very crunchy, a bit like oddly-flavored and textured potato chips (or crisps, as they’re called here, like in England).  Mostly though, they just tasted fried.

If we hadn’t already, this week, the other St. Eliza interns and I have definitely grown to understand the meaning of “Uganda Time.”  We’re asked to arrive at work at 9am each morning.  I’m pretty sure the earliest our supervisor has arrived all week was 11am.  Usually he’s here by noon or so, which means we’ve got about an hour or less of actual work before our lunch break.  Basically, this is what we do all day:

 

 

Oh, and brace yourselves!  This next picture is not for the faint of heart! It’s a picture of one of the bathrooms we (and the others who live and work at St. Eliza) have to use at work.  My host family has a much nicer one though, so don’t worry!  But this one…we call it The Pit of Death.  I live in constant terror of falling in one day (this will never actually happen, don’t worry, the opening is not quite large enough).

Now, some of you might be getting pretty jealous at the thought of having so much down time to hang out at work, but for us it’s been frustrating, at least most of the time.  We only have a short amount of time here to complete our project, and with the amount of time we waste each day (we’re still at the stage where we need a lot of help from Joseph, so we can’t do much on our own when he isn’t here), it becomes more an more difficult to complete the project.  This hasn’t been helped by the fact that much of what Joseph has been having us do is not terribly productive or helpful to our purposes.  We’ve only just today been able to finally solidify our project, after having to change it twice and abandon the ones we had initially preferred—partially due to flakiness on his part, and an inability to get the more specific information we needed more quickly, but I think the one we’ve got now will still be good.  And don’t get me wrong—Joseph really is a fantastic person to work with, and we all really like him.  It’s just that he’s really terrible when it comes to anything to do with time.  So, anyway, the project we’ve finally settled on will be providing chickens to single mothers in Kakira and teaching them how to rear them.  Through this project, they’ll attain food security and generate income for themselves and their families—a much healthier alternative than turning to prostitution, as many of them do.  As a result, this will also hopefully reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs, as well as to keep their children in school rather than working to support their families.  Definitely still very worthwhile and beneficial, though I do wish we hadn’t spent the whole day putting together presentations and work plans for the projects we had been planning on doing before we had to switch.

BUT WAIT! A SPECIAL ADDENDUM TO MY ORIGINAL ENTRY! A few hours ago (it’s now 4:45 on Friday June 8th, the day after I published this originally), we received a call from Joseph, telling us that we had to switch our project AGAIN! Apparently rearing goats would be better, according to the guy who was going to help us get a trainer to teach the women in Kakira how to rear chickens.  So I guess we’re switching to goats.  I just hope the women of the town like our idea.  It’s getting very frustrating, I really hope this is our final project, because I know we all really want to get started.

We’re going back to Jinja again tomorrow.  This time, we’ll be there for the whole weekend.  FSD is leading an informational program tomorrow about the history of child soldiers and civil wars in Uganda, which I’m really looking forward to.  I think it will be really interesting (probably more interesting than the grant writing program we had yesterday, although both were very informative).  For the rest of the weekend, we’re planning on exploring Jinja—actually going out to bars and clubs, doing some shopping, and maybe going on an excursion to a local waterfall or some type of nature-y location.  I’ve also been pushing hard for a spa day, so hopefully that will work out, too.  I’ll keep you updated and hopefully write more soon!

Mweraba!

Rachel

P. S. Fun fact-“Mweraba” is the word for goodbye when addressing a large group of people.  For one person, you say “Weraba!”

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About racheltamarin

I'm a college student, studying abroad in Jinja, Uganda this summer. Through this blog, I will share stories and thoughts about my journey (and make sure my family and friends know that I'm still alive!).
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