I’ve got so much to tell you about! In fact, I’m not quite sure where to start…I usually go in somewhat of a chronological order with these blog entries, but this time, I’m going to shake things up a bit. Some of this is very new stuff, some go back a week or two, and I just wasn’t able to include them in earlier entries, because they didn’t quite fit. I was originally planning on including stories about my weekend in Jinja in this entry, but it’s already so long, and the rest is a little bit more random, so I’m going to write a separate entry about it tomorrow! Be on the lookout for that! And for pictures for both entries, which I’ll probably upload sometime on Friday!
I’ve now survived a plethora of non-serious, but irritating ailments after my bout of (maybe) malaria! These include extremely chapped lips, heat rash, bug bites (I think they’re mostly from mosquitos…but bug bites, for the most part, are smaller here than the ones in the U.S.), tummy issues (you don’t want more detail than that, trust me), and most recently—and currently, a mysterious unknown weird thing, that appears to be some type of sinus irritation, although there’s not much pain, just pressure and kind of a numb, tingly feeling all around my sinus area. Of course, it’s uncomfortable, and I’d rather be 100% healthy, but it’s important to remember that I’m in Africa—so shit like that is basically inevitable. Some new buddies I met over the weekend have coined the phrase “This is Africa,” and it’s basically become my mantra, here. More on that in the next blog entry. But anyway, it IS, so I’ve been taking this all in stride and trying to stay positive. And you know me, I know my body well, and am good at taking care of myself. And of course, I’m always prepared with a mini pharmacy (thanks, Mom!). Plus, keeping in mind that “This is Africa,” I’ve been quick to report any and all health issues to the doctor we use here (Dr. Debbie!) and the FSD site team, so that I can nip things in the bud, like I did with the malaria, before they become more serious and severe. It’s always better to be safe than sorry! …Especially here. You know, in Africa.
And, to some degree, the fact that I’m really here still hasn’t quite hit me. I continue to be amazed when I’m riding in a car and the view out my window looks like this:
(that’s Lake Victoria, by the way!).
But at the same time, I’m astounded to how well I’ve also adapted, and how used to so many things here I’ve become. It no longer fazes me when I walk down the road and everyone yells “Muzungu! Muzungu!” I’ve nearly perfected my bucket showering technique: wet the hair, add shampoo, pour some water over your head to rinse it out and wet the rest of your body, add soap, pour water over your head again, then face, neck, torso, shoulders and back, arms—pouring from the top of the upper arm to the lower arm, flipping the arm to the other side and repeating, front of the legs—pouring top to bottom, backs of the legs—also top to bottom, and again pouring water over your head to finish it off, making sure to leave extra water in case there are any spots that are still soapy, so you can go back and do them again. It’s pure genius, I know. I’ve only once run out of water and still been soapy, and the only time I’ve ever slipped and fallen was on day 2. It was pretty traumatic at the time, but I wasn’t hurt or anything. Oh, and never in my life did I think I’d be so blasé about riding on a motorcycle, but boda boda rides have become a fairly regular mode of transportation for me, especially in Jinja, and it really doesn’t phase me. I even ride side-saddle sometimes. This is typically what Ugandan women do, mostly because of the skirts. Otherwise, if you’re riding a boda “like a man” and you’re in a skirt, you’ve got to sort of pull the bottom up between your legs from the back (“diaper style”—it’s sexy). It still works, but honestly side saddle is easier most of the time. Although if I’m not sharing a boda and can’t hold onto a friend, I always ride the way men do. Diaper style and all.
I’ve also gained a better understanding of how to not get ripped off by people who try to charge me muzungu prices. I’ve learned the typical prices that Ugandans pay for things, so I insist on paying the same prices and I’m a tough cookie about it. Oh really, boda driver? You want to charge me 3,000 shillings for a ride (3x the standard rate)? “I’m sure I can find another driver who would be happy to take me for 1000 shillings.” Aaand there we go. “Webale, ssebo!”
Which is not to say that I don’t get homesick, because of course, I do. My parents can definitely attest to that—I sent them a super frustrated, weepy, homesick e-mail the other day, and they were incredibly sweet and supportive about it (thanks again, guys!) I miss running water and air conditioning and shorts and food that isn’t the same, starchy, bland (but still somehow over-salted), overcooked thing every day. Sometimes, at work, the four of us interns will sit around and talk about the food that we’re going to eat when we get back. It’s wonderful and torturous at the same time. But most of all, I miss all of YOU! I’ve talked to several of you on facebook at times, and I’ve really treasured those conversations. It’s so nice to be able to talk to loved ones back home, and to hear about your lives, even if you think they’re really boring. They never are to me. Anyway, it helps a lot and it really makes my day to hear from you guys, so please, feel free to reach out and send me a message or an e-mail. I’m not always able to respond right away, but rest assured that I absolutely will as soon as I can!
Keeping in touch with friends and family in the U.S. is one way I battle my homesickness and get my American culture fix, but another big one is by watching movies! It started when I was feeling particularly tired and didn’t feel like reading (by the way, I’ve now finished Catch-22, In the Woods, The Crying of Lot 49—now I can sometimes understand what all you loveable English majors who took that Pynchon class are always going on about and actually be part of the conversation, instead of developing an intense fascination with my tortilla chip in the corner of the booth at Club 41 for half an hour…hi, Zac Brewer, I know you’re reading this—, and Neil Labute’s short play cycle Autobahn). I had already spent an hour or so online sending e-mails and talking to people on facebook, and I need to conserve the megabytes on my modem so that I don’t run out. In my state of boredom, I was just scrolling through my itunes library, when I realized that I had a movie that I could watch. The one movie that I had ever personally purchased and downloaded on itunes, for my brother (Hi Ben! Do you read my blog? I don’t know…stop fooling around and go study for your finals!) and me to watch on a very long drive to Maryland—and that movie is “Wayne’s World.” Oh, and it was excellent. It was exactly the type of good old-fashioned American pop culture lighthearted stupid-funny comedy that I needed. It’s actually a little embarrassing how happy it made me. No, really. I actually cried during the Bohemian Rhapsody part, because it was so perfect for me in that moment. I mean, I wasn’t sobbing or anything, I just got a little misty-eyed. Still. You really miss stuff like that here. After that, I visited a dvd store that I knew of in Jinja (Caroline, one of the program coordinators is actually dating one of the guys who works there). It’s great! Dvds there cost 3,000 shillings each, which is like $1.25. And it’s nice, because we each bought a few, so we can trade with one another after we’ve watched them, which is great. And you know what else is great? “Bridesmaids.” Which I FINALLY watched on Monday night.
So, pretty cool stuff. Work has still been frustrating, but we’ve been working through it. We actually had a really productive day yesterday. We held a well-attended meeting with the group of people in Kakira who will be participating in our project, as well as the man who will be coming to train them to care for, milk, and rear goats (yes, we’re sticking with goats! It’s official!). We’ve developed our work plan and are still tweaking our budget. Hopefully that will all be completed by tomorrow, and we’ll be right on schedule for the rest of our time here!
As for my host family situation, I know some of you have been worrying a bit. A few people have contacted me and I’ve given them more details about the situation. If you’d like to know more information, you’re still welcome to do the same. Out of the people I’ve spoken to, though, there are some who have more recent updates than others, so I’m just going to let you all know about the ultimate resolution. FSD offered us the option of moving to a different host family in a nearby town. Of course, with this option was the obvious benefit of living with new people, who would hopefully respect FSD’s rules better, and we’d feel more comfortable around them. However, switching to the new family would also mean we’d have a much longer commute to work, the living conditions (bathroom, etc.) might not be as good as they are now. Not to mention, we’d have to completely readjust to a new host family and hometown, when we were just getting used to Kakira. It was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but in the end, we decided to stay with our current host family. FSD will be speaking to them, which they would have done regardless, so hopefully this will be enough to set things straight and make everyone feel better. If, for some reason, a similar incident occurs in the future, or if the atmosphere becomes very uncomfortable and awkward after the talk with FSD, we can always switch to the other host family. So far, things have been ok.
While I might be pretty disenchanted with some members of the host family, I’ve really enjoyed spending time with others, and look forward to getting to know them even better! Specifically, my younger host brother and sisters—Steven, Desire, Cecelia, and Zahara (I haven’t told you about her yet! She didn’t arrive until last week, because she was away at school, but she is Annette, my adult host sister’s daughter, and she’s 18 years old).
Steven is really cool, he’s already become a big brother figure to me in the way that I see many of my male friends. He’s offered to take me and the other interns out some night to the clubs and bars he likes to go to in Jinja. He loves music and dancing, so we’ve been talking a lot about that kind of stuff. I’m hoping to go see a local band play with him at some point (it sounds like it would probably be a country band…which I think would be quite the experience to witness).
Cecelia is really sweet. She’s shy, but she’s starting to open up a little more. She’s really smart, she loves history, and she wants to be a lawyer, which I think is pretty cool. She got very excited when I told her that both my parents were lawyers. Desire continues to be bubbly and talkative. She tells me all about her school and her friends, and is very curious about how my experiences in the U.S. compare to hers. She and Cecelia are both very into pop culture, and ask me lots of questions about which celebrities I know, and what types of things are popular where I live. We had a pretty funny conversation yesterday, that sparked from a music video we were watching on tv, which featured women in bikinis dancing on a beach. They were totally astounded by the fact that most American women wore bathing suits like that, and that I wore bikinis at home, too. As I’ve mentioned, Ugandan fashion is much more conservative. Desire said she goes swimming in a t-shirt and shorts. I wonder what she’d think about some of the other stuff I wear at home…or about my job at school!
Zahara, I think, is the person in the family with whom I have become closest. She’s an incredible woman, even though she is still so young. She’s a student leader at her school, and she’s helped to spearhead protests there, of unfair and corrupt actions the new principal there has been making. She’s smart, strong, and independent, and I really admire her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she became president of Uganda someday. We’ve got a lot in common, too. We share many of the same opinions and preferences. She loves literature, especially Greek mythology, and fantasy books and movies (actually Steven, Cecelia, and Desire all love fantasy, too! They own several fantasy movies and tv shows—including some seasons of the show Merlin, dubbed over in Lugandan. It’s really funny to watch an English program with Lugandan dubbing. Actually, Lugandan dubbing in general is really funny. One guy does the voices for all of the characters and he speaks in a monotone the whole time. Not only does he do their lines, he also narrates throughout the entire production, just in case you couldn’t see for yourself what the characters are doing when they’re not speaking. The best is when there’s a foreign film, with Lugandan dubbing and English subtitles on the bottom of the screen. It’s pretty hilarious.). Last night, we watched the Prince Caspian movie (we both love The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter books!), which thankfully was the regular English version. Everyone went to bed before the movie ended except for Zahara and me. We watched the whole thing and then stayed up talking until about 1:30am. It was really great! She asked me for boy advice, which I was happy to help her with. Turns out that boys are stupid no matter what country you live in (don’t take it personally, guys…girls are stupid, too! Plus, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably one of those rare, non-stupid boys that I actually like to spend time with). Anyway, she shared her problem with me, and I offered feedback…although it seemed pretty clear to both of us what she felt was the best thing to do. I think it helped to be able to talk it out with someone, though. She told me I inspired her, and I felt so honored. It was a huge deal to me, and a really special moment. I hope that we have many more of those in the next few weeks, and with the other girls, too. I know it’s kind of cheesy, but they really do feel like the little sisters I never had. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep in touch, even after I come back to the United States.
Ok, I think I’ve rambled on about myself long enough for tonight. It’s getting late, although it’s probably early evening for you, at the moment! Thanks so much for reading, keep checking back, and please feel free to leave a comment or to get in touch with me!
P. S. Speaking of getting in touch, I know some of you had talked about mailing me letters. If you want to do that, first of all, keep in mind that the postal system is very unreliable around here, and that it will probably take around 3 weeks for me to receive a letter. If you haven’t been discouraged by that, address the letter to me, and mail it to:
Foundation for Sustainable Development
Haji Tarmac RD, Plot 31,
JINJA – UGANDA