What Fear of Heights? (The Magic of Sipi Falls)

Jambo!

I just want to take a minute to say thank you once again to all of you who have been reading my blog!  Many of you have been saying such kind things, and it really means a lot to me to have so much love and support.  I really thought almost no one would read this blog (except maybe my parents and a few friends, occasionally, when they were bored), so it’s really astounding to me to have so many regular followers.  And of course, it’s always nice to hear when new people have started reading!

Ok, as promised, I’m going to tell you all about my weekend at Sipi Falls, a place which I can only accurately describe as “magical” and “the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”  I am NOT exaggerating, as I hope you’ll see soon enough.

We arrived at the FSD office on Friday afternoon, for our final round of rabies shots and some catching up before our departure.  It was great to see everyone and to hear about how all of the projects were going (well, as it turns out).  Pretty much everyone is in the same boat as we are, in that things are going well, but because the community is pretty much self-sufficient at this point, there’s not much for them to do.  Except for the UNC girls, that is.  Their soap making project has been great so far, but as a result, they’ve been taking on additional projects to supplement it, so they have pretty much no free time.  I can’t decide which situation is better.  I suppose its good to have lots of down time to hang out and potentially explore the area, but you all know how I like to keep busy, and it’s been driving me kind of nuts to have so little to occupy my time.  Plus, waiting around for Joseph sucks.  Things haven’t gotten any easier.  As always, I arrived at 9am today, and literally, he did not arrive until 5pm.  Yes, he was 8 HOURS LATE for work, and I spent pretty much the entire day sitting in the office waiting for him.  It’s a good thing our meeting took all of 2 minutes.  At least there wasn’t much else I had to do (though I’d have preferred to wait around for him at home, where there’s more comfortable furniture).

We departed from Jinja at about 1:30, and spent about 3-4 hours in a coaster (a way less-high-tech version of a coach bus. Coasters > Mataatus).  We passed through all of the towns the interns were staying in, and got to see some of their homes and regular hangout spots, which was really nice.  We also drove through Mbale, where the famed (but really, only to us, not many people know about them) Abayudaya Jews apparently live.  We didn’t see any of them, but we did pass a store with a Jewish star on it, so that was pretty cool.  Proof that they exist, I suppose.  On our drive, we got to see some really beautiful scenery, including a lovely view of an African sunset.

However, this was nothing compared to Sipi Falls itself.  The landscape was absolutely incredible.  Here’s the view from our hotel:

And the sunrise, which I woke up quite early to witness:

By the way, I’m listening to Neko Case right now, and looking through the pictures I took while “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” is playing has got me feeling particularly sentimental.

In case you’re wondering about the hotel itself, no, the conditions were not ideal.  Not quite as bad as the Mbira Forest accommodations, though.  I had my own bed, in a cabin with several others, like at Backpackers.  There was no electricity in the cabin, and the toilets were pretty bad (there was a really weird, wooden one…the mouth of which looked like a vagina.  And I know you’re probably thinking that’s just me because after directing The Vagina Monologues in 2011 I’m still kind of known as Geneseo’s resident vagina lady and therefore must see vaginas in everything, but I’m not the only one who thought so!  It really was uncanny), and there was a piece of ancient chewed gum stuck to my mosquito net, but I’m pretty sure it was plugging up a hole, so it was kind of a good thing, ultimately.  It was cold at night, but it’s much easier to warm yourself up than it is to cool yourself off at nighttime in Africa, so I didn’t really mind so much, and it was all completely worth it.

Now, to tour Sipi Falls, one is required to embark on a very intense, 3-5 hour hike, where one will encounter steep hills, rocks, mud, and any number of other obstacles.  I was kind of dumb, and accidentally packed just my converses, as opposed to my other, more athletic sneakers (at least I had pants this time!).  It might have made things slightly more difficult, but for the most part, I was totally fine.  Before we embarked, the guides (Joseph and Moses—I knew I was in good hands!) assembled us to detail the journey.  They said that they’d provide us with walking sticks if we’d like them.  At first, I thought “No way!  I don’t want everyone to think I’m a stupid tourist who can’t handle the wilderness.”  But they said they strongly recommended the walking sticks—one of the guides even took one (I can’t remember which, but I’m going to selectively remember that it was Moses…because, come on…).  Also, after thinking about it for another minute, I realized that, wait—walking sticks aren’t lame, they’re BADASS and would put me on par with magical wizards and forest-dwelling wise folk, so I took one.  Also, I didn’t want to fall and break my ass or die.   I can’t even begin to tell you how immensely helpful it was.  I actually grew quite attached to it, and it was hard to let it go at the end of the hike.

Like I said, the hike was by no means easy.  I got tired, sweaty, out of breath, and, above all, covered in dirt and mud.  It’s Tuesday, and my thighs are still sore.  But I’m proud of myself!  I slipped many times, but almost always caught myself!  I only fell once (well….ok, twice, but nobody saw me the first time, so shhh!).  And even during most of the really difficult parts (uphill at least, downhill I wasn’t taking any chances so I went pretty slowly), I was keeping up with a lot of the more athletic members of the group, like the girls who have done outward bound type-programs (which, by the way, they were talking about on the hike.  I was panting and thus refrained from joining in but listened attentively.  They’re all totally badass.).  I pushed myself physically, and I’m really glad for that.  It’s worth the sore legs (which most of us have), and of course, the breathtaking views were well worth the hike.  See for yourself:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best part was the second big waterfall we got to stop at.  We went really close to it, and even got to stand under it!

 

 

There was a pretty cool cave, as well.

 

And speaking of mythical creatures, The Mathematician even showed up!  I couldn’t pass up that kind of golden opportunity to bring her out.  It’s been awhile since she’s seen the light of day.  She’s been pretty busy—lots of days to number, you know.  (Please let someone from Currently Known As: be reading this.  Otherwise I just look stupid and no one will think it’s funny).

A bunch of the interns even went into the waterfall (the part that wasn’t very strong).   I would have gone, but I didn’t want to walk around in wet clothes, and I was a little worried about how much traction I’d have in my shoes (remember? I didn’t want to break my ass?).  It looked like they had a lot of fun, though!

This is the waterfall that you can see from one of the first pictures, of the view from our hotel.  That should give you an idea of how far we hiked.

Later that afternoon, we all hung out at the hotel, and I made a new friend, named Mark.  He’s working in Kampala and is from Louisiana.  He was such a bro, but a really good natured guy.  It was fun swapping muzungu-in-Uganda stories with him, and hopefully we’ll keep in touch (he gave us his e-mail address) and swap tips on where to go in Kampala and Jinja, respectively!

The following morning, we all had a big group meeting, where we shared “roses and thorns” about our host families and organizations.  It was nice to be able to connect with everyone and have some vocalized support from Jonan, Caroline, and all the others.  Made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  But it also made me realize how quickly time has passed—how much I’ve learned and grown since the first few days I arrived in Uganda.  At the orientation, the Sipi Falls retreat felt impossibly far away, but now it’s over, and I can’t believe it!  I have a feeling the next 3 weeks are going to fly by, and I’ll be home before we know it!

Mweraba!

Rachel

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Polish Girl, Katikitiki, and The Grateful Dead: (aka THE ULTIMATE DANCE PARTY)

Jambo!

Ok, I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to see the finished goat structures (complete with goats) so I’ll just show you those right off the bat.  I don’t want to keep you waiting:

Here’s the completed first structure, the one we were working on in my last blog entry:

And the second one:

With goats!

Yesterday at work we had sort of a ceremony, where a representative from the Kakira Town Council came to see the goat structures.  We sat and talked for a little while, everyone shook hands, and then we took some ceremonial pictures.

Of course, a goat had to be included in the picture…

But it was hard to keep him still!

There were also a ton of kids that followed us around the whole time we were in the village, yesterday.  Usually we’ll get at least one or two who come up to us, and some will follow us when we walk, try to hold our hands or get us to take photos of them, stuff like that, but this was definitely the biggest and most dogged gaggle of children we’ve had yet.  They kept running after us and trying to get our attention.  They were showing off for us, too—dancing and doing cartwheels and things like that.  Oh, and they LOVED pictures.  They wouldn’t leave me alone when I was trying to take some of the goat structure to include in our project report.  I appeased them by taking some of them in front of the structure and then saying “ok, and now you all have to move out of the way.”  As you can see, some even snuck into the ceremonial goat photo…they just didn’t quite get it when a picture wasn’t intended to have them in it.

“Ok, but really, you need to move, now…”

Anyway, that was basically the biggest thing we’ve done at work all week.  We also brought in a financial trainer yesterday to talk to the people in the community about how to best manage their funds and keep records.  I’m sure it was very informative, but the session was conducted almost entirely in Lugandan, so I really couldn’t understand it.  It was funny, at the end, they asked us what we had to add to the lecture, and we really didn’t know what to say except that we were sure that whatever the trainer had said was very important.  Other than that, it’s been a lot of sitting around and waiting, as usual.  I’ve finished every book that I brought with me, except Neil Labute’s Bash.  Luckily, other interns also brought books, so we’ve been doing some trading.  Also, Sean Michael Welch was nice enough to send me some more of his plays to read, so I’ve got those to look forward to as well!  This is especially important because we’ve got our mid-program FSD retreat this weekend to Sipi Falls, which is supposed to be beautiful, but there’s little-to-no electricity.  Luckily, I’ve got a head-lamp (thanks mom!).  It’s kind of silly looking and I feel like a coal miner whenever I wear it, but it does give off a sizable amount of light, so it’s completely worth it!

Last weekend was pretty uneventful.  We stayed in Kakira on Friday night (our first time doing that), so it was pretty much exactly the same as every other evening I spend in Kakira.  Emma bought the first two seasons of The West Wing at the dvd store, so I borrowed them from her and now I’m addicted.  She’s very proud of her role as an enabler.  I’d been meaning to watch it for years, and I’m glad I’ve finally gotten the opportunity to.  Oh, and it was nice to be able to have immediate gratification after the finale of Season 1 and not have to agonize for months about what had happened to the characters.

On Saturday, we went into Jinja.  Backpackers was completely booked, so we tried a new hostel, with a very similar name (Jinja Backpackers on the Nile).  It was prettier and nicer than the other ones we’ve stayed at so far, and it had a beautiful restaurant, right on the Nile River, with really good food.  It was definitely worth it.  Here’s a picture of the view from the restaurant:

We weren’t able to go out to the clubs or anything, because it started pouring after we finished dinner.  And when I say pouring, I mean coming down in BUCKETS.  It made so much noise on the roof that we could barely hear one another speak!  It rained again on Sunday, too, pretty much all day.  We actually got trapped at the internet café we went to for breakfast, and had to stay there for most of the day.  As a result, we had to miss lunch with the new interns and couldn’t go bungee jumping (though I’ve actually decided against going…not because I’m scared, because I want to save my money for the SAFARI we’re going on after the FSD program ends!  That’s right…I’m going on a safari.).  I was disappointed not to have met the new interns (you know how much I love new friends!), but hopefully we’ll get to hang out with them at some point!

By now, you’re probably wondering about the title of this entry, and how the hell it applies to my life here.  Well, for a while, I had been talking to my host sisters about teaching me how to dance like Ugandans do, and about playing them some of the music that I listen to back home.  On Monday night, most of the family had gone to a burial, so we were the only ones home around dinnertime, and I figured it would be perfect.  So I brought my laptop into the living room (part of why I wanted to do it with less people around…I don’t like calling attention to my laptop or having to answer questions from everyone about how much it cost, etc.), and opened up itunes.

Zahara likes strong female singers (she’s named Whitney Houston and Marriah Carey in the past as favorites), so I played some Regina Spektor for her.  They girls really liked her; they thought she had a beautiful voice, which made me happy (because I’m pretty sure most of you know how much I love Regina).  I tried to play them music that was popular enough that they might have heard it, but that was still music that I actually liked (I know I said “Call Me, Maybe” was my jam the other weekend…but really, we all know that it’s usually SO NOT).  Included on this list was “Some Nights” by Fun. and “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.  They wanted to hear “classic” music, and they really like country music, which is at least somewhat similar to folk, so I thought The Grateful Dead would be a good choice.  They LOVED them!  I was very proud.  I thought they might have heard of the Grateful Dead before, since they’re pretty famous, and they know some similar artists, but they didn’t.  I tried to work in a bit of a history lesson about hippies and the 60s, but I don’t think they really appreciated it, which I was sad about.  They just thought it was really weird that men would have long hair and beards (but I think those of you who fit that description are really cool!).

Next, the girls shared a mix cd they had with different popular Ugandan songs.  I was really proud of myself, because I actually knew one of them before they showed it to me!  Before I left New York, I tried to look up some Ugandan music, and I found a playlist on youtube!  One of the songs (and the only one I really remembered) was called “Katikitiki” and it’s by a woman named Angela Kalule (I may have spelled that incorrectly).  It’s not in English, but essentially it’s about her counting the hours until her husband or boyfriend or whoever gets home (katikitiki = the ticking of a clock).  It’s very popular here, and I’ve heard it a few times playing at stores or on public transportation, too.  Now it’s on my itunes.  And you can listen to it here:

Please note: The music video is weird. They’re all like that.

So we listened to that song and many others, like “Pressure of Love” by Chosen Walden, “Daniela” by Chamelion and Papa CD, and “Njagala”—which is Lugandan for “I like it”, by Judith Babirye.  I’ll be bringing them all home with me, so I can share them with you.  And of course, I got a dance lesson.  I think I got the very bare minimum, it was like how people mostly dance at clubs, I guess, so it was actually pretty similar to dancing in the U.S (minus the grinding and booty-popping).  Basically, it’s moving your waist and hips with the beat and sometimes incorporating some slightly more complicated footwork and arm movements.  So, pretty much like how I already dance.  I actually had no trouble picking it up, and it really was pretty much how I typically dance, but I guess it was still very funny to them to see me dancing.  By the way, Ugandans think EVERYTHING is funny, especially when a muzungu does it.  So it didn’t really phase me much.  Then, they were asking me to play music that I like to dance to at home, and wanted to see how I danced.  So I played Polish Girl, by Neon Indian (because it’s always Polish Girl), and I danced for them…basically in the same way I just had been.  I told them that my friends always play this song at parties.  I’m not sure how much they really liked the song, though, I think the electronic-ness was strange to them.  I explained to them about techno/electronic/dubstep music and how popular it was in the U.S. for people to dance to.  They definitely did not see the appeal.  That’s ok, they can keep dancing to Angela Kalule’s music, and I’ll stick to Neon Indian and Golgol Bordello (I’m wearing purple, today!).

Stay tuned for an entry about my electricity-free weekend in Sipi Falls!

Mweraba!

Rachel

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I Hope These Goats Appreciate How Lucky They Are

Jambo once again, everyone!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures that I was finally able to put up!  I was able to do some on Wednesday when I was in Jinja, and finished the rest at home, since I bought an additional gigabyte for my modem!  I’m going to try not to use the modem for photos too regularly, though, because they do take up a lot of megabytes.  So as usual, keep checking back for the most recent photo additions for each blog post (weekends are usually a pretty good bet, since I often go into Jinja.  I’ll definitely be there on Saturday.)

So, pretty much all of my recent news and stories concern goats.  More specifically, how I, the other interns, and the members of the community have been preparing for the arrival of the ones that are going to kickoff our goat-rearing project!  First, a bit of information on the goats.  Those of you who know a bit about goats (anyone?  I do know some people who do, believe it or not, but I’m pretty sure they don’t read this blog) might be wondering whether the goats we’re rearing are going to be ones that are used for their milk or for their meat (yes, there are two types, which not everyone realizes).  The answer is that we’re using meat goats.  Something new that I learned on our goat farm field trip (more on that later) is that meat goats can be identified by the fact that they all have white fur with brown patches.  Goats of any other color are milk goats.  Throw that one out at your next dinner party, I bet you’ll impress everyone.

On Monday, we loaded up a mataatu full of villagers and embarked on a field trip to visit existing goat farms that were relatively close by (fyi: a 45 minute drive in a mataatu that’s packed to the gills and happens to be falling apart more than the average ones are is not the easiest of rides).  The bumpy ride was worth it, though.  It was cool to see what our project has the potential to become, and all of the villagers we visited were really friendly!  The women from Kakira particularly bonded with the women on the last farm we visited, which was a lot of fun to see.  The villagers there were particularly generous to us, too.  They gave us a snack, seeds to plant that will grow into a source of goat food, and a large sack of maize (corn) to take back as a gift.  Normally, I don’t like Ugandan maize (they either boil it and it’s gummy or roast it and it’s dry and hard…both ways it tends to be tasteless), but my host family roasted it that evening and it was actually pretty good, probably because it was extremely fresh—not that almost all the food I eat here isn’t.  In any case, I think the trip got everyone really excited, and even more enthusiastic about getting started with our actual work!

Just before we went back to Kakira, we took a detour and stopped at a local attraction—a beautiful waterfall, the name of which I cannot recall!  But it’s the opposite and less-well-known bank of Kalagala Falls.  Now that there’s a dam at Bujugali, it is Uganda’s most powerful waterfall.

(by the way, I found out, it’s called Itanda Falls!)

On Tuesday, we held another meeting for everyone to attend—this time in a classroom at St. Eliza.  The purpose of the meeting was to draft a legal document—a constitution, essentially, to outline and specify the group’s commitment to this project and to address the responsibilities of the goat owners and the members of the community, as well as to provide guidelines for any issues that might arise in the future.  I think we all did a great job, and everyone seems to be on the same page.  The one problem we ran into was actually that the legal representative who was supposed to help us out never showed up.   This was apparently due to a combination of Uganda time and overbooking.  It was ok, though.  We just wrote everything down and Joseph brought it to his office, so that he can properly format it and modify it as needed.  We also had the group determine who would receive the first few goats (I was excited because Monica—one of the women I like the best, whose help and support have so far been invaluable is going to get the first male goat and goat structure), and to tell us what resources they already had and what we’d need to purchase.

Which brings me, of course, to Wednesday, when we traveled to Jinja town to purchase materials for the goat structures.  And when I say “we,” I mean that Joseph and Monica made the purchases while we stood off to the side and tried to look inconspicuous.  When you’re trying to get the best possible deal in a marketplace, it’s really not helpful to have a muzungu present, because they’ll assume that you’ll have lots of money and try to overcharge you.  It was during this time in which I had what I’m fairly certain is my worst experience so far in Uganda.  I was debating including this story, since I have a fairly wide audience and I’ve been somewhat hesitant for certain people to know, but I’ve decided that I’m ok with it.  I’m certainly not ashamed, and honestly, it does make a good story and, while it’s no laughing matter, is kind of funny anyway.

I was sexually harassed by a madman.  And when I say madman, I mean REALLY mentally unbalanced.  Like, glazed eyes, disheveled, missing several teeth, wearing an infant’s bib and some kind of undergarment thing over his clothing.  I’ve seen equivalent looking individuals on occasion in New York City, but it’s very rare that I’ve encountered one on par with this man.  It’s not uncommon here in for mentally impaired individuals to wander the streets in Uganda, there are a few regulars in the Kakira marketplace, but for the most part they’re fairly harmless, so it’s sort of a live and let live situation.  To be fair, because of his state, I really have no way to be certain that his gesture was even intended in a sexual manner.  He could have just been trying to get my attention or trying to play a game with me or something of that nature…though I’m pretty sure he had some idea of what he was doing and where he was touching me, because it seemed pretty deliberate.  In any case, yes, it was absolutely revolting and it did really freak me out, but I really am ok, and it could have been a lot worse.  I was never really in any danger, I was standing with all of the other interns and Joseph, Monica, and the shopkeeper (who yelled at him and chased him away—though he’d already been running—once she realized what had happened) were very close by, as were many other nice people in the marketplace.  Not to mention, I was within reach of an entire box of machetes.  The only reason I didn’t want to grab one was that I was standing right next to Erica and would have slashed her when I turned around to face the man, like I had to.  There really wasn’t anything anyone could have done to prevent it, he snuck up on us and acted really quickly.  He really did have to be very sneaky to get his arm around my back and between me and Erica the way he did—kind of like an incredibly disturbing ninja.  The fact that he was so weird and gross definitely added to how freaked out I was, but the severity of what he did was fairly small, comparatively, which is actually somewhat comforting.  I mean, worse things happen at the IB every weekend, I’m sure (though I hate the IB and never go, so I can’t speak from experience).  Plus, if the worst threat to my body that I encounter in Uganda—where, let’s face it, both sexual and non-sexual violence can be very real risks—is that (if you’ll excuse me for being a bit crass) a crazy man poked my boob…I think I can live with it.  Of course, it’s unacceptable and should never have happened, but I don’t live in a bubble, and I need to pick my battles.  And being able to say that a crazy Ugandan man poked my boob is kind of hilarious.  Come on, you have to admit it’s a pretty ridiculous situation.  As my dear friend Miles (who happened to be online when I was freaking out shortly after the incident in an internet café…thank you so much, by the way, for talking me through that.  You too, Nate!) so eloquently stated: “well, that was the most awkward sexual harassment story I’ve heard.”  Me too, Miles.  And don’t worry, I totally yelled at him and everything.  But I’m not sure how much I really got through to him, because, you know…he’s a madman.   And I still had a pretty good day.  Pizza, a brownie, and the opportunity to upload photos of monkeys onto my blog made up for it.

On to Thursday, when we started construction on the goat houses.  And again, when I say “we”…it means that mostly the muzungus were watching off to the side.  Now, this isn’t because we didn’t want to or try to help.  It’s just that for the most part, we were completely unknowledgeable and incompetent, and with the limited number of tools and time, we really just slowed people down, so we left it to the villagers who all had much more experience.  Today, we returned to the site, where construction is continuing.  We should be finished in no time!  Things are going really well so far!  See for yourselves:

This is what the site looked like Thursday morning, when we first arrived.  These are holes that people were digging, for the poles that hold up the structure to go in:

I tried to help dig one….

But I was bested by a woman in her 60s…

Just as well.  I was getting blisters, anyway.  And I was too short to help with the poles…

The man in the plaid is Joseph, by the way!  By the time we left the field at 4pm on Thursday, here’s what the villagers had accomplished (Monica is the one in the orange dress):

And here’s what it looked like this morning!

Oh, and there’s a big hill on the outside of this part of the village, which we found when we went exploring.  We walked partway up and discovered a pretty gorgeous view of the sugar fields…

Jealous?  You should be.  And I’m sure you can see now why the goats we’re bringing to the town next week are going to be the luckiest in all of Kakira.  I wasn’t kidding (see what I did there?  That pun was for you, Dad).

Tomorrow we’re heading into Jinja, and on Sunday I get to have lunch with some brand-new FSD interns, coming from Northwestern University.  Oh yeah, and I’m probably going bungee jumping.

Mweraba!

Rachel

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Rain? In a Rainforest?

Jambo!  Oli otya?  Hey, everyone.  I just want to say thank you again so much to all of you, for reading my blog!  I’ve been getting such nice compliments from so many people (some of whom don’t even have an obligation to do that kind of thing!  Although of course I was delighted to learn that my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were regular followers!), and it’s been incredibly heartwarming and comforting, especially when I get homesick, to know that you all care and are thinking of me.  While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to thank everyone who has been taking the time out of his or her busy schedule (or got tired of watching movies while recovering from kidney surgery…hi Mike) to e-mail and facebook message me!  It’s so great to hear from all of you!  I’ve really been feeling the love.  And if you have been reading this but haven’t sent me any kind of message in awhile, maybe you’ll feel sufficiently guilty and get on that!  No pressure, though.

A special note about pictures: I have been trying every time I’m in an internet café to upload pictures for my past few blog entries, but it never seems to work.  I guess a big reason is because so many people are using the internet (usually also to upload photos), so it tends to be pretty slow.  Hopefully I’ll be able to at some point soon.  Maybe I’ll be able to make it to the FSD office soon, or maybe I’ll just splurge on an extra gigabyte or two for my modem and do it on my own time.  Either way, for now, my posts will be photo-less, but keep checking back, because there really are some great ones to go with older posts, which I’d hate for you to miss!

Ok, now it’s story time, boys and girls.  Today’s will be about my trip to Mbira Forest this weekend (in case you couldn’t tell by the title of this entry) which was exciting, to say the least.  Last Wednesday it was Effie’s birthday—she’s one of the other interns, who goes to school with me.  Since we couldn’t celebrate during the week, we decided to all get together and take a special weekend trip.  First we went to Ozzie’s (that really good bakery) for lunch (they have PIZZA!  And it turns out that the apple fritters and cinnamon rolls are far superior to the chocolate cake.  This other restaurant, Flavors, is definitely the place to go for chocolate…their brownies are amazing, if overpriced).  After lunch, we hired a mataatu, a private taxi, to take us out to the hotel.  We were supposed to be met at a gas station check point and get picked up by the manager in his car.  However, he showed up late (gotta love Ugandan time) and then wasn’t actually able to fit all 15 of us, so the mataatu ended up following him and taking us the whole way.  Due to the delay, though, we ended up driving the last stretch during and after sunset.  And let me tell you, driving through a bunch of fields and then an enormous forest in the dark, while in a rickety taxi bus, on bumpy dirt roads, to an unfamiliar destination is pretty terrifying.  Everyone kept “joking” that it had all the makings of a typical horror movie.  And really, that’s what it felt like.  Dara had a draft of a text to send to the site team with as detailed a description of our whereabouts as she could manage, and she kept updating it, just in case it turned out we were getting kidnapped.  Luckily though, we arrived at the hotel in one piece.  Where of course, we thought the evening’s trials and tribulations would be over.  Little did we know…

Ok, I exaggerate, slightly.  It wasn’t THAT bad, but the conditions at the hotel were pretty bad.  And I know I’m a little spoiled and not such an outdoorsy person, but I’m a good sport and I can be a big girl about being a little uncomfortable.  I mean, I chose to come to Africa.  I’m not living in the most comfortable conditions on a daily basis, here.  So I think I’m a little justified in this case, in terms of how much I hated having to stay overnight in that hotel.  Seriously, if you find yourself in Uganda, and need overnight accommodations around Mbira Forest (which I’d recommend, because you want to tour it very early in the day), do yourself a favor and splurge on the nicer hotel, unlike we did.  And really, it’s not such a splurge, it’s like 35 U.S. dollars for a night.  Apparently it’s a really nice hotel, too.

But anyway, we were cheap and opted to rough it and sleep in tents and a few of us in tiny, icky rooms (I chose this option, but I think a tent might have been better, actually).  Which of course, was in the middle of the woods where it was dark and scary, and completely infested with all kinds of very social bugs.  You had to walk through a creepy, unlit, dirt path to get to the bathrooms, which of course were also gross.  There was no running water (no showers of any sort) and no toilet paper (another tip for any aspiring Ugandan travelers…carry toilet paper with you wherever you go!  It WILL come in handy!  I promise you!).  Still, the bathrooms were slightly superior to the Pit of Death at St. Eliza.  We managed ok, going in at least pairs, and shining the flashlights on our cell phones through the tops of the doors, so that whoever was in the stall could see.  The rooms only had double beds, which of course they didn’t tell us beforehand (they also didn’t tell us that the meal they said they could serve us wasn’t complimentary and tried to charge us 8000 shillings each for it…4000 could probably get you an equivalent one in Jinja…don’t worry, we talked them down), so I shared one with one of the girls.  Only one pillow, though…it was one of the longer ones, but not quite long enough, and it was waay to hot to sleep even that close to another person (I wouldn’t have spooned James Franco or Alive Heath Ledger in that room.  Not even if you paid me.  …ok, maybe Alive Heath Ledger…).  Also, the sheets were some kind of terrible synthetic material that did not breathe and made you sweat about 10 times more.  And everything smelled really bad, the entire hotel (even the manager!).  Oh, and there were a bunch of giant holes in our mosquito net, which of course those sociable bugs took full advantage of.  It took all my willpower to not completely freak out and throw a temper tantrum.  I really did want to order a private jet to fly me back to New York at that point.  But I was very strong and mature, so of course I kept it together.  Also, I don’t have the money for a private jet.  Even if I did, there was no cell phone service, so I couldn’t have called for one.  Our modems didn’t even work there; it really was the absolute middle of nowhere, and the perfect setup for a horror movie.  Needless to say, I survived the ordeal, since I’m sitting in my room, writing this blog entry.  But I will never, ever stay in a place like that ever again in my life.

Things turned up a bit, though, the next morning.  The forest really did look beautiful in the light, and at least some of the bugs were gone.  And of course, the tour we took definitely made the tribulations of the night before worth it.  Mbira Forest was absolutely gorgeous.  It was so incredible and breathtaking, and the whole time, the only thing I could think was: “Oh my god! I’m in a RAINFOREST!  A real, live, rainforest.”  It was so surreal.  That’s the kind of thing that characters in stories and writers for National Geographic do.  Not me.  But I did it!  We walked for a little less than 2 hours on a path through thick trees and other types of plants.  The guide stopped us often to talk about the different types of plants, giving us all types of fun facts about them—some had medicinal uses.  We saw one plant that could cure malaria, and a berry that was good for treating warts, among others!  At the end, we arrived in a clearer area, where there were beautiful stone cliffs, and a waterfall!  I’d try to describe it all better, but I really don’t think I’m capable.  I don’t even know where I’d begin.  Here are some pictures, which hopefully capture at least some of the wild beauty of the rainforest.

 

 

 

Here are some from the clearing with the waterfall:

 

 

 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see too many animals.  We were told that there would be lots of birds and monkeys, and the guide told us that there was even a species of lion that lives in Mbira Forest, but I guess they were all sleeping, in different parts of the forest, or just painfully shy.  We did see a few monkeys once we got to the clearing with the waterfall, but they were really far away and moving very fast, so it was hard to get a good look.  The ones we got to see at Bujugali Lake were much better, and they were the same type, anyway, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed.  Other than that, the most exciting creatures we saw were some fire ants (I was so happy to be wearing sneakers)

and some weird looking fungi.

Probably the most surreal experience at all happened just as we were starting to leave the waterfall clearing and head back to the hotel.  What happened, you ask?  Well, it rained.  In the rainforest.  I know, it’s a shocking concept.  Still, though, it caught us by surprise, especially because it’s barely rained the entire time we’ve been here.  And given my initial daze and how I’d been marveling at the fact that I was even in a rainforest to begin with, the fact that it was RAINING in the rainforest was almost too much.  I absolutely love rain, when it’s warm enough, which, on a sunny morning in Uganda, it was.  I’d have been dancing to rival Gene Kelley, if it weren’t for the enormous amounts of mud and plethora of potentially precarious obstacles for me to slip on and severely injure myself.  Instead I just walked and silently took it all in…while still making sure to keep an eye on the path, of course.  It was a truly incredible moment—one which I’m sure I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Of course, we all got absolutely drenched, and our clothes were soaked by the time we got back.  I think Dara took a picture of us all that will be floating around facebook somewhere, so when I find it, I’ll put it on here.  I can only imagine what I must have looked like.  Luckily for me, I’d thought to pack a change of clothes (thanks, Mom…I know you’re probably disappointed in me for not thinking to bring my rain jacket, though!) and a towel (because how was I to know there wouldn’t be a shower?  I was actually so glad for the rainstorm, because it made me feel much cleaner…if only I’d thought to bring my soap on the hike).  So I dried myself off and changed into new clothes.  Not everyone had packed extra clothes; so several people used the “standing in the sun until my pants stop sticking to me” method.  No one seemed to mind getting wet, though.

We concluded our adventure together with a lunch at Ling Ling’s—a very expensive Chinese restaurant.  Yes, there is a Chinese restaurant in Jinja.  It’s right next to a gas station, and has a fake pagoda roof.  The food, as you might imagine, was not the best Chinese food I’ve ever enjoyed (definitely not worth the exorbitant prices), but it was still a step above Main Moon (Sean, did our Main Moon song just pop into your head?  Because it did for me.  For those of you who don’t know, Main Moon is a sub-par Chinese restaurant in Geneseo, which, for some of my friends, has had unfortunate effects on their digestive systems.  For the record, Shanghai is much better).  Plus, it was still worth it to be able to say I have tried Ugandan Chinese food.

The rest of my weekend was pretty uneventful, I spent it in Kakira with my host family.  It was still sort of more exciting than usual, because we’ve had some other family members visiting—Mama Fina’s sister, daughter, and granddaughter, as well as William’s wife and son (he’s a baby and absolutely adorable).  Oh, and I picked up Midnight in Paris at the dvd store, and showed it to some of them.  They liked it, but they didn’t get some of the references.  I spent a lot of time trying to explain to them who Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali were, and why the things they were saying in the movie were so funny.  Next time I go to the dvd store, I think I’m going to buy The Artist.  That one should be easy for everyone to understand, even if they don’t speak English very well!  And it’s such a sweet movie!

Be on the lookout for an entry about my experiences at work, and how the beginning stages of the goat project have been going!  And hopefully, PICTURES, at some point soon!

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Monkeys on the Roof (Jinja Nightlife and Bujagali…Lake?)

Once again, pictures to come soon!  Probably sometime tomorrow or Saturday!

Last weekend was very eventful, and a lot of fun!  We got the day off of work on Friday, to attend a workshop that FSD scheduled for us, about child soldiers and how Ugandan justice and law enforcement systems treat children (including children and adults who were abducted child soldiers).  It was lead by some professional lawyers who specialize in human rights cases, and had a lot of experience in the field.  It was very informative, and I learned a lot.

Here are some pictures of us catching up with one another before the meeting:

Margaret checks in with the group working in Bugembe…

While Jonan and Caroline set up the projector for the presentation.  (I figured it was about time I included some pictures of them!).

After the meeting, those of us who were staying overnight checked in at Backpackers, where the manager now remembers my name.  The whole group of interns met up again later that night for dinner.  We went to an Indian restaurant called “Skewers” where the specialty is—you guessed it, kabobs.  I actually didn’t order one, because I wanted to try a naan dog (a sausage wrapped in naan), but I tried a piece of one that a friend ordered, and wished that I had gotten one, too (the naan dog was nothing special).  They also had a really good dessert, which they called a chocolate calzone.  Basically, it was naan with nutella, chocolate sauce, and powdered sugar, which definitely made up for the rest of the meal.  After we ate, we hit the town, and checked out the nightlife of Jinja.  We found this really nice bar, with an outdoor porch.

 

It was next door to a really crowded club with a live band, so it was nice because we got to enjoy the music but didn’t have to be the only muzungus engulfed in a giant, sweaty mass of people.  Caroline, her boyfriend, and some of their friends met up with us at the bar, too, so that was really nice.  I had a really great conversation with one of Caroline’s close friends, whose name I think is Katie.  She had also done an internship with FSD, and we swapped stories about our frustrating experiences at the organizations with which we worked—she worked at a school where everyone was really disorganized.  Her program actually no longer exists, because the school had to close down.  I hope ours doesn’t meet the same fate!  She’s also really into theatre and the performing arts!  She’s from Germany, and she told me about how she and her friend go every year to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  I was so jealous!  I told her that when she goes this summer (she’s returning from Uganda just in time for it), she should make sure to see All An Act!  She thought it sounded really cool and was really excited to check it out.  Speaking of which, the production team still needs money in order to bring the show to Scotland!  If you’re able to spare the money, please make a donation and help them out!  It would really mean a lot to me.  Sean has done so much for me, he’s given me some amazing opportunities to direct his work (including a world premiere) for free, and I’d love to be able to repay him for that.  Even if you can’t donate, you can spread the word about the show.  The link to his website is: http://allanact.weebly.com/index.html

The next day, we took a trip to what used to be a place called Bujagali Falls.  Recently, they built a dam, so now Bujagali Falls has become Bujagali Lake.  This is disappointing, since we’re told that the falls were beautiful, and a plain lake is a lot less exciting, but it was still really beautiful there.

 

Oh, and guess what else we got a view of?  MONKEYS.  Yup!  Monkeys roaming in the wild, jumping and climbing trees and such.  I think most of you know that I really love monkeys.  These ones were particularly cute, too, so it was all very exciting!   There were even babies!  A lot of my pictures didn’t turn out so great, and it was hard to take them, because while the monkeys were close, they were still fairly far away, and of course they moved a lot.  Here are some of the better ones.

 

 

The tree the lighter-furred monkeys were hanging out in was actually right next to the hostel’s dorms, in which we decided to spend the night.  They kept jumping from the trees to the roof, and running around on it.  It was pretty funny.  And yes, they woke me up the next morning.  It was pretty early, but I didn’t even mind, because THERE WERE MONKEYS ON MY ROOF!!!!  How many people can say that they’ve been woken up in the morning by monkeys playing on their rooftop?  Not many that I know of.  And I’d bet you don’t know a ton, either.

So, during the day, we hung out by the lake, and at night, there was a party at the hostel, which we’d been planning on attending anyway, since Caroline had told us about it the night before and had invited us to accompany her.  Luckily, it was easy enough to switch our reservation from Backpackers, because the same person owns both hostels!  The one slight problem we all faced was that it was a costume party—and of course, we didn’t have much to work with.  Most people in the group decided to be “American college students.”  In the end, it didn’t much matter, because almost no one there had a costume (when you’re a tourist in Uganda, I guess you don’t really pack with the intention of attending a costume party).

Look at these guys…so lame.

There were a couple of guys in dresses, though, and a few people with more elaborate costumes.  I’m still astounded as to where one couple was able to find bunny suits…maybe they brought them from home, because I haven’t seen them on sale anywhere in Jinja.  I suppose you never know when one will come in handy, right?  Anyway, if you know me at all, you know that I when there’s a theme party, I can’t just be lame and not come up with anything (except for that jungle-themed one that I had to run over to right after house managing Spring Awakening…I still tried, though!  My skirt had flowers on it, and it’s not my fault the tape wasn’t strong enough to keep the fake leaves on my shirt!).  So, I worked with what I had, which was: a black sweater, a black skirt, a pair of glasses, a friend who smokes like a chimney, and a copy of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.  Anyone guessed it yet?  I went as a pretentious hipster!  Or an English major.  Take your pick (I love you, English majors!).  In the end, I think it turned out pretty well, and the sweater kept me warm when it got cold.

This could absolutely be a Nile Special ad, right?

Anyway, we had a lot of fun.  That picture I took of the bar area was early on in the night, before I got tired of taking photos.  It got much more crowded later on, especially in that one spot, because it started to rain, so no one wanted to be on the deck, where all the cool kids (us) had previously been hanging out.  Side note—you know what’s fun?   When the power goes out during a storm and you’re in the bathroom.  So you have to try and find your way out (by touching the walls…ew) and then run through the rain to get back to the area where everyone is and try to find your friends, all in complete darkness.  Oh, and then tall boys in dresses bump into you and it’s scary.  But then they think it’s cute how tiny you are and help you find your friends, so there’s a happy ending after all.  Even though you have a Lady Macbeth moment when the lights come back on, because you’re trying to disinfect yourself with hand sanitizer (thanks, Mom!).  Still, it hardly put a damper on the night, as you can see:

 

Oh, and we made some new muzungu friends, named Dan (from Chicago) and Lauren (from Texas), who are helping to build an orphanage in Iganga (some of our interns are there, too!).

Can you figure out which ones they are?

They came over to our table when they overheard us playing King’s Cup.  Apparently they had been trying to find people to play it with all week!  Then, they taught us a game.  It could have been the beginning of the night at any ordinary college party (except of course, I drink soda at those!).  During the whole night, we shared stories of our lives back home in the U.S. and our experiences in Africa (both good and bad).  It was during this time, that I adopted my two new mottos—coined by Lauren:  “This Is Africa” and “Africa Wins Again!”  “This is Africa” is a phrase that you use when you encounter some sort of typical and fairly minor challenge or inconvenience that comes with the territory and your choice to be in Africa.  “Africa Wins Again” is for those moments when you’re getting your ass kicked and are completely out of your comfort zone.  So, when you have to take bucket showers and eat posho for the billionth time and have mosquito bites all over your legs?  This Is Africa.  But when you’re dehydrated and glued to the toilet because you’ve gotten a parasite from accidentally swallowing tap water, or you’re stuck in the hospital with a bout of malaria?  Africa Wins Again!  Get it?  I’m not sure if it’s as funny if you’ve never actually been to Africa and experienced life here, but I hope it is!  I definitely liked it, anyway.

So we talked, and we drank, and we danced…by the way, Dan is a fantastic dancer (and by “fantastic,” I mean the most awkward dancer I’ve seen in my entire life).  One of the funniest things I’ve noticed here is that no matter how much you might hate a song that’s popular and overplayed in the U.S., when you’re completely deprived of American culture for so long, and you hear it, simply because it’s familiar to you, and you happen to know the words, it becomes YOUR FAVORITE SONG!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen muzungus bond over “Call Me, Maybe,” “I Kissed a Girl,” or the Backstreet Boys’ “As Long As You Love Me.”  Yes, even me.  “Call Me, Maybe” was kind of my jam last weekend.  I sang the chorus at the top of my lungs, and I wasn’t even drunk.  I’m a little embarrassed, but I’m fairly certain you’d do the same in my position.  They did play good songs, too.  I was so disappointed that nobody but me seemed to know Matt and Kim’s “Good Old Fashioned Nightmare,” though!  I made another new friend that night, too, a Ugandan guy named Aston who lives in Kampala.  He was a lot of fun to dance with, and seemed relatively nice and non-sketchy, so I agreed to give him my e-mail address—but not to go out with him!  He’s tried, though (punctuating his efforts with about a billion question marks).  I think that’s pretty typical of Ugandan men, though.  A lot of them really try to pick up muzungu women, I think largely because they think we’re rich and/or want us to take them to America, (though Aston said he likes me because I’m “carlm”).  I think we’ll still be able to be friends in the end, and if I’m out in Jinja or Kampala with a large group, maybe I’ll let him know and he can join us.

Tomorrow, we’re off on another weekend adventure, to Mbira Forest!  It’s the largest rainforest in Uganda, and we’re told there are monkeys (yay!) and many different types of exotic birds!  I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories to share.  Steven said that he knew a girl who visited Mbira Forest, and she stayed so long that when she came back, she looked like the monkeys there!  So I’ll try my best to return 100% human, but I cant’ make any guarantees.  After all, I am a Tamarin.

Mweraba!

-Rachel

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Those Boda Drivers Can’t Fool Me!

Hey everyone!

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:

 

Or 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!

Mweraba!

-Rachel

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

P.O.Box 1722 

Haji Tarmac RD, Plot 31, 

JINJA – UGANDA

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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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