Cultural discoveries

So today is my 6th day in Uganda, but it already feels like I have been here so much longer than that.  (In a good way of course!)

I’m already learning TONS, just from walking around the city.  Things here are different from the U.S.  First of all, being white in Uganda automatically puts me at a disadvantage.  One of the first words we learned in Luganda (the language they speak here) was “Mzungu,” which means white person, or person with money.  We went to a market today, and every merchant I passed yelled “Mzungu! Mzungu!” followed by an offering of whatever they were selling.  Apparently here white skin is automatically equated with money or prosperity.   And it is completely appropriate to greet people with that word.  It’s usually not meant in a negative way; it’s more just their way of pointing out the obvious (I am, obviously, a white person).  So I don’t mind it so far, but it’s certainly different.

I have to say, though, that the equation of white people with money is probably correct in my case.  The Ugandan shilling is worth practically nothing, due to rampant inflation.  The exchange rate is about $1 to 1,000 shillings!  And 5,000 shilling bills are considered big bills here.  I can get dinner for between $2 and $4 most nights, which is awesome.

We’ve also learned about something called the “Mzungu price,” which means that since people think we don’t know the way things work here (and to be fair, we don’t really…), they will try to overcharge us–sometimes charging double or triple the actual price.  This is when it becomes time to “bah-GAIN,” (aka bargain) according to our academic director.  She says you can bargain anywhere, really (though this is somewhat disputed). She’s really a character. Even though it’s not customary to bargain in supermarkets, she says “oh! you can bah-gain there. You say, we are six, and if you give us a good price, we’ll send six of our friends too!” She has a point.

It has been a little difficult to get used to the Ugandan accent, which is sort of a mix of British English and Luganda (the language they speak here). We’ve been told that Ugandan people would be able to understand us better if we spoke in British accents. Too bad I’ve always been terrible at British accents.

We have started learning how to speak Luganda, though, so that makes communicating slightly easier. Though all I really know how to say so far is “hello, how are you sir?”, “thank you,” “goodbye,” and “don’t overcharge me because I am a mzungu!”  But we’re starting real language classes on Monday so I am sure I will learn more then.  The language is fun, and very different from anything I’ve learned before.  But I have to say, I think the accent is easier than a French accent, so I’m excited about that.

There are a lot of things about Ugandan culture that we are finding out as we go. One of the funniest so far has been finding out that many Ugandans speak in questions.  When the chief of police came in to brief us about safety and security, he introduced us to this. His speech went sort of like this: “Life in Uganda is different than life where?” *short pause* “The United States.  So we need to be what?” *pause* “Careful.”  This was hilarious, because he never paused quite long enough to give us time to answer the question before he supplied the answer himself.  But since our American schooling has taught us all to try to answer questions posed in a classroom setting, you could see the whole body of students kind of murmuring or opening our mouths but then closing them again. It was great.

Unfortunately this mannerism makes talks take what? Much longer. But that’s ok here, because we are on African Time.  I don’t just mean that official time here is 10 hours ahead of Colorado time.  We’ve discovered that African Time also means that schedules are really more of guidelines, really. If it says dinner is at 6, it probably isn’t actually until 7 or 8.  If something is going to be an hour, it’s probably more like an hour and a half or two.  It can be annoying when you’re really hungry and waiting for food, but it’s actually kind of nice in comparison to the crazy over-scheduled life I usually live.

Oh so much more to say, but I’m almost out of time, and this is probably long enough anyway. Best wishes from Uganda!

“On behalf of British Airways, we’d like to welcome you to Uganda”

Hi all,

So this is the first blog post from Uganda:)

I arrived last night around 10pm local time, after a long but fun journey.  I left home last Wednesday to spend several days in New York with the grandparents.  Then I flew out of NY on Saturday morning, arrived in London that evening.  I had a 14 hour layover, so I met Bonny (my roommate from last year who is studying in London all year) in central London and we wandered around the town for most of the night.  Then I headed back to the airport, and slept through most of the 8-hour flight to Entebbe, Uganda.

The program directors picked us up at the airport and brought us to a hotel in Kampala.  The capital is about a 30 minute drive from the airport, and even around midnight on a Sunday, the two-lane highway we drove was busy, and pedestrians were walking down the shoulders (imagine seeing that in the US).  Kampala strikes me as a very alive city (if that makes sense). I really like it so far. Our hotel is quite nice (I think probably one of the best in the city), and I am really enjoying getting to know the other students.

Sorry this is a pretty lame first post, but I promise the next one will be better.  Signing off now before my internet time runs out!

7 Days Out

Hello everyone,

Welcome to my first attempt at blogging!  This is the site I’ll be using to share my experiences with family and friends while studying abroad in Kampala, Uganda this spring.

As I write this, I am 7 days and 6 hours away from the flight that will take me across the Atlantic for the first time in my life.  I’m extremely excited as well as a bit nervous.  It will undoubtedly be a great adventure, an invaluable learning experience, and (i hope) a lot of fun.

I will do my best to update this blog regularly (I’m aiming for weekly), but please do know that my internet access will likely be limited and slow, so posting may not always be an option.  I should also be available via my tufts email and facebook, but obviously the same limitations on the internet will apply.  (I am actually kind of excited to get away from the constant state of connectedness that has become so normal in our society!)

But anyway, here’s a llitte about what I’ll be doing: I’m traveling with SIT Study Abroad in their Development Studies program.  The program is not through Tufts but I will receive one semester of Tufts credit for the classes I’ll be taking while abroad.  There are about 30 other students from all over the US also attending the program.  Each of us will be living with a different host family in Kampala for the bulk of the time that we are there, but we will also be spending time in other parts of Uganda and traveling to Rwanda.  The first 8 weeks of the program are filled with intensive classes and field learning experiences (like visits to NGO sites).  Then the next 6 weeks will be spent interning with a nonprofit that is operating in Uganda and conducting research related to their work.

I’m looking forward to the semester because it promises to delve into a lot of issues I am passionate about, and also to give me a sense of what my life might look like if I pursue a career in international public health.  I’m especially interested to explore the impacts of traditional “aid” and to discover whether nonprofits (like those I might consider working with after graduation) really help the people of a given region in the long run, or if, as William Easterly and other critics suggest, they actually do more harm than good.  I figure that this semester will either affirm my leanings toward international public health as a career option or it will show me that it is not what I want to do.  Either way, I’m better off.  It will also just be terribly interesting to live somewhere so different, and a lot of fun to meet a bunch of new people.

Alright, I have rambled on for long enough considering I haven’t left yet.  I’m sure I will have far more interesting things to say once I arrive.  Thanks for reading:)  -CMK