And life just got interesting

Hey all,

Sorry for the cut-off post earlier. I made it home in time to make burritos for dinner, though, and my family loved them (especially the guacamole that I made to put on them). I also made breakfast the following morning (pancakes and french toast) which was also a big hit. Anyway, here’s the rest of my story from the last couple of weeks, picking up where I left off in discussion of the rural homestay:

Our host father took us on a lengthy tour of the village one day, and we got to visit the local school (711 enrolled students in 6 different grades and only 4 teachers for all of them. Also, only a primary school—nothing beyond that unless you travel more than an hour to town), the health center (a lower level than the one I previously visited–only 2 people on staff at this one, usually out of drugs…the usual, sadly), a few trading centers, water sources, and fields of crops. It was quite interesting, and I think our hosts enjoyed the recognition they got for being seen with two foreign guests.

Later that night, we received a special guest at our house—the chairman of the village (sort of akin to a mayor, I think).  We had an interesting conversation with him, though it was sort of impeded by the fact that our host brother, who was translating, sometimes decided to just answer our questions himself instead of translating them for the chairman.  It was comical, but a little problematic.  I was a little discouraged by our conversation with him, because he seemed so complacent.  He said his job was easy, and it seems to me that a good leader will never think that, because there are always new challenges that come up.  And in a village where there are 700 kids to 4 teachers, a health center without medications, at least 2 water sources that aren’t functioning, etc…there are definitely problems, so managing the village should not be easy.  It was a little disconcerting, because a lot of the leaders we’ve spoken to have been so inspirational, but I guess it would be unrealistic to expect all leaders to be like that.

The next day, we were taken to the local university to get a tour from one of our host brother’s friends.  We were a little nervous to be left with a total stranger, but we actually had a really fun time.  We found a lot of her friends along the way, and they showed us the local hangouts (including a place called Baboon Valley, where we saw—you guessed it—baboons!)  It was cool to spend time with people our own age, since a lot of our time in Kampala is spent with our host families.  Naturally I knew that there were universities here, but it was still sort of surprising to see how much their life there was just like my life at Tufts.  We all exchanged e-mail addresses and I really hope we’ll stay in touch.

Evenings in the rural homestay were incredibly comical in their extreme awkwardness, at least from my point of view.  It started getting dark around 7pm every night, and in the absence of electricity, there wasn’t much that could be done outside at that point, so everyone was usually inside by 8.  Then we all just sat around a lantern in the sitting room, listening to a battery-powered radio (usually not in English), and staring at each other…for 3-4 hours!  We usually ate dinner around 11, then sometimes had to have tea after that (they’re big on tea here, and it’s made with hot milk instead of water, so it’s much more substantial), then we were finally able to go to bed, though they thought we were funny for being tired at that point.  Eating dinner that late was kind of tough on the stomach (especially because the amount of food we were given every night was enormous, and our parents got really offended if we didn’t make a significant dent in it), but what really got me was the sitting around for 3 hours before that, doing NOTHING.  It was weird, because everyone seemed tired; the kids were always falling asleep on their chairs and the floor, and people didn’t seem to have the energy for a lot of discussion, but they wanted to stay up later anyway.  I should add here that not everybody was in the sitting room waiting…our host mom and sisters were outside working in the kitchen (the kitchens are separate structures in many Ugandan buildings), preparing dinner for us.  You can meditate on that gender dynamic for awhile.  The sad thing is, I actually thought the gender roles there were a little closer to equal than others I have observed in Uganda.

So we left our homestay on Saturday morning, and learned that African Time is often accentuated in rural areas, as we tried to leave at 11 and weren’t actually on our way until after 1.  That night, we stayed at the homestead of the parents of one of the SIT staff members.  It was beautiful and relaxing, and they actually had room for 32 of us to sleep there comfortably, which was very surprising.  That night, they arranged a party for us and invited some of the neighbors and some of the nearby homestay families.  It was a bizarre night, with an assortment of 90s music, rap, and Ugandan music blasting from speakers that were set up in the yard, and lots of little kids dancing (at times with us) in ways that were far too sexual for anyone’s comfort… Quite strange. The next day we returned to Kampala and I found out that I had a mild case of malaria.  It sounds exotic and scary, but it was really much like having a minor flu, except much more treatable.  I went to the doctor, got a blood test, got medication, and started feeling better the next morning.  I was pretty exhausted while I was taking the medication, but was totally able to go about my day-to-day activities.  Though I’m sure it would have been a lot less pleasant without the help of my malaria prophylaxis, and my easy access to a doctor and medication.  The whole trip to the doctor (including medicine) only cost me $25, but that’s still a lot more than most people here can afford to pay.  And we’ve already discussed how frequently the government hospitals (the free ones) actually have drugs… But anyway, the point is I’ve come out ok after battling malaria, and feel totally back to normal now.

The week just kept getting more intense as student elections heated up at Makerere University (the main university in Kampala, where we’ve taken some classes, but are now finished with).  Here, when students are running for office, they associate with national political parties (the equivalent of a student running on a Democratic or Republican ticket at home, except there are more choices and the stakes are higher).  There was a rally on campus last Tuesday that got a little out of hand, and the police (or a security guard, it’s a little unclear from the news) opened fire on the crowd of students, killing two and severely injuring one.  This sparked several days of riots that shut down the entire university for a week.

Then, the next evening, a historic cultural site for the Baganda (the main tribe in Central Uganda) burned down.  The site, which we had visited a few weeks earlier, was a collection of tombs for previous kings.  The tombs were above ground, and built much like the hut where we stayed in our rural homestay—out of dried grass and wood.  They were built on the land that the tribe has occupied for many, many years, and were a really important part of Buganda culture.  The burning was clearly intentional, and some people said that for them, it was akin to America’s 9-11.  There were rumors flying that the government may have been involved in/responsible for the burning, because they have been in conflict with the Baganda for quite some time.  There was a really tense time when we thought a lot of the city might erupt into riots, but the kabaka (one of the cultural leaders of the Baganda) called for peace and urged people not to take up arms against the government, so I think that really helped.  People still swarmed the site in mourning, and then President Museveni tried to visit to mourn with them, but he was blocked from entering, which prompted his guards to fire into that crowd.  Several people were injured, but I haven’t heard reports of deaths from that particular incident.  Again, it was tense for awhile, and we were urged to go home early so we would not be in the city center in case any disruption occurred, but it seems to have largely passed without any major violence (*knock on wood*).  The relations between the Baganda and the government are still really tense, and I’m sure it will flare up eventually, but for now everything is back to normal.

In other/related news, I’m leaving Kampala tomorrow, so I should be farther away from possible riots, for what that’s worth.  I’m heading up to northern Uganda with 4 other students to work/do research in Gulu.  I’ll personally be working in the hospital with the malnutrition unit, hopefully helping with the outreach services that work to prevent malnutrition in children.  The doctor who I’ve talked with at the hospital has assured me that I’m welcome there, but when I probed for details, said that we’d figure it out when I arrive.  Apparently this is common in Uganda, but it still makes me a little nervous, since as you all know, I’m the kind of person who likes to have a plan… Oh well, I’m learning how to go with the flow, and it’s probably good for me.  So that’s it for the time being.  I’ll let you know how my new home is when we get there.  Hope everyone is celebrating the passage of the healthcare bill; I heard the good news this morning! Peace and love from Kampala.

2 thoughts on “And life just got interesting

  1. YAY BABOONS! Not quite as cool as lions, but still exciting. It’s scary that you got malaria. We learned quite a bit about it in my biology class this year, and I think we may have even looked at it in a slide under the microscope…But I’m glad you’re better now and that you got medicine. The riots are also scary – be safe! Bug is bothering me at my computer now, so I’m assuming he wants to say hi to you 😛 Enjoy your birthday today/tomorrow? Not sure of the time difference lol. Miss you!

  2. I too once had a brush with malaria… in this one video game I was playing, Far Cry 2. It was a total hassle since every time you forgot to take a pill the screen got all fuzzy and started to shake and junk.

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