Leaving on a jet plane

Hello all,

This post comes to you from the Heathrow airport. I left Uganda this morning and am killing time during my layover. I should be flying to JFK in several hours, provided my flight does not get canceled or delayed due to volcano ash floating in from Iceland. Please keep your fingers crossed for me…

In the meantime, here is a quick update on my adventure beyond Uganda’s borders:

We ended up not actually leaving on Monday (as planned) because the bus was, surprisingly, sold out.  Apparently for international buses they do indeed sell tickets in advance, unlike other buses in Uganda. So we bought tickets for Tuesday and hung out in Kampala for an extra day on Monday. I was glad we did, though, because as I was walking downtown doing some errands, I ran into one of my friends from Gulu!  He was there on business, but we had no plans to meet; it was a total coincidence and it made my day.  I love when random things like that happen.

Anyway, we left on Tuesday at noon, on a direct bus from Kampala to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.  The plan was to go to Tanzania first, spend two nights there, then head back to Kampala but stop for a day in Nairobi. It took us 32 hours to get to Dar es Salaam from Kampala! That is about how long it took me to get to Uganda from home (but in that case I had layovers, etc).  On the bus ride, we stopped occasionally for bathroom breaks, to go through customs at the borders, and for one meal, but other than that we drove straight through. We also stopped in Nairobi at 3AM to have tea. Yes, that’s right, tea. It really struck me as quite absurd, but also very African.  They love their tea here, and people drink it all the time. I actually really enjoy African tea (that’s actually what they call it), because they make it with hot milk instead of water and a lot of sugar…it’s delicious. We were very glad for the tea break, despite its odd timing, because we had been counting on the bus stopping at one of those places I told you about, where the vendors run up to the bus and sell food, for us to get dinner but it never did (which is strange, because all the other buses I have taken have stopped at many of them).  As we were driving down the highway, feeling rather hungry, I just thought to myself “that just goes to show you, nothing is ever guaranteed, especially in Uganda.”  Anyway, we took tea in a bus station that made every Greyhound station I have ever been in look luxurious.  It was more than a little sketchy, but I didn’t actually feel unsafe. We got one cup of tea and a piece of bread, served on metal dishes that were reminiscent of a homeless shelter or prison. It was bizarre. But at least it was food.

Anyway, after that we got back on the bus and headed for the Tanzanian border. It was interesting because I was thinking about our trip to Rwanda and how stark the contrast was between Uganda and Rwanda; as soon as we crossed the border, I could see a difference in my surroundings.  For this trip, that was not the case.  Uganda blended into Kenya which blended into Tanzania. I didn’t really see any huge differences between them, especially in the rural areas.  Kenya seemed perhaps a bit more “developed” (I hate that word), in the sense that there were fewer sheet metal shacks along the road, and Tanzania definitely felt a bit more organized than Uganda, but overall the rural areas were very similar.The strange thing about the Tanzanian countryside was that I didn’t see many people. We passed through so many small towns, which in Uganda are always swarming with people, but as we were passing those in Tanzania, I just kept thinking, “where are all the people?”

When we entered Dar es Salaam, my first thought was “oh, that’s where they are!” It was *packed* with people, congregating around street vendors and storefronts, or just kind of hanging out and having a beer.  We spent that night and the next day exploring the city, which seemed pretty nice.  It was somewhat more calm than Kampala, with a much more Arab feel to it. It also reminded me a bit of pictures I’ve seen of Mediterranean cities in Europe, perhaps because it is also a coastal city. There was much less “mzungu” yelling in Dar than there is in Kampala, which was a nice break. We didn’t have a ton of time, or much money, so we mostly had some of Bridget’s Tanzanian friends walk us around the city. We did eat some traditional Tanzanian food, which was not that different from some Ugandan food (their staple is maize posho, which they also eat in Uganda, but it’s called Ugali in Tanzania–it’s just  maize flour mixed with boiling water and stirred until it becomes somewhat firm and spongy. It is eaten with a sauce such as beans, meat, or peas), but in Tanzania it is meant to be eaten with your hands instead of silverware. I think it might be a skill that takes some practice. I made a noble effort though, and it was pretty good.  We also experimented with the public transportation in Dar, which is a system of busses called Dala Dalas. They are actually extremely similar to the Ugandan taxi system, except they make a good deal more sense because they are buses instead of vans, so people can get on and off much more easily. Sometimes the buses don’t even stop all the way, but slow down enough for people to jump on and off. They can also be packed more full than the Ugandan taxis though, and our rides were very crowded. I was very glad we experienced it, though, because I think one really needs to use the public transportation in a city to truly get a feel for how life works there. It was one of those experiences that made me chuckle to myself and think about how absurd life is sometimes.

Unfortunately, we discovered that the bus schedule between Dar and Nairobi did not line up with our plans. We would have needed to take a bus that left Dar in the evening to be able to spend a day in Nairobi, but we found out that buses only depart for Nairobi in the morning, so we had to cut Nairobi out of our plan. I’ll have to come back and visit that one another time. So from Dar es Salaam we got on another bus and journeyed back to Kampala, which took another 30 hours. Perhaps it was a little ridiculous to spend that much time on a bus for that little time in Dar, but I think it was worth it. Traveling through Africa by bus is an experience in itself, because you get to see so many things on the way. Of course, I would have liked to have more time, but our schedule was tight.

We arrived back to Kampala on Saturday afternoon, and my host mom picked us up from the bus station, then took us along on a seemingly endless string of errands, which culminated in visiting my host brother in the hospital. He had been admitted the previous night with a severe case of malaria and was in the process of receiving a string of IV drips for treatment. When I asked if anybody had stayed with him in the hospital, my host sister just said “he’s a man!” (he just turned 18, he’s a senior in high school). I followed up with “but he’s still young,” and she basically said that I was wrong. I just found that very interesting…I think most 18 year olds in the US would be accompanied to the hospital by their parents if they were admitted like that, but they seemed to think that idea was absurd. This speaks to two concepts I’ve come across in Uganda. The first is that children are forced to grow up very quickly there. I mean, I wouldn’t classify most 18-year-olds as children, but I think the concept is applicable. The second is that boys are pressured by society to be much more independent than girls. That has been a recurring theme in my discussions with many Ugandans on the subject of raising children. According to one father, “boys are raised to face any situation,” but girls do not need to face these situations themselves. I just found that to be an interesting occurrence. Don’t worry though, he was discharged from the hospital later that day (and escorted himself home on a taxi), and is feeling a lot better now.

Anyway, my internet time is almost up, and that’s about all I have to write at this point anyway. I spent Sunday hanging out with my family and doing some last-minute errands. My sister braided my hair in cornrows, which was fun (I’ve never had that done before), and we had a last meal together (the last matooke I’ll have in awhile, though I’ve been told there are a few Ugandan restaurants in Boston, so if I “miss it,” I’ll be able to find it…I think it will take awhile for me to miss it).

I am excited to come home, but also sad to leave. It was difficult to say goodbye to my host family, because they truly have become another family to me in the past four months. On the plane ride here, I wrote in my journal a long list of the things I will miss and won’t miss about Uganda, and things I am looking forward to and not looking forward to in the States. It was a fairly balanced list; there are things in all those categories. I might share bits of it later, but for now I am signing off. With any luck, the next time you hear from me, I will be back in the U.S.. Can’t wait to see all of you! Peace and love:)

School’s Out!

Hello everybody,

So as of Friday, my semester has officially ended.  I’ve turned in my 36 page final paper, signed all the paperwork, picked up my passport (the visa has been successfully extended, so I’m still in Uganda legally. Score!), and we’ve even had a “reintegration” lecture about what it will be like to return to the U.S.. The rest of my time in Uganda is mine to do with what I like.  I suppose this means I have gained two new labels: SIT alumnus and senior in college.  How did that happen? Even though school is over, I don’t think I will feel like this semester is over until I’m back on American soil.  I scheduled myself an extra 8 days in Uganda to do whatever I wanted to do after the program ended, so I’ll be hanging out here for awhile longer, while many of my program-mates fly home.

We spent the last week behaving like real tourists (something we have been trying very hard to avoid this whole time). Throughout my time living here, I have been careful to correct anyone who calls me a tourist or asks if I am here on holiday, because I think there is a significant distinction between the implications of “tourist” and “student.” But after practicum ended, the program took us to one of the most touristy locations in Uganda–a group of islands on Lake Victoria–to hang out while we did our final presentations. We stayed at a pretty cool resort while we were there.  It was sort of the type that is supposed to make you feel at one with nature: we slept in large huts right on the beach and had a bonfire every night under the stars.  You could tell that it was designed to target the interests of tourists who have come to Uganda for eco-tourism, and I guess it was pretty effective.  It was fun to just chill out and relax on the beach, though. When we returned to Kampala, we finally went to some of the local craft shops, which are so obviously targeted at tourists that we had been avoiding them, to buy some gifts for people at home. It was very strange to finally be a tourist in this place where I’ve lived for the past 4 months, but I guess it’s good practice for my next week (during which I am probably taking a trip to Kenya and/or Tanzania with my host sister–more on that as details develop), and probably a good step in the process of attempting to readjust to life in America.

Even though I’m excited about traveling with my sister and looking forward to going home, the end of the program has definitely been bittersweet.  It has been really weird to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made here as they leave for their flights home. I haven’t written much about my program-mates in the blog, but they were generally very amazing people. I am going to miss hanging out with this group a lot. Of course we will keep in touch, which is one of the beauties of living in the digital age, but it’s still a bummer to be splitting up. I also just can’t believe the program is over. It has definitely been hard at times, as you’ve heard, but it was such a phenomenal experience. I’m sad that it’s coming to a close.

But I don’t want to take up a lot of space complaining about that. All things in life eventually end, but that just opens the door for a new opportunity or experience. I think I will close this blog entry there, because I don’t have anything too eventful to talk about right now. I hope that next time I post, I will have some good stories from my Kenya/Tanzania trip. For now, I just want to say happy mother’s day to my mom, my stepmom, my grandmothers, and all the other mothers who might be reading:) Enjoy your day–you earned it!  Peace and love from a rainy Kampala. ~CMK


Greetings from Kampala!

Well, I have left the calm of Gulu and jumped right back into the hustle and bustle of the capital.  We are back at the hotel where we stayed during orientation week at the beginning of the program, and it’s kind of weird but also pleasant.  It doesn’t feel like enough time has passed to make it possible for us to be back here yet!  But it is actually really nice to be seeing the rest of the group again (since there were only five of us in Gulu, I am getting reacquainted with 27 other friends!), and it’s convenient to have so many more resources available.  I do miss Gulu already, but I guess that’s life, right?  And probably especially part of the life I have chosen.

There’s actually not a ton going on right now, as I’m spending my days buried in the write-up of the last six weeks (it’s progressing, slowly).  The ride back was fairly uneventful, though I did manage to count 43 speed bumps in a row, each with about one bus length in between them.  It was absurd, and took a really long time.  Then we enjoyed about 30 seconds of no speed bumps before we went over 43 more.  I don’t understand the need for that, in any way.

But considering that was one of the most interesting things I could think of about the last few days, I’ve decided to post the blog I’ve been planning about linguistics in Uganda.  I’ve been formulating a list of the common Uganda-isms for awhile, which I’ve grouped into two categories: one for mannerisms/things that are just unique to Ugandan English and one for things that translate in an amusing way.  I hope you’ll find it interesting and possibly amusing, but if you’re not into language things, then you might just skip this one.

Ugandan English:

I’ve already mentioned the propensity for asking questions when speaking.  (For instance: “This is my what? My chart.”)  This is common, especially among the Baganda (and most people from central Uganda, around Kampala).  But I’ve also noticed that among educated Baganda, there seems to be an attempt to squash this tendency for question-asking in the middle of sentences.  This results in a really strange progression of tonal sounds during each sentence, because these people use the same inflection in tone that occurs when someone is going to ask a question, but then the question doesn’t occur, and in its place there is usually some sort of a pause or sound that indicates there is a “what” being suppressed.  (For instance: “this is my-eeee pause chart.”)  It’s pretty funny, and somewhat distracting once you start noticing it. This happens a lot during lectures, unfortunately.

Another common lecture phrase is used to check for comprehension/attention.  The lecturer will often say, “Are we together?” which I guess is the equivalent of “are you with me?” or something along those lines in the U.S.  They slur the words together a lot, though, and when I first encountered the phrase I didn’t even recognize it as English.

One of my absolute favorite pieces of Ugandan English is the use of the word “sorry.”  People here say “sorry” all the time.  First of all, it’s important to note that it is the translation of the Luganda word “bambi,” (not pronounced like the Disney movie, but with an “ah” sound…) which means something along the lines of “oh no/poor thing/too bad.”  It seems to me that in general, “sorry” in our English carries more of an implication of guilt with it.  You say “sorry” if you caused something that harmed someone else, but usually not if it’s not your fault (with the exception of conveying condolences about a death, I think).  But here, “sorry” is used in all circumstances.  If someone trips, bumps their head as they’re getting into the taxi, drops something, gets hit by a passing bicycle, etc., you say “Sorry! Sorry!”  Also, in Luganda, “r” and “l” are pronounced basically the same way, which often results in this expression sounding like “Solly, solly!”  I really like this use of it, because it makes a lot more sense than what I would normally say in the situation, which would be something along the lines of “oh, careful!” or “watch out,” both of which make no sense if the person has already had a mishap.

Another of my favorite things that people say here is “you are welcome.”  Whenever you enter ANYWHERE, be it someone’s home, a hotel, a store, or even if you walk up to a kiosk on the street, people welcome you.  I really like it, because it’s so friendly and warm.  I’ve started using this one myself as well.

I think I mentioned a while ago that restaurants don’t always have all the food on their menu.  When you inquire for a specific food (take peas for example) people usually say “they are there,” or “they are not there.” But sometimes, if they don’t have the food you are looking for, they will tell you “it is missing,” which I find amusing.  It makes me want to ask if they can go find it.

Then there is the use of the word “somehow.”  The meaning of that word here is something along the lines of “sort of,” or “a little bit.”  An example of how it is used: “I live somehow near the hospital,” or “The course is somehow difficult.” I like this one too, and have caught myself describing things as “somehow far” from time to time.

Ugandan people also have a propensity to add the word “please” onto a lot of things, which I find funny because in Luganda, the word for “please” is hardly ever used.  In fact, I never even learned a word for please.  But in English, if you call someone’s name, they will often respond, “yes please?”  And then there’s: “thank you please” and “welcome please,” for both sides of the thanking equation.  Those make me smile every time.

One of the truly great Ugandan English phrases, in my opinion, is their description of a general crowd of people, which can be applied when talking about the world at large or a general admissions ticket to a concert.  This ambiguous crowd of people, mixed together and not organized in any particular way, is called “General Happiness.”  I think it’s a fantastic way to describe such a situation.  General happiness.  It’s beautiful, isn’t it

Lost in Translation:

Anyone who has studied a foreign language in her past knows that sometimes things simply don’t translate into another language.  Greetings are sort of like this in Uganda.  I know I’ve mentioned that they are very important, and indeed they are.  When you greet someone, you have to ask them how their night was (if it’s the morning), and then you can proceed to how their family is, and thank them for the work that they do.  I especially like this last one.  As my Luganda teacher explained it, you always thank them, even if they’re not doing anything at the moment, because they might have done some work earlier in the day or the day before.  In Acholi, however, one way of greeting someone is by saying “Apoyo,” which literally translated means “thank you,” but in the context of a greeting is also thanking someone for the work they’ve done.  This means that sometimes when native Acholi speakers greet people in English, they will walk up to you and say “well done!” This was terribly confusing at first, but totally makes sense when you see where it comes from.

The other terribly confusing translation difficulty comes in telling time.  Occasionally, when you ask someone what time it is, they will tell you it is 4 when it is ten, or that it is twelve when it is six, and I’ll do the same when I’m talking about time in Luganda.  This is because in Uganda, they talk about time very differently than we do in English.  They use the same clock, but 7:00 is called 1:00 here, because that is the time when most people start their days.  Then the time just progresses from there.  It kind of makes sense when you think about it, but it’s very confusing.

The last translation difficulty is not something I run into a lot, but is worth noting.  The Luganda word “okujagala” means “to like,” “to love,” and “to want.”  I guess it’s similar to Spanish, but it’s somehow more confusing here.  If you think about it, “I like,” “I love,” and “I want” are all extremely different statements, and there is no way to really tell them apart, especially with my limited Luganda vocabulary.

I am sure that there are more of these, but these were the best ones that I’ve recorded over time.  Also, there would probably be more if this were not such a heavily English-speaking country.  Anyway, that’s about all for now. Back to the paper. Hope all is well there! ~CMK

Where did the last three months go?

Greetings all,

As I write this, I am 2.5 weeks away from my flight home, and I’ve hit an odd place in my experience.  I find myself increasingly viewing things through a strange lens of transience, often jumping in my thoughts to how different things will be when I get home, instead of just soaking in the experience and accepting it for what it is.  I get sort of mad when I catch myself doing it, because I feel like that decreases the impact of the real experience, to be constantly comparing it to something I’m anticipating.  When I am navigating my way down the dirt road to our house each night, using my flashlight to step around potholes and spots with a particularly large amount of mud that will squelch over my flip flops and in between my toes, trying not to get hit by NGO vehicles with the obnoxious massive antennae, politely declining the boda boda drivers who pull up next to me and say “yes sister, we go?” while maintaining good Ugandan manners and greeting everyone who I pass, I shouldn’t be thinking “wow, when I get home, getting around is going to be so different.”  But I do find myself thinking things like that more and more (even if I’m smiling in appreciation of the current experience).

I am still really enjoying my time here and know I am going to miss Uganda so much when I get back, but my thoughts are increasingly on the life that is waiting for me back in the States.  My friends and I are already planning the first things we’re going to do when we get home.  Ideas range from spending a day at the spa to eating cheesecake to just sleeping.  My list is still forming, but includes Starbucks, foods that are unavailable here like grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream, a long hot shower (first item on the agenda!), watching The Office, and of course spending time with all of you people!  I feel like I am getting ahead of myself, and I’m somewhat surprised that I keep thinking about these things, because I really don’t feel homesick.  I guess I’m just sort of excited to get back to what I know, and maybe to have some time to process everything I’ve seen and done here.  And suddenly, my journey home is starting terribly soon.  I can tell because my massive container of malaria prophylaxis is getting extremely close to empty.  2.5 weeks is no time at all compared to the time I’ve already spent here, but a lot can also happen in that time; it’s not like I’m leaving tomorrow.

I’m trying to make the most of it, by doing the things that I’ve been thinking about but haven’t gotten around to doing yet.  We ate some of the local food (native to the North, and not all of Uganda) that we hadn’t eaten yet today for lunch, I’m trying to get the rest of my postcards written and sent (though I will probably beat them there at this point), and I might be convinced to try eating ants if the opportunity presents itself (they’re eaten widely here, though I wouldn’t exactly call them a delicacy).  I also kind of want to go rafting on the Nile, but we’ll see if I have time/money/a companion with which to do that after the program ends.

Today is our last full day in Gulu—we’re leaving tomorrow morning to go back to Kampala.  I’m definitely going to be sad to leave this place and all the friends I’ve made here.  As I type this, I’m sitting at the bar/internet café that has become our favorite hangout.  We’ve come to know almost all of the staff, as well as many of the regular customers.  I’m going to miss walking in there and being greeted by my name.  I’ve enjoyed living the small town life for awhile.

It’s interesting, because I think this is the most immersed I’ve been in a community in my whole life, and I was only here for five weeks.  I know all of the little shops on the main street, and which ones have the juice and peanut butter I like (the peanut butter guy even knows me now).  And I know which gas stations are most likely to have kerosene for our stove, even when there’s a fuel shortage.  I’ve gotten used to riding motorcycles around, and am going to miss that thrill and the wind in my hair when I have to go back to riding taxis and sitting in “the jam.”  I never quite got used to the cockroaches in our kitchen, and I don’t think I’m going to miss those.  It’s been a really fun five weeks, and I’m sad it’s coming to an end.  But I’ve packed my suitcase, said my goodbyes, and am all set to go back to Kampala tomorrow.  It seems like people here don’t really make a big deal of goodbyes, which I like.  I am usually one to try to slip out the back door while everyone is looking the other way instead of going through dramatic farewells.  Here, they just say something along the lines of “we’ll meet,” or “nice time,” which is one of my favorite Uganda-isms, and maybe give you an affectionate handshake, then you’re on your way.  Of course, you’ve exchanged phone numbers and possibly e-mail addresses, so you’ll be hearing from them later, but the point still stands.

So another chapter of the adventure is closing, but the journey isn’t over yet.  I hope I’ll still have a lot to write about in the next few weeks.  I’m going to let this be a short post today, because who says I need to write a novel every time, anyway?  I’ll give my readers a break, and save my words for the largest paper I’ve ever written, which is due in a few days.  I hope all is well in your world.  In peace, CMK.