So here I am in Uganda – it’s been a pretty crazy ride already, and I doubt I’ll be able to explain or describe it very well at all! But let’s see what I can do!
For those of you in a hurry, here’s a very condensed version of what I’ve been doing the past week:
Arrived in Entebbe, went to Kampala and then out to my placement in Bulenga (about 8-10km outside of Kampala), went to a burial, crossed the equator twice (did you know I’m in the northern hemisphere in Kampala? I didn’t…), rode boda-bodas (local motorbike taxis) and in a mutatu (local taxis – Hiace minivans like in SA!), ate a lot of local food (matooke – steamed mashed bananas, posho (sp?) – like pap/tsima/shima, G-nut sauce – peanut sauce, jackfruit – huge, sweet and sticky, chapatis etc), went to primary schools, high schools and an orphanage, went to a Bobi Wine concert (apparently he’s big in Uganda!), signed up for a ½ marathon in May (and potentially a triathlon end of March!), went running around the village a few times in preparation for said ½ marathon, attempted to learn some Luganda, and just generally got completely blown away by everything that’s been happening!
OK, so for those of you who still have time, here’s a bit more in-depth (I warn you, it’s long, because it’s been such a sensory overload the past few days!)
So I’m staying in a little 3 house compound in Bulenga. For those of you who’ve experienced my communal living “skills”, you’ll appreciate why this is funny: I share a room with 2 other girls (Mia and Sophie, both American); and there’s another woman (Joanna – a New Zealander – my new running mate) and 2 men (Nicholas and Sam – Ugandans who work for KACCAD – the group I’m volunteering with) also living in the house. Caleb (from Peace Corps – grew up in Kenya) lives in a room next door. In the second house is the guy who runs KACCAD, one of his wives, and numerous daughters and nieces (his daughter is the cutest little thing, though she’s getting completely spoilt by all the female volunteers here!!). The 3rd house is a Korean missionary, who also works in the village – and we have the requisite chickens and dogs running around. The sand here is kinda reddy ochre, and my feet and shoes are already getting stained from it – I’m contemplating just accepting they’re turning a different colour, and giving up on the washing! No hot water, but it’s hot here everyday, so not really an issue; and there’s no mirrors, so I haven’t seen myself in a week! So if I come home looking like a complete dirtbag, you’ll know why!!
In terms of the work, it looks like I’ll be doing some teaching on HIV/AIDS, family planning and lifeskills. Also, when we have the funds, I’d do home visits to HIV+ people in the village. I went to observe one of Sophie’s classes, and what really struck me was that the kids were super well-informed (able to go into details about childbirth, HIV and safe sex, scientific names included), but I would bet money that very few of them actually then use any of it when it gets to crunch time. Kids here have probably been shown a million times how to put on condoms, but I doubt many of them ever use them. There are a lot of other economic and cultural issues too – condoms cost about $2.50 here, which is so far beyond the means of most people in the village, it’s almost scary. Also, kids aren’t allowed to have sex until 18 (although obviously they do, like everywhere!!) so we can’t distribute condoms to them at schools – the old line of “if we give them condoms, it’s encouraging them to have sex” – as if NOT having condoms is getting them to NOT have sex!!! There’s also all the usual misinformation (condoms can give you cancer; America has a cure for HIV, they just won’t give it to Africa, sleeping with virgins will cure HIV etc). I’m due to start teaching next week, which as you can imagine is pretty overwhelming! Trying to get around all the cultural barriers and norms is quite a daunting concept (and can’t you just imagine me committing heinous social crimes while discussing sex with teenagers in a strongly religious country??)
Being the only mzungus (white people) around is also a bit tricky. People are really friendly here, but we do get stared at a lot; and little kids all have to yell “Bye mzungu” whenever any of us walk by. Mostly it seems to be genuine curiosity or interest rather than people making jokes about you, but not always! But as I said, people are super friendly – it takes about 15mins to walk down the road, because you have to greet everyone, and enquire about their health, their mother, father, uncle, aunt etc (it’s rude to just say hello, without asking “how are you?”). I do reckon all the locals have been having a fat laugh at the two mzungu women who go running in the mornings (though I think we’ve picked up some street cred by having one of the local guys – Jackson – run with us).
The concert we went to last night was pretty weird too. It costs UGX5,000 (about $2.50) which is out of reach of most people here, so it was pretty empty. We were (obviously) the only white people there (all 5 volunteers) – probably the highest concentration of mzungus in the whole of Uganda!! One of the singers even thanked “the whites for coming”. The support act was a rasta dude on crutches (Bucha Man – as in Butcher Man…) – basically one of his legs hadn’t fully developed, so his leg was really short and his foot was tiny. Didn’t stop him jumping round like a crazy man though!! The main guy (Bobi Wine – pretty slick, and quite a hottie) was pretty funny – he had the “fire-guy” with him – some dude whose sole role was to hold a lighter next to a can of deodorant and create a kind of flame-thrower effect; he also occasionally waved his arms around out of time with the music; and his expression did not change once. I’ve decided I’m going to hire him to come with me when I teach – can you imagine anything more effective at getting kids’ attention than a fire-guy?? Also, during the concert, people walk up to the stage and give the performers money, apparently as appreciation for singing or performing.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of cultural non-weirds… I have an MTN sim card, and there’s Woolworths, Shoprite, Steers and Debonairs here (all SA brands); they LOVE the English Premiership, and Man United and Chelsea are huge! I always get a kick out of going to some obscure little pub in the middle of wherever, and chatting to people about Man U versus Tottenham!
Anyways, that’s probably enough for now – hopefully other posts will be shorter since not EVERYTHING will be new and exciting! Lots of love to everyone