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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hi, Muzungu!

Unidentified flower in the woods.

Hiiiii, Muzungu!

 “Hi, Muzungu” is what little children will shout when they see me (Beth) on the street.  It is used casually in conversation. David went to get an ID card and the receptionist called his dean requesting a letter for him, explaining that he was a muzungu.  When we were introduced by Doug Fountain, an American, at our first church service, the Reverend Canon Frederick Baalwa thanked him for helping with “those Bazungu names”.  It means “stranger”, or, maybe, “European or American”, or possibly, “a person who is always moving nervously”.  It is descriptive and not particularly insulting, as far as I can tell.


Of course, there are a fair number of bazungu at Uganda Christian University and Mukono, so  people are used to seeing foreigners. More importantly, there is a sizable middle class in this college/truck stop town, and although jobs are scarce, even for college graduates, goods, food, transportation and medical care are available.  Universal Primary Education is a reality. People travel, have TVs and use the internet  and no one seems surprised to see a muzungu on the street.

My recollection of this word from Peace Corps Zaire in the early 80’s is not so benign.  It was often followed by “Give me…” or said in a kind of snarky tone.  It was cringe-worthy.  Every language had its word: Mondele in LIngala and Kikongo, Yovo  (meaning peeled banana, if I recall correctly) in the Ivory Coast, Muzungu in Kiswahili.

Great Blue Turacos

I saw a T-shirt on an American that said, “My name is not Muzungu”. True enough. My name is not Muzungu. It also isn’t Freckles, Red, Shorty, or Mom, but I’ve also been called those and didn’t take offense.

The Thirty-Year Wait

Amaranth (dodo), tomatoes, melon, peppers and ntula (bitter eggplant)
Food is cheap (for us), varied and available.  Helen, who works for us, has taken me to the market several times to shop. This is good, because the market is big, dusty and overwhelms me. I walk five minutes to our local grocery, Mr. John B.D.M. Sentoogo’s Family Memorial House, at least once a day, and walk into Mukono several times a week to hit the ATM and several bigger groceries there.  I’ve been shopping in Kampala three times. A day there resembles a hot, dusty scavenger hunt, but you win if you score Cheese! Good bread! A vegetable peeler!

The local all-in-one emporium

Florence and Juliet work at John's.

Helen has made several delicious meals, although she is bemused by our tastes and wants me to teach her how to cook and bake muzungu-style. (Pause for the laughter to die down - I'm not the cook in the family.). This will increase her chances of being hired by bazungu after we leave, so I need to find some recipes. She has made tilapia fresh out of Lake Victoria, matoke (pounded unripe bananas), dodo (amaranth leaves), ugali (millet and cassava paste), nakati ( a green),  and fresh beans with local veggies.

Helen at the sink out back

"This is the meal I've been waiting for,"  he said.
Dodo, matoke and chicken.
Fresh from the market. Nile perch or tilapia?

We have purchased local, raw milk several times, but it turned to yogurt because we were unable to cool it after heating.  Our power was off for about a week, hence no refrigeration.  We weren’t brave enough to eat it after it sat at room temp for several days.

Give us this day our daily food

Around here, food equals carbohydrate. Ordering a dish with “all food” gets you a plate of sweet potato or yam, squash, rice, matoke (banana mash), posho (a heavier version of polenta) and maybe Irish (white potatoes) or cassava.  It comes with a small bowl of fish or meat in a sauce, or groundnut paste.

The Lord’s Prayer is pretty much the same here as in America, but we pray for “food”, not bread, which is entirely appropriate.

A local, and international, tragedy

A note on the death in Mukono of David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist this week. Some of you may have seen it on CNN or elsewhere. We were unaware for several days that he had been attacked in his Mukono home.  There has been a spate of violent robberies in town lately, and it is possible that this incident, while tragic, is not related to his sexuality.  We feel safe here.  Anything can happen during the election of February 18, but more on that later.

Sports Are Everywhere

David: And now for sports!  The two major newspapers carry lots of news about international sports of all kinds.  European football/soccer is huge here, usually getting top billing in the headlines and sometimes even more than Ugandan teams receive.  Coppa Italia, the Premier League, AC Milan, Arsenal, and the 2022 World Cup are everywhere.  Every European player trade, every coach firing, every new salary negotiation makes it to the headlines and on the airwaves.  Football/soccer is clearly the #1 sport here, followed by basketball, volleyball, rugby, boxing, and cricket.  Even the Australian Tennis Open made it to the top of the sports section headlines for a few days, even though very few Ugandans play tennis.  All of this reminds me of how xenophobic we seem to be about sports in the US, focusing only on OUR American version of football, or baseball, or basketball.  Rarely do we get news in the US about European, African, South American, etc. competitions unless some US teams or athletes are involved.

Lizard or agana?

The Baboon Threat

This just in: Another type of news you would never see in the US.  Tuesday’s Daily Monitor newspaper had a story entitled, “Baboons exterminated” with a photo and caption that read, “Dead End: Carcasses of baboons killed by the vermin control team over the weekend.”  To quote the article: “At least 30 baboons were counted dead and scores escaped with injuries … when a vermin control team raided their hideout after residents complained of destruction of their farms. … The animals that mainly feasted on cassava and pineapples are also said to have posed a threat to children and women as they go to fetch water from the wells… the baboons also interfere with normal school programmes as they often scare children going to school.  Residents say children have taken advantage of the presence of the baboons to dodge school.”  It’s good to know that children everywhere are the same.

Full moons look the same everywhere. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Having caught up on sleep...

We arrived eleven days ago. Conventional wisdom says that, after allowing one day for every hour of time difference to adapt, you are as good as new.  Fully acclimated and on a new sleep schedule.  We are eight hours ahead of W. Lafayette, so the magic point was passed on Wednesday. 

We’re still sleepy. Our apartment is next to a busy part of town. Last night, there was what sounded like a revival meeting going on all night.  Music, speeches, amplified noises, plus the normal evening revelers and boda-bodas till all hours. It’s a college town, after all, and this might be what it’s like to live in the student parts of Chauncey Village.   Desperately seeking earplugs…

We had our Embassy briefing in Kampala on Monday. There were a lot of warnings about riding boda-bodas.  Presidential elections are coming up in late February and we also talked about that.  Kampala is an exhausting city for newcomers and we were glad to head home.

Drying dishcloths with the handy panty pegs
We have pretty steady electricity, and a brand new refrigerator and a little gas stove. We are feeling settled in. We have hired a woman named Helen to do the laundry and clean the house. Any clothes hung outside to dry need to be ironed to kill fly larvae. There's a cultural taboo against touching another person's underwear, so we have to wash that ourselves and dry it indoors. I had been going nuts for a week trying to find a piece of cord to hang as a clothesline in the bathroom. It turns out that there's a dandy little gadget called a "panty pegs" that does the job. Followers of Linda Anderson’s excellent blog,  Citizen Green (http://tippecanoegreen.blogspot.com/), know that she features an item she calls Stupid Plastic Crap every month.  Things like banana-shaped “banana keepers” make it to the feature.  The panty pegs definitely is not Stupid Plastic Crap, although it is a plastic square with a hook and clothespins attached. I'm bringing mine home.

Plastic waste is everywhere here. I try to take the one reusable shopping bag that I brought to the stores to avoid using plastic bags. I naively thought that there would be readily available bags made of local materials, like I used in Peace Corps. I have not found these yet, but they must be here. We have two bins nearby for “burnable” and “non-burnable” waste, but they seem to be filled indiscriminately with any type waste.  Plastic falls under the “burnable” category and we smell or see trash fires several times a day. 

It is hard not to compare this experience to our Peace Corps days in the Congo (no one calls it Zaire anymore).  In the villages and towns there, the only burning smell was wood smoke. Many memories of Bukavu, where the Peace Corps Training Center was, are linked to the smell of eucalyptus burning. We rarely smell wood fires here.

David with jackfruit. We have not yet tasted it.
David: This week I began working with colleagues in my department, Science and Technology. I will be co-teaching a health and wholeness class as well as an environmental health class.  These are not exactly my areas of expertise, but I am staying flexible. After all, this is supposed to be a professional development experience for me, too.  This morning, I went to the first lecture for the health and wholeness class (600 students in an outdoor lecture hall that doubles as the location for church services on Sunday morning) only to find myself and the other teacher the only ones there.  The schedule was changed but we didn’t know.  All week long (the first week of classes) the schedule (known as the “timetable” here) has been shifting, with lecturers who don’t like their assigned days and times trying to get things changed.  This has resulted in quite a bit of confusion on the part of both teachers and students.  In principle, things should stabilize this next week.

Red-tailed monkey on the hill above campus
I also attended my first faculty meeting earlier this week.  The program heads and the Dean of Science and Technology met to review the final grades from last semester, discuss borderline cases, and give departmental approval to the “marks” before they are presented to the University Senate, and then to the University registrar for posting on transcripts.  The Dean announced at the start of the meeting that it should last no more than an hour; three hours later we wrapped things up, with a mandatory break for tea and coffee halfway through.  It was very informative for me to see the University policies and faculty personalities in action.  Also, I took some comfort in learning that many of the problems that were discussed regarding students, university resources, staffing issues, etc. are universal.

Unidentified lizard in the backyard
I am still working on developing some ideas for collaborative research with a Purdue science education PhD graduate, Justine Otaala, at his teacher education institute near Kampala, and possible work with other Fulbrighters in Uganda.  The Dean keeps talking about possible visits to the branch campuses in the far eastern and western districts of the country to teach some short courses, but nothing definite has been worked out yet.  I keep reminding myself that we are only 10 days into a six month stay, and that things will be worked out, one way or another.  The Swahili expression, “Pole, pole, ndio mwendo,” (slowly, slowly, is the way to go), is very appropriate.

We hope you have slowly (or quickly) made it to the end of this entry. 

Sunset over Mukono with Lake Victoria just visible
Hopefully by next week, we will have begun Luganda lessons and will at least be able to greet people, although, in fact, everyone speaks  English pretty well.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Arrival in Mukono

Arrival in Mukono

We arrived at Uganda Christian University  approximately 45 hours after leaving our house in West Lafayette.  It was around 2:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday morning.  Four days later, we are still working on regularizing our sleep schedules, although it’s getting better.  We flew from Indianapolis to Chicago, on to Brussels, Belgium, then to Kigali, Rwanda; and finally Entebbe, Uganda.  The flights were not remarkable except for the transatlantic leg. The passengers in front of David talked the whole time – eight hours. I would have thought this was impossible, especially for people with such loud voices.

Flat T8 in Tech Park

We have been here less than a week, but are learning quickly.  We have a small but tidy flat near the science buildings that we are stocking bit by bit with amenities. Our fellow ex-pats have been tremendously helpful, especially the Fountain family, Americans who have been here for six years, and John Smith, a British former headmaster and chaplain, who fed us our first Ugandan meal.

We have cell phones (numbers below. Text us!), and a new internet modem that we hope will help us keep in touch. We have walked into Mukono several times and been to the market, grocery stores and the Obama Restaurant and Take Away there. David identified a hadada ibis in our back yard. We went on an excursion with the Fountains to Kampala. Driving in Kampala is like the old line about Ginger Rogers – she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards.  There, it is driving in the worst traffic you’ve ever seen, times ten, and on the wrong side of the road!

Main Gate to Uganda Christian University
Uganda Christian University is a lovely campus. This is a shot of the main gate with a car decorated for a wedding and the ubiquitous boda-bodas, or motorcycle taxis.  We have been convinced that only people with a death wish get on these things.

David is still waiting to get specifics about his exact duties.  We are busy enough in the meantime and reeling with the differences between our Peace Corps days 30 years ago in neighboring  Democratic Republic of the Congo, and modern Uganda.  More on that later. We miss everyone but can’t resist mentioning that the sun is shining every day here!

Cell phone numbers:
Beth 011-256-791-749-622
Dave 011-256-791-749-621
Hadada Ibis