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Monday, February 14, 2011

Wardens and Elections and Profs, Oh My!

The Cathedral next to campus

Beth: Wardens

The word Warden does not lend itself to numerous interpretations in the US. Mostly it brings to mind Queen Latifah as Matron Mama Morton from the Chicago soundtrack (“When you’re good to mama, mama’s good to you”).

Here in Mukono, it can mean:
1) The ushers at church services, held at mammoth Nkoyoyo Hall to 600 mostly student parishioners. The wardens wear purple sashes saying, well, “Warden”.  They pack us in like sardines.
2) The people that we, at a university in the US, would refer to with an appropriate developmental term like “Director of Residence Life” are, yes, wardens. The Resident Assistants are “custodians”, continuing that theme.
One of the residence halls
The DH (Dining Hall)  from above
The DH, from below
3) The increasingly succinct emails from the US Embassy regarding upcoming national elections: URGENT WARDEN MESSAGE: INCREASED SECURITY THREAT AROUND UGANDAN ELECTIONS.  The wardens of our security in the US decided that the increased threat extended to mail in and out of Uganda and put an embargo on post coming into Uganda from the US as well as outgoing mail.  We found this out from someone who tried to mail a letter, and then we read about it in a local newspaper.  The warden didn’t bother to tell us directly even though he or she has all of our emails. Maybe there is a resemblance to Mama Morton after all.


Mukono hillside in the morning.
National elections are on Friday, February 18.  Student elections just finished on the Mukono UCU campus. We now have a new Guild President (a theology student after some disaffection with a string of law student chief execs) and a new Student Parliament.  In a marathon 4-hour church service on Sunday, they were installed, to much acclaim.  In the same service, everyone was warned to keep a low profile on Friday and for several days after. It goes without saying that people are on edge, given recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Ivory Coast and Sudan. The threat of violence is ever-present, but the campus is gated, pretty insular, and has a resident police station. We are not worried but plan to stay in for a few days.

The home front

We are feeling pretty settled in our little flat. We live at the other end of campus from most of the other bazungu  (plural of muzungu, the interesting word for foreigners. Sorry not to explain that in the previous post.) Tech Park, our area, is unglamorous enough to be called “Afghanistan” by the students. The neighborhood right outside our flat, Bugujju (boo-goo-joo), is described in this letter (http://www.ucu.ac.ug/thestandard/around-mukono/25-around-mukono/87-bugujju-a-pocket-friendly-village.html) in the student newspaper.  Bugujju is noisy but, since the rainy season hasn’t started yet, we cannot comment on the smell.
Statue outside library

Most of the long-term resident bazungu live at the other end of campus on a hill nicknamed “Kololo”after a swanky neighborhood of Kampala. They are mostly Anglican missionaries, teachers and administrators, with a sprinkling of Fulbrighters.  We had limited experience with Protestant  missionaries in Zaire-now –Congo as Peace Corps Volunteers and it is fascinating to interact with these folks and hear their stories.  They are very good people with sincere and deep faith.  Many are here with young kids. They run some excellent programs. 

Kayaking the Nile

We decided to road trip to Jinja, the Adventure Capital of Uganda, for some adventure.  We had a lovely time shopping and eating lunch, then set out during a rainstorm for nearby Bujagali Falls.  Part of the adventure was being stuck in the rain on a hill behind a tilted bus for an hour or so. Our driver maneuvered the car through the sticky goo and we successfully got to the kayak place only a few hours late.  We felt mighty grand and adventurous after kayaking the Nile for several hours until someone noted that we had probably been exposed to schistosomes and should get tested for bilharzia in a few weeks “before the symptoms start”. I have since spent some time vigorously refusing to find out what the symptoms might be. 

Kayaking in the Nile
Just to prove it WAS the Nile and not, say, the Wabash

View from car window on the way to Bujagali Falls - stuck bus and goo.
We found a restaurant  overlooking the Nile at the kayak starting point that may rival Coconuts on Cozumel Island for Best View for an eatery/drinkery. You be the judge.
Overlooking the Nile at the  restaurant.
Coconuts at Cozumel with the Warners, spring break 2010.
The Class 5 Rapids at these falls will soon disappear due to a new hydroelectric dam.  This isn't a popular decision with the tourist trade but a lot of people need consistent electricity.

Packing for the Trip, Part 2

What We Are Glad We Brought
Downtown Mukono from above.

  • A good camera (Thanks, Linda, for convincing us).
  • A Guide to Wildlife so we can ID all the cool birds. (Thanks, Nate & Jake. Best Father’s Day gift).
  • IPod player and IPods.
  • Shortwave/FM battery-powered radio.
  • Gel pens.
  • Crossword puzzle book.
  • OTC pharmacy that we haven’t, fortunately, needed yet.
  • Dental floss used to hang the mirror.

  • Reusable shopping bag. Cuts way down on plastic waste.
  • 4 boxes of Lady Clairol. That equatorial sun is a bleaching machine.

What We Didn’t Need to Bring
A whole bag of makeup. (What was I thinking?)
A full-length cotton slip. Don’t ask.

What We Should Have Packed
More contact lens solutions. Cannot find it here.
Hard-soled shoes. My beloved indestructible Keens are not equipped for the rocky, slippery paths and roads they encounter here.

This last list gets shorter daily as we find supplies of things we absolutely cannot live without; and we find that, actually, we can live without many things.
Cow on anthill. Just because, sometimes you feel like a nut.
David: Profs 

One of my early lessons on academic differences between the US and Uganda was learning what my title should be here.  (Titles are taken very seriously here - apparently some faculty will take points off from exams and assignments if students call their teacher by the wrong title.)  Back at Purdue I am very comfortable with the rather informal  "Dr. E" that many of my students use to address me.  Even before I got here, I noticed in e-mails that some faculty were called Dr. So and So and others were referred to as Professor.  When I first arrived, I introduced myself as Dr., but was quickly told it should be Professor.  The differences were explained to me by a colleague.  "Doctor" is used for anyone who has earned the PhD, but "Professor" is reserved for experienced faculty who have demonstrated a certain level of academic achievement (promotion, publishing, awards, etc.)  Given my background and experience, my students and fellow faculty members insist on calling me Professor, or "Prof" (rhymes with "tough" in the Ugandan pronunciation).
White breasted cormorants

My teaching has finally settled into more of a regular pattern.  I am co-teaching the Environmental Health course with Dr. Sarah Kizza-Nkambwe, a fellow lecturer at UCU.  She, like many of my faculty colleagues, studied outside of Uganda for her post-baccalaureate work, in her case Nigeria and Botswana.  Other faculty have been to the UK, the Netherlands, UC Berkeley, Sweden, China, you name it.  They have been a great group of people to work with so far, and have been very tolerant and patient as I have tried to figure out the system here.

The course is for seniors and is part of a new degree program in Environmental Science, and Sarah and I are creating the course from scratch.  The libraries are sparse on technical books and journals, so we are relying heavily on what we can find on the internet.  I had forgotten what a luxury it was to have well-established and well-oiled classes back at Purdue.  Course creation takes a LOT of time, especially with limited resources, limited internet access, and very limited background knowledge on the subject area.  Fortunately, there are several course topics that are very biology-related: environmental toxicology, carcinogenesis, and food- and water-borne diseases.  We decided that I should teach those, and Sarah, who does have a background in environmental science, is taking the other more technically-oriented topics.  So far things have gone very well.  We are half way through the semester already, and due to the national elections at the end of this week, classes will be cancelled starting Thursday noon, and we are supposed to resume classes on Monday morning.  In case there are any prolonged delays in resuming classes, Sarah has given a take-home assignment so that the students will have something to do next week in case we cannot meet.

Sugar cane and tea plantations

Many of the faculty here at UCU are part-time lecturers, also working at one or more other national universities such as Makerere University and Kyambogo University, both in Kampala.  The patchwork teaching assignments are necessary to help make ends meet, but it also means that many faculty are making extensive commutes to the various campuses.  One concern about the aftermath of the elections this week and next is that there may be road blockages by the military to keep people from traveling too much and contributing to unrest.  If that is the case, then many of our lecturers will be stuck at home, unable to reach the campuses and their students.  And we think that snow days are a hassle back home!

The other class I thought I might help teach, a Health and Wholeness class, has not worked out as originally planned.  Due to miscommunications and conflicting teaching times, I have not been involved in this large lecture course.  That's OK with me, as I am sure I will have opportunities to get involved in teaching in other ways.  In fact, I have already been asked to help evaluate student presentations for two other courses that are part of the Environmental Science major.  I am not worried about a lack of work.

Classes meet Monday-Saturday, and are scheduled in two hour blocks.  The academic schedule looks like this:  Classes 8:30-10:30, mandatory tea break for everyone from 10:30-11:00, classes from 11:00-1:00, lunch break from 1:00-2:00 when all offices on campus close, classes from 2:00-4:00 and 4:00-6:00, a break for an hour, then the last set of classes from 7:00-9:00.  Most courses meet twice a week for two hours each time.  The semester is 14 weeks long, with 12 weeks of classes and two weeks of exams at the end.  Students usually take 5 or 6 classes each semester, and given the Ugandan secondary school system of "O" levels and "A" levels inherited from the British, most undergraduate programs are three years long rather than four.

The grading scale is also very different, with 80% and above = A, 70-80%= B, 60-70% = C, and 50-60%= D.  Final exams in all courses are worth 50% of the course grade, with participation and various assignments and other quizzes/test making up the other 50%.  A student is not allowed to sit for final exams unless he/she has at least 35% out of 50% in the various assignments and assessments completed prior to the final exam.  To top it off, the GPA is calculated on a scale of 0-5.  By the time I get all of this straightened out in my own mind, it will be time to head back to Purdue.