Monday, May 31, 2010

First day in the field--sort of

I thoroughly enjoyed today. Well, the second half of today. The morning was quite boring. Mondays at TASO are staff meeting days, so the first 3 hours of the day was occupied by that. I tried so hard to pay attention in the meeting, but since I'm so new and still getting used to the accents, it was very hard to follow. Even when I understood what was being said, I didn't know what it was pertaining to. Oh well, it ended with cake, snickers, tea, and chipatti, so it was all okay in the end.

We also met some students from the University of British Columbia who will be working with TASO for the next six weeks. It was kind of fund being the "veterans," even though we've only been there for a week. But Nrupa and I are finally starting to learn some names and make some friends, so we were having conversations with some of the staff while the UBC kids were just hanging out talked to one another. I'm sure we'll all become friends in the next few days though, especially since Nrupa and I have already decided that they're going to be our travel buddies. The four of them are doing home-stays while there here, the two guys at one house and the two girls at another. When we were leaving TASO, we met the son of the family with whom the girls are staying, and even he asked if we would all like to go to Sipi Falls (which is on the mountain near our house) together.

I think a home-stay would be fun. It would be nice to really be integrated into the culture like that. On the other hand, I like having the freedom of my own home and really be able to move in, rather than just feeling like I'm visiting someone for 3 months. I guess we'll just have to find otherwise to explore the culture. Hopefully we'll get to go to a wedding...

After the staff meeting, we snuck away to town to go to the bank...again. We happened to return to TASO at just the right time. One of the counselors/field workers was getting on his motorbike and told us that "we would move together." We didn't know what he was talking about, but we hopped on the back of the bike anyway. He took us down the street to a clinic where TASO staff were drawing blood for hemoglobin and CD4 counts and handing out antiretroviral (ARV) medicines to clients. We helped fill out some forms, but once that was finished we just observed. The lab tech, Peter, offered to let me draw blood (they call it bleeding someone), but then it started raining and got too crowded. However, we were talking to him later in the day and he told us to come by the lab tomorrow (Tuesday) and he would teach us how to do it. Nrupa is not so enthused and doesn't want to do it, but I'm really excited! This was only a brief and limited field experience, but it was a great introduction. Hopefully we'll be able to go on outreach this week and delve even deeper into community work.

Something I don't like: How People here assume that, because I'm white/American, I'm wealthy. I knew to expect this, but I don't like how people just come up and tell some story to ask for money. Obviously it happens at home too, but here it's obvious that I'm am targeted because I am white. At the outreach today, this woman took me aside and told me how her husband left her because she had a hermaphroditic child so now she's struggling because she's a single mother with a deformed child and the doctors can do an operation to fix her child but she can't afford it so could I help her. I'm not sure if this story was true or not, but two things struck me about it. 1) It was an awkward situation and I had to explain to this woman that I was not able to help her but she should continue talking about this issue with her TASO counselor and 2) I felt terribly sad. Whether or not this story is true, the fact that this woman approached a total stranger with this proposition kind of broke my heart. It happens at home too, when people approach me in the metro with stories of loss and hardship, but for some reason it seems more poignant here because such situations are so pervasive. In the US, it's relatively easy to hide from and ignore the poverty, but here you see it around every corner. Thankfully, money doesn't bring happiness, so you also see joy and life, especially in the children.

On our way home from work, we stopped by the outdoor market. It's HUGE!!! We almost got lost walking around the stalls. We managed to get a good deal on some fruit, but left the market quickly when we saw the intestines and cows stomachs sitting on the stands, swarmed by flies. If I wasn't already vegetarian, I think that that site and smell would have turned me so.

The evening passed as most do. Sitting at home talking with friends and family on skype and reading. We also had a pretty good conversation with Regina. It was nice to get to know a little more about her, especially since she's in our home every day. Tomorrow we are going to try to meet her at the market so she can show us what to buy and from whom, and how much everything costs. Since we are muzungu, we are liable to be overcharged. But with Regina we will be charged a fair price or she can tell us what price we should be paying for each item. It really is nice having her around. She's going to teach us some Luganda too, one of the four languages she speaks, including English and two other local languages.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


We had to pay our landlord four months worth of rent today (even though we're only here three months, which is ridiculous and another reason why GW sucks, but that's a conversation for another day), so we headed in to town to go the bank. Naturally, we had more issues, but were finally able to get everything sorted and pay him. He was surprisingly more cordial today, probably because we handed him an envelope bursting with cash.

After that, we decided to explore Mbale a little bit. Since we had already gone to town to go to the bank, we head the opposite direction, and ended up walking around villages on the way towards Mt. Elgon, which looms behind our house. Everyone was so friendly. They would call hello and ask how we were. Children ran to the front of their yards calling, "Muzungu, how are you?"

Realization: We like to stare at the people here just as much as they like to stare at us, only we are more self conscious about it. I really wish I could just stare openly and not feel awkward about it.

I was going to post pictures here, but I think it will be too difficult. I'll put a few, but for more go to my facebook page. As you'll notice, a lot of the pictures are taken from behind or secretly. I'm not sure how people react to their pictures being taken, and I'm not quite confident or comfortable enough to just take them openly.

Descriptions of pictures, from top to bottom:
1) Our house, with Nrupa on the porch
2) A house on our walk into the village. I wasn't sure how happy the woman sitting on the porch would be with me taking pictures, so I did it in a way that she couldn't see.
3) Three men on a boda boda going to town. I was actually trying to take a picture of the two cows lounging on the grass on the other side of the road, but I heard the boda coming up behind us and timed the picture perfectly to take it just as they passed.
4) Some people walking back to their homes in the village. The little girl closest to us in pink was really cute. She ran up behind us and walked with us until we reached her home, even waiting for us as we took pictures.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday, May 29--Lazy Day

Today was spent relaxing around the house. We were planning on exploring town, but Nrupa's back was hurting so we spent the day reading instead. This was fine by me--I brought 13 books to read while I'm here and haven't even finished the first.

Our hopes for going to a wedding weren't realized, nor did the good Doctor ever even call... Oh well, apparently there was a wedding just down the street that we could have crashed if we really wanted to. Maybe next time.

This evening, we met the infamous Dave and Jessi, anthropology PhD students from the University of Georgia (I say infamous because we've heard a lot about them). The fellows from Fall 2009 were the first to meet Dave and Jessi, and since then each group has become good friends with them. It was great to hang out with some Americans who have been living in and around Mbale for a while.

Observation: Uganda is full of noises. There's the siren across the street, music from the neighbors, an insect and/or bat (I think bat) that beeps in the night, the whirring of our expat neighbor's generator when the electricity goes out. It's just as noisy as the city but in such different ways...

Definition: Sexpat--an expat who goes to another country with the primary purpose of having sex, usually because s/he is too disgusting to find a partner in the US and prostitutes are more expensive there. We learned this term in regards to some sexpats Dave met in Thailand.

Thursday and Friday, May 27-28, 2010

These days nothing too exciting has been happening. We spend the morning "doing research," which for me was reading the news paper and talking on gchat...mostly to Nrupa because everyone in the US was still asleep. The afternoon, however, ended up being wonderful.

We had an impromptu meeting with the Regional Manager for the Eastern Region, whose office is in the TASO Mbale center. It turned out to be both informative and help make us friends. Then we met with the center director, Mr. Kimera, who, after a 1 hour tangent, helped us narrow down our project area. We still have to do some work to figure it out exactly, but we're going to be examining male involvement in HIV care. The specific terms are still to be determined, but I think we're going to look at ways to increase the number of male patients seeking care (currently ~70% of TASO Mbale clients are female) and their participation in family planning and PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission). Obviously it's still pretty vague, but he gave us something to think about that could actually be beneficial to them.

In the evening, we had our first major blackout. It started around 8 and the electricity was still off by the time we went to bed around 11. Good thing we bought candles!

As for interesting/amusing occurrences:

1) We attempted to go to the bank in the morning to get money to pay our landlord and it was disastrous. First, the ATM captured Nrupa's card because she took too long figuring out how much money she wanted to withdraw. Then I tried to take some out and I got a message that my issuer was unavailable. While Nrupa got her card back I went to a different bank down the street, but the maximum withdrawal limit is one-quarter what it is at the other bank, so it's not very efficient in terms of fee charging. It would be much better if I could get more money each time so that the cumulative fees are less. Considering that I have a huge US bank and Nrupa has just a tiny one local to DC, I'm not sure why hers will work and mine won't. Mom--you may have to call Wachovia for me because we have to pay the landlord tomorrow (Sunday) and I can't get any money out.

2) Our landlord was not as amused by these proceedings as we were. With the minimal amount of money I withdrew, we were able to scrounge up 3/4 of the first months rent. We have to pay him the rest of the balance for the entire summer (he likes getting it all up front) by tomorrow afternoon. We went back to the bank in the afternoon and Nrupa was able to take money out this time, but I still couldn't. We may need to find another bank with a high maximum.

3) Apparently my poor olfactory system is a good thing. Nrupa has been having an entirely different experience from me regarding smells. I guess there is a very distinct Ugandan BO that I just haven't been able to smell (which I'm not complaining about).

4) Our night guard, Tom, has the best laugh. It starts with a big grin, then turns into a slight chuckle as he bows his head, then laughs fully this kind of giggle/belly laugh. It's wonderful.

5) Last night we were talking with Tom and somehow religion came up. As I've mentioned before, 80-85% of Ugandans are Christian. So Tom asked Nrupa what religion she was and she replied Hindu. With a look of confusion, he asked her "What" and started naming religions for her to pick--Catholic, Protestant, born-again? Thankfully he didn't ask mine too, though since there's a small community of Ugandan Jews just outside of Mbale, he might have recognized it.

6) So far everyone we've met has this very distinctive way of speaking. They insert fill-in-the-blanks within their speech. For example, "We would like to find a way to get men more involved in what?. . . in antenatal care." It's like you're being quizzed during every conversation to make sure you're paying attention. Though usually there's only a very brief pause before the speaker fills in the blank him or herself.

7) Nrupa and I need to align our sleeping patterns or we're both going to be exhausted the entire summer. On the nights when I sleep well, she doesn't and vice versa.

8) There's an alarm at the house/office across the street from us that goes off EVERY MORNING. During the week it goes of at 6:43 and continues for about 20 minutes. Thankfully today (Saturday) it didn't go off until 8:30 so I was able to sleep in a little bit (or, I didn't hear it until 8:30 at least. Nrupa said it went off a little after 7). It often goes off in the afternoon/evening as well. If it continues, we might bring the issue up to the local council. Apparently they can do an investigation and, since this is a residential area, they can require that the alarm be stopped since it is disturbing people. Though we'd most likely have to get someone to present such a case on our behalf since we're muzungu.

9) It turns out that Nrupa's malaria-scare was beneficial for us. We ran in to the Doctor after work yesterday and were discussing weekend plans. He told us he was going to a friend's wedding and, after we mentioned how we were hoping to be able to go to one in the coming months, he asked if we would like to go one tomorrow (which is now today, Saturday). After assuring us that we wouldn't be crashing the party, he took our phone number so that he could call us with the details later. We haven't heard from him yet and it's 10:15 on Saturday morning, but we still have our fingers crossed...

Also, you people need to start writing some comments! Is anyone even reading this?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 25-26, 2010--Days 1 and 2 at TASO

Tuesday and Wednesday were our first two days at TASO. Tuesday we had a tour of the clinic and learned what happens in each department (medical, counseling, and social support). We also met about 40 new people, and today (Wednesday) we were quizzing ourselves about names. We didn’t do very well. Thankfully everyone is so friendly they just come up to us, shake our hands, tell us “you’re welcome,” and reintroduce themselves. They also had some issues with our names. Most think I’m called Jazz or Just (as in Justin), but I’m better off than Nrupa. She dropped the “r” from her name to make it easier to understand, but TASO staff are still having some trouble. The center manager insists on calling her by her last name, which she’s not exactly excited about.

After getting acquainted with TASO, we walked around town a bit, got our modem for internet, picked up a few last minute things for the super market, and headed for home. We decided to walk just to explore a bit, which may not have been the best idea. (As I’m typing this, moths keep attacking my computer because it’s the brightest light in the room. We just lost power for a few minutes and I had my head lamp on, but I had to turn it off immediately because they were flying at my face.) The walk was much farther than we thought, though we may still try to do it a few times a week to get some exercise in, most likely home from work rather than to work.
Last night we attempted to set up the internet, though apparently the telephone lines weren’t working very well so it was holy unsuccessful and just made both of us very frustrated. We watched Food, Inc to relax ourselves, but I pretty much just slept through the entire thing and Nrupa got worked up about her dislike for the food/agriculture industry.

Wednesday was also relatively uneventful. The most scandalous thing that happened was that we called one boda driver to come pick us up, but we couldn’t quite remember what he looked like so we got on the wrong boda. But I apologized to the original boda driver. I felt so bad. He drove out to get us only to find that we had already left…

Otherwise, we spent the day researching different projects that we are interesting in working on and tomorrow we’ll meeting with people to discuss the best ways for us to contribute. We’re both anxious to get started, so hopefully we’ll have something nailed down in the next few days.
Lastly, Peter stopped by to discuss some things about the hosue (ie: rent) since his name is on the lease. We also dicussed some of the projects Nrupa and I are interested in working on. We mentioned nutrition projects and he said we might be able to go to Soroti (another town slightly northwest of Mbale, maybe 3 or so hours away) to see their nutrition support programs. Only TASO Soroti and Gulu still have these programs since they’re post-conflict zones, so that would be an amazing opportunity. Hopefully it works out.

Interesting occurrence: Peter called us muzungu today. I don’t know why, but it was more surprising when he used that term then when children or people on the street do, maybe because we know him. It wasn’t offensive at all; it was just more surprising because I think I was associating the term with those seemingly less educated than Peter (who is now going for his Masters in something having to do with development or project management. He told us the other night at dinner but I can’t remember).

And the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round…

I feel like I didn’t do the bus ride justice or explain it in enough detail, so I’m giving it its own post. Crazy and interesting things that happened, in list form for simplification purposes:

- As previously explained, we sat jam-packed with 8 people in a row made for six, including a 5 year old girl and a 1 year old baby. Thankfully Ugandan children are well behaved. If those had been American children, I would have jumped off the bus and walked the entire way. I just can’t imagine an American child sitting still and not complaining for 5+ hours on a hot, cramped bus.

- The woman sitting next to me, who was extremely nice and helpful, whipped out her breast no less than 15 times to feed her baby. It was shocking at first, but I quickly got used to it. What I found most strange was that she unabashedly did this while surround by two muzungus and many men. I think the lack of modesty is good; Americans are too uptight.

- I quickly overcame my personal space issues, which I think was good. Don’t people say that the best way to overcome your fears is to confront them directly? I wouldn’t call this a fear, but the concept is the same.

- The bus made a few stops at police checkpoints and to fill up gas. At each one, people would rush up to the windows hawking skewers of chicken, fried bananas, bottles of water, bags of oranges, even a whole chicken, head and feathers intact. The woman next to me almost bought it. Thank goodness she didn’t. I don’t know if I could have handled her kid and her dinner on my lap.

- About 10-15 minutes after the bus let Kampala, this man in a very nice suit and tie stood up, got everyone’s attention, and began selling things for the next 30 minutes He started with some cough drops or something like that, moved to deworming powder and toothpaste, and finished with I don’t know what because I stopped paying attention. It was funny though. I guess the bus provides a relatively captive audience, though I wonder what kind of arrangement the man had with the bus service. He must still have to pay for his seat; I don’t think they’d let him on otherwise.

- Our driver, Ram, had told us that he paid for our seats for us, but he neglected to give us the receipt. When the guy came to check the tickets, we obviously didn’t have one. After explaining to him multiple times what happened during the course of the ride, we finally ended up paying again (or for this first time since we’re not entirely sure Ram actually paid them). For a bit I was nervous that they were going to throw us and/or our luggage off the bus. Every time we stopped I checked out the window to make sure they didn’t remove our bags.

- The bathroom break consisted of the bus pulling to the side of the road and people going right there, men to one side of the bushes and women to the other, but all clearly in site of those on the bus or passing by. Again, lack of inhibition. Americans really should adopt this characteristic.

Backlogged posts

Due to internet and traveling issues, I'm just now posting sections that I've written over the past few days. I've tried to describe in detail what's happened, but it's very difficult to put everything into words. Some of what I'm feeling and experiencing I can't even express to myself. Maybe by the end I'll understand more. It is still just the very beginning. In the meantime, here are some observations, just for Zina:

1) We learned that tea must be "escorted" down the esophagus so that it doesn't get lonely. Thus why you take (not have, take) tea with a small morsel.

2) Malaria can be amusing, as long as the test results are negative. Nrupa came down with a fever today so the doctor tested her. He prefaced the test by saying that, in Uganda, 95% of malaria tests are positive. Not the most encouraging statement. But now she's doing much better. She took the afternoon off to sleep and will hopefully be able to come to work tomorrow.

3) We've invented a new game: Cockroach Golf. It involves swatting at a cockroach the size of my fist with a broom, trying to get it out the door, while Nrupa screams and jumps on top of the furniture. It turns out I'm quite good. I got it to the door in just one hit.

4) Despite the fact that lizards are necessary because they eat the mosquitoes, I really wish they wouldn't crawl on the ceiling, especially above my bed.

5) Anyone who has ever driven on Michigan roads--those potholes are nothing compared to the ones here! Lanes end up being more of a suggestion than a rule because cars and boda bodas end up weaving back and forth to avoid them, which is physically impossible.

6) Despite the fact that I don't like tea, I thoroughly enjoy milk tea. I think because it that's the only way that I can get my daily fix of milk, which really isn't enough but it's better than nothing.

7) An alarm has been going off across the street every morning at 6:45am sharp. Fingers crossed it stops...

8) I clandestinely took a few pictures on the walk home from work today. I'll try to post them this weekend.

9) So far, Robert is our go-to boda boda driver. He was waiting for us this morning when we opened our gate and he passed by me as I was walking home this afternoon and drove me the rest of the way for free.

10) Regina makes some damn good beans and rice. Sorry Tits. You have some competition... And she only uses a hot plate and a small coal stove.

May 24, 2010—To Mbale

Today was a very interesting day. It started with an orientation at TASO and ended with a child sitting on my lap for 5 hours on a jam-packed bus. We woke up early and got ready for our orientation and the TASO Teaching Center in Kampala. Our special hire driver, Ram, wasn’t entirely sure where it was, but he knew the general direction, so off we set, 10 minutes behind schedule. After asking a few people for directions, we made it. Naturally, Ram thought it was going to be much farther than it was, so he grossly overcharged us (even after admitting he thought that the center was father out of town—special hires charged based on distance).
At TASO, we met Martha who explained the history of the organization and its operational structure. With her, we drank some tea and ate some raw maize (I wasn’t a big fan). Afterwards, she was able to negotiate a better deal for us for the ride home and make arrangements to have Ram ensure that we made it onto the bus safely.

Once home, we quickly packed our bags (it felt like we were fleeing from something we were moving so fast, though I guess in a way we were because we both were so anxious to get to Mbale). In the meantime, Ram found out what time the bus left for us and secured another driver to help him get us there. Nrupa and I exchanged the rest of our US currency for Ugandan shillings, wolfed down some lunch, checked out of the hotel, and piled into the back of the car with half of our bags on top of us.

The bus park was insane!!! When we pulled in, men swarmed the car. Despite the overcharging, Ram really came through for us in the end. He told us not to talk to anyone at the bus park and secured seats for us. He negotiated prices so that we each only had to pay Ush10000 ($5) for the bus from Kampala to Mbale. If we had taken a special hire, this would have cost between Ush250000 – 300000 total ($125-150), so the bus was a very good bargain. And it was definitely bargain travel, even on what we’ve repeatedly heard is the most reputable and luxurious bus line…

We were told we had two seats at the very back of the bus, but when I got on and headed for the back, I did not see two seats. There was a large woman on the end, two kids, and three men filling up the six seats in the back row. The bus employee behind me, however, assured me that there were in fact two available seats, so I kept heading back. The woman by the window pulled one child into her lap, squished the other next to her, and told me to “extend, extend,” which it turns out means to scoot closer to her, until our thighs were nuzzled up against one another and her second child was half sitting on her lap and half on mine. I managed to shove my laptop bag in between my feet as Nrupa slid into a space half the size of one butt cheek. So there we were, smushed into our seats with Nrupa’s backpack, laptop and half of a child on our laps. We were ready for a fun 5 hours.

Thankfully about 1.5 hours outside of Mbale some passengers got off the bus, making more room in our row as two men switched to now vacant seats. With our laps and legs free we were able to stretch out a bit and actually enjoy the ride a bit. Of course, the child who had been sitting on my lap and grown quite fond of me, so 30 minutes after I put her in her own seat, she climbed right back into my lap.

Finally, over five long hours later, we reached Mbale. Peter, one of our new best friends from TASO, met us at the bus line’s office (usually the buses go to a bus park, but after dark they go to the offices instead). Thankfully Peter was waiting for us because the crowds were again overwhelming. Boys of all ages were offering to help us with our luggage or get us a car, and when we refused they would simply stand next to us waiting and staring.

We again piled all of are stuff into a car and drove around the block the to supermarket so that we could get a few quick necessities since there was nothing at our house. We then went home, oh sweet, wonderful home. As much as we begrudge the department, it was nice to not have to worry about finding lodging. Peter left us to get settled for a bit (he lives just down the road), then came back about an hour later to take us to dinner. We had a mediocre meal at Mbale Resort, where we should also be able to access free wifi and a pool, and talked about life in Mbale. Peter has lived here his entire life; he even got his bachelors degree in Mbale, so he was a good person to give us our introduction.

After dinner, Peter walked us back home and Nrupa and I attempted to settle in a bit more. Some of the lights don’t work (though thankfully we have electricity), so we broke out our flashlights and thoroughly explored. The most important discovery we made was how amazingly comfortable our living room furniture is; we will definitely be spending a lot of time reading and relaxing there.

Finally, we met our night guard, Tom, who sits in a shack right next to our front gate within our property. The house is very secure and I’m not sure we need a night guard, especially because I feel guilty for making him spend his nights in a tiny, tin shack in our yard rather than with his family, but Nrupa pointed out that he’s getting paid which he might not otherwise be, so that’s good. It still feels kind of wrong though. We peeked in there today (Tuesday) and he only has some cardboard and a tiny blanket covered by a bed net to lie on. Nrupa and I were thinking about putting our extra mattress in there and getting him a new flashlight, just to make it a bit more comfortable, but we don’t know if that’s possible since someone next semester might need the mattress. Maybe we can get a cheap one in town…

We eventually made it to bed around 1am, thoroughly exhausted from the days’ adventures and ready to begin our orientation to TASO Mbale in the morning.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday in Kampala

Transportation terminology:
Boda boda (explained in previous posts): motorcycles/dirt bikes used like US taxis
Taxi: Bus/van that carries 12 passengers and travels on set routes around the city. Cheaper than boda bodas and special hires, but only usefully if traveling on predefined loop. Also must be caught and designated locations.
Special hire: like a boda boda except a car; drivers and passengers often exchange numbers so that you end up using the same couple of drivers each time
NOTE--none of these have meters, so the price is always discussed before riding

As expected, Sunday is a much calmer day in Kampala, though people are definitely still out and about. Today started with hymnals blaring through our room. We aren't entirely sure where the church is, but we can definitely hear them singing Hallelujah quite clearly. I thought it was nice, though I wish they would sing another word or tune or something. Nrupa was just annoyed. Apparently she doesn't like having her sleep interrupted, even in the name of God.

Our special hire driver picked us up promptly at 10am as we decided on the night before. We went to one of the 8 Baha'i temples in the entire world with one of the girls we met last night. It was amazing! The building is this small but beautiful structure perched atop a hill overlooking the city. It has 9-doors and a dome (standard on all Baha'i temples) to represent the different ways into the faith (doors) and the unification of the followers (dome). We were able to attend the service, which apparently was longer than usual because today was a holiday commemorating the day the Bahá'u'lláh acquired his first follower. The service was a mix of prayers given by the congregation and songs. I think the most interesting part was that no one officially leads the service. It is organized beforehand so members of the congregation are given prayers to read at certain times, but no one calls the participants up to the podium. The service merely flows along. It was kind of a nice change of pace. It put everyone at the same level rather than elevating some. I'm not sure if this is true, but it seems like this could represent the equality of all in the eyes of God. They don't have preachers or rabbis to relay the message of God; instead they all can access it equally.

We met some more people from dinner last night at the Kibera Country Club, a bourgeois hang out for expats and rich Ugandans. It was like being in a different world. Once our friends arrived, we left to go grocery shopping with them at a local market. There, three of us shared one of the juiciest pineapples I've ever tasted. The guy from whom we bought it cut it up with his gigantic knife and we all walked through the market dripping pineapple juice behind us. At the market we also saw avocados the size of my head and a plethora of beans, peas, and rice. I wanted to take a picture but I wasn't sure the stand owners would appreciate that. Nrupa managed to snap a clandestine one, so hopefully it turns out okay.

After the market we went back to Garden City, the shopping center we visited on Friday. We had some more good juice and sandwiches then decided to relax with a movie. After 3 days we already feel like we've been here forever, mostly because Kampala doesn't have too much to offer as a tourist destination. Thankfully we'll be leaving for Mbale in the next one or two days. We're excited to get settled in our house and start working. I know I thrive when I have a routine, so I'm looking forward to establishing one there.

After all our adventures today we were exhausted, so we came home and just ordered room service from the hotel. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite disappointing. Nrupa's soup was over salted and my vegetable rice had chicken in it. Oh well. Hopefully TASO will feed us at our orientation tomorrow...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 2--Getting used to Africa time

Today was a relaxed and semi-lazy day, though we definitely walked a good deal. We woke up a bit late, crawled out from underneath are bed nets, and slowly prepared ourselves for the day. We finally left the hotel around 11:30 or 12 and set out for a cafe called 1000 Cups Coffee House. We made it there without getting lost and only having to reference our map once! Two days and we're already learning our way. This place was great! They had an extensive menu with coffee and non-coffee beverages from all over the world. We stuck with good old iced coffee, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Nrupa, on the other hand, dumped an entire container of sugar in hers and still found it bitter. We had good sandwiches. I ordered Hawaiian french toast, which was a grilled sandwich with different fruits inside. Delicious. They also added different fruits around the side of the plate, some of which we couldn't even identify. I tried my first star fruit, which tastes like a tangy orange.

After enjoying the breeze and peacefulness at 1000 Cups for awhile, we browsed their crafts collection, bought some things, and headed across the street to more craft shops. The shops were part of a cooperative to help women earn money. I bought one thing and felt good about it since I was helping support a local craftswoman. Plus what I got is pretty sweet. After awhile, however, being in the craft market became very overwhelming. All the women sit at the front of their stalls and as soon as you walk by they perk up. If you show interest in something they have out front, they stand up and beckon, "Come in and look around. Come look at my shop." Then they proceed to shove random items into your hands, hoping to find something that you'll purchase. It gets so stressful after awhile; I just felt guilty for not buying anything. Oh well. They are definitely good saleswomen and they know their items intimately.

Next we headed back to our hotel to drop off our purchases and change our clothes--we had decided to head to Old Kampala to visit a mosque and needed to be dressed more appropriately. In Old Kampala, we ended up touring temples for three different religions. First, we visited a Gurudwara (guru=god, wara=door--door to god) temple, the place of worship for Sikhs. Nrupa told me a lot of interesting facts about this religion, but naturally I forgot a lot of them. Either way it was interesting. I love visiting temples of other religions and learning about the different customs. Next, we happened upon a Swaminarayan temple, which is a branch of Hinduism whose main god is Swaminarayan. Men and women pray separately in this religion, and we almost walked into the mens' room in the temple. Thankfully (I think) a few guys were praying in there so we knew we were on the wrong side. Plus the cleaning guy pointed us in right direction. The guys we almost walked in on came out after they were finished praying and gave us some fruit as a prasad, which is blessed food offered to god and then consumed. Lastly, after much searching, winding, and walking uphill, we found the Gadafi Mosque, the largest mosque in Uganda. It was only finished in 2006. We rolled down our pant legs and donned our long sleeve shirts and head scarfs and ventured in after our guide (who kind of ripped us off by charging us Ush3000 ($1.50) each for scarves to wrap around our waists since we were wearing pants, which was apparently taboo; thankfully we brought our own scarfs to cover our hair or he would have charged us even more). Inside, however, was beautiful. There was a large empty space with beautiful glass windows downstairs where the men pray and a much smaller but equally as beautiful balcony upstairs for the women. The women also have an area to pray on the lowest level of the mosque that is an entirely separate room from that of the men.

We then walked home, thankfully finding a much shorter route to prepare for dinner. We met up with a connection I had (thanks Joyce) for dinner this evening. She and her friends have been living in Uganda for just over a year, so were able to give us some really good advice, as well as discuss the interesting work they do with public health organizations in Kampala. We went to this Ethiopian/Eritrean place that was delicious. We sat outside in this little garden that was barely lit (we had a candle on our table that kept burning out), drank our first Ugandan beer (Nile special--very good, especially since I'm not a huge fan of beer), and enjoyed some delicious lentils and injera. They told us about a B'ahai temple (one of only seven in the world) in Kampala, so we're going to meet up with another girl we met at dinner there tomorrow morning, then check out a vegetable market in the city. At night we might take another stab at trying to find the Ghanaian restaurant we attempted to eat at last night. Apparently it does still exist, is delicious, and is located on the other side of the city from where our guide book directed us (shame on you Lonely Planet).

Okay, ready for night two under my bed net.

Things I've noticed today:
1) It's amazing how much weight people can carry, mostly on their heads and shoulders. I wish I could take pictures but I feel awkward taking my camera out in the middle of the bustling sidewalks.
2) I thought Saturday was going to be much calmer than yesterday, but the opposite was true. Maybe because the business people don't have work, so the stores are even more congested. I think tomorrow will be less busy since around 80% of the population is Christian. I figure most people will be tending to their religious duties.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 1

Well, we made it through our first day! We spent the day exploring the city, getting lost several times among the unmarked streets. It started as soon as we left our hotel and turned the wrong way down the street. Nrupa says Kampala reminds her of a less crowded India. It probably doesn't hurt that a lot of the stores and brands here, like Bata shoes, are Indian, as well as a significant portion of the population. Since I've never been to India, I've associated the city with a more chaotic version of New York. The sidewalks are filled with vendors sitting on sheets on the ground selling things like wallets, bracelets, pens, and food. In between the vendors are MTN stands selling airtime for cell phones or calls (like a pay phone but you pay a person instead of a machine).

The streets are bustling with traffic, both motorized and pedestrian, at all hours. There are very few traffic lights in the city (I think I've seen 2 or 3), vans, cars, and boda bodas (motorcycles/dirt bikes that are used as taxis) drive in all directions, squeezing through spaces and edging out other cars. Technically Ugandans drive on the left side of the road, like their former colonizers from Britain, but its often difficult to discern this from watching the traffic. As there are no traffic lights, there are also no cross walks, so pedestrians are forced to dart across the street in front of speeding traffic. Nrupa and I are still getting used to this, though she's much better at it than I am. We've begun shadowing other people, staying close to them as they cross the street. Otherwise we spend several minutes on the sidewalk waiting.

We went to this shopping center to get out of the sun for a bit. Apparently other muzungus (it means "white person," but Ugandans use it to refer to all non-Africans; its not derogatory) had the same idea because the placed was packed with tourists. There was one store there I had read about in one of my guide books called Banana Boat that sells handmade crafts from all over Africa. Another is this gigantic super market where we got some fruit (in peels) and learned that we had been getting really ripped off when buying bottled water. We bought a liter from the store for Ush650 when the hotel had been charging us Ush1000 for a 20oz bottle. Oh well. That's the fate of being a muzungu in Uganda. The Ethiopian hotel manager told us that even he gets charged higher prices despite the fact that he's African and has lived in Uganda for 7 years.

From the shopping center, we took a boda boda home. I wasn't really keen on the idea, but Nrupa was excited to do it and I figured I might as well. I'd have to at some point anyway, so why not today. So the two of us clamored up behind the driver and off we went at top speeding weaving through the rush hour traffic. With no helmets. Me at the back and Nrupa squished between me and the driver. I grasped the little handle behind me with one hand and Nrupa's waist with the other. We hit a few potholes that made me feel like I was going to fall off the end of the bike, but we made it back safely, after our driver asked a few of his fellow boda boda friends for directions.

The sun was blazing, so we took a bit of time to rest and figure out where we wanted to go to dinner. After deciding on a Ghanaian place that we though was relatively close to our hotel, we set off. Naturally, we got lost again as soon as we left the hotel and had to has no less than 5 people for directions. Unfortunately, no one really seemed to know where this place was and pointed us in vague directions. The lack of street signs didn't help our confusion. After about 45 minutes of walking and several more requests for directions, we learned that the restaurant had gone out of business--thanks Lonely Planet. Lesson for the day: call establishments before we leave to make sure they still exist. We tried retracing our steps back towards the hotel, but got lost again...of course. So, we hoped on our second boda boda and headed for home. Upon spotting a promising looking restaurant (in that it was open and people were there), we got off, paid our driver Ush1000 then he was trying to charge us (though we still overpaid him) and had ourselves some delicious rice and beans in a place with about 8 tables and a TV playing Benjamin Button. Thankfully from the restaurant we spotted the neon sign for our hotel...right across the we were able to walk back.

To end the day, we had an in depth chat with the hotel night manager (Andrew) about the politics of the US and Africa, ranging from the financial crisis to evangelical Christians to homosexuality (as most Africans, he's not a fan, though it doesn't seem like he supports the bill in Uganda proposing the death penalty for homosexuals, so that's good news). Now we're off to bed to prepare for whatever craziness tomorrow holds. Perhaps the Uganda Museum...)

Thursday, May 20, 2010


We made it! Nrupa and I are tucked into bed in our nice little hotel room in Kampala. Our flights weren't too painful--the one to Amsterdam passed very quickly, while the one to Uganda took FOREVER. And this woman in the row next to us got sick. Thankfully there were several doctors and nurses and on board, so she was fine.

Anyway, it's almost midnight here and I didn't sleep much on the plane so I'm going to try to get some sleep. More this weekend after we explore Kampala!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ready to leave...

So, my apartment's empty, my stuff is in storage, and my bags are packed (mostly). I guess I'm ready to go. Nrupa and I leave at 6:30 tonight, as long as the Icelandic volcano doesn't go off again and cause the Amsterdam airport to close. I can't believe that the day is actually here. I've wanted to work with TASO for about 4 years now, so the fact that I'm actually getting this opportunity is completely unreal.

I've heard so many stories from past fellows who have work with TASO telling me what an amazing experience they had and how fantastic all of the TASO employees are, so I know it's going to be a great time. But, being me, I'm still quite worried and a bit anxious. I just want to get there and start working.

We land in Uganda Thursday evening at 7:30 local time (12:30 on the East coast) and are spending the weekend in Kampala. We have an orientation at TASO Headquarters in Kampala on Monday, and then will be heading up to Mbale on Tuesday and probably start working at the local TASO Center there on Wednesday. So far we have trips planned (well, more discussed rather than planned) to Rwanda, Kenya (hopefully for a safari), and several places around Uganda. I'd like to go to Tanzania too if possible, but we may not have time/funds to get there.

Okay, off to finish packing...