Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sights and Sounds of Mbale

So, nothing exciting has happened since my last post. Nrupa and I spend Thursday and Friday researching for our project and developing our questionnaire and background documents. Thus, instead of writing about our relatively mundane daily activities, I decided my time would be better spent giving a more thorough description of our house and life in Mbale than I have as of yet.

Home Sweet Home: We have a four bedroom, three bathroom house that is way too big for just the two of us. Nrupa and I each have a room, one room is the guestroom, but since we never have guests it has been converted into a yoga studio/wardrobe. It's the only room in the house with a quality full body mirror (the other is in my closet and just not very accessible). The fourth room doesn't even have a bed because GW only sends 2-3 fellows each semester, so it is used as a laundry/drying room. Normally our clothes line-dry outside, but on days when it rains before the clothes have dried or when something (like towels) take a super long time to dry, we hang them in that room so that they don't get rained on. Both Nrupa and I have bathrooms with showers in our rooms, though we only use the toilets. My toilet is a bit sketchy because the seat and lid aren't attached, but it has a good flush and drains quickly, so I deal with the seat issues. The third toilet and shower are in the hallway that leads back to three of the bedrooms (mine, our wardrobe, and the laundry room; Nrupa's room is directly to right upon entering the front door). The toilet and shower are in separate rooms, which is actually kind of nice. This shower is hooked up to a water heater, unlike the other two, so it's the one that we use. The pressure is a bit lacked (it's usually just a single dripping stream), but at least it's warm and not from a bucket. I think that lack of pressure is worse for Nrupa since she has about 10 times more hair than I do.

We spend most of our time at home in the living room. It's a huge room with a large dining table, a couch, two easy chairs, and our refrigerator. Not really sure why the fridge is in the living room instead of the kitchen, since there's definitely room in the kitchen, but whatever. We don't really worry about it. Our furniture is surprisingly comfortable. The seats are foam padding and very nice for lounging at night and reading. We also have a little library set up in one corner of the room. It was started by the fellows last semester and so far I have added two books to the collection. I brought 13 with me and, assuming I finish them all, will most likely contribute them all when we leave. No sense in carrying that extra weight home.

The kitchen is my least favorite room in the house. It actually kind of grosses me out. The light doesn't work, so if we're doing dishes or cooking after dark, I have to wear my head lamp. There's a large pantry to the left where we keep our dry goods and another galley room with shelves where we keep our pots, pans, dishes, broom, coal, etc. The main room of the kitchen has one tall, square table used as a counter. The sink takes up the main wall in the kitchen. On one end is our dish drying rack and on the other is our hot plate. On the floor in the corner is our coal stove that neither Nrupa nor I know how to use. We leave that one to Regina and stick with the hot plate when we need to boil water or cook (which we also mainly leave to Regina). It's a good thing our power doesn't go out too often.

The best part of the house is the huge yard! In most cities in the US, three or four houses would probably be built on the property that we have. We don't use our yard very often, but it's nice to know that we can. The other day we actually did some exercises out there with our UBC friends. The property is completely surrounded by a locked gate, so we have a lot of privacy (all the windows and doors also have bars for safety purposes). We also have avocado, matoke (plantain), and guava trees in our yard. Tom, our night guard, cut down a bunch of avocados and guavas for us the other day. We're not the biggest fans of matoke (the fruit is cooked and then mashed; it's not bad, just pretty flavorless), so we don't worry about that too much, though I would like to try cutting some down and frying them...

We also have a little garage that Tom spends the nights in. He was staying in this little shack right inside our gate, but that depressed us so we were able to move him into the garage once he got the key from a friend of his who had been renting it from the landlord for his car, but is no longer doing so.

Mbale: I really like Mbale. It's a small town by US standards, but pretty large by Ugandan standards. It's actually the 6th or 7th largest town in Uganda by population. We live in what is called Senior Quarters, which is the more residential part of Mbale. We're probably about a mile, mile and a half from the town center. The town has one main street, Republic Street, and then a couple big streets that run off of it. In the center of town, there is a huge clock tower painted bright pink. It serves as advertising for Zain, one of the main telecom companies in Uganda. I love the stores here, though often I'm too nervous to go in them. They're so different than stores in the West. First of all, they're all painted bright yellow or pink or blue depending on which telecom company owns the building or has advertising rights (yellow is MTN, pink is Zain, blue is Uganda Telecom). When you walk in, the majority of the items are in cases or behind counters. There's not really a concept of browsing, probably due to theft prevention. If you want to see anything closely, you have to ask the clerk for it. This means that you really have to go in the store knowing what you want. Secondly, they're all tiny. About 3 customers can comfortable fit in the stores, though, this being Africa, about 10 usually pile in. Also, in some stores, especially the electronic stores, the space isn't actually large enough for the merchandise so it ends up spilling on to the sidewalk. Sidewalks themselves also serve as selling areas. Women sit along the sidewalk in brightly color dresses with pineapple, bananas, and maize laid out on another cloth in front of them. Men use the same method for selling newspapers and shoes. Others sell clothes, underwear, dishes, grasshoppers (which a quite the delicacy. I had the opportunity to try them, but I declined). On one corner near our two favorite super markets, men set up tables selling jackfruit. They slice the huge, spiky fruit open on the tables making the corner smell sweet like the fruit.

This is also a devoutly religious country. Most of the signs and mottos for schools announce their intention of educating "God-fearing" citizens. In the mornings, a man stands by the clock tower preaching from his Bible. On Sundays, few stores are open and less people crowd the streets because they all go to Church. Though, I actually haven't seen a Church yet. I probably just haven't ventured far enough off the main street yet, as there must be quite a few. Also, I rarely go too far beyond the clock tower in the opposite direction of our house. Our UBC friends live over there, but we live in a safer area so if we're hanging out a night, we often do it at our house (it also doesn't hurt that we have our own house versus living with a family). I have yet to explore that side of town thoroughly, but I think more people live over there because it is less expensive, so I imagine that more Churches are located there. There's a Hindu temple (thus why the area is called Indian Quarters), so there must be some Churches, right...

The guidebooks I read before I came told me that Mbale was a quiet, sleepy town, but I can attest that it is not. The nightlife isn't too diverse, but there is certainly a lot going on. Last night we tried to go to a concert at a hotel down the street. The flyer said it started at 7, so we showed up at 8, and of course nothing was really set up or happening yet. I finally heard some music from there when I was walking home from watching the World Cup at 11:30. I'm not sure what it is about the music or the way Mbale is built, but we can clearly hear loud music from who knows where on the weekend nights. It often sounds as though someone is blasting a stereo in our front yard. The first couple nights here, Nrupa didn't sleep very well because of the loud music. Thankfully I rarely ever have a problem sleeping no matter what the surroundings are. As I'm writing this, in fact, our across-the-street neighbors are celebrating a wedding and their music must be turn up to maximum volume. Not sure what song is playing now, but earlier today they were blaring the song from Titanic by Celine Deon. And one day a few weeks ago we heard Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" no less than three times.

Okay, that's about as good a description as I can give now. The rest will have to be told via pictures. Now I'm off to watch some football matches!!! (real football, not that American football nonsense. They barely even use their feet--why in the world is it called football???)

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