How are you bazungu?!
So Ugandans get a righteous kick out of white people (bazungu in Luganda) and love to greet us like that every time they see us. Nevermind that they see us every day, or that they have to run out of their outdoor shower/pit latrine, pants down, to shout it at us. Okay so that’s mostly the children but there’s constantly a chorus of “Muzungu, muzungu, muzungu, muzungu” (singular) trailing me wherever I go. It makes for an entertaining two mile bike ride to training early each morning. Speaking of which, my ride has me quite perplexed: it takes me past Wakiso Primary School, a day/boarding school at which my host sister, Latifah, attends. Regardless of the time I pass by the school, there are always kids coming or going. What time does class start?! Well, I asked Latifah, because she leaves for class at 6:30am, surely hours before some of her classmates. Her answer? 7am. My observations left me unconvinced, so I asked again the next day. She tells me 8am. Probably has something to do with the fact that clocks and watches are non-existent in Uganda.
It seems that ambiguity is a common thread in Ugandan life. Time is fluid, so why not children? Apparently Ugandans have a fear of counting their children; disaster will strike one down if you do so, so they lie. I guess that’s why the average offspring count in Uganda is 6.7. My host mother told me that she has three children. Well I’ve met four and am aware of the existence of at least one other. That’s fine they’re all really nice and are eager to teach me unhelpful things in Luganda (her son Robert found it critical that I repeat the word for duck until it sunk in; it didn’t). What else is ambiguous here are current news. Earthquakes, hurricanes, the Olympics, what’s happened to the cast of the Jersey Shore, all unmentioned. I got a text from my mom the other day asking if I was alright, as there were terrible mudslides in Uganda. There’s flooding in Uganda? I’m here and I didn’t even know that! My next investment is going to be a shortwave radio so that I can turn on the BBC every couple of days to make sure I’m still alive. Hopefully radios aren’t too expensive, I’m subsisting on about $18 a week. My crazy-prepared-friend Arwen brought two cameras, so buying a radio knocks a new camera out of the running for big purchases of questionable quality. Which, in turn, means that pictures will be forthcoming!
“Quality” is a funny thing in Uganda. Ugandans have prized possessions and luxury goods just as Americans do, but what denotes luxury is beyond me. Fancy chairs (good enough for the Ugandan parliament meetings): plastic lawn chairs. My hostmom’s china cabinet ware: a plastic figurine of Scar from The Lion King. My teacher, Maango’s favorite dress shirt: Dish Network logo prominently displayed on the breast. Most everything Ugandans wear is straight off the Salvation Army boat from the U.S., it’s amazing, I love seeing styles from ten years ago making a comeback.
One other thing that I learned will typically be of dubious quality, and unfortunately the hard way (hey, isn’t that how I’m learning everything here?), is walls. I will no longer presume that brick wall fences can support the weight of the average girl; bricks are too abrasive to make that mistake again. Hence, my left shin, right knee and left palm are missing significant portions of skin. I’m considering just using my first aid kit’s antiseptic soap as body wash from here on out.
Ugandans are very eager to please, a mixed blessing. You tell them once that you like something, and you’ll see it thrown at you daily. Things I made the mistake of telling my host family that I love: jackfruit, sweet potatoes, doing the dishes, dancing and fish. I can’t complain about the jackfruit, sweet potatoes and dance parties with my 11 year old host sister (she can shake her hips like no 11 year old has any business being able to), but the dishes was a blatant lie and the fish is hard to choke down. Aside from the bones, fins and internal organs for garnish, I’ve seen where it comes from in the market. Sketchy. At least they realized right away that I could make nothing of the fish head I was served on day one. Save that delicacy for the kids.
Surprisingly, what I love most about training is language learning. Luganda is a beautiful yet simple language to study. It also happens to be the most widely used language in Uganda, especially in major population areas. This puts me at a huge advantage over some of the other language groups whose languages are only spoken in small pockets in, say, the far North. Everyone speaks Luganda. I have no idea how this happened, but I’m actually pretty good at it too. I think necessity has bred comprehension: my host family’s English capacity is that of 3-year-old.
Apart from daily language lessons, training can be tedious at times. You’d think I was back in school, with the ease at which I can fall asleep during class (no worries, I’m referring to high school for all of the professors out there). Of course, much thanks can be given to the wonderful parasites in my digestive system for this. Hence, I have started purifying any and all water I come in direct contact with… We do have a qualifying project that we have free rein over, that’s to be presented on at the end of training. I’m spearheading a sanitation in the workplace initiative. I can’t decide if I really want to know what conditions are like. Other than that, everything’s starting to become routine. Including the fact that I followed a goat for a 1/2 mile on my way to school this morning. And I think that my homestay’s lack of indoor plumbing can more than be compensated for by the fact that its yard contains mango, avocado and jackfruit trees. Talk about the land of plenty!
Hope all’s well on the home front; act as standby BBCs for me; keep me updated on life; eat some cake for me. Sula bulungi (good night)!