We have already reached week three in our stay in Uganda! When I say that, I cannot believe how amazingly quickly time has passed – but at the same time it feels it has been ages since I said my goodbyes at the airport in NC.
Throughout our first week in Kampala we experienced many things: Amazing nationalism at an intense Uganda vs. Nigeria football (or soccer, as Americans like to refer to it) game, traditional Ugandan cuisine, and incredibly hospitable Ugandans.
…But we also learned about some sad realities that are present here…
The nationalism we saw and felt is unfortunately quite rare. The 65+ different ethnicities that exist within the borders of “Uganda” don’t in fact generally feel “Ugandan”. A formation was established in 1894 when British colonizers decided to draw an imaginary line around what we now know as Uganda. This did not, however, automatically make everyone residing within those lines transform into one uniform nationality. Although English was declared the ‘official language’, more than 30 languages are still spoken by the people living inside of these national lines. Despite our efforts to learn a little bit of Lugandan, one of the most commonly spoken languages in Uganda, it was difficult to even know if the mutterings we heard all around were actually Lugandan or actually Lusamia, Kiswahili, or Lusoga. Everyone here knows at least three or four languages, a must in order to simply communicate with others of their own nationality. Some people were surprised by the nationalism shown on the day of this game, while some people joined in (and got especially excited when they saw mzungus, or foreigners, supporting them with a Ugandan jersey, as I and another AGRADU member were doing). Others thought this display of nationalism was ridiculous and told us that “Ugandans” never show it because they don’t actually feel it. It fascinates me how something as ‘simple’ as football can really bring together an entire nation of people, despite all of the extreme differences that exist amongst them.
Another thing we learned is how “Ugandan cuisine” is actually quite a nice term for what is in fact a plate-full of starch. I never knew it came in so many forms: sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, rice, yams, pumpkin, squashed bananas (matooke), corn meal (posho) and bread. You then dip your choice of starch into some sort of sauce: beans, groundnuts, fish, beef or chicken stew. Although it is taking some effort to get used to eating the same thing for every meal, I am really starting to enjoy it (especially when our hotel manager cooks and actually puts spice into the food)! My main concern, however, is the nutrition of these staple foods that are everything that people eat here. Many Ugandans believe that fruit is only for children, so adults stay away from it and therefore do not have a healthy diet. You finish every meal with the sensation of being extremely weighed down by all of the heavy starch, while not really receiving what is necessary for your body. This diet is especially a problem for those who are HIV-infected, for because they become weaker without the right food. Thankfully, however, there are groups such as FOC-REV that are trying to communicate the necessity for good nutrition to people in their communities!
We experienced hospitality at one of Vesall’s Ugandan friend’s house. We were all invited to a delicious lunch at Billy’s, after which we extended our invitation late into the night while watching almost an entire series of Prison Break (it is always interesting to see what shows become popular outside of the United States…). His house was beautiful, spacious and clean – a huge contrast from a large portion of others living in Kampala and elsewhere throughout the country. While many people do in fact live in concrete or brick homes, there are many who still live in mud houses with grass-thatched roofs. It is interesting to experience how development has affected various areas of the country differently.
Our week in Kampala ended with us anxious and scared about arriving at our CBO sites. Busia Town is about a three and a half hour drive from Kampala. After the worry of our tremendous amounts of luggage not fitting into the matatu that was to bring us to Busia, we made it safely all the way to the border of Kenya! It was quite an experience to get out of the van and be immediately surrounded by people trying to sell things, exchange our money, help carry our bags or simply stare at the weird foreigners that just arrived in their town. Sheddy, the program director, came to our rescue and took us back to the FOC-REV headquarters where we met the rest of the team. To our surprise, a Peace Corps member was stationed at FOC-REV and it turns out that she is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate! It never ceases to amaze me how small this world really is…!
We jumped right into work the following day by going to a Youth Meeting where a video was shown to some students in the OVC Program (Orphans and Vulnerable Children), after which we did a question and answer section and then had some one-on-one interaction with them. It was a wonderful experience to get to talk to these students and attempt to get a look into what life is like for many people here in Uganda. It is definitely very complicated but they are so full of motivation and hope that it was moving. After the serious talks, the students taught us how to play net ball, and despite the language barrier we all laughed together and had a great time!
Our first week at work took us to various villages around the Bugiri district, interviewing people and determining beneficiaries for a Sustainable Livelihood Program that just received funding. Again, I thought that language was going to be a huge barrier (they speak Lusamia in this part of the country), but the few people that spoke English were very helpful in being translators for others in their village who could not understand us. Not only was it a wonderful interaction with the local people, but it also gave us the chance to see some amazing landscapes in Uganda – some days it took over 2 hours to get to the sites because of the condition of the dirt roads! The red dirt contrasts beautifully with the brilliantly green grass and tress. We drove by Lake Victoria, through rice fields, and past many different homesteads with people walking down the roads on the way to school, the market or to a water pump.
Everyone at FOC-REV is extremely kind and helpful! I have already had some very interesting and deep conversations about differences in religion, beliefs about marriage and behaviours manifested differently in our two cultures. People are very open, interested, and they love to laugh! Sometimes patience is required because things are not as organized and scheduled as they are in the United States, but I try to take the idle time getting to know our co-workers or read the newspaper to keep up with current events occurring here around us.
Exploring the town during our free time has proved quite fun. The kids are extremely cute, always yelling “mzungu!!!” as we walk by, the brave ones running up to shake our hand. The music is great and everybody loves to dance (a couple of girls were trying to teach me today, but I definitely need some more practice)! I have already received a couple of requests from people asking to go back with us to the United States, but for now I think they can see how happy we are to be here in this wonderful country experiencing what it is like to work with a CBO in Uganda. I am sad that we only have a month left but am very excited to see what these next few weeks have in store for us!