Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Muhindi in the Baganda Kingdom

I find myself walking around Kampala and comparing every aspect of it to Indian cities that I've been to. Both Kampala and many Indian cities are very similar in that traffic circles usually dictate traffic. There are absolutely no traffic rules, which up until recently used to be the case in all Indian cities. Both countries also have a huge gap between the standard of living of the rich and that of the poor. Granted, I have seen this gap disappearing over the years in India. However, in both contries impoverished people usually live in slums along the railroad tracks, children come up to cars and beg, there is an accumulation of rubbish along the streets, and there are holes and other obstacles that pedestrians must watch out for. The cars in Kampala are the same as those in India as well, and the rich usually have drivers. I don't know if it is fair for me to compare Uganda to India, but India is my best frame of reference.

In the region of Uganda where I am currently (central), most people are from the Buganda tribe.
The local people have several names for ethnicities that are different from theirs.
For example, a Mzungu is a white person. Everywhere we go, people yell out, "Bazungu! (plural) How are you?" Even African Americans who are not as dark as local Ugandans are called Bazungu. An Arab person would be called Murabi. Since my family is from India, I'm called Muhindi, which means Indian person. Today somebody yelled out, "Chinese! How are you?" (because of my short hair?), but that's beside the point. I have a special classification because Ugandans can recognize people of my heritage.

It's hard to go anywhere in Kampala without seeing Indian people, who seem to be an elite class of people in this country. There is a huge Bank of Baroda and a Bata store, both ginormous Indian corporations. There is a Delhi Public Schools International Program, and there are Hindu temples and a Sikh temple here. In the malls there are Indian jewelry stores and shops that sell Bolywood movees. Also, chapatis and pilaf are part of the normal diet here. I could go on and on about the influence that Indians have in this country.

I noticed that Indians in Uganda cling very tightly to their heritage. They have preserved their language, and Indian women wear sarees and salwar kamees. I thought this was interesting because Indians have lived in Uganda for over 100 years, but they preserve their heritage more than many first generation Americans like myself. Perhaps this is because Indians in Uganda were persecuted by Idi Amin, who froze their bank accounts? I'm not sure.

At any rate, seeing how Indians in Uganda behave has made me think about how my heritge plays a role in who I am. I identify more with mainstream American culture than with Indian culture, but at home I eat mostly Indian food and I have lots of Indian clothes. I'm also interested in Hindu philosophy. Still, I consider myself more American than Indian.

Uganda has made me realise how much my Indian heritage is important to me. I surprised myself when I went to the temple in Kampala. I thought it would be a good way to honor the Bahindi (plural) who were persecuted decades ago.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Embarking on an Adventure

Due to "technical difficulties" which seem so common in our day and time, I was unable to post my thoughts and anticipations of my adventure until now...a day after my arrival in Kampala.
In my preparation for coming to Uganda I attempted to eliminate all expectations. I've found that expectations have a way of ruining experiences. You end up either sorely disappointed or utterly suprised, and either way, the expectations of an experience have detracted from the experience itself.
Thus, I didn't really know what I was getting myself in to...and have been revelling in the adventure thus far.
Kampala is a beautiful coming together of unbelievable traffic, men carrying live turkeys casually on their shoulders, hip hop music, drying carcasses, young professionals, gorgeous mosques, and a wide variety of invigorating odors...
Even during my brief stint in Uganda I have already encountered beautiful people with equally beautiful stories. Just a few moments ago I concluded a conversation with a genuine and charming young man from Kenya who, on a recent visit home, endured a horrifying attack (due to the elections/political unrest).
I've enjoyed delicious combinations of kasava, ground nut, goat meat and I look forward to more combinations. I am trying my best to remain fully present in every moment of this adventure.
In the coming days we will continue to explore and acclaimate to Uganda's capital city. We will shop and barter in the markets, attend traditional dance performances, and potentially a futbol match...
I expect a relatively different experience when I leave the hustle and bustle of Kampala behind and move onto CETRUD and the farm in Kasese. I am very excited about what experiences await me in the village, but for now I'm enjoying each part of the journey.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It's almost here!

In exactly one week, I will be arriving in Entebbe for the first day of my time in Uganda. Something that I have dreamed about for the past 10 years, is finally coming to fruition. I am excited, and at the same time terribly nervous. I'm wondering exactly what I will be doing on a daily basis and hoping that my work will include lots of time spent working with and teaching children. I cannot wait to meet all of the people at FOC-REV that I have heard so much about, and to see the amazing landscapes and wildlife of Uganda. My parents, in an effort to show their excitement about my trip, taped a program done my BBC about Uganda which focused on its history and wildlife and I am thrilled about seeing that in person.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gearing Up for an Adventure

I'm leaving for Uganda in less than a week! It still seems otherworldly that I will be there for two whole months! I'm going to be interning at Kyetume (pronounced "chi-too-may") Community Based Health Care Programme in Mukono. All of us interns are going to Kampala (the capital) first for a few days to get sim cards and other items that we might not get at our rural internship sites.

I'm trying to be as prepared as I can beforehand. Can one really be prepared for this sort of adventure? I need to get traveler's checks and buy a couple over the counter medicines and skirts. Apparently in rural areas, where I will be, it's not polite for women to wear pants. Most rural Ugandan women where long ankle-length skirts. Those have been pretty hard to find, which is weird because I see people wearing them here in the states. Maybe those kind of skirts used to be in style, but went out of fashion? I don't know. I have a couple, but they have lots of sequins. Something tells me that sequins aren't very practical in the field. I hope I don't pack too much stuff.

I'm trying to learn as much as I can about what I can do that will benefit Kyetume. Ashley, my co-intern at Kyetume, and I will be I designing a website for them using godaddy. We're also going to use dreamweaver and wordpress to update files and images on the site, and we hope to to teach Kyetume staff how to maintain and update the website themselves so that it will be sustainable. I'm probably going to be working with micro finance programs and women's support groups. I will also be coordinating a pen-pal program between children at a local school and fourth graders at Frank Porter Graham elementary school in Chapel Hill. Maybe I'll help out in other areas too. I'm going to have to figure out more about what exactly I'll be doing once I get there.

I want to learn as much Luganda, the local language, as possible. I already know a couple phrases.

Kyi (pronounced "chi") kati = "What's up?"
Respond to this by saying Te wali ("not much/nothing").

Oli otya = "Hello/How are you?"
Respond to this by saying Bulungi ("I'm fine").
Muli Mutya is the plural form.

Past interns have told me that I'm going to have to learn on the spot and that the internship is going to be challenging at times. The challenge is still kind of exciting! I'll get to meet and learn from people in Uganda, and I'll also be learning more about how community based health care systems operate. Granted, just because I'm going to be exposed to one community based healthcare system in Uganda doesn't mean that I'll know everything about every one that exists all around the world.

That's it for now. More updates next week.