Get Your Photo Fix Here

I have some time to kill this afternoon, and the internet in Café Larem seems to be working pretty well, so I’m crossing my fingers that I will be able to upload some pictures (if you’re reading this, it means that it worked, so be happy!)

Some sugar cane our program assistant bought us to chew on during the insane traffic jam heading out of Kampala

Great action shot of a baboon out the bus window. My photog skills are amazing, I know.

Apparently, people are very jaunty while crossing streets in Uganda. Or at least that is what this sign would lead one to believe

This is at a local bar which is notoriously ‘expat’ friendly, meaning it’s a good place for us to ease into the Ugandan nightlife. The guy with the scarf is called ‘Fabulous Patrick.’ He is a local comedian/radio personality and we love him. He is both fabulous and Patrick.

Bridget, Marinda, and Michelle…my adorable homestay sisters

A traditional Acholi dance performance

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Excursions and More

Since my last post, we have been filling our days with lectures, Acholi  language classes, home life, and excursions. I feel like I’m really getting to know the city, which is comforting. I finally figured out how to get home–it’s about a 30-45 minute walk from downtown, which isn’t so bad. Sometimes though, it’s nice to have an alternate mode of transportation available rather than just walking, so I took my first boda-boda ride home a few days ago. Bodas are two-seater moped/motorcycle taxis. The crazy nature of pretty much every driver here, combined with the ridiculously deep potholes that are scattered every few meters, made me rather apprehensive, but it turned out to be completely fine; my driver was nice and slowed down for all the bumps–I’m sure he could tell I was hardly a seasoned boda passenger. It was also a good experience in cultural immersion, seeing as I had to direct him to my home when he couldn’t understand exactly where I wanted to go.

Last friday, we went on a group excursion to the Acholi Cultural Institute headquarters in Gulu. We had the opportunity to speak with the the Chief of the Patiko region (which includes Gulu) and see some traditional Acholi dances–we even joined in! It was a lot of fun, I’ll upload pictures if the internet speed ever makes that possible.

Today, we went to Sir Samuel Baker’s Fort. It was about an hour’s drive through the beautiful Ugandan countryside (again, pictures to follow at some point). Baker’s Fort was formerly the hub of the East African slave trade. People from all over central and eastern Africa were captured and brought there to be distributed to the slave-seeking countries. Most of the slaves brought there eventually ended up in Asia, rather than Europe or the United States. The fort is now part-tourist attraction, part-park (for lack of a better term). There were several children running around and playing while we were there, but other than that we were pretty much on our own. The location was chosen by the Arab slave traders because it has a natural outcrop of huge rocks which provided excellent protection from attackers and, subsequently, allowed them to easily contain all of the slaves they brought in. Dr. William showed us around and told us about the gruesome history the place holds. We saw the areas which had been designated for beheading ‘unfit’ slaves, as well as the ‘prisons’ (which were really just tiny rock overhangs) where they would fit as many people as possible in at a time.

To go along with the somber side of things, our group seems to be particularly prone to illness. Sam was in the hospital with tonsillitis last week (better now) and two members of our group, David and Joe, had typhoid last week! I know, crazy right? Before you start asking: yes, all of us had to get the typhoid vaccination before coming and, yes: it is still possible to get typhoid even if you’ve had the vaccine. They both have made nearly-full recoveries. However, sadly, Joe decided to head home to the US after getting out of the hospital. He had already been in Africa for 3 months when he met up with us in Uganda, and during that time he had been seriously ill 3 times–including two bouts of malaria–and after consulting with his doctors and parents he decided it was safer for him to return home, rather than risk getting sick again. We were all very sad to see him go, he was already a well-loved member of our group, even only after 2 weeks.

BUT, to end on a positive note, we have also been getting out and exploring the city a lot more. We have tried out a few local bars and cafés, and yesterday a few of us went to the in-ground pool at the Acholi Inn, which was glorious. We plan on spending a lot of time there this weekend–you know, working on our equatorial tans and such. Jealous? 🙂

In Africa, You Are a Guest for One Day.

This week we began doing real-student things. We started Saturday by going on what SIT calls a ‘drop-off’, where we were divided into groups and sent into the city to explore certain aspects of Ugandan life. My group’s mission was to learn about the marketplace, and Gulu business in general. We talked to 7 different vendors whose mastery of english varied greatly. We learned some interesting things; like the backpack vendor who told us that his business was actually better during the war because there was less competition.

That afternoon, our host families began to filter in to pick us up. We all stood around nervously, feeling a little like puppies jumping around in a cardboard box trying to look the cutest so that we’d get adopted first. Of course, SIT would never allow for such a selection process, and our families had actually already been determined. I was assigned to the family of Bosco Komakech, who happens to be the homestay coordinator for the program. He lives a little ways out of town, in a very nice house. I have the luxury of a bathroom with a toilet, while many of my colleagues are stuck with a pit latrine–if you don’t know what that is, you probably don’t want to know anyways.

Bosco is the director of Caritas, which is the Ugandan branch of Catholic Relief Services. He does a lot of interesting work with resettlement communities, and areas effected by the war–I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more over the time I spend at his house.

Rose, his wife, works with a trauma and healing NGO, and she is planning to start her own NGO soon to help children whose lives have been severely effected by the war. She is very committed to the idea of creating a community support system for what she calls a ‘lost generation’ of children.

Together, Rose and Bosco have three adorable daughters: Bridget, who is 6, and Michelle and Marinda who are 3 year old twins. They all seemed a little wary of me for the first day or so, but they have been warming up to the idea of a stranger in their house.

There are also two house girls named Teddy and Alice who help with the cooking and cleaning, and a boy named Brian who is part-adopted family member/part-house boy. Finally, as for animals, there are two guard dogs, a cat, a goat, and some chickens.

The title of this post is something that Rose said to me my first night when I offered to help clear the table. Now that I have spent more than one day in their house, I am no longer considered a guest, and more considered part of the family, and share in the responsibilities. I’m pretty excited to learn how to cook traditional Ugandan meals like matoke!

As I said before, their house is pretty far out of town, but there are a few other people from the program nearby. I get a ride in the morning from Rose because she has to drop Bridget off for school, but we have to find our way back in the afternoon. I really have no idea how long it will take, but I’m about to find out as soon as I finish this entry and leave the Coffee Hut–more info coming soon!

I’m Here!

After three days in Uganda, a few of the members of my group and I decided to venture out to find the internet café a few blocks from our hotel–we were all experiencing slight facebook withdrawal. So here I am, sitting in the Coffee Hut, sipping some ‘house’ Ugandan coffee and listening to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” on the radio (she seems to be pretty popular here).

These past few days have definitely long, but in a good way. I was lucky enough to have people from my program on both my flight from Boston and my flight from London, so we all were able to navigate Entebbe Airport together. We were met by Dr. William–our Academic Director, Winny–our program assistant, and Morgan–an SIT Uganda alum who is going to be helping us out for the first few weeks of the program.

From the airport, we had about an hour drive to Kampala, the capital city. All of us in the car were pretty quiet, due both to the fact that we had just stepped off an 8 hour overnight flight, and that there were SO many new surroundings to take in through the window. Our driver tuned into a radio station that was playing American 80’s hits, so there was definitely a strange/hilarious clash of cultures going on.

Also, drivers here are crazy. For all intents and purposes, there are no traffic rules. I was sure we were going to side-swipe someone, or that a motorcyclist would get rear-ended within the first 5 minutes of being on the road. However, we managed to make it to our hotel in Kampala (which was on Col. Muammar Gaddafi Road) safely before noon.

A view from near our hotel in Kampala

We spent the rest of the day getting to know one another, eating some of the local food for lunch and dinner, and going into the city to purchase cell phones. By the time 9 pm rolled around, most of us were struggling to fight off sever jet lag (Uganda is 7 hours ahead of the East Coast, and it’s pretty difficult to get any sleep on planes as I’m sure you all know) so we had an early night.

The next morning, we all loaded onto a private bus to ship off to Gulu, in Northern Uganda. We were told the trip should only take about 4-5 hours, with an hour in the middle to stop for lunch. An hour or two in, we were stopped by some soldiers who were running some sort of checkpoint. They told us that it looked like there was something wrong with our bus, and that it probably wouldn’t make it to Gulu. Our program directors figured that this was merely an attempt from the police to get some money from us. However, a few hours later our bus lurched to an unpleasant halt, and we had to roll it to the side of the road. Luckily, we were in a town (for much of the drive we were not anywhere near one) so we all got off and waited while some of our coordinators went to talk to a mechanic.

It turned out, our bus was non-reparable–or at least not quickly repairable–but we were able to find two taxi buses that were willing to take us the rest of the way. We had to pile all of our luggage on the roofs (several hundred pounds worth) and strap it down with bungee cords. Of course, when we were still about 45 minutes away from Gulu, it started to rain. Fortunately, no one’s luggage was severely effected, and we all made it to the hotel in relatively good shape. We also got to see lots of baboons on the road, and cross the Nile, so I guess that made up for the rain.

 

This morning, we began orientation and have had the afternoon free to explore the town. A few other people and I walked around Gulu for a bit and made friends with some adorable children–all of whom seem very curious and excited to get to interact with us, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

So that brings me here, to the Coffee Hut. We have orientation for the rest of the week, and then we move in with our homestay families on Saturday. Hopefully I’ll be able to update this blog again within a week or so, with even more adventures to report..I also have already started taking pictures (of course) but it is taking too long to upload them here, so I guess you’ll all have to wait a little longer…sorry!