Monday, February 23, 2004

The LRA continued....

To put a real-life spin on my last post about the LRA, this happened yesterday. Yikes.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Gots me some culture this weekend

This past friday night I attended a Ugandan dance festival - it was absolutely fascinating and beautiful. The event featured dance troupes from all over Uganda, as well as from Mozambique and Rwanda. This was totally one of those - 'Whoa, africa is really... african" moments, when all sorts of preconceptions turned out to be (happily) true - amazing movements, huge smiles, bright costumes, crazy war cries - it had it all. Unfortunately, the photos turned out pretty dark, so not much is visible. Here's a shot of some male rwandan dancers anyways (they were my favourite!):

The evening ended with the 'world premiere' of an excellently done movie (very strangely, it was introduced by Aiden Quinn) that illustrated what is going on with the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda. In a nutshell, the LRA beleives that they have some closer connection to god, and that they must somehow brutalise the Ocholi people (the tribe in the region) in order to work to create a new government based on the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, the way they do this is through the mass abduction of children as child soldiers and sex slaves, and the mass slaughter of anyone who comes in their way (an indication that their grasp of the Ten Commandments is just a little tenuous), including those who commit the crime of owning a bicycle, as this creates a threat of a quick warning system amongst villagers. [In a horrifying piece of irony, the actor who portrayed the LRA's leader in the movie has recently had 3 of his own children abducted by the LRA.] The LRA is supported by Sudan, which makes them (apparently) extremely difficult for the Ugandan military to beat, as LRA fighters simply retreat across the Sudanese border when there is any danger of a domestic threat their own forces. For more info about the LRA, click here
(*FYI- the LRA's activities are strictly confined to the north of the country, I live in the south; they are of absolutely no danger here.)

To continue the weekend's 'native culture' trend, I was lucky enough to attend a Ugandan wedding on saturday. I couldn't beleive the size of it - 1200 people! Apparently though, the global trend in weddings is to have the length of the speeches be directly proportional to the number of guests - we decided to leave the reception around hour four of the speeches. (Thank goodness is was at least broken up around hour 3 by a dinner of, you guessed it, carbs carbs and more carbs. Would you like some potato to go with your rice, matoke, and pasta? Oh, here's a teaspoon of coleslaw to give it some nutritional value...) An interesting experience nonetheless!

And finally, Sunday's culture was of a more pedestrian variety. My friend Cheryl and I decided to go to Owino Market to do some shopping. Owino is absolutely humongous- acres and acres of tiny twisty laneways selling everything from tomatoes to radios to running shoes to live chickens to used clothing. I literally think you could stock an entire life with purchases from Owino alone. We had gone there to buy some clothes, all of which are second hand from Europe and North America. I now know why shopping for used clothes at home usually only results in finding really 'retro' or really 'gross' clothing - all the good stuff gets shipped to africa! (Used western clothes is pretty much the african uniform - there isn't much a domestic clothing industry. It creates some really funny results - like big burly men advertising for gay pride - homosexuality is illegal here - or for making strides against breast cancer, or people wearing advertisements for President's Choice or sales at the Brick, both of which i think would be difficult to access from here.) We didn't get much shopping done though, as a torrential rainstorm started about five minutes after we arrived, and we ended up retreating to a movie theatre to see Out of Time with Denzel Washington. (No, I have no idea how they get such new moview here so fast!) Its hard to really understand the vast craziness of Owino from a picture, but here's one nonetheless:

**Thank you to Heather Harris, kampala high school teacher and Nova Scotian, for sharing all of these photos!**

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Ok, this is it

Welcome to my weblog about my trip to Uganda. I hope that at least some of the people i'm sending this to will find it interesting (hi mom! hi dad!). Since i decided to do this retroactively, you can catch up on what i've done here since I arrived in december by scrolling to the bottom of the page and working your way back up.

The entries that are posted so far are basically copied versions of some of the emails i'd sent to family and friends since my arrival, since many of them were pretty descriptive and i thought it made sense to just re-use them. Plus, I'm lazy. On the downside, i'm aware that some of these posts make me sound kind of dorky, but since the only people who'll know about this thing are people who are either related to me or have known me for several years, I feel like i'm ok.

Now that i have this thing, please don't stop emailing me- i did this so i can concentrate on having my email communications be more personal, rather than just an account of what i've been up to.

Enjoy! (I hope!)


I split the price of the overpriced picture CD that Adrift was hawking - so now i've got images to share. Here's two rafting pictures - I'm visible in both of them; imaginary prizes to whoever can tell which dorky-helmeted person is me:

White Water - Feb 10

I went white water rafting last weekend in Jinja, which is the source of the Nile. (About an hour and a half away from Kampala.)If you're curious, I went with a company called Adrift. It was absolutely the most incredible, awesome experience. The source of the Nile is supposed to be pretty much some of the best rafting in the world, thanks to lots of big huge rapids. All the rapids have names, and the last one of the day was called 'The Bad Place'. (the other rapid names are pretty non-scary.) It is the biggest rapid you can legally raft. Basically, in The Bad Place you ARE going to flip, and you ARE going to think you are maybe going to die. When you flip, you have no control over when you emerge from the water. It has nothing to do with how strong a swimmer you are, the force of the water at that level can't be fought. So, you're told to just hold your breath, try not flail, and wait. The way the rapids are in that section of the Nile there is no way you won't emerge in more than about 20-30 seconds, because of the way the water flows; so its actually not as dangerous as it feels. But that's a pretty long time to hold you're breath when you aren't prepared for it, and when you know there's nothing you can do to get out - it was sort of what i imagine being caught in an avalanche would feel like. Eventually, you end up in a 'drop pool' (the 'calmer' area below the rapids) where you realise you are still alive, and it goes from being terrifying to being the absolute most incredible - its an insane adrenaline rush. lotsandlotsoffun!

That's been my main 'activity' lately. I've been going out and drinking a lot, but that doesn't really feel like it should be making my 'news'.

One thing i'm finding strange - being an expat in Uganda is like being in high school, or living in a tiny town. Everybody knows everything about everybody, and everybody knows everybody, and there's a lot of partying and drinking. Its fun, but some of it seems excessive, mainly because a lot of them have no interest in going anywhere where there might be actual, gasp, africans; so they spend all their time in bars with nothing but ohter white expats. The gap between us and the locals (financial, educational, cultural) is just so huge that hanging out with them can be pretty exhausting, so you do need some 'mzungu time' for sanity's sake. I also feel like if we expats put stickers on our chests that said "i'm not giving you money or gifts and i'm not having sex with you" that probably not a single african would even bother saying hello. I'm curious about the contrast between my experience here and of other people's experiences in other developing countries - how much of this has to do with 'africa' vs 'development' vs 'race/ethnicity' (ie is cause i'm white or is it cause i'm 'rich'? Or can the two even be separated here?)

This past weekend I went back to Jinja for a party hosted by Adrift, the company that i went rafting with, to celebrate the opening of their new campsite & bar. (When i was there the week before it didn't even have electricity yet, so they really pulled it all together in a short time!) Lots of fun - we were camping right next to the bar, so no transportation issues, which is nice when drinking and driving is so incredibly rampant here. Good times, good times.

For the Ick Files - Jan 25

Oh, here's something for the 'ick' file: Apparently during my trip to zanzibar, some kind of parasitic sand flea that lives in the beaches hopped onto two of my toes, dug in, and laid a few thousand eggs inside my toes. It was extraordinarily pleasant, let me tell you. I went to the doctor, the dug 'em all out, and now i'm completely larvae-free. I feel like i've gotten the *full* african experience though now that i've hosted a parasite. Yum.

Work here at U**** is okay, but not terribly exciting yet, as things are pretty slow moving. I've proposed and was approved for 3 different projects, which there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for. Its nice to be somewhere where they think i'm brilliant, although i must admit the bar is set pretty low! Its sort of frustrating though , its impossible to get anything done, for various reasons: one computer for three people, unpaid phone bills, an entirely different standard for efficiency, timeliness, and especially honesty. I haven't really adjusted to these cultural differences around work yet, and it still drives me a bit nuts.

One interesting progression is that our executive director is emigrating to Canada in February, and since they are unimpressed with the applications received for the position, they just casually informed me that maybe i'll just do it for a few months, and then hire somebody before i leave. Hmm.

Oh yeah, and i moved houses, i now am living with a 60-yr old woman. She's pretty cool for 60, but still. Then again, i now have someone who does all the cooking (a cook, not the 60yr old), satellite tv (lots of CNN, I'm surprisingly well informed considering i'm in africa), and a georgeous back yard with mango, banana, and avocado trees. I wish i could say that living with a grandma was cramping my style, but it isn't!

Settling In & What's the food like? - January 24th

Things here in uganda are going well, althogh after a month and a half i am getting a little bit, well not 'homesick', but more 'tired of being here'. Don't get me wrong, its interesting and i'm enjoying myself, but the constant harrassment of white women, the extreme poverty surrounding you, the language barrier, not having any close friends/family around you - its just gets a little fatiguing, you know? Also, i find myself thinking that i'd give my right arm for a Jacob or Old Navy or Urban Outfitters even Bay in this country. I've diagnosed this feeling as just being low-grade culture shock though, so i suppose I'll get over it. There's lots of well-dressed/western-dressed people here, and when i've tried to find out where they shop, they answer is: johannessburg or london. Yup, you've got to get on a plane to get a decent t-shirt. argh! But again: this complaining has got to be just part of some 'cultural adjustment cycle' and i'll get over it though!

All that being said, i'm finally making some friends and enjoying myself more, which is nice. There's quite an expat 'scene' here, but since i came here alone it took me a little while to meet people. Last week a peace mission launched from Jinja, the source of the Nile (about an hour and a half from kampala) that is going to raft up the Nile to Cairo, and i went to this big party to celebrate the launch. It was bizarre - i felt like i was in florida for spring break, not in the middle of africa! Very surreal!

Oh yeah, and the food: african food is pretty carb/salt/grease heavy. Their staple food is matoke, which is steamed and mashed green bananas, and is actually not too bad. They'll often sit down to a meal of rice, potatoes, matoke, and yam, and consider that a complete meal though. Vegetables are hardly eaten at all, although sometimes you'll get a little portion of this spinach-like green. I also eat a lot of beans - we don't realise how good beans are in canada because they are always dried or canned, the woman i'm living with grows them in her garden, fresh beans are excellent! There's also the occasion fish meal, which is tilapia aka Nile Perch, also pretty good. So that's the food - pretty repetitive, but not too bad. Although occasionally i'll rebel, give the maid a night off from cooking, and make myself a stir-fry or pizza or something!