Sunday, January 31, 2010

More Pictures

Here's a link to some pictures from the weekend retreat:  I also have pictures up from my homestay:  In case the other link did not work from my first pictures, here's another to try:  Enjoy!

Weekend by the Nile

This weekend was amazing, and its times like this that make you wonder how amazing study abroad programs are- I was required to go on a retreat with 11 other Americans and 50 some Ugandan students that we live with in Honors College!  We spent all of yesterday and most of today at a resort in Jinja, right by the source of the Nile River and Lake Victoria!  It was a lot of fun as we started to get to know a lot more people because the weekend was geared towards bonding.  Plus there was always swimming and a boat ride because our location was pretty amazing...  Not only that, but it was nice to have different food and it just felt like a vacation or camp in some exotic place.  We got to play a lot of games and hang out, as well as a worship time this morning.  And our rooms had hot showers which was incredible!  It was a great time and helped myself and the other USP students get plugged back in, as well as meeting many of the Honors College students after spending two weeks living with our home stay families.  This morning we got up early to watch the sun rise over the lake and just marvelled at how beautiful everything was.  Even though life here is starting to feel pretty normal, sometimes it just hits me how surreal and amazing it is to be in Africa and I never imagined it would be this pretty or incredible.  And then there are other things that just keep life interesting like the giant bug that juts flew on me and my roommate and I had to take outside :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Losing the Culture Clash

As my home stay comes to an end, I’m back on campus for the rest of the semester; I have realized that I will miss my family. I am still glad I decided to live in the dorms and am happy to be moving back in because they allow more freedom and are more fun as I get to build relationships and spend time with Ugandan students as well as American. But it has been nice to spend time with a family and experience more of the culture. My parents were Ananias and Deborah and they have four children: Daphine (11), Desmond (10), David (5), and Douglas (3). One of the things I got to learn a lot about was the school system here because Ananias is an art teacher. More than explicitly talking though, I learned simply by observing and living with them. Family is very important and can and does visit anytime without warning and for any amount of time and are always welcome. The same is reciprocated as we had aunts and cousins visit, as well as the two oldest children going and staying with their grandmother for several days. Families also share everything; the emphasis on personal possession is very much taught by culture and not something innate in you. I never once heard the children argue over whose toy was whose. But I have learned to appreciate other things about our culture as well: such as bedtimes and meal portions! Each night we do not eat until sometime after 8:30pm, by which time the two youngest boys are often falling asleep and quite fussy. It is a fight almost every night for them to eat and drink their tea before going to bed. Also, even though it is late, supper is the largest meal of the day. Sometimes it can be a struggle to even eat a portion of the food on my plate. And the stereotype that Americans always watch TV is not quite accurate. I was surprised to find that if a Ugandan family owns a TV, then they watch it ALL the time. Literally any time that my family is not working (whether that is cooking, laundry, washing dishes, fetching water, or buying food to cook) they are usually sitting in front of the TV. It is also completely normal and acceptable to watch it all evening long, whether there are guests or not. It is seen as a form of sharing to watch together. And it is interesting the variety that their channels carry. I have seen American Disney movies, African news, and Spanish soaps dubbed in English. It is not that bad though, because in the evening I usually play a game or two of UNO with Desi and David and almost always have Doug curled up in my lap. I am much more integrated in the family at this point, and even got a tribal name. My family is Baganda and specifically in the Lion clan, traditionally the clan that protects the king. My name is Nakasaaga. Ananias also explained to me that they kneel to serve food when I was serving him dinner one night and so I knelt the next time and got told that I was now a “good Ugandan girl.” On Saturday morning, he even taught me how to make chapatti’s by hand, which are their version of tortillas. Also, it was fun because last night, my last night with them, they had brought home a new one month old puppy they named Scooby Doo and I got to play with him. It was especially fun because most Ugandans do not like dogs and animal cruelty is not uncommon here, but isn’t much of an issue when there are so many more human rights issues to focus on. So a family that wants and likes a pet is refreshing. However, throughout the night as the puppy cried and I brought it in to sleep with me off and on I did appreciate it quite as much…

By living with a family, I have more rapidly grown accustomed to the culture. I know that I have further to go, but that will come with time, but I don’t mind helping the acclimation along. Last Friday, Laura, my roommate, and I went exploring in Kampala just the two of us. It was fun to not feel quite as touristy as the week before simply by travelling in a much smaller group. We got off the taxi in a different location and ended up wandering around lost for 45 minutes. But we didn’t have anything particular that we wanted to do so it was fun to explore and see different parts of the city and by asking for directions we eventually ended up in an area that we knew. We had to ask several people to get the right directions, and could sense that Ugandan women really are not as friendly as Ugandan men when talking to American women. We also got to see the Parliament building, which was cool. We then treated ourselves to an American lunch of hamburgers, fries, and an ice cream sundae. Afterwards, we went grocery shopping for American food to cook for our families. I got spaghetti, sauce, and bread to make garlic bread, all of which I made them Saturday for lunch over two charcoal fires. I was glad that they enjoyed it because it was definitely more work than normal. Today we went again, and this time we explored a local craft market. It was so much fun to wander through and we both ended up buying African dresses to wear while we are here and once we return home. We once again treated ourselves to lunch out and especially enjoyed the diet cokes. We even got another later and sat on a rooftop enjoying the afternoon before returning home. We then enjoyed celebrating our return to campus with several other USP girls by watching “She’s the Man” on a laptop and eating some dessert. This weekend should be fun, as well as helping us to grow closer to the Ugandans we live with, because we are going on an overnight retreat to a resort in Jinja tomorrow. We will see the mouth of the Nile, Lake Victoria, and go swimming in a pool at our hotel. Plus, it will mean two days away from rice and beans- the food is rapidly becoming the hardest thing for me to get used to, as shallow as that sounds. I’m just used to smaller portions and lighter food and have really begun to miss vegetables. Also, I was sick the past week from food and so now am a little more hesitant in trying and enjoying it…

Life is quickly becoming normal here. I am continually glad to be in Uganda and have this opportunity. More and more I am discovering how good the classes will be for me. They are not academically challenging and the work load is pretty light, but the concepts are already starting to stretch me more than I fully expected or realized they would. Much of the material is about questioning our beliefs and values, specifically those that are cultural. Already we have begun to get into some deep discussions and thought processes that will not be quickly solved or forgotten. But I am appreciating this approach because it is making me want to learn and think about the issues more than ever before. One of the biggest issues on my mind after a class discussion this morning is the theology behind God and pain, as well as depending on God. Some interesting viewpoints were brought up by a book we are reading, The Primal Vision, written by a European missionary on Christianity in Africa. It is challenging because it is startling to see just how much culture can influence beliefs more than we recognize. But I am appreciating the discussions that are coming out of the thought-provoking ideas and know that my views really will be stretched by my time here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Funny Things I'm Learning...

After being here for almost two weeks now, I have learned many simple things about daily life that you might not normally encounter in the United States, as well as some interesting stereotypes of Americans (and most usually have some truth to them):
1. Always bring your own toilet paper and soap to the bathroom with you.
2. Don’t go and use the latrine at night- there might be cockroaches crawling around the 5”x3” rectangular hole…
3. Here, whether your milk is whole or skim is not based on taste or health preference, rather it is based on how much water you need to add to have enough for your whole family.
4. Sidewalks are NOT for pedestrians: beware of taxi vans pulling over and boda-boda’s (their version of a less powerful motorcycle) driving by.
5. Also, pedestrians never have the right-of-way and people do get hit by boda-boda’s.
6. Animals are for practical use, not pets.
7. Coffee may be a prominent export but is hardly seen. Tea is the preferred drink and usually made with milk and a lot of sugar.
8. East Africans do not eat many sweets- except in their drinks (namely tea and soda).
9. Portions at lunch and dinner are huge and very filling (I have not been able to eat all of my food even once and don’t think I’ve ever felt hungry since being here).
10. Brush your teeth when you bathe, otherwise you might not have a place to spit and end up swallowing the toothpaste.
11. Don’t use too much soap when washing clothes- you also have to rinse by hand…
12. Scrub clothes with the balls of your hands, not your fingers or knuckles because you can rub the skin off and they will scab over. Also, if your fingers are hurting, that’s probably a clue that you are doing it wrong rather than you just aren’t used to it…
13. “Mzungu” means white person and is commonly shouted at you as you walk down the street.
14. Young children are often unfamiliar with white skin and may try to rub it off or pinch you to see if your skin changes. They also like feeling your hair and trying to pull up your shirt to see if you are really white all over.
15. Africans tell each other apart by facial features, not hair like we primarily do, so they have trouble telling Mzungu apart but can often even determine another African’s tribal heritage from their features.
16. Plan on social events starting at least an hour late.
17. Ugandans are very clean and bathe at least twice a day usually. They also dress very “smart” as they call it, but basically very professional.
18. Americans really do tend to be louder as a group.
19. All Americans have boyfriends/girlfriends, or are searching for one.
20. Your status is a common question, and if you are single you have to define it in terms of whether you are searching, available, or content.
21. Americans have machines to do just about everything and don’t know how to do anything by hand- including making the bed, washing dishes, peeling potatoes, etc.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I saw the eclipse Friday morning! It was only visible in Africa and Asia and I got to see it briefly before the sun blinded me! It was cool to see, and even more special once I heard that it was not able to be seen back home… Then that afternoon, I went to Kampala with 7 other USP students and we were quite proud of ourselves as we navigated there and back in public taxis all by ourselves. This semester is not a “feel good” type of trip because while we there for lunch and shopping we were confronted with toddlers barely old enough to talk sitting alone with their hands out begging. This country is full of harsh contrasts- amazing scenery, beautiful and strong people, yet complete and abject poverty in places. It breaks your heart.

Then, Saturday morning I went to my home stay where I will be living for the next 2 weeks, and will continue to visit throughout the semester while I remain in Uganda. After spending 2 weeks living in a home stay in Guatemala last January, I was excited for the experience and expected it to be a lot of fun. I will enjoy this home stay as well, but after spending the first weekend, I have already realized that it will be a lot harder than I expected. Up until now, the trip and program are all about US, helping us to adjust, learn, and get settled. The Ugandans we have met so far has been limited to campus, and they are used to American students coming for a semester and so are friendly, welcoming, and always speak English with us. Also, because they are university students, everyone is good at English because that is what their classes are taught in. I did not explicitly realize, but I have come to expect that, but this home stay is not supposed to be like that. We have the chance to live as a family member, and they carry on their lives as normal, simply including us. Two of the girls in the family were confirmed yesterday, and so when I arrived, there were many extra family members and the day was spent preparing lots of food for the celebration after church. They were very welcoming, but all had chores and the family prefers to speak in Lugandan, a local language. I am not sure how proficient all of the family members are in English, so that could be a factor, plus the younger children do not know much English. It was fine at first, but a whole day not speaking much to anyone but sitting and watching them work, and occasionally being allowed to help, was exhausting. By that night, I was homesick and counting down the time until I could move back into the dorm. My day was not all bad, by any means. The family has 4 young children, ages 4-11, plus there are many cousins that come over during the day. The little kids love sitting on my lap or rubbing my white arms. The 11 year old girl, Daphne, is very good at English and talked to me some while she washed clothes and also took me with her on one trip to the nearby well to get water. This is real Africa, like where you hear of people going to get clean water. They live pretty close; you just have to walk maybe a quarter of a mile down a nearby hill. You take what they call jerry cans (plastic water jugs that vary in size to hold several gallons) and fill them up. Some of the people clearly have a longer distance and you see several people with at least 4 or 5 cans tied to their bike to get filled. I also peeled a big pot of potatoes for the mom. The hard part was spending most of the day not talking to any of them and feeling awkward when I wasn’t helping. The meals are also difficult for me to enjoy because I am given some of the biggest portions, but cannot eat it all and feel rude. I am always given a chair and served first. One of the ways adults are shown respect is by the kids kneeling down to greet them or approaching them by walking on their knees. As a white guest in their home, the kids have to do the same for me. It is very awkward having them serve me that way with my food and a basin of water to wash my hands in. Slowly, they are becoming less formal with me, which I greatly appreciate, but it means simply that I am allowed to clear my place after I eat. That night laying in bed I was trying to figure out what I had expected or wanted that was making it seem hard. And then it hit me, that for the first time here it wasn’t about ME, the family had chores to prepare for a family gathering and simply didn’t have the time to talk or entertain me. They weren’t trying to leave me out. I didn’t want to be entertained, but felt like I wasn’t as included because of the language barrier. That combined with the awkwardness of being served and shown respect that I didn’t deserve just made it hard and made me long for what is comfortable. At that point, I spent some time in prayer and thought just trying to change my attitude. Being served and not allowed to help was humbling, but after all that to be disappointed in the day because I didn’t get to interact with them as much as I wanted was even more humbling and even made me feel ashamed of myself.

Sunday was much better, mainly because I had intentionally thought about my attitude and how I needed to change it. The day was about celebrating Daphne and Constance (a cousin living with them)’s confirmations and I met several of the extended family members. An additional blessing that made the day much more enjoyable was another USP student is living with one of the extended family members so we were able to spend the afternoon in our own English conversation, and occasionally being included in the family’s conversations. I do appreciate the younger boys- at church one fell asleep in my lap and I carried him outside afterwards and that evening the other fell asleep on my lap. Also, as their family celebration ended, the house quieted some and I was able to talk a little more with the parents and a couple aunts so that I could get to know them better.

Ultimately, I will enjoy living with this family- already I am experiencing how they really live and it is less awkward as I am slowly becoming a member rather than a guest. Last night I got to help wash dishes. I am bathing in each night in a basin and using a latrine out behind the house. My room does not have electricity so I even read my Bible by candlelight last night. It has just been humbling being served and treated as such a guest and dealing with the language barrier. I know that I will continue learning a lot from them and about myself as I learn a different lifestyle and am stretched. It is a good reminder that I chose to come so that I would be stretched… One thing I am also learning is how to enjoy silence and simply people’s presence rather than needing to fill it with conversation, it is something I appreciate about the culture here as I adjust, though I still prefer our culture of being free to be more casual with each other and not being so formal with respect either.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Here's a link to some of my first pictures:

So much to say...

I'm not sure where to even begin, except to say that this semester will not only be a lot of fun, but really will be a chance to me to process big "real-world" questions.  I like all of my classes a lot, but even the teaching style will be stretching because everything is discussion and paper based.  There will also be reading and some lectures, but no tests over the material.  Unfortunately, I prefer tests and do not like to talk in class because I tend to be more introverted as I process through information and my thoughts.  But because of the material and issues we will be discussing, this format really will have more of an impact on us and force us to more deeply consider things.
I already have begun to feel at home here, and it feels like I have known several of my fellow USP students much longer than just one week.  We have already ventured off campus and are able to navigate around Mukono, the local town, and even to Kampala on public taxis by ourselves.  Tomorrow morning all the American students who chose to live in the dorms for the semester will be moving in with local families for the next two weeks.  I am excited to get to live with a family and get to know them!
The people I am here with are great- and I am so thankful that I am rooming with Laura!  It has been great because we are able to relate really well and have already grown close, and are even going to practice with the university's track team together.  It has been nice to be able to talk through everything that we are experiencing together, but also with others in our group.  I also can't wait to get to know the Ugandans we are living with better.  We have spent some time with them, and last night even had a party together, but it will be fun as we live and travel together throughout the next couple of months.  Many of the Americans, including myself, have joined their Fellowship on Wednesday mornings so that will be yet another chance to deepen those friendships.  Our party was a great introduction to the group as a whole because we all introduced a partner, then shared in worship and dinner together.  After meeting people sporadically, it will be nice to at least recognize most people in Honors College from now on.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My First Weekend

So I thought I'd get ahead of myself before classes start, because I'm sure I won't have quite as much time then to get online and update.  This weekend has been nice for us to start to get to know each other, as well as some fellow Ugandan students who are moving back on to campus or to Mukono for the start of the semester.  We had an orientation session Saturday morning to get our Ugandan cell phones, register for classes, and to talk about our expectations for the semester.  The director did a great job of talking about some main goals of the program, as well as what the program is not about.  I think afterwards it gave us some things to process and think over, but it will help our attitudes as we adjust and live our lives here.  One specific thing he said is that they are not about simple lessons in pretty packages, rather they are okay with tension or if things get messy because that is real life.  They also are not about doing things just so we feel emotionally gratified and it is more about helping us rather than helping Ugandans.  That does not mean we will not serve while we are here, in fact, half of the group is in a practicum that requires community service and the other half voluntarily chose to take a practicum that will require it.  Instead, it means we are serving as fellow community members and not because we are American or white or have more money.  They also are about making 1 degree changes in our lives, rather than life-changing experiences, because ultimately a subtle change in perspective, thought, or lifestyle that is lived out for the rest of our lives can have a much greater effect than something radical that does not last much past the trip.  Going over these, I know the semester will not always be easy.  But I am also glad that this is how they have designed the program because I know that this way I will probably grow and be challenged more, rather than just having an experience that makes me feel good or change that I won't or can't legitimately live out.

Since then, I have been with only half of the USP group because the others moved into their homestays for the semester and have been spending time with their families.  The rest of us who are living on campus have fully settled into our dorms.  We are living in the dorms for Honors College at Uganda Christian University, so have begun meeting some of our fellow students, specifically from the Honors College.  We also filled our time with lots of exploring, which essentially means walking through part of Mukono, which is the town our school is in, as well as the extensive campus.  It is very beautiful, and the campus is covered with jungle and gardens and red dirt paths.  Many of the faculty live on campus, so walking around you see many private homes, as well as university buildings.  This morning, my roommate and I went to breakfast and met a woman named Deborah, then went to the campus church with her.  It was fun to be able to worship in an open-aired building.  Almost all of the service was in English, though part of the worship was sung in Luganda, a Ugandan language (one of over 50 in the country), but even that was fun because we could join in and read the words off of a projector.  After, we met up with some of the other American girls and went "rolling," which means we walked across the street from campus and got a rolex.  Rolex is made of eggs sometimes cooked with onion, tomato, and cabbage then wrapped in chapati, which is their form of tortillas.  It was great and very filling, so we know what to get when we need a break from rice and beans!  We've spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on the internet and finishing the reading for one of classes.  Viola, a girl in my dorm, was washing her clothes, so she showed a couple of us how to do it when we need to in a couple days.  It sounds silly, but when you're used to putting them in a machine and pushing buttons, it helped to get her tips and watch her because there are ways to do it better.  Apparently, Americans normally rub their hands the wrong way, so we learned the right way to do it.

Clearly, I am enjoying adjusting to life here... I just can't wait for classes to see what they are like and to begin meeting and spending more time with more students!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Finally here :)

After almost 38 hours of travel, I landed in Entebbe, Uganda at 2:30 early this morning.  The trip over was surreal and even as we landed, we couldn't believe we were really here!  Our school is  2 hours from the airport, so some of the program's staff members  took us to a nearby convent to stay the night.  A cold shower has never felt so good!  After getting a couple hours of real sleep, we had a busy day that included stopping in Kampala on our way to the university.  The campus is beautiful and very large, which we have already seen a lot of it on a tour.  I am here with a great group of American students- there are 24 of us, 21 girls and 3 guys.  Exactly half will be living in the dorms and the other half will be living with families in town.  It is 9pm here now and I am completely unpacked and settled in my dorm room.  My roommate's name is Laura and we live in Winfred Brown which is a women's honors college dorm that has eight rooms.  Down the hall are two more girls from our program, as well as another American who is an international student here.  We've met two other girls living here, Helen, our RA, and Viola.  We should be meeting the rest this weekend as classes start Monday so everyone will be back by Sunday.  Our dorm also has a common room, wi-fi, and a bathroom/laundry room.  The other USP (uganda studies program) students are in two other dorms in the honors college on the same hillside as well.  Already, I love being here and know it will be a great 4 months that will fly by!