Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Heading home!

It's hard to believe, but today is my last day in Kampala. It's been quite the ride for these past several months, and I'm sure it'll take some time to realize how much my time in Africa has really affected me. I'll save that for another time, though. I've got a few more errands to run around Kampala along with one final lunch with Dorothy (my original Ugandan mother) before heading home to finish packing and catch a ride with Kizito towards the airport.

To all (any?) who have been reading this over the past few months, thank you! I have really appreciated your comments, and it has been nice to know that people were keeping me in their thoughts and prayers during some of the more lonely times over here. Although I would like to think that I'll wrap up with a few more posts after I get back to the States, I won't deny that there's a chance this is my last one. If that is the case, thank you, once again! Make sure to look me up if you find yourself in Kansas City in the next couple years!

See you soon!


P.S. Will try to get more pictures once I have high speed internet again!

A few friends met for one final dinner last night

Monday, June 1, 2009

You win some and you lose some

The end is approaching quickly...I have only two days before I board that KLM flight heading towards Amsterdam to start my journey back home.

I wrapped up my last final exam this morning, and it was a great feeling to get that over and done with. Unfortunately, however, the thesis defense I was hoping would happen before I left appears that it will not. To make a long story short (and to save myself from expressing too much of my frustration with the situation), I was prepared to give the defense on Saturday (literally was standing in front of the panelists with my slideshow projected on the wall) when they informed me that I was not going to be allowed to present due to a technicality. At Makerere, the thesis should not be defended until all grades have been received and verification of all classes being completed is submitted. Obviously, I was not all too pleased with the situation, but I think we've found a compromise: I'll do a teleconference defense once all of the bureaucracy has been cleared (Makerere doesn't have capabilities for this, but some of the hotels in the city do).

However, to be fair, I have been able to cut through a good deal of the red tape up to this point, so I can't complain too much. Technically, I shouldn't have even started my research until after classes had finished. The fact that they even let me attempt to do this program in 9 months is a blessing in itself. So, as long as I can do this defense without having to drop a couple grand to fly back, I'll be okay with it. I will wait to finalize my opinions of Makerere until that is over and decided.

In more exciting events, I did my first hash today. No, it's not how it sounds. A "hash" is a event put on by the Hash House Harriers. It's a mix between a running club and a social club (they bill themselves as "a drinking club with a running problem") with active groups all over the world. I've been meaning to try it out for the past several months, and finally made time to do it tonight with a few friends from my office. It was a lot of fun, but ouch...I am out of shape!

My host family had a going away party for me on Saturday night. They told me that it was just going to be a "small event" for a few friends and family, but when I got home on Saturday, I found that they had rented a large tent along with tables and chairs....I should have known that there is no such thing as a "small event" here in Uganda! It was a incredibly kind act on their part, and a very fitting way to top off all of the kindness that they have shown to me during the previous several months. My camera battery is dead right now, but I'll hopefully add a picture or two from the event in the next day or so.

It does feel like it's an appropriate time to head out. Most of my closest friends over here took off in this last week (I've realized that the ex-pat crowd is somewhat seasonsal over here), and many of my major projects have either concluded or reached a point where I can let them go (or, in the case of the master's degree, hopefully finish from abroad). I'll take the next couple days to wrap up a few odds and ends, and then I'll be ready to get on the plane to come home!


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quick update

Hey all!

Just a quick update on my progress over here:

I have completed all exams for one load of classes and am about to start my exams for my second load on Monday. I'll have three more exams and one project presentation and then will be done with classes in Uganda. The thesis is moving along; I "officially" submitted it on Friday and am still hoping I might be able to get in the defense before I leave...we'll see!

It's starting to feel like it's the right time to finalize everything. Many of my close friends over here are on similar timelines, and there have been several going-away events over the last couple weeks as people have finalized their work in Uganda and headed back to their home country.

I let myself get distracted from preparing for a final exam that I have tomorrow long enough to wrap up one post that is posted directly after this. I'll try to at least get some pictures from my adventures with the chimps this previous weekend up before I head home.

In the mean time, here is an article that was just included in the NY Times that gives a good description (better than I ever could) of the Nile rafting trip I did last September. The author of the article did a two-day trip (I just did one day), but beyond that we had pretty similar experiences. Well, I didn't have any topless MIT students in my raft...but other than that it was pretty similar :)

I've got 10 days remaining in the country. It's slightly surreal to try and wrap my mind around the past 9 months; I still can't believe that it's almost over!


The born-again experience

Ugandan religion is dominated by Christianity; I think 85% of the population considers themselves to be a Christian. As in the US, there are many different “flavors” of Christianity over here. I have made my temporary church home with the Church of Uganda, a branch of the Anglican Church (same as Episcopalian or Church of England). As I have understood things, this is the largest denomination in the country. The services are fairly similar to what I was used to with Disciples of Christ or Methodist services in the States, just bump up the length to 90 minutes and add a little – okay, a lot – of clapping, singing, and ‘hallelujah’s.’

I changed things up a couple weeks ago, however. My host family’s security guard, Patrick, invited me to attend church with him. I inquired a little further and found out that he attended a relatively new church that was associated with the evangelical – or born-again – movement. He also mentioned that services usually lasted at least three hours…

I decided to give it a try. I’d heard that the born-again services were an experience, especially when coming from a traditional worship background. I had been meaning to at least try one born-again service while over here, and I figured this would be my best – and possibly last – chance to do so.

On Saturday I checked with Patrick to see when the service would start, and he said it started at 10:30. Having learned my lesson the hard way – numerous times – I immediately responded with “Patrick, is that Africa-time or the actual time when services start?” Patrick shrugged sheepishly and nodded in affirmation that 10:30 was, indeed, Africa time. I decided that I would leave my place a little before 11:00 the next morning to head to the service.

At 10:30 the next morning, while working in my room on another project, I got a phone call from Patrick explaining that the service was about to start and wondering if I was going to come. That might be the first time that anything has ever been earlier than expected over here. Either that, or it was Africa telling me just give up trying to control time.

I quickly got dressed and drove to the church, which ended up being located in the middle of a valley/gully that probably doesn’t fare too well during times of heavy rain. I had to park a couple hundred meters away, and then I walked through a couple fields before reaching the church.

The church, hidden within a field of cassava and maize

Ramshackle is the best word I can think of to describe the structure. The roof was made out of cheap sheet metal and 4” tree trunks provided almost the entire structure. The walls – and I use that term very loosely – were made of reeds strung together. The building was fairly impressive from a size perspective; it reminded me of a Morton building and, if I had to guess, I would throw out approximately 75 ft x 250 ft for dimensions.

A closer look at the reed walls

I walked in to see a woman dressed purely in white singing with a mic and leading the choir. As I would later find out, she was the pastor.

We made our way to our seats (as I should have expected, Patrick had saved two seats in the very front for us), and I settled in for what I was sure to be quite the experience. As I had expected, I was the only Muzungu in the room. I’m sure I got my fair share of stares as I made my way to my seat, but I’ve been over here long enough that I’ve grown accustomed to it and didn’t really notice.

The next 15-20 minutes were spent “singing.” Of course, there were no projectors or hymnals for showing the lyrics, and most of these songs were in Luganda anyway, so I just stood there and clapped along. Most of the congregants were completely absorbed in the activity, and left their seats entirely, walking/running around the large room while putting their whole body into the act of worship. Patrick was a little milder and was constantly making sure everything was okay with me. Although I tried to act nonchalant with the whole experience, I caught myself just staring, trying to take in everything going on around me, a couple too many times. I’m sure it was blatantly obvious that this was not my usual cup of tea for a worship service.

After awhile, the pastor handed over the microphone to another person who took the lead in singing, and the music switched over from up-tempo Christian gospel music to what sounded like a cross between hardcore rap and heavy metal. The new song leader then broke into a mixture of screaming/rapping, in Luganda of course. Again, I found myself staring around; it appeared that this was a completely normal experience for everyone else. I enquired with Patrick, who casually explained that it was a rap for Jesus. At this point, we were less than 30 minutes into the service, and I could only imagine what was yet to come.

Eventually, the group singing ended, and they transitioned to individual performances. It seemed like most of this was completely unscripted; people from the congregation would get up, take the microphone, and sing whatever came to them. Of course, it was in Luganda, so I had no idea what they were saying (if I only I had paid more attention in those classes last semester…). My favorite performance was by three teenagers - two boys and one girl - who gave a CD to the sound system coordinator (basically the DJ), and proceeded to lip sync & dance to some Christian rap some. This was the final performance, and it ended by members of the congregation coming up and giving donations to the three. I asked Patrick what the money was to be used for, and he said that it was for the kids to use as they pleased. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that, but decided it would be better for my own mental health to not try and come up with a logical explanation for everything that I had – and was about to – see at this service.

The next aspect of the service was a sharing of blessings received during the past week. People got up and spoke about how God had influenced their lives; most of the stories included finding an unexpected source of money in some way, shape, or form. One that stuck out, however, was from a Congolese visitor, who gave thanks for the health of his mother. She had apparently been in a very severe car accident and was now recovering in the hospital. He had just come from the hospital where the doctors had told him that everything would be alright; she was just “coughing up a little blood.” Again, I looked around to see if anyone was as taken aback by that statement as I was, but apparently everyone else thought “coughing up a little blood” was a minor issue.

This continued for awhile, with plenty of shouts of “Hallelujah” and “Praise God” mixed in along with a few more songs scattered throughout. Eventually, it transitioned to preparation for the morning message, at which point the female pastor made her way back up to the stage. She definitely had a commanding presence; and it was obvious that she held a great deal of respect from the congregation.

The sermon delivery was an interesting approach. She gave the message in Luganda, since that was what most of the congregants understood. She then had an assistant who would immediately translate everything to English. I was impressed with the effectiveness of the setup; it gave the whole sermon an interesting rhythm as the two speakers bounced phrases back and forth. What added the most to the whole scene was the fact that the pastor moved back and forth on the stage throughout the duration of her sermon. Her assistant then mimicked her movements, but always a couple feet behind her. When she stopped, and jumped up and down to emphasize a point, he stopped and, jumping up and down, repeated the same statement in English, with the same vigor. At a couple points, the pastor turned to her assistant and they exchanged phrases while pointing/yelling at each other. If I would have just walked in at that moment, I would have sworn they were about to throw punches. As it was, they were just making a main point of the sermon.

The fiery sermon lasted for somewhere between 30-60 minutes. However, ADD still somehow managed to kick in after about 20 minutes, and I found myself staring around again, just trying to take in the whole experience. I would occasionally get brought back into the sermon when I would hear the phrase “I have a dream…” which, according to my count, was used at least four times.

Eventually, the pastor wrapped up the message. Understandably, she appeared physically drained as she made her way back to her seat while the congregation transitioned back to more singing. The songs went on for 10-15 minutes before the pastor once again took the stage. She then gave a request for tithes & offering, which was collected during more singing. I checked my watch at this point; I had been there for slightly over 2 ½ hours, and it seemed that things were wrapping up. In fact, the pastor started the next aspect of the service by saying how she wanted to make sure to “keep time” (Ugandan way of saying stay on schedule) this Sunday. I thought to myself that I might get out of there in under 3 hours. When will I ever learn…?

I thought I had seen about all there was to see with an evangelical service. Ha! At this point, the pastor started to explain how the church was going to be doing a special outreach service in the upcoming weeks, and they needed approximately $3,000 to pull it off. They would need all the help they could get from the congregation for this to be possible, and she wanted to know who would be willing to contribute.

As I sat there wondering how she would ever manage to get that amount of money, people started walking up to the front of the church. One by one, they pledged to give what they could to help with the program. The pledges ranged from over $100 to less than $10. It was a powerful experience to see people coming and giving the little they had for something in which they believed truly needed to be done.

The real interesting part came after people would make their vocal pledges. At this point, the pastor would stand over them (she was at the edge of the stage, elevated about 2 feet) and give them a blessing. This blessing changed depending on the individual. It would usually be a general blessing of good tidings to come. A few times, when it was a woman who had made the vocal pledge, the pastor would have her husband come and stand beside her. She would the place her hands on the woman’s stomach and bless her with a future child.

This whole process, however, was interrupted at one point by cries of agony coming from the building’s side entrance. I looked over to see the same Congolese man who had earlier shared the blessing of his mother’s “good health.” Unfortunately, the “coughing up blood” had been as ominous as I had feared, and his mother had just passed away. The man made his way up to the front of the room, where the pastor – who handled the situation very well, in my opinion – managed to calm him slightly before handing him some money and telling two of the other church members to go with him to the hospital so he could be with his deceased mother.

The pastor then transitioned back to the pledges. More people came up and more blessings were given, including promises of more children (which, with Uganda having one of the highest fertility rates in the world at 6.77 children/woman, actually will hinder the country’s development progress…but that’s a whole separate post in itself). I thought this whole process of handing out blessings – especially promises of future children – was a fairly bold move by the pastor, but it ended up being tame compared to what came next.

An old woman walked up to the stage and offered to give the little money she had for the outreach program. As the pastor went to place her hand on the woman’s head to bestow a blessing, she suddenly recoiled with a look of horror on her face. She then explained that the woman was possessed by some time for a demon. At this statement, the old woman just shook her in acknowledgement while staring at the floor. I then was able to experience my first (and probably last) exorcism. The pastor placed her hands forcefully on the woman’s shoulders and spoke quickly and forcefully (I didn’t catch exactly what she said), repeating the process over and over again as the old woman started to shake more and more violently. Eventually the old woman collapsed into the arms of a man standing behind, at which point the demon had apparently been driven out. I just sat there for the whole thing, watching the whole process with a mix of wonder and curiosity.

That served as the climax of the whole service. After it, the pledging process wrapped up. Although they didn’t get the necessary amount of money, they were able to raise much more than I had expected.

The rest of the service was fairly straight forward. At one point, all visitors were asked to come to the front of the stage, and I got to introduce myself to the congregation along with a quick summary of what I was doing in Uganda. I threw in a few of the Luganda phrases that I had learned over the months, which the congregation enjoyed. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure that my accent prevented them from coming anywhere close to understanding my English, but an interpreter translated the few sentences I said.

I made my way back to my seat, and continued playing with a couple kids who had slowly gathered the courage to approach the Muzungu throughout the service as everything wrapped up with a few more songs. When it all ended, I looked at my watch: 2:00.

Intense. That’s the best way I can describe the whole experience. I shared it with a few of my friends over here who had been to some of the more main-stream born-again church in Kampala, and I got the feeling that my experience was an extreme one. I wanted to get an experience, and did I ever…

It is probably fairly evident from this post, but I’m pretty skeptical of what I saw during this service. Looking at the experience from a Christian perspective, it was great to see such enthusiasm among the congregation. That enthusiasm can be extended to the Ugandan population in general. Never before have I been proselytized as often as here in Uganda, and it’s nice to see people so excited about their religion. However, there are some definite issues that I have observed with Christianity in Uganda. Sadly, the corruption that plagues the rest of the country is also rampant within the churches. Pastors of the largest churches are often the owners of extravagant homes and can frequently be seen driving their BMW or Lexus (or both) around the streets of Kampala. Too many people are willing to take anything they are told by a pastor at face value and accept it as 100% truth. As it is, pastors are some of the most powerful people in Ugandan culture, and not all of them preach the type of acceptance and understanding that I have always taken to be integral to Christianity as a whole. Like most other aspects of society in a culture where corruption has become entrenched, religion has to be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism.

But I digress... Instead of delving into a long discussion about what I see as the pros and cons of religion in Uganda, I think I will save us all and just wrap up the post at this point. Congrats to anyone who made it all the way through!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sprint to the finish

Sorry for the delay between posts - I've had the combination of a hectic schedule and frequent internet/electricity outages these last couple weeks. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately...) this will be a very brief post as well.

Nothing too crazy over here. Final exams are now under way - 1 down and 6 to go! On the side I'm trying to finalize my thesis; I submitted my first draft last week and am doing edits now. I think I can make out a light at the end of the tunnel with this whole process...!

I have two more exams this week before I take a little breather and head out for my final weekend trip. I'm heading over to far western Uganda to do a chimp-trekking trip with some friends. Here's the place we're staying: Looks like it's going to be a great trip!

Anyway, I hope all is well back in the States. Congrats to all of you new college graduates, and I'll see many of you in just a few weeks!


P.S. I've got a couple other posts half written - I'll try to get them finished up in the next couple weeks before I head home in June.

Friday, May 1, 2009

New pictures...finally

Happy Ugandan Labor Day!

Nothing real special about the day; it's a national holiday and pretty much the same thing that we have in the States. I celebrated by taking my car into my mechanic's shop for some minor servicing (it seems like most people still work on Labor Day here unless it's a government position), arranging a tour of a local "factory" (I use that term very loosely) that manufactures groundnut grinders that are supposedly affordable for the masses, and doing some writing on my thesis (although nowhere near as much as I should have...).

Anyway, this is just a quick note to let anyone interested know that I have finally updated my online photo-sharing site.
No captions yet...sorry.

You can access the photos here.


P.S. If anyone knows of a Ugandan interested in buying a sweet 1995 Toyota Corsa, let me know. I've been told by several people that it's a chick car...and by "chick car" I mean a car that is made for women to drive. :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

You know you've been in Uganda a long time when…

I recently received this fun email detailing life in Uganda. The crazy thing is that I find myself doing much of what is described in it. I have added a couple explanations in italics when necessary.

Not too much fun to write about from this last week…lots of hours in the office with classwork and research as everything is now in full swing. My big news: I finished up my experiment on Tuesday…now begins the stage of spending copious amounts of time staring at a computer screen as I analyze all of my data.


You know you’ve been in Uganda a long time when…

…when driving, you find yourself using your turn signals as means of communication....i.e. 'the road is too thin', 'don't overtake there is a BUS coming', 'No I'm NOT going to turn here', 'whoopee, we won the football game!'

…you no longer get annoyed when people lie to you and make promises they can't possibly keep

…seeing someone speeding towards you in the wrong lane seems completely normal

…Your phone rings and it is a wrong number and you can keep the Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello's going back and forth like a tennis match until eventually the caller realizes you are the wrong number and abruptly hangs up, after spending at least 2 minutes worth of airtime

…You find yourself pointing with your lips and saying "yes" by raising both eyebrows.

…You can masterfully employ a variety of "Eh!" and "Eh eh!" noises to convey a range of meanings

…You know "Come back tomorrow at 10:00 a.m." means whatever you're trying to get done is NEVER going to happen

…You start using the words "even" and "ever" in places you never would have ("Even me, I'm feeling hungry," or "I have ever done that")

…You start referring to people as "this one" or "that one"

…You know you've, what?, been in Uganda a long time....when you, what?, start each sentence as a question and proceed to, what?, answer it yourself.

…You've figured out the Ugandan difference between food and snacks

…someone asks you "How is there?" You reply "It is there...

…You willingly drive into oncoming traffic just to avoid the potholes

…A car isn't full unless it has at least 7 people in it

…you can speak Uganglish so well that - you talk with a Ugandan accent; use words like 'shocked,' 'fearing,' 'extend,' 'balance,' ''somehow,' 'even me,' and 'can you imagine' and 'are you sure?' far too often...

…someone "flashes" your phone you just flash them back and wait for them to flash you back and then you flash them back and then they flash you back and.... (It doesn’t cost anything to receive phone calls here, so people will often “flash” someone so their number pops up as a missed call and the other person then has to call them back and spend their airtime)

…you know the load shedding schedule by heart

…you keep a jerry can full of water around, just in case…

…you feel exposed without bars on your windows

…When you come back from being out of the country and conversations go as:
Them: "you have been lost!!" and your response: "I have been found!"
Them: "how is there?" and you: "there is fine!"
Them: "you have gone fat!!!" and you are lost for words because you have forgotten how frank Ugandans are

…You emphasize how you like something and they say: "Are you sure?"

…you are asked how you are and your response is: "Me I am fine, how are you?"

…someone calls out your name and your reply is: "I am the one!"

…you end the conversation with "ok please"

…your knees ache from squatting over a long drop 4 times a day as a result of a parasite living in your intestines

…it's 80 degrees outside and there are people wearing parkas ("jumpers"?) and stocking caps

…You ask for someone, and you know the answer "He's within" means everything from "He's within the building" to "He's within the city" or even "He's within the country".

….you refer to others as 'you people' and don't intend to be rude

…you start sentences with 'As for me, I ….'

…you stop using those little 'off' or 'up' bits of verbs. You pick people. And you drop them.

…you get 'Fine' as a reply to your 'hello'.

…'nownow' means sometime soon, possibly in the next day or two, whereas 'now' means anytime in the next month.

….'moving' becomes 'shifting' (but you move with people rather than hang out with them)

…you stand in a line and feel something is very wrong because it is orderly and the person behind you respects your personal space...

…"ok" punctuates, modifies, tags and answers almost every sentence.

…"Bambi", said with that humble look, becomes your standard expression of sympathy. (“Bambi” means “please” in Luganda)

…you use the term "just there" to mean on the other side of the city

…"first let me come" or "first wait" makes perfect sense to you

…at the end of a meeting, you expect people to say, "Ok Please" as opposed to goodbye or have a nice one.

…your stories always have an "eh?" to make sure the people are listening

…you say SORRY! when someone hurts themselves through no fault of yours

…you call white people "muzungu" and forget that you yourself are white....

…you go to a restaurant and order something off the menu and the waiter/waitress looks you right in the eye and says "We don't have that one

…walking by a uniformed officer carrying an assault rifle is completely normal

…Clothes becomes a two-syllable word. Clo - thes.

…You know the man asking for Lose actually refers to Rose. And when someone says "let's play" you should stay seated. (in Luganda, there is no letter “r” and native speakers learning English often confuse/switch “l” and “r”)

…you don't get confused even though the person you're talking to keeps mixing up 'he' and 'she' in the same sentence talking about the same person.

…you are reluctant to let go of a new, CLEAN 1000 shilling note.

…your home does not have an address.

…your handshakes last an entire conversation

…next to a public phone at the bottom of the call cost there is a charge for beeping

…marriage proposals become a normal and almost expected thing from strangers.

…you have time to grab lunch while the bank teller cashes your check.

…you stop noticing how ugly marabou storks actually are

…you think the taxi you're about to enter is too full but the conductor will squeeze you in and let you sit where he was sitting but then he will be standing over you with his bad body odor.

…You have 9 x 10,000UGX bills and you wrap the 10th one around it and put it in your wallet.

…being given a "push" has nothing to do with "push and shove", but being escorted to your car after a visit....

…You lie on the phone that you are about to arrive for a meeting…yet you've not yet left you're home

…people walk into your house and you say "You are all most welcome!"

…you are making a verbal list and trail off saying "what, what.."

…you start calling inanimate objects "stubborn" when they don't work well

…you always use your big notes despite the fact that you have the exact change.

…umbrellas are not for rain but for the sunshine

…you think "eh" in a high pitch tone is the correct way to respond when a boda drivers price suggestion is too high.

…You have constant power supply at your house for a week and you are confused. You begin to think that UMEME is not correctly doing its work: supplying darkness instead
of light.