Archive for October, 2007

Last weekend we went to Kampala for a wonderful “Western” weekend. We actually had a pleasant bus ride to Kampala and based on our previous traveling (in)experience, were quite proud of ourselves when we got off the bus extremely close to our destination, the Garden City Mall. Now, forget all of your impressions of Africa, yes, everything you have read on this blog. This mall is a brightly lit, Western-style mall. In an attached building there is a casino, bowling alley, and possibly even ice rink (we didn’t see it with our own eyes but that’s what it said on the map). Anyway, we met the AJWS in-country coordinator, Josephine, for an Italian lunch – lasagna and pizza!! It was actually quite good. We then went to this tremendous supermarket to get a few things. Upon entering, we stood in awe for a few minutes just shocked by the size and bright lighting in the place.

We then proceeded to Jen’s, where we stayed for the weekend. On Shabbat, Jen hosted an art gallery in her house (one of the reasons we chose this weekend to go to Kampala). And as soon as we entered, we saw the beautiful artwork hanging all over her walls. She invited her friends, some of Uganda’s premiere artists some of whom are even traveling all over the world for galleries and commissions, to display work at her home. So not only did we get to enjoy seeing what contemporary Ugandan artists are producing, but we had the opportunity to meet the artists, all of whom (except for one who is opening up a gallery in Malawi) attended the event. While some of us enjoyed looking at the artwork while eating homemade pizza and sipping sangria, other visitors actually bought some of the pieces. Ok, I’ll admit, I couldn’t resist some of the crafts and jewelry by local artists that were on display and for sale. We bought a beautiful fruit bowl for our new apartment (after Shabbat of course)!!

            On Saturday night, we returned to Garden City for a movie! Yes, an American movie in a big theater with plush chairs and a big screen. (For anyone who has been to a movie with me, you won’t be surprised that I slept through a short portion of the film – it was Bourne Ultimatum after all). The next day we met Tom (the friend who had visited us the week before in Mbale) for an “American” breakfast complete with an omelet, toast, hash browns (ok, some sort of potato side dish), salad, beans, tea, and passion fruit juice!! Shortly afterward, we left Kampala for Jinja, a city on the way to Mbale, also home to the source of the Nile. As we wandered around the city looking for a place to stay, we were shocked to find out that water in the entire city had been shut off the previous day and nobody knew when it would return. This was especially frustrating for us since Jen’s water had been shut off over the weekend because of a misunderstanding about the bill with the water company. Luckily, we found an inn that had water reserves both for warm showers and breakfast!

            After we checked into the hotel, we walked all the way across town to a restaurant that Tom and Marilyn recommended. Although on the pricey side, the place was paradise. We sat on a large couch overlooking the Nile as we waited for our food to be prepared. There were also many different kinds of birds flying overhead. The food was absolutely delicious and we even indulged in dessert (a real rarity here).

            The next morning we had arranged to travel with a librarian to Kimuli District to visit her library and a book box project, where her organization lends 30 textbooks for one year to a school that doesn’t have a library. After one year the box rotates to another school. Although the schools want to keep the boxes, there are a limited quantity of boxes relative to the numbers of schools that need textbooks and the books are supposed to inspire the schools to strive to build their own libraries. We didn’t realize that Kimuli is actually about an hour from Jinja, where we had to return before traveling another three hours back to Mbale that same day. Visiting the schools and the library allowed me to see yet another model of a community library. At this library, anyone can use the space to read, but to use a library book, one has to become a member, which entails paying about one dollar per month. The more used books are actually kept in locked bookcases, so that the librarian can make sure that only members use library books and that all books are always accounted for. The same organization also runs an internet café next door to the library and offers computer classes to members of the community (for a fee). It was interesting that all three of these activities – the library, the internet café, and the computer courses were located in separate rooms. We are hoping to integrate these services in the community resource center at Bushikori Christian Centre. The librarian also showed us the different recording systems that she uses and told us about which types of books are more frequently used. Another great resource is the newspaper archive that the library keeps. Also, they have ten representatives from nearby communities come into the resource center to compile and translate agriculture, health, and sanitation information available only in English and then bring that information to the local communities. It was fascinating to visit this established center and learn from their experience.

            After lunch, Adam and I took a matatu back to Jinja, where we had to wait for an hour until the matatu to Mbale filled up. Matatus don’t travel until they are full, well, overfull. They put four people for every three seats. In fact, the other day when Levert and I took a matatu to work, it left with only three people in each seat. We were shocked, until the matatu stopped right after the police check point to add another person to every row. Overcrowding is illegal, which means do it without getting caught. We were happy to arrive back in Mbale safely!

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lunchtime convo

When a couple marries here, before they can even have a church ceremony, they participate in an “introduction.” Not only is this a ceremony for the bride’s family to meet the groom’s, but it is the time when the families negotiate and pay the bride price. Yes, women here are still literally purchased. So, over lunch today, many of my coworkers were explaining the ceremony to me when we got into a conversation about the benefits and disadvantages of adhering to this tradition. Linus, the BCC accountant, feels very strongly that we should get rid of this tradition and was greatly praising his step father, who even after putting his daughter through a master’s program (the higher the education, the higher the bride price), went against tradition by only demanding (possibly agreeing to accept) a mere two goats. Not only does it force the woman to be viewed as property, but it becomes a huge financial burden for the men. Based on all of the work a woman does for the man once they are married, the argument went that she is actually greatly undervalued. This work includes cleaning and cooking as well as bearing and raising children. But, in essence, when a man pays for a wife, he is paying for a homemaker. At the end of the conversation, the director of BCC, Anne, offered a very interesting interpretation of the situation. She suggested that the bride price allows the family to begin preparing itself for the possibility that even ten years down the line the woman might have to return to her parents home for a variety of reasons, including the death of her husband or divorce. At this point, the parents must begin caring for her all over again and this time most likely caring for a number of her children as well. Linus argued that as a father to a daughter he hopes to begin investing in her at a young age by educating her, so that even under those very difficult circumstances she would be able to care for herself. He will not wait for her bride price to invest in his daughter.

            To be a bit controversial, I will throw out the question of whether American/Western society has really gotten rid of bride price. Sure we no longer pay the girl’s parents for the daughter, but don’t we have other traditions and expectations of what men must give women in order to marry them?

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Before leaving Apollo and Janet Wambedde’s village home to spend Shmini Atzeret with the Abayudaya, we promised our host-father, Apollo, that we would take down the sukkah when we returned. He mentioned that there are a number of people who could benefit from the sukkah materials, especially the sheets. In particular, there is a cute couple named Fred and Mary, who live next to the village house and who keep the home; they worked extra hard while we were there cleaning and cooking for us. So, we decided to give them the matching sheets and pillow cases. (By the way, Mary is going to deliver a baby any day now and Maital hopes that she will be around. Don’t worry, we will write a blog entry all about it!) As for the other sheet, we decided to give to an old lady who lives nearby who had complained to Janet that she didn’t have anything to cover herself during the night.

Almost two weeks ago now (on October 9, Uganda’s Independence Day), Apollo and Pastor John, the next door neighbor) took Maital and me through Wabukhasa Village to deliver the single sheet to an old woman. So, camera in hand, we trekked through dirt (and mud) paths to this old woman’s house. We jumped over huge muddy puddles early in the trip and, as has been her habit, Maital’s foot landed in the mud. Sorry! The scenery was breathtaking. With Mt. Wanale in the distance and green all around us, it was hard to watch for mud puddles.

            We first stopped at the old woman’s house and learned that she had stepped out momentarily. So, after greeting the family, we began our tour of the village and had the opportunity to meet many members of the community. Apollo and John took us to meet another widow in the community, whose home had collapsed during the heavy rains, so the community had raised some money and gathered man power to build her a new home. As we walked, we found two boys knee deep in dirt building her new house! After watching the boys build her home and meeting the widow, we went to meet another family. At this compound, we were immediately greeted by an old woman and many children who came to see their visitors. The old woman limped over, and with a closer look, we saw that she was missing the greater part of her right foot. Apollo explained that she lost it to cancer last year.Just months ago, she was crawling around in the dirt to move around, but recently as the pain subsided and the foot healed, she taught herself to walk. Apollo explained that this old woman has quite a “testimony,” this means that she has a really powerful experience of coming to God. Until last year, she was a witch doctor and during her illness she became “saved,” she professed her belief in Jesus and affiliates as a born-again Christian. When she was “saved,” the church publicly burned all of her “demonic” tools.

            Pastor John works part-time as a community health worker through another local NGO, the Foundation for the Development of Needy Communities, FDNC. About once a week, he travels around the village to inquire about various families’ well being. Not only does he have training in basic health care and hygiene, but he also works hard to connect families to the resources they need for treatment. John pointed out that in the family we were visiting there are an unusual number of leg problems. One of the children was walking around with crutches that he has used since having leg surgery. (John helped to arrange this surgery.) He is waiting for another surgery while the community looks for the funds. We were invited into the old woman’s mud hut and saw a few mats rolled up in the corner to the sitting room (although it had no couches or chairs). And from the ceiling hung a single mosquito net that the children all sleep under as they huddle together on the mats. Pastor John was quite proud of the net; he has helped to ensure that villagers not only have nets but know how to use them.  We thanked the family and went back to the first house to see if the old woman had returned.

            We found out from Apollo that this old woman’s daughter had divorced her husband and that along with her children, she had returned to live with her mother. When we reached her house, she greeted us and brought us inside. Her house was very dark and she brought us into her room to show us her clothes, mattress (made of burlap sacks), and mosquito net. She told us that her grandchildren share this bed with her. With large smiles, we gave her the bed sheet and she was overjoyed. She lifted it up and down three times and said something we didn’t understand. Then she shook our hands repeatedly.

            As we walked to her house, we passed a beautiful, large house that we learned belongs to one of the head doctor’s in town. (A week later when I took Marilyn on a tour of the village, we stopped by the doctor’s house and had a really wonderful time getting to know him). From looking at the house we realized that his house does not yet have electricity, although the polls run close enough to his house that it might be hooked up soon (a very relative term in Uganda). The big water tank out back indicates that he does, however, have running water. It was somewhat shocking to see this white house amidst mostly small mud huts. We discussed with Apollo the benefits of living in the village even despite one’s wealth, prominence, and career in town. In the village, more than in town, one feels a strong sense of community. People look out for one another and people greet each other. Moreover, children play outside with neighbors’ children freely and often. Also, one lives in nature, where one can grow one’s food. Also Apollo emphasized that nothing is wasted in the village. Once one person no longer needs it, there is always a neighbor who can make good use of it…like the sheets of the sukkah!!

            We then walked to a property that had a number of different sized houses, ranging from normal size to dollhouse-sized. We learned that when a son is old enough, he constructs his own mud hut, which as he gets older and marries hopefully becomes a stronger, maybe even brick, home. And the young boys in this family were practicing their mud hut building skills by building small, doll-house sized replicates of the homes their older brothers had already built. We continued into the compound to meet the family. Apollo told us that they have been neighbors since Apollo’s youth when his parents helped care for this family. Apollo compared this family to the one in the movie, “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” (We have yet to see it but will report back once we do). Apollo had told us a few weeks before that this man had many children that were all birthed at home. He explained that when there were complications during one of the deliveries, the father cut open his wife to allow room for the baby to come out. Apollo’s mother found the woman bleeding and got her the appropriate care which saved her life. Anyway, Apollo insists that despite this incident and the poverty in which this family lives, this couple loves each other more than anyone he knows! Apollo asked the father how many children he had and he answered, seven boys and two girls. And then when we met the mother, she told us that they have ten children… We all had a good laugh, including the parents!

            As we returned to Janet and Apollo’s home, we passed Nandudu’s, Apollo’s sister’s, home. Nandudu had also been helping to care for us. First we passed by the Habitat-for-Humanity house that had been built for her and some of Apollo’s orphaned nieces and nephews. Unfortunately, when the family was three months late in paying the mortgage, Habitat came and removed the windows, doors, and iron roofing sheets to ensure that no one would benefit from the house. It costs more for the family to repair the house than what it would have cost to pay the mortgage, but at that time the money wasn’t available. Also, when they finally do repair the house, which is happening slowly, they will no longer owe Habitat anything. In the meantime, Nandudu moved back into the house where she and Apollo grew up that has a leaking roof comprised of iron sheets over 50 years old (yes, they are really rusted). There is just enough room inside for Nandudu to cook and sleep. Outside of the hut rest Apollo’s late parents and siblings.

            This exciting and eventful morning afforded us the opportunity to meet many of the neighbors and learn more about village life. Living in the village was really an incredible experience. Returning to senior quarters with running, water, electricity, a toilet, and many less mosquitoes felt like coming back to America! But now I understand Maital’s love for the village and its population and I can see why she dreamed of coming back.


By the way, Janet and Apollo have left the poles of the sukkah in the ground and hope to use it as a place for people to gather so as to avoid the masses of people that congregate in their home on a regular basis (especially Sundays since they live across the dirt road from the church). Ok, we realize that if the poles remain in the ground, it might mean that our sukkah was a bit too permanent to be kosher, but by the end of the holiday the sheets were falling down. So, hopefully that means that it was kosher!

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Marilyn Michelow and Thomas Bohnett, both current Princeton-in-Africa fellows, visited Mbale this weekend. We were supposed to travel with them to Jinja. But, Tom fell sick with malaria, so we decided to take it easy and hang out around Mbale. Tom is much better (thanks to Dr. Levert and treatment from the BCC clinic!!). Anyway, it was so wonderful to spend time with both of them. Marilyn has been working with the World Food Program in Namibia. Located just north of South Africa, Namibia contrasts greatly with Uganda in terms of geography, climate, politics, history, demographics, and more. Unlike Uganda, which currently has heavy rains almost daily (not to mention some really severe flooding in certain regions, not Mbale- don’t worry), Namibia is a desert and struggles constantly with water. Namibia has only 2 million people in the whole country (which is about the size of Uganda), 10% of whom are white, whereas Uganda has 23 million people (and one of if not the fastest growing populations in the world) with probably 50,000 whites. Marilyn can drink the water from her tap and works on the 11th floor of a storied building that has an elevator. Not only are buildings in Mbale (or Kampala, for that matter) not that tall, but with the frequent power outages, I would never get into an elevator in Uganda.

Tom lives in Kampala and has been working for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Currently, the IRC has been working on repatriating Sudanese refugees from the 20 year civil war between northern and southern Sudan back to Sudan. Finally, over the past two years, there has been a tentative peace with the southern Sudanese participating in the Sudanese government. Tom explained to us some of the complexities involved in repatriation. The refugees do not always have an easy time returning home since unlike other members of the community, they did not endure the fighting and suffering that the community underwent during the many years of conflict. Moreover, some of the refugees have actually been successful in Uganda and might not be interested in restarting their lives in a place still recovering from such an extended civil war. Well, it seems that his work never gets boring, since while he was visiting us, the headlines of the newspaper indicated that southern Sudanese officials pulled out of the government. Of course, with a tentative peace and this type of uncertainty, repatriation becomes all the more complicated.

But we didn’t talk about work the whole time. Adam gave Marilyn a tour of “the village” where we lived for two weeks and where I had spent the summer of 2005. Marilyn also got to tour BCC and meet our colleagues and supervisors. Marilyn, Adam, and I took a walk all over town and Marilyn assisted us in picking out our helmets. In fact, we had quite an experience buying rolls for Shabbat dinner and lunch. After purchasing the rolls, we realized that the vendor was sporting a belt with a hologram photo of Osama bin Laden on the buckle! The irony!! Actually, the shop where we bought the helmets had a calendar depicting the life and death of Saddam Hussein with pictures of him happily ruling all the way to one of him hanging from a noose. Surprisingly, these images seem less political than they do decorative since we have not really encountered any political support for bin Laden or the Hussein regime.

Marilyn and I played a heated game of Scrabble while the men watched Babel. Marilyn purchased a dvd with seven movies on it. In fact, these types of pirated dvd’s are the only ones for sale here. I don’t think I have seen single movie dvd’s here. The second season of Lost that we have been watching has the ABC symbol in the corner and cuts out sometimes where there were once commercials.

We already miss Tom and Marilyn but hope to see them both again before years end. Ok, we will probably see Tom this weekend in Kampala but hope to have a chance to meet up with Marilyn in South Africa.

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An Egg…

My chicken laid its first egg this evening!! Faz called me into the kitchen as soon as I got home from work to let me know that the chicken was preparing to lay an egg. She lifted the chicken up to check if it had laid an egg. When she found nothing, she remarked that it was probably pushing right then. So, based on my experience in the maternity ward, I gave the chicken a bit of encouragement in Lugisu: I said, “Sindikha, Mayi, Sindikha,” which means push mommy push. Well, I definitely took Faz by surprise and had everyone laughing hysterically. About one hour later, Mathew came running in to let me know the egg had been laid. I ran into the kitchen while the egg was still warm – who knew that newly laid eggs were warm?!? I think it will be breakfast!?! And then the next few we might actually keep for raising. We will take pictures of any chicks.

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another blog

We should have told you about this sooner… but Dr. Levert has started a blog about life in Uganda generally and about medicine here more specifically. We think that many of you will be very interested in the things he writes and the pictures he posts! Enjoy!!!


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Ok, we will admit to the fact that sometimes, we have ridden on the backs of motorcycles. It’s one of the more convenient modes of transportation here, so when we have to, we do. But, we are also aware that this is not exactly the safest mode of transportation. So, after much delay, we actually went out and bought helmets on Friday. Before setting out for the “garage,” the street where all of the automobile repair shops are located, we inquired from friends about prices. Everyone seemed to agree that a helmet would cost between 40 and 50,000 shillings, around $25. When we arrived at the garage, we asked one store owner if he sold helmets. He pointed us in one direction. When we reached the store he recommended, the salesperson pointed us in the other direction completely. So, before walking to the other end of the garage, we did some errands in town. When we returned to the garage, a nice man walked us to a small alleyway, actually the place where Levert gets his motorcycle fixed, and someone at that shop brought out two helmets for us. Since we do not know exactly how motorcycle helmets are supposed to fit, we took some time trying them on and readjusting the chin strap. We then inquired about prices and the salesperson replied 80,000. I asked if we could get the helmets at 70,000 since we were buying two, but he said 80,000 was the final price. Considering this was what we were prepared to pay, we agreed. After removing the protective plastic to ensure that there were no scratches, I handed the salesperson 90,000 and asked for change. He quickly replied that I had to add him some money, because he meant 80,000 per helmet. Shocked, I told him to return the money to me, because we could not afford 80,000 shilling helmets; we thought he meant 80,000 for both. Well, the man seemed to think it over, he appeared to be a bit agitated, but after about two minutes, he opened a drawer and returned 10,000 shillings to me. I couldn’t believe that after not giving us the helmets at 70,000 (when he was presumably still pricing each helmet separately), he so easily gave us the helmets at 40,000 each. We have learned that if you quote someone the actual price when they are trying to rip you off, they quickly realize that they can’t take advantage of you and they back off. Last week, when negotiating a price for a bicycle ride, the rider even asked me, “oh, so now you are African?” because I knew the actual price to the location where we asked him to take us. It’s really important to know the local price: sometimes we listen to what the person before us paid or we just stop someone on the street to ask what something costs…whatever it takes. As a muzungu, it is easy to be ripped off. Everyone tries it! But as long as you know the local price, you can usually negotiate. 

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