Ugandan dwellings- slum and otherwise

Well, it certainly has been a while since my last post… I was doing so good- sharing my experiences every day. But it evidently was not sustainable, as I have been busy adjusting and getting into the flow of Ugandan life. I guess this means that I am now officially on Ugandan time- this means everything is done a little bit slower, and the word “rush” is only an action that can be applied to bodas zipping past you on dusty roads… just about the only thing that speeds around here. But I am getting used to it; not fretting when food comes a bit later than it would at PF Changs in the States, or when Ugandans say they will meet us around midday (noon), and greet us with wide smiles around 1:45. No, no, this is just the way things are done around here, and the sooner you accept this, the easier the days become.

We have been in the Annex, our hotel, for a week now, although our room tells a different story. We are girls- we are supposed to be organized, smell nice, and keep things clean… well, we are also girls in Africa- Kampala, the most polluted city my lungs have ever experienced. Empty liter water bottles rest beside bottles of old Bell (the best Ugandan beer) waiting to be recycled (something quite unique here), and our suit cases remain propped open, exposing two months worth of clothes, first aid products, insect repellant, sunscreen, and body products galore (mainly on my side!). A tall floor-fan, that is well past its days of oscillation-frenzies, is positioned in the middle of the room, and constantly hums us to sleep- blurring outside noises and the buzzing of urban crickets. We have one of the best rooms in the hotel, as it is in the Southern wing (away from the busy street), and offers light from two large windows (most rooms only have one). Now, I am not attempting to glamorize this situation by any means- it is not the Sheraton down the block, or the Hyatt in Carmel Highlands… there are a fair share of “quirks”, shall we say, that I am getting accustomed to. I am actually getting used to brushing my teeth with water from a water bottle, and do not mind the limited furniture (two chairs and a knee-high footrest of a desk) as much as I would have thought. One of the biggest drawbacks of the hotel is that there is no kitchenette, i.e., we are eating out for EVERY meal. For those of you reading this that know me well, I LOVE to COOK- for every meal :) A friend recently posted pictures on her Facebook page of fresh fruit/ veggies from the Monterey Farmers Market (Tuesdays on Alvarado –woo woo!), and I almost booked a flight back home- what I would not do for an artichoke right about now! So, we invested in a hot water boiler for about 25,000 shillings; roughly $14.50… not bad to save a few bucks here and there on teas, and it is great for washing toothbrushes, cups, etc. I am still readily accepting recipes for the kilo of uncooked black beans I bought last week… anyone???

A friend from the Institute, Christine Carlson, is in town en route to Gulu, in the north. She will be working this summer with the Advocacy Project, and supporting disabled Acholis affected by the LRA and the ongoing conflict. We met up last night, and went to a wonderful traditional Ugandan dance and dinner show. This was our first real outing, and it finally felt like Africa- roughly, the kind of Africa I had envisioned. Taking a “special” taxi, essentially a normal taxi we take in the States, about 30 minutes out of town, acacia trees, huge palms, and aloe greens galore greeted us. The spot, Ndere, is beautiful, and hosts weddings, conferences, and invites guests to three dance shows per week. In typical Ugandan fashion, we ordered dinner immediately upon arrival, and received our food about an hour and a half later, and the order was not correct. This has been a reoccurring theme, and although I expected it in a way, it is always a bit of a let down. The dancing was PHENOMENAL, and bombastically voluptuous- interpret as you will:) It was a two-hour show, and offered numerous opportunities to become involved. Traditional Ugandan dance is amazing, and looks somewhat Polynesian, but with a tribal feeling foundation. Lots of stomping, shaking, and shimmying, yes please! The show also featured music and instruments passed down for ages. We saw a HUGE wooden floor bass, and the first model of the guitar. Not to mention the drumming… it was impossible to not tap your feet, or at times, want to jump up and DANCE along with them! The audience was mainly Mzungus (white people), but it was generally a good vibe. It was great to see Christine, and get out for a bit.

One thing that I am not going to miss about this country is the fact that we get ripped off ALL THE TIME! Taxi fares to printed menu prices, you name it, as a Mzungu, we have paid so much more than locals. Ok, expected in a way, but not all the time. Shop-owners will quote you one price, then change it when you come back and say, “Oh no, I never said that… I checked the book, and meant___” BS! It’s just unfortunate, when you want to trust people, and have an honest transaction. Taxi rides are the worst. They figure since we are white, we can obviously afford more. Which, yes I guess, in relation, is the case… but we are grad students who owe the government our first-borns (I mean, loans to be repaid with interest). Lucy and I went to the US/ UK football match about a half a mile away, and choosing not to walk home, as it was late, and the street was a little too dark, we approached a special taxi to start the price negotiations. “10,000” he said. As if! Immediately, after he sensed that we had been in town longer than the typical Mzungu, he said “5,000”. Half the price in a matter of 10 seconds. Gr. It being late, and him not wanting to budge, we accepted. Granted, it was only $3, but that fair could have easily been about 50 cents! I am just tired of it. Ugandans are beautiful people, with warm spirits, for the most part, but the whole down and dirty cash flow system here is inconsistent and does not favor whities. We are getting better though. Our ride out the slums began around 1,000 shillings, one-way, about 50 cents. Today, I said, “We never pay more than 600” to a mutatu (regular public taxi) conductor, and he said “get in”… My aim is not to rip off people who are already at the Base of the Pyramid- on the contrary, transparent and consistent prices and practices will attract more FDI, and tourism in the long run… right??? It’s more so a little competition I have going on with myself… can I get a lift for 500 shillings today, can I? Can I? This Mzungu knows what’s up:)

The days are long, and I am sleeping in later than usual. Maybe my body is still adjusting to everything. My malaria pills are also giving me vivid and very realistic dreams. No hallucinations or crazy sleepwalking events, but I could have sworn that I was home last night. I even felt deep sadness, as I realized Sophie was no longer there. (For those of you who have not read my earlier posts, my dog Sophie died a week ago today). It is a little surreal to then wake up under a mosquito net and extreme heat. It is kind of exciting though, to go to bed each night, knowing I will dream- and remember it. I love dreaming, and often carry those night visions with me into the next day.

After having spent two days developing a lengthy and detailed survey to gather the data for the needs assessment and impact evaluation, we had our first set of interviews today. We spoke with Christine, Esther, Agnes, and Lucy. Each interview took about 70-90 minutes, and responses were somewhat consistent. Major needs, as these four partners reported are: more bead, design, and color training (many greetings and thanks to Emily for all her support and training this last spring), school funding support and fund allocation programs, and assistance with household issues. We have heard about problems in the homes of our partners from both quite a few sources, and the women themselves voice their concern and need for some kind of uniting seminar or workshop that can change the behavior of their husbands (less alcohol consumption, and non beneficial spending). We have heard that husbands are either wildly happy about their wives being able to support themselves and their households in their absence (many work in the north, or miles away), or completely unsupportive, abusive, and proceed to hurt the family’s economic situation more so than when the women were not a part of Acholi Beads. This is heart-breaking to hear, and frustrating to know that all this hard work the women are doing every day can be shattered by a night of local drinking be her husband. “Children and women do not start wars” our MC at the show said last night, “but they are the first ones to suffer.” Wars, I take it, on many levels. Battles are fought on and off the field, but permeate households nonetheless. The women we partner with are strong, courageous, and most importantly, have hope. They work together, side by side, day after day, and unite against domestic violence, and accepting “stubborn” husbands. However, we saw tender moments today, as one of the partners began to get very emotional when we asked questions pertaining to her husband, and whether their relationship had shifted as a direct result of her substantially increased income since becoming a member of Acholi Beads. She is young- younger than me, with one nine year-old, and one seven year-old in school, recently separated, and unsure of her current HIV diagnosis. This is the reality she wakes up to every day, and falls asleep to every night. It puts things in perspective. While I am half a world away stressing over papers and schedules, she is dealing with school fees and avoiding eviction notices from her slum dwellings. Forget going out, or spending $7 or $8 on a glass of red with friends…

I hope to document these women’s’ lives- trials and triumphs, and share their stories. Besides all the data collection and analysis we will be conducting this summer, I am curious about the people behind each Acholi Beads tag that comes with each purpose. Each member, as we are slowly discovering in great detail has a story to tell, a journey she has been on, and dreams for herself and her children for the future.

I wonder how things are going state-side. If you are still reading this, write me an email, sing me a song, write on my wall, and let me know how YOU are doing… Anything you want to know??? I have heard it has been rather warm in Cali, and many of my friends from MIIS all over the world right now… where you at???

No malaria yet, and the bed bugs are not biting- hard.

Miss and love you guys,

K

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4 thoughts on “Ugandan dwellings- slum and otherwise

  1. Kiersten,
    You are amazing! Thank You for taking me along on your fabulous adventure. Each blog entry is more riveting than the previous. I can’t wait for the next update. Take care of yourself. Keep using lots of sunscreen and bug spray.
    With prayers and a hug, Patti

  2. Uganda time reminds me a lot of MIddle Eastern time. I’m so glad you are starting the interviews, the thing you arer really there to do has begun. Excelsior!

  3. I love reading your blog, Kiersten! Thank you so much for sharing your stories and experiences. I’m getting to excited for my trip, after reading about yours. I hope all is going well!

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