“Warr Girls Yes-We-GO!”

I went running last Tuesday with a student teacher visiting Warr Girls and somethinglike 100 of my students. Once hundred Ugandan school girls and one mundu (see previous post), running through a rural, dusty village.
Thank goodness I’ve been running lately. I could have easily embarrassed myself horribly. But they were running in flats (best-case scenario), flip-flops, and even heels. And their clothes were whatever they had — generally smaller skirts than i had yet seen in Uganda. (I was told when packing to come that I shouldn’t even bother packing a skirt shorter than my knees as it would be scandalous here. It’s true.)
We ran something like 2-3 miles total along the central road in my village, chanting fight songs the entire way. It. Was. Amazing. The next day: I hurt.
Why were we running? the teacher-student relay later this week, of course.

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“Yes, Mundu!”

So you’re walking down the road. Minding you’re own business. Talking about something meaningless with your fellow mundu friend (mundu, pronounced moon-doo, means “white person”). And someone rides their bike/motocycle by and yells exuberantly, “YES, Mundu!” as if you just made the truest, purest declaration of the year. We call this drive-by confirmation. And we love it.

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“You’ll be great here. We also love puppies and gardens.” -Father George, my neighbor

As a means of explanation, I’ve got virtually no internet at my site. If I put my computer on top of my tall wardrobe, then stand on a chair to (kind of) reach the keyboard, I get the slowest internet I’ve experienced since dial-up began.

And shit’s been real. I was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer on April 21st, and arrived at my site on Easter Sunday (April 24th). My site – in the boonies of the boonies of Uganda. The West Nile is “way over there” to most Ugandans, and Warr is…”ah that’s farrrrr” to West Nilers. This morning it took me five hours to get to my guy in Arua, the nearest big town in the West Nile. Even with the bad unpaved roads, this should take about an hour. It did not.

Where I live: It’s called Warr. You can find it (maybe) in the far northwest in Uganda, pretty darn close to the DRC. But it’s small. Very small. Definitely the village. But man it’s beautiful. Rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. And rarely have I seen clearer stars. Specifically where I live is in the priests’ quarters at the Warr Catholic Mission. I used to have three priestly neighbors, but now I have two — Father George and Father Caspar. Father Alfred, a wonderful man who surely would have been my Peace Corps counterpart, just moved to Porombo (another West Nile village, reasonably far away, where PCV Mark is stations — we call him Poromboid Man, or I do). Some things are easier here. It’s cooler than most anywhere I’ve been in Uganda, and the people are oh-so-nice, but my bore hole (where I get my water) is pretty damn far. And I just spent two days looking for eggs to no avail. Food is far and not incredibly varied. But, really, it’s all good in the hood.

And I’ve been taking notes. Yes, I live in a slow-movin’ and incredibly peaceful village where I wake up every morning at 6am to the sound of church bells and distant choral singing, but something interesting seems to happen most every day. Here are some highlights.

24 April 2011: white ants (ngwe), supposedly “delicious”, are taking over my house.

26 April 2011: Exultant! (kind of.) I put my laptop on top of my tall wardrobe in a specific corner of my house then stand on a chair to reach the keyboard… and I kind of get a little bit of internet. Woot!

27 April 2011: Found out the priests’ sweet little girl puppy is named “The Terminator.” Made my goddamn day.

Soku kama bor. The market is faaaaar. I rode to the weekly market in Warr center with Dorin, the maid at the Mission. Where I get my food is a half hour bike up and down bad roads. I fell. Bad news bears.

The first main dish listed in the Peace Corps cookbook (I torture myself reading this) is called “Hot Sausage Fest.”

28 April 2011: People are incredible and incredibly friendly. Went for a two hour walk towards the Congo (no I didn’t get there) and just greeted people. Ugandans greet everyone. Everyone. Yes, everyone. In fact, I’m often confused as to whether or not I’ve met someone already as a Ugandan’s typical greeting to a stranger is the kind often reserved, in the States, for chance meetings with close friends.

Tried white ants at lunch. They’ll take some getting used to… I eat lunch and dinner with the priests every day. Good company.

29 April 2011: Headed to Nebbi for the consecration of the new bishop. The bus, rented by the Catholic Mission, made me feel like I was really going to African bible camp. The woman sang for the entire two and a half hour journey. It was a kind of call and response praising. Incredibly beautiful.

20 April 2011: Up early, but early is no longer early to us if the sun’s rising.

The consecration was a wall of thousands of people. I was late. Couldn’t find anyone. So I left. Apparently the priests went looking for me… and I really missed out.

2 May 2011: Went back to Warr from Arua. Got the down low on the Warr-Arua transportation system from Sister Lilian Betty, one of the three sisters living at the Mission, who happened to be sitting next to me in the front of the lorry car we took from Arua to Warr. Here it is:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday – Driver: Onega – leaves Warr at 7am, returns to Warr from Arua at 3pm

Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday – Driver: Peter – same schedule as above

Sister Betty gave me Peter’s number (I already had Onega’s) as I’ll need to call Onega or Peter the night before for him to come pick me up. Otherwise you don’t get to go. Sidenote: this is way better than I thought it would be.

Dinner with Father George and Father Alfred. We debated different development practices and why the West Nile is so much worse off than most other parts of Uganda. I should start carrying a pen and paper with me to meals.

3 May 2011: Peace Corps program manager, security badass, and awesome driver showed up today to check on how my site’s going. And I learned how my site came to be. Mary, the program manager who decides what sites will be where and who will go to which (etc. etc.), was visiting a site in eastern Uganda. There she met a Sister who is Alur (from the Alur speaking region of Uganda — where my site is). This sister knew of the Peace Corps and begged Mary to put a volunteer at Warr Girls SS (my school). Warr Girls has fallen a bit, but used to be the best girls secondary school in the West Nile. Mary said ‘no, Warr is too far and transportation is too poor.’ But the sister was persistent, and when Mary left, the sister called up the bishop of the souther half of the West Nile (he’s a big deal) and convinced him that Warr Girls needs a volunteer. So the bishop marched down to Kampala – an approximately 8 hour journey – to knock of the Peace Office, asking for a volunteer at Warr Girls. So Mary reconsidered, and here I am.

Hey, Father George harvest local honey from a nearby beehive. Delicious.

Some folks gave me an Alur name. Nakate is the name my Bonyoro homestay family gave me, but a bonyoro name just wont cut it. I need an Alur name. They gave me Kwiyocwiny. That’s kwee-yoh-shwee-ny. Say it with me: kwee-yo-shwee-ny. It means both “freedom” and “peace of mind” (literal translation is “peace of heart”). Both things I hold very dear.

4 May 2011: Went back to the market and tried the locally brewed alcohol, called kwete, Dorin and I drank it out of these hollowed out squash skins that look wicked cool. I need to get pictures up in here. But it tasted pretty rough. Like porridge spiked with vodka, then add a hulking teaspoon of sugar and you’ve got kwete.

5 May 2011: Today I was commissioned to take pictures of the local MP candidate, who happened to be Father George’s uncle, Tani. I believe those pictures were in the Ugandan newspaper the New Scientist, but I’m not sure. And guess what, Tani won. Go Tani.

I just learned that those GIANT black birds that cover two big trees right near the Mission’s church and make a huge ruckus at both sunrise and sunset… well they’re not actually birds, they’re the biggest goddamn bats I’ve ever seen in my life. Now I’ve seen English bats, Thai bats, and American bats, and bats infested my homestay house outside Kampala. These bats put all those to shame. Both in size and number.

Who knew calling Mateyo in Zambia would cost somethinglike 700 Ush a minute. Sheesh!

6 May 2011: Toto’s “Africa” is overplayed in Africa.

Fetched water this morning with Dorin. Damn that bore hole (culu, pronounced choo-loo) is far. But that’s no matter for Dorin. She can carry one full 20 liter jerry can of water on her head, and one in each hand. No big deal for Dorin. A very big deal for Stevie.

When I went to get water I saw two crested cranes playing just over yonder, about 20 feet away. Google em. They’re incredibly beautiful. And Uganda’s national bird. Check out the flag, yo.

8 May 2011: My first sunday mass at the Mission. There was incredible dancing involved. Baller! And all in Alur. I’m getting better — but still not that good. Father Alfred introduced me to the masses and said that I’m learning Alur, so everyone help me. Now no one speaks to me in English. It’s pretty awesome, actually. Unless I really need something.

9 May 2011: I have procured a puppy. Best $2 ever spent. He’s a beautiful light brown with white paws and black around his eyes. And he’s sweet as hell. Named Kato. Primarily named after the Ugandan gay-rights activist that was killed right before we all came to Uganda, but also! The Green Hornet’s assistant. And the kato mask looks quite a bit like the black around my Kato’s beautiful brown eyes.

Ah and Father Alfred left for Porombo today. No television means we all gathered around his quarters to watch and help him pack up a couple of pick ups with all his things. Then, right as we were finishing, a procession of 40 or so sobbing children marched around the corner singing the most beautiful goodbye song. One child, a little girl up front, that was crying particularly hard. She sang the loudest and clearest and just off time with everyone else. It was incredible. I’ve got pictures. (But no you cant see them… I’m working on it.)

11 May 2011: Brought Kato to Arua. I’ve never been heckled more in my life and I hope to never be heckled this much again. “MUNDU. GIVE ME PUPPY.” or “MUNDU. IMIIYA GWOK MANOK.”  (white girl. you give me little dog.)

12 May 2011: Last night we were put on our second stage of alert, called standfast. This means each volunteer is not allowed to leave their site. The stage after that, which I have yet to see here, is called consolidation, meaning that all the volunteers in an area have to travel as quickly as possible to a central location (specified before-hand) and stay there. Anyways, we were put on standfast because shit was goin DOWN in Kampala. Kampala is about a ten hour (pffft, at least) journey from my site. There was no worry whatsoever in Warr. But it was a bit nuts down there for a bit. Look it up on the BBC. The opposition leader was just allowed back in the country after a some days in Kenya (he went there to tend injuries he’d sustained during when the police arrested him in a prior protest walk a couple weeks ago) and was talking his sweet time marching down a central road… meanwhile the president was being sworn in just over yonder… and a bit of hell broke loose. I know there was at least one death, many arrests, and much tear gas.

13 May 2011: Standfast lifted. All clear on the Ugandan front.

Meanwhile I combed the area for eggs to make myself a gosh darn omlet. I failed. But Dorin showed me this sweet pilli-pilli pepper bush. And I bought the most beautiful avocado I’ve ever seen for, oooooh 4 cents. Then I taught 20 children how to high five. They were already awesome, now their awesomeness knows no bounds.

And today is today. I’m currently in Arua, using my guy’s computer, and sweltering in the heat of non-Warr Uganda. And all is just peachy. I start teaching in about a week, and I’m psyched. Though I have yet to see a smidgen of the set curriculum I’m supposed to be teaching. But all’s good in the hood.

Consider yourself updated. Questions? Concerns? Feel free to comment.

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“Welcome to our lovely, crazy country.”*

Okey, I’ve now been in Uganda for a month. I should certainly have written sooner, so much has happened. During the first two and a half weeks, internet was impossible. We didn’t have phones. And I was relishing it. Presidential elections were on and my group of PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) were on lockdown. We all spent every moment in this nice compound outside of Kampala. Personal space was a bit of an issue, but we all got to know the awesome people around us very very well. (Too well?) And we learned about Uganda as if it was someplace over out there – not the beautiful country all around us.

Newsflash: Presidential elections went off more or less without a hitch. I think they might have even gone smoother than expected. The incumbant and president for the last 25 years, President Yoweri K. Museveni, won again. The elections are believed to be pretty free and fair by the international community. The mayoral (district) elections were a bit more troublesome. “The Ugandan’s very own version of Jackass,” as we heard it described. These issues caused the officials to delay the elections until last week. But, really, it was mostly peaceful. Gebale ko, Uganda! [= good work, Uganda.] Current report: everything’s more or less fine.

We were incredibly isolated, ’tis the truth, but we were kept busy as well. Training is nothing if not intense. And by the second week we already knew our target language; pinpointing which area of Uganda we would live in for the next two years, and who would be our closest neighbors…. and what is my language? Alur! Spoken in the Nebbi and Zumba districts of the West Nile!

A somu dhok Alur ku japonji para Judy. Abi ponji numba ku physics I Nebbi.
[I am studying Alur with my teacher Judy. I will be teaching mathematics and physics in Nebbi.]

The West Nile region is in the extreme northwest of Uganda. Look at the map on the right-hand-side of this blog. See the city Arua? I will be in that region, to the west of the Nile and north of Lake Albert. As you can see, the West Nile is a small region very close to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sudan. Alur is actually more of a Congolese language, closely related to Acholi (spoken in the more central North of Uganda). If/when I learn Alur well enough, I should also be able to understand anyone speaking Acholi. I’d say it’s analagous to a New Yorker speaking to someone from the deep dirty South, and maybe that Southernor has a heavy lisp… (I have no idea. I just made that up.) But I like it! I like Alur!

There’s another group going to the West Nile, and they’re learning Lugbar. They’ll be in the Arua district in the northern part of the West Nile. Consequently, Lugbar is more of a Sudanese language. They’re alright. I like them (I guess). Aaw…

So what’s the West Nile’s claim to fame? (1) being both the friendliest (and I hear they love to dance!) and poorest people in Uganda; (2) both of Idi Amin’s parents are from the West Nile (suh-weet); (3) the West Nile virus… wah wah waaaah. And the Peace Corps has never sent volunteers there before. Our sites will be completely new, and for at least a little while there will be no other PCVs around us but the ten of us. The West Nile became safe a couple years ago, as the Lord’s Resistance Army (look ’em up, they crazy) is no longer active there. In fact, you might remember me confidently declaring before I left for Uganda that they definitely do not send volunteers to the northwest… and we’re about 8-12 hours from Kampala… cue my nervous laughter here.

So, after two weeks of classes, I already about as much Alur as French. I took French for six years. (Yay public school!) But, well, the knowledge that I will need to use this language every day to get my food, my water, find my way around, meet the people around me… it definitely makes you learn!

Then come the start of our third week, we moved away from our beloved compound to spread out across this here Kampala suburb to our homestays. Let the pit latrines and bucket baths begin!
For the most part, this has been great. Some highlights: introducing my sisters to the harmonica, helping my sister Immachulate with chemistry and math homework (I believe her name is like “immaculate” but they pronounce their c’s as “ch”), finding a bat in my room – this was actually awesome: my sister killed it with a flip flop – SMACK. Perhaps not necessary… Also, just last night, my sister said to me,

“Amanda, do Americans eat snails?”
“No,” I said, “do Ugandans?” I really hoped she wasn’t about to offer me some.
“NOOO!” she said, laughing. “But every Ugandan knows that Americans eat snails and snakes!”
And she was completely serious. She ain’t no sheltered little girl neither, but an educated, bright, and beautiful Ugandan woman in her late teens. Chyah i know!
Something I’ve learned: although “everything grows in Uganda,” Ugandans eat A LOT of starches. This was difficult for me. Mostly because I don’t eat much of any. I eat a lot of greens and other veg, beans, and eggs (and oh-my-gahd cheese). At the end of my first weekend at homestay, I had another plate of potatoes (called “irish” in Uganglish or kata in Alur) sitting in front of me. As I stared at my plate, I had the concrete thought that getting those potatoes down my throat would be one of the great challenges of my life. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

With homestay came, perhaps, less freedom. I now have about two precious hours a day where I’m both done with training and don’t yet have to be home. Often this time is dedicated to work involved with training (studying language, making a lesson plan, etc.),  internet cafe, a nice run**… Or perhaps the bar. A beer is 2500 Ugandan shillings (Ush), or just over a dollar. I’m going to go exchange $20 and get 20 beers. (‘Twas a joke! I kid!)

People are wonderful and interesting. Trainers are fantastic and hardworking. Training is interesting and mostly useful. Weather is hot and the dust makes me think of Mars. It gets everywhere. I’ve found a good run. I’ve been doing yoga. Really, as long as I remember to take my malaria meds every day, Uganda ain’t too shabby. All us trainees could really use (and are quite used to) is a lot more freedom, but that will come.

Let me leave you with this last, unsettling thought: there’s no cheese in Uganda.

Vutu maber!
(Good night!)

*quote from: Fred, our Ugandan Safety and Security Officer, and king of all general badass-ery.

**When I run I look ridiculous. Like a colourful (note the u! They do that here! They were a British colony!) thief about to rob a disco bank.  I always wear my bright yellow knock-off ray ban sunglasses I got at JFK airport and a Mexican bandanna tied over my mouth to keep away the Martian dust and toxic car exhaust. Looks weird enough that there’s some white chick who ain’t running away from anything, but just running.

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Open Office to Microsoft Word. No Dice.

Hey everyone! So I have not posted anything yet. I’ve certainly written some, but this crappy internet cafe computer does not recognize my Open Office document. I have ideas on how to fix this. One of them should work.

Until then — I am alive and things are good. Many many details to come. And soon! Then, soon after, pictures! Uganda is nothing if not beautiful (and I’m told I haven’t seen nothin’ yet).

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why hello there world.

I wanted everyone to have this address as soon as possible, but just know that this is very much a work in progress.  So much to be done!

As a simple introduction, please see the “About Gonda Uganda” page.

There will be many many updates in the coming days.  So please stay tuned.

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