I am an applied medical anthropologist beginning my PhD in Public Health this fall. For the second summer in a row, I will travel with my research partner, Ginger Mckay, to Kampala, Uganda. Last summer, we evaluated an HIV education program for children developed by the Savannah Sunrise Foundation, which is a non-profit organization. We we will be residing in Kampala from the end of May until the end of July to conduct additional fieldwork. This summer, our colleague Nicole Smith will be joining us as we wrap up our project.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 1st to July 13th

Friday 1/7
We gave ourselves a deadline for the tests so that it coincided with the monthly evaluation meeting the mentors have at the foundation today. I literally was working on making the statistics easily explainable this morning before we left to go to the foundation. Nicole hung back at the house since she had a meeting with the Red Cross and planned to meet us later in the afternoon. The mentors were told to arrive at 2 pm, but of course many of them ended up being late.

We met with Echiba and printed out the individual results for the mentors and the overall results of the statistics from the pre tests in Kampala. We ended up meeting with most of the mentors one last time as a group, and it was bittersweet. I was happy to see everyone again but sad because I don’t know when I will be able to make it back here again. Some of the mentors gave us feedback regarding the last three summers we’ve been here and what it’s like to work with us. Mary said that, “They eat and behave like Ugandans. If there are no spoons they go the way we go.” She is so funny. Another mentor told us that we give them confidence to go on with mentorship. The next one said that the children are more focused after we visit their schools and they are always asking when we are coming back. They mostly relayed that they feel very “blessed” that we come and that we have come since those who are in P4 now were in P2. Mary gave us a ride home, and she was being hilarious in the car. She said, “for sure you’re my daughters despite the biology involved.” I just love her.

Saturday 2/7
This morning Ginger overheard Annette and Gerald talking outside. Annette was telling Gerald that we area leaving soon and Ginger said that it sounded like he didn’t understand that we weren’t coming back. He said that we always come in June, which is also what Joan said the other day. It’s hard to explain that we are leaving permanently this time without plans for next summer. I hope Nicole makes it back and keeps the connection going. Maybe (just maybe) we can come visit her here while she’s doing her fieldwork!

Today Ginger and I decided to walk to Mulago and take a route we weren’t familiar with. We got lost, which was great because we ended up seeing something beautiful just by chance. As we looked for an entry to Mulago, we thought we were stymied by a fence blocking the path but another pedestrian walking by told us we could pass there when he saw us turn around. People are so nice here. We continued past house gardens comprised of bananas, corn, and sweet potatoes as the hill unfolded around us. Men were singing while planting their crops on their plots of land. Ginger told me that it made her want to cry and for the second time today we fought back tears. I told her we had to wait until we are closer to the actual departure date. We were trying to go to the café at Mulago, but it was closed since it was Saturday.

Another series of mishaps allowed us to have yet another serendipitous experience afterwards. We decided to go to our favorite coffee shop, and take a boda there. I mistakenly told the driver to turn early on a one-way road, which meant that we had to get off to walk the rest of the way. As we walked, we heard the sounds of bongos and people singing traditional songs beside a primary school we go to for observations. There is construction going on in the area, and a construction worker told us to have a look behind the fence when he saw us trying to peek discreetly. He insisted until we were being lead in front of about twenty dancers and musicians of all ages to two designated chairs up on the side of one of the buildings. There was a young couple sitting in two other chairs beside us. It was like our chairs had been waiting there for us, even though it was totally spontaneous that we came in the first place. The compound was alive with dancing and singing. The performers were AMAZING.

We saw a series of traditional dances from various tribes. The women wore grass skirts, or long sleeved shirts tied around their waists to create the same effect. I think Ginger and I both felt the weight of the reality that we are leaving Uganda and it made me think of how this place has changed us both in different ways. We looked at each other and started crying. I’m already missing the moments of serendipity we find here, and as I literally felt the dancers stomping the ground with all their might, barefoot and sweating under the heat of the sun, I felt so grateful to be here working with her the last two summers. I’m also sad because I won’t be working with Ginger and Nicole again on a project anytime soon.

After they finished rehearsing we talked to them, and many of the men wanted to know if we had husbands. When we told them we had boyfriends in the US they called them our “fiancés” and then they asked if we had any single friends. It was hilarious. They made us promise we’d consider hiring them for our weddings since we enjoyed the show so much. In actuality, they were practicing the traditional songs and dances for the couple who had been sitting beside us. The couple wanted to hire the performers to entertain at their wedding. They loved what they saw and hired them on the spot. The group is really talented and you can tell they love to perform. As we were leaving I asked one of the dancers if he loved dancing and he said, “When we dance and laugh we can’t grow older.”

So, we accomplished absolutely nothing we set out to do and by the time we reached the coffee shop it was time to go home for lunch. We got no writing done whatsoever. In other news, tonight we decided to write a book entitled, You’re Gonna Crash a Wake that describes trying moments of fledgling anthropologists and the humbling, funny, and embarrassing experiences we have. The name comes from one of Nicole’s first experiences conducting fieldwork in Memphis when she told everyone at a wake that the party was great. She didn’t realize the person she had come to visit (and interview about Meals on Wheels) had passed away. We think it would make a good reader for intro courses, anthropologists in training, and people who are interested in what anthropologists do. We have a bazillion stories between the three of us. I know they are always a hit when we tell students in the courses we teach, so we might actually do it.

Sunday 3/7
Today I am really tired. We worked on writing all day and making plans about our trip to the west. We hope to meet Mary’s family when we go. So excited!!

Monday 4/7
Today we went to the foundation to work on the tests we got from Gulu. We decided to conduct two focus groups, (and therefore only have two case study schools) instead of the three we originally planned. There just isn’t enough time and we can’t seem to coordinate with the third school because the IBES program has been zoned out of the school, which means they no longer have a mentor coming to teach children. The idea behind this is that the children and teachers should sustain the education program on their own after 3 years. For this reason, I’d actually really like to hold a focus group there to see if sustainability is evident because I suspect it is not. Once again this year, I forgot about the fourth of July. We laughed and watched Seinfeld tonight. I love those small respites.

Tuesday 5/7
We still can’t get the internet to work properly. It’s annoying. Our friend Mary declined going to the west with us to visit her family, so we are going to go it alone. I think we are “Ugandan” enough to handle it now. Ginger met a tour guide who is going to help us hire a car from Kabale so we can travel with ease once we get there by bus.

I worked at the foundation today and the girls stayed home. I am grading, and grading, and grading. I think I will still be dreaming about grading when I get home from Uganda. I enjoy spending more time at the foundation this year, in addition to traveling to the schools during the week. I get to see how things are really running in the office. I also created a dropbox folder for the foundation to use for internal evaluations and to allow us to easily share files when we get back to the US. We transferred all of our research materials and all of our data from the past summers to create transparency with the foundation and allow them to use those resources once we leave. We want to ensure that they can do the same things without us, so we have been creating a training manual as well.

Wednesday 6/7
The three of us made it to the foundation by mid morning. I have a hard time with how people don’t rush here sometimes. It’s annoying to wait when there is so much to do. Once we were able to sit down at a desk we immediately started on data entry. The secretary has been ill, so Reverend and Echiba went to pay her a visit and wish her well, leaving us alone at the office. Moses came to meet us after lunch, in preparation for our first focus group today.

Reverend gave us a ride to the school when he got back from visiting Cathy with Echiba. When we got to the school we waited in the headteachers office, signing the guestbook and playing with children as the headteacher collected the 26 students we had signed consent and assent forms for. He could only find 21 of them which is still too many for one focus group, so we divided them up into two and had their mentor, Dorothy, lead the second group. See all of the videos and pictures. I had a small boy who wanted to hold my hand the whole time, and ended up stealing my pen and drawing all over my notepad as I tried to take copious notes as a rapporteur. That one is going in our book. He was really adorable, but very distracting. In addition, we realized that having the mentor lead is not very useful because the students are more reserved and don’t seem to share as much. It makes sense. Plus, I think Moses just has a certain magic with children. He is phenomenal with them and runs focus groups like a pro even though he’s never really done them before. He continues to be helpful in our work. Today was also a good day for him because he passed his German exams and that means he is qualified to take courses in Germany so that he can eventually study at a university there. I know Sonja is ecstatic about his accomplishments and we are so happy for them both!

Today was a good day. We also met Seith, our driver for our trip west. He helped us come up with a plan and decide on our budget and what we want to do when we get there. Things are falling into place right at the end how they always do. Somehow.

Thursday 7/7
I worked from home today, transcribing the focus group we had yesterday with Moses. It took us from 9 am to 2 pm to transcribe 45 minutes of interview. I thought it took a while, but was not too bad overall and the quality of the recording was decent. This first focus group transcription experience really seemed like a breeze a few days later, after our next focus group, which was held outside under a tree on Monday when it was super windy out. But more about that later…

The girls went to town to work out some financial preparations for our trip and worked on the tests more at the foundation. In other news, I bought a painting again this year and I can’t fit the wood frame in my suitcase even though it’s been disassembled. Kitifu!

Friday 8/7
I went by myself to meet Odur, one of the mentors, at a school to observe him teaching. The school has students from all over Uganda, and immigrants and refugees from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. I spent several hours there with Odur. I ended up actually being the one to teach the class, part of the time, and Odur stepped in when I couldn’t answer the question well or they didn’t understand my answers/questions because of my accent/word usage.

The students asked me questions like:
-What’s the difference between HIV/AIDS?
-Do mosquitoes transmit HIV?
-Where does HIV come from?
-How long does HIV live in a container?
-How long does the virus live outside of the body?
-Does HIV live in the body after a person is dead?
-How does HIV virus reproduce?
-Can two people who are both HIV positive have children?
-If you put your thing inside and remove it, if you start without a condom and then you decide to use one, can you get HIV?
-What’s a normal CD4 count?
-Can you reduce the virus (in your blood) if you give HIV to someone else

These questions came from a P6 class, which has students around 11 or 12 years old in it. It was rough trying to answer them properly and in a way that was easy for them to understand. I also had the opportunity to interact with a P5 class, and we broke out into small groups in the compound. They had answers to a homework assignment from Odur. He instructed them to do research in their community to ask people how many ways HIV is transmitted. I also ended up interviewing a very old woman on the side of the building. She only knew the sexual route of transmission from intercourse. It was really powerful to talk to her, and she was speaking to me through one of the teachers who translated for me. She didn’t make eye contact with me the whole time, even though I intently watched her as she talked. She looked at the translator instead. When we finished, I said “Webale” which means thank you. She really liked that.

There were a few sad things that happened at this observation. First, even though it’s a governmental school (and therefore supposed to have universal primary education by abolishing school fee requirements) dozens of the students were chased from the school this morning because they didn’t have any money to give. I also met a boy from Rwanda who could only speak French, and another boy from the Congo who told me he was an orphan. As I talked to each small group outside and later to the class as a whole, several students kept handing me letters and I didn’t know what they were for. When I left I had two dozen or so letters stuffed in my purse. Many students also gave me fruit and vegetables to take home. I opened one of the letters on the matatu and immediately shut it, deciding to wait to read them at home. See the pictures to understand why.

Saturday 9/7
We finished data entry this morning for remaining tests we had brought home from the foundation. We saved one class to do with Echiba next week so he can see how the whole process takes place. It felt good to know we just have to train him and hold one more focus group. We also need to make give them some preliminary results before we leave. Once we get back to the US we will finish the qualitative analysis and hopefully publish on that portion of our data.

Last week, Ginger helped me design a dress and pick out some fabric at the shop below 1000 Cups. Nicole and I went to pick it up today, and since it was hand sewn there were some alterations that it needed. The seamstress tried to fix it, but I was hot when I tried it on in the cramped and dark shop and didn’t realize that it didn’t fit properly until I brought it home. I think I might wait to have it tailored when I get back to the US, but I’m not sure. I want to wear it to my friend Leah’s rehearsal dinner for her wedding in October.

Tonight we went over to Rose’s house and ate dinner. We watched her dye her friends hair with henna and made plans to go shopping at the Eritrean grocery tomorrow. I really want to buy one of the ceramic vessels they make coffee, and some coffee beans, too. She told us about one spice we can buy to make some easy dishes, too. I am going to miss her. She’s so hospitable. She has a sister living in Atlanta. I told Rose that I would be happy to bring her sister and her neice and nephew some items if she thinks of anything small she wants me to take.

Sunday 10/7
Ginger worked on generating descriptive statistics this morning. She was actually working on it when I woke up. We are dedicated! I finished reading my 5th book of the summer, it’s about the Rwandan genocide and it is really very good. It’s called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. It’s a must read.

I am finding writing nearly impossible, so I was happy to leave to go to Rose’s house for lunch. We ate so much food and then drank coffee for hours. I love the coffee ceremony. We also watched the wedding reception we went to on our first full day here. It was funny to see ourselves in the video and how we stand out in the room. Afterwards they drove us to the store and we bought more things than we needed. Ginger and I bought a traditional wrap and cut it in two to make scarves. I’m so excited about it.

Monday 11/7
We got to the foundation early and worked on correcting errors in the data. We also prepared for our second focus group, which we held without too many kinks. The biggest issue we faced today is that the taxi drivers are protesting and striking, which is after the store owners went on strike on THrusday and Friday. As a result, things are slowed down and it’s harder to get around and the matatus that are available charge double. You can tell that Ugandans are getting desperate about the high costs of food and fuel. We had to spend some money to make sure Moses got all the way to the city from Kyngera. Nicole had it out with one matatu conductor today who tried to charge her almost three times the cost. She blocked the door, preventing other passengers from boarding until he gave her the correct balance. She has come a longway. I reminded her of how intimidating it was her first week and how brave she is now.

This time, Echiba lead one focus group and Moses lead the other. It went great. We really are learning so much from these sessions with students. I hope the foundation continues to hold focus groups in schools to assess the program. I think they might since Echiba saw firsthand how informative they are today.

On the ride home I reflected on my acquisition of words and being able to understand what people are saying even if I don’t exactly know the definitions. Ginger has picked up even more than I have. It’s like I can translate some things that I never before could even hear being individual words. I understand meaning even though no one has actually given me a definition. I think we’d pick up even more if we stayed here longer.

Tuesday 12/7
Not much today. Moses came and all four of us worked on transcription. We can’t heard very much at all on the recordings and it’s a very slow process. We also worked on the manual a little more today. It’s really quite good. I’m proud of it. Later today, after Moses left, the three of us created a workplan and a list of initial recommendations for the foundation. We are having a meeting to tell them our feedback and hopefully get some from them as well. I look forward to it, and even though many of the recommendations, strengths, and areas for improvement are similar to last year’s we have a few insights I think they’ll appreciate. The focus groups have really been informative. I love my job.

Wednesday 13/7
I couldn’t sleep at all last ngiht. I think I am nervous about today and finishing up our time here in Uganda. I don’t want to leave, even though I’m excited about the next chapter in my life that starts when I get back to the US.

We went over the information with Reverend, Echiba and Cathy. I think it was the most successful meeting we’ve ever had with the administration. We have all learned to communicate really well with one another and I think we were all sad to realize that our work together is mostly finished after we leave next week. We all promised to stay in touch and collaborate when we can, but we won’t be coming back to work with SAS next summer. It’s finally sinking in, I think. We also went to one last observation, not to collect data but to say goodbye to one of the original mentors. John has been around since the beginning of the IBES program and he is related to Richard. He was in Bulisa when we visited his family there last year and he has been a good friend to us, too. Next week, when we get back from our trip, we will spend two more afternoons at SAS. On Tuesday we will go through the quantitative analysis with Echiba and “pilot” the manual we created. On Wednesday we have asked them to provide us with some feedback about working with us. I told them we wanted the “good and the bad” and they said they would have it ready for us. Then, we leave on Thursday, the 21st.

Between now and then, however, we are traveling to the SW corner of the country. We will be taking a bus to Kabale tomorrow (Thursday). On Friday we are visiting the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. On Saturday we are hiking around Mgahinga National Forest. On Sunday we are going to relax on Lake Bunyonyi. We come back late Monday. I can’t wait for our trip. It’s going to be a magical experience!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

23/6 - 30/6

Thursday 23/6
I went alone to Mary’s house to discuss our tentative plans to travel to the Southwest corner of the country to visit her village located in Rukungiri. She said that her family lives within three kilometers of Kizisi Falls, and invited us to come stay there to meet everyone in our “African family.” I am really excited at the prospect of going to the area because it’s in really close proximity to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Lake Bunyonyi. There are also hot springs nearby, but my guidebook suggests those are “little more than mud holes.” As disappointing as that description is, I am thrilled that we might be able to hike with a guide where the worlds few remaining mountain gorillas live in their natural habitat. The whole of Kabale and all the local opportunities to explore and see the wildlife will be well worth the visit, and we will get to meet Mary’s family on top of it all. Otherwise, there was not much else today, minus an email from the UNCST saying that we will have temporary approval to begin our research by next week. We just might end up publishing afterall!

Friday 24/6
We have officially been in Uganda for 30 days today, if you count (as I do) our first night when we arrived late at the airport and had nowhere to say. The three of us have debated whether that counts as day one, and I think I’m right. That said, it seems rather fitting that exactly one month in we are traveling upcountry. I think it takes a couple of weeks to adjust to the pace here, and a few more if it’s your first time in Uganda.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, like a child excited about Christmas. Reverend picked us up for our journey at 7:45 a.m. and we sped past men and women setting up items to sell in the foggy morning. It was cold out. I contemplated listening to music on my i-pod but spent the first hour listening to everyone talk and taking a million photographs out of the window. One funny piece of commentary: Rev told us that “boda-boda” comes from motorbike drivers yelling “border? border?” to people trying to get across to Rwanda and the Congo. I’m not sure how I’ve missed this information, and I appreciate how Rev is eager to explain and question the origin of titles, names, labels, and phrases. He does it incessantly; it’s funny.

While I was sitting in the backseat, I opened the window to take better pictures without the glass of the windshield ruining the shot. I was struck by how happy I was to be seatbelt-less, gazing through the fog and fumes, as Reverend slammed on his brakes and lurched us around to move through the traffic jam. I really love “moving” as they call it here. The swerving, and overcorrecting in combination with liberal breaking by Reverend frequently sent Nicole and I flying around the backseat but this did not deter my appreciation of the countryside. I kept making eye contact with Ginger in the sideview mirror, as she sat in the front seat ahead of me, and we communicated nonverbally that THIS is what we love and the experience we’d been waiting for. It’s like you have to realize your own mortality and it makes it so much more meaningful.

We stopped in Kiboga for chai and I realized how different my perceptions are being here this time around. Last year I was entranced with how new everything was and I constantly tried to absorb every minutiae of daily life and events. In the car I had been gazing out at the cows and goats, people using digging sticks and hoisting baskets up to carry on their heads, and I tried to relive those moments last summer when I felt assured that this type of fieldwork is exactly what I want to do with my life. I’m still filled with awe that I’m here, it’s just a different feeling this year.

We met mentors at Meeting Point, the support group organization for PLWHA in Hoima that employs many of the mentors. We spent some time with them last summer and it was nice to see familiar faces this year, too. We went to two school observations before coming back and having a meeting with everyone. We were discouraged that they had not given the pre-test in Hoima. Despite this recent setback, one interesting development over the last year is that the foundation has implemented several of the recommendations we made in our report which were based on our interviews in Hoima last summer. SAS is now working at partnering with other organizations in the area and reaching out to parents and teachers, who told us firsthand last summer that they were eager to learn from the mentors. I love what the education program is evolving into, in its meandering way. Although change is slow, the results and impact of the program seem to be strengthening which makes me feel like we have done our jobs. Somehow.

Our car died, of course, because Reverend had left the lights on. I totally called it. I am just glad that the car trouble we had was IN Hoima instead of driving in the middle of a sugar cane field like last summer. We walked to lunch and then found someone to jump the car. We didn’t have running water in our hotel room, but we did have a jeri can with water to use for bathing. Nicole had a hard time understanding how we couldn’t have running water if we were paying for a hotel room, which reminded me of my annoyance last summer when I could not find a landline phone and the cell service was down in the area. The cellphone service was down in Hoima this time, too, but now I’m used to such things.

Saturday 25/6
Reverend had scheduled to meet with a local NGO this morning at 9 a.m. The organization is the National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA), and I think they are pretty solid and spot-on in their approach to reduce the HIV rate and prevent it from climbing. SAS is partnering with them to either recruit their members to become mentors or to have them include information about HIV education for children when they meet with parents and teachers in their outreach efforts within the community. They want to inform, translate, and transfer knowledge between the children, their parents, their teachers and the community at large.

After a successful meeting we drove off, stopping on our way out of town to buy snacks from the gas station. Although it is a typical “American” experience to buy snacks from the gas station before taking a five hour road trip, this experience was uniquely Ugandan flavored. For one thing, the items we purchased are not the run-of-the-mill “snacks” we are accustomed to eating. We bought mango flavored juice boxes, and a cut fruit salad that included jackfruit, sugar cane, canteloupe, lemon, and mango. Reverend purchased “little stones” which are like miniature “cakes” and he also purchased sesame seed balls held together with honey. I got the sesame seed balls too because they remind me of the middle eastern candies.

On the way out of town Reverend told us to wave goodbye to Hoima, and we did. We drove past Maiha Prison Farm where workers wear bright yellow jumpsuits while tending the fields, and eventually we stopped for lunch in Kigomba near Masindi. After lunch we drove over Karuma Falls on the Nile and that’s when we saw baboons for the second time today. Earlier we had seen a troop from a distance near some cows and Reverend pulled over to allow us to take a picture, but they were afraid of us and ran way when we got out of the car. The baboons near the Nile, however, were coming right up to cars passing on the tarmac. My first instinct was to roll my window up as fast as I could, but Reverend started throwing his “stones” out of the window to feed them. Up ahead of us a large truck was throwing the baboons whole pieces of bread.

They are olive baboons, and they look quizzically at you while waiting for food, sometimes standing up on their hind legs and walking towards the car. It’s weird to have a staring contest with one. They almost have the profile of a dog, and they really wanted our snacks. They were begging. My guidebook has a whole section dedicated to why feeding baboons is a terrible idea, and I read that sage advice after we got home from our trip. While it’s dangerous for humans for obvious reasons, it’s really more dangerous for the monkeys because they might get shot or killed by cars. In fact, you can see one risking his life for our treats in one of our video clips when he narrowly escapes a boda. Next time I see wild animals, we will not be feeding them.

I am trying not to write a novel, but I really enjoyed our road trip. I loved driving in the car, and seeing the fields of sunflowers, corn, sweet potatoes, tea, and tobacco along the way.

My mood began to change, however, the closer we got to Gulu. I have read articles and excerpts about the unrest and violent history of the northern region that still haunts people there, and I’ve seen films and documentaries that depict the horrible consequences of the LRA in places like Gulu. I kept thinking about an Invisible Children documentary that I watched before coming last summer. It is Sunday’s story. I wondered to myself, and later aloud to Ginger, whether or not I was creating the ominious feeling because of such media or if the vibes are simply there to be felt. Ginger felt them, too. We stayed in the hotel tonight and did not go out to explore the town.

Sunday 26/6
We walked to town today from our hotel. Nicole would later describe the way the place felt by saying that it felt like “people are missing.” I found her explanation intriguing because for one thing Gulu became more populated because of the murders in the villages and bush surrounding the town. People, especially children, fled to the town to escape violence. School children would walk for miles every night to avoid the soldiers who terrorized their families so that they could avoid being captured and forced to become child soldiers, or meet even worse fates. And the camps that were set up for the internally displaced as a result of the unrest have had lasting effects on families and people who remember living in them and remember fearing for their lives. Despite the relative peace that the north has maintained for the last few years, many people still live in the town and have not repopulated their old homes. Resettlement is not a simple task, either. I cannot imagine the torn feeling they must have of not wanting to go back or wanting to stay; I’m sure that’s an indescribable feeling.

We enjoyed our time walking around, despite the sense of sadness and loss that is prevalent in Gulu. We walked around the market, went for coffee and met Reverend later back at the hotel. It began to rain and he drove us to find something for lunch. We were looking out the windows in the pouring rain when a huge lightning bolt struck right beside our car. My heart stopped because I saw it and it was close enough that I felt it. Later, I would find out that 30 children had been struck by lightning and many people have died in the storms in Uganda since we’ve been here.

Monday 27/6
We all awoke to the sound of a hotel guest making a grotesque and yet unidentifiable noise, which I’m assuming was the sound of him waking up and stretching. It was before 7 am. It sounded like the combination of a large man with severe constipation, who had just stubbed his big toe and the final death moan of a dying donkey. It had all three of us rolling, as we laid sideways in our queen size bed. We were laughing before we had even said “morning” which is even funnier because the accent here makes “morning” sound like “moaning.” Ha.

At breakfast, Reverend instructed us to go ahead and check out of our hotel room in case we finished visiting the four of the schools we were observing early and wanted to head back south today instead of tomorrow. As we drove away from the hotel, an employee ran to the car telling Reverend that he had not paid for the chai he drank last night. His reaction struck me because he felt bad, and I think many Americans would have been annoyed or felt that it was the hotel’s fault, not their own. He kept saying, “Can you imagine! I almost drove off with their money! Oh my God!”

I noticed two shops advertising coffins on the side of the road as we drove to the schools. It created a feeling of foreboding because children used to be kidnapped from schools by the LRA. It’s just another reminder of where we are. Many children are now heads of household in this area, and the teachers and administrators at the first school we observed described their new roles as “the parents of the parentless.” I wanted to cry. I had to swallow really hard and blink a lot during our interview with them. They told us that many of the children have HIV in their school and the head teacher said they were wanting for nurses to help when children “collapse” in class. That made me wish I knew a nurse who wanted to work in this area, someone like a colleague of ours named Meredith who is both a nurse and an anthropologist. I told everyone as much in the car after we left, but Nicole had an even better suggestion. She said the foundation should recruit nursing students, to become mentors in Gulu. I wondered why I didn’t think of Ugandan nurses.

On the way home we also ate some fish in Kigumba. It was amazing. We ate our food so fast that it reminded Revered of a painful memory during the reign of Idi Amin. He was once captured by Idi Amin’s soldiers many years ago while he was in church. He spent three months in jail, being slowly starved because they fed them very little food only every other day. When they finally ate again they devoured six plates full of food each and afterwards they were in miserable pain from the food that both poisoned and sustained them. He told us that a doctor later told him that they were lucky to be alive.

Driving home we ate the best mangoes I’ve ever had, while we anxiously looked out the back window expecting the bumper to fall off at every pothole and speed bump. Over the course of our trip, Nicole and I took close to 800 pictures between the two of us and we deleted them as we took more simultaneously. We spent a long time after we came home choosing which ones to keep, and putting them into one large file to upload. Please enjoy them and understand for each one you look it we probably took 3 more and the same is true for the videos. Also, we have a TON of mangoes. I wish I could bring you one.

Tuesday 28/6

Today we played catch-up and tried to finish writing. We got an official letter from the UNCST allowing us to conduct focus groups. We are scheduling them for next week. We just might pull this off. We are also subsisting primarily on mangoes.

Wednesday 29/6
The data from our pre test is screwed up. I spent all day working on it and since we didn’t have power I eventually had to move to the Mulago Hospital. Nicole came with me and Ginger was at the foundation working. We went to bed tonight discouraged and we hope to sort it out tomorrow. I’ve become VERY familiar with the databases.

Thursday 30/6
Nicole swooped in to save the day by finding a new way to comb through the data since Ginger and I were out of ideas, and even though Nicole ultimately ended up finding the solution to our problems, I am glad I spent all day working on it yesterday because I found several glaring mistakes in the process. The three of us really make a good team. We joked about what we can do with our powers combined.

Today is Ginger’s birthday so we didn’t do much more work today and instead celebrated by shopping for souvenirs, and eating pizza for lunch. We went to Garden City and later to the National Theatre. I was buying presents for everyone back home, and for myself, when I thought I’d lost my bag in one of the small shops. I ran out frantically to look for it, but it was in the shop where I’d just ran out of. How embarrassing. We also went out with a few friends, including David who has the same birthday as Ginger. It was a good day. Tomorrow we meet with the mentors at the foundation to give them their results!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

12/6 to 22/6

The three of us spent the afternoon preparing for the big birthday event by prepping the food and wrapping presents. We had a successful birthday party for Joan even though we couldn’t make “tacos.” There are no taco shells or tortillas available for us to make the real thing, but we did find some pita chips to use as “nachos.” I enjoyed meeting Joan’s kids and her housegirl Daphene. Joan was the only one out of the four of them that enjoyed the nachos we made. I ate them even though they were made of beef. Ginger is a really good cook. See the pictures to appreciate the way the Joan and her family enjoyed the party. They loved the cake and the presents.

Ginger thought to buy two books by Roald Dahl for Joan’s children, Lighton and Louis. She also gave Joan one of her necklaces with a silver sand dollar pendant that has a small pearl on it. Nicole did a great job wrapping and creating a bow and a flower to tie on the presents. I wrapped up a matchbook to make it look nice, and put the earrings we bought at Mary’s church inside. Even though it was her birthday party, Joan brought us three mangoes and an avocado. We ended up cutting the avocado since we didn’t have enough to make guacamole. I think they all really liked their presents, especially Joan, who shed a couple of tears and told us it was the best birthday party she’d ever had.

I think they all liked the cake the most and were happy to bring the leftover cake home with them. Before they left, the kids played in the bathroom and turned the faucet on all the way, and it got stuck for a minute. When they left, they asked if they could come back the next weekend, and we said yes. Joan looked lovely wearing her new jewelry, and the necklace really suited her.

Monday 13/6
Ginger and I went on an observation today, and Nicole stayed behind. We saw Mary mentor at one of the large schools where they’ve recently began mentorship. It seems like a huge undertaking since there are thousands of primary students. We went to four streams (classrooms) of primary one students, and it took us two hours. If there are several streams for each grade level and 7 grade levels, you can imagine how trying it is to mentor all of them. I admire Mary for her perseverance.

We ate lunch at 1000 Cups after, and visited with Joan. She was wearing her new necklace, and she gave us some cake to take back with us. It was the chocolate cake they sell in the store. We also saw this guy named Frank, who we met last summer. He invited us to dinner with his girlfriend and said he would call us to finalize our plans later in the week. It’s fun to run into people you know.

Afterwards I suggested that we stop by at the SAS Clinic since we hadn’t been there yet. We saw Andrew and Paul who we remembered from last summer, both of whom work in accounting. Paul gave us a tour of all the new facilities and showed us the expansion of the clinic into the surrounding offices in the building where it’s located. SAS has really grown since we were here last summer. Now they have a birthing center, more equipment in their laboratory, a dental clinic, a surgery wing, and a cardiology specialist. They have one of only a few C.T. scanners in the entire country. Paul told us that they began to market to local businesses and centers to develop a better customer base for the clinic on Bombo Road and the one in Bugulobi. They want to expand their clientel before they open a new hospital, so that they will have outpatient services to clients they are familiar with already from the clinic. They seem so organized and collected, which is not the same vibe you get at the foundation. I wish the two were more similar in management strategy.

We decided to walk home. Later on, we met our friend Pharouk at a local hang out nearby. We also got an email from the UNCST today saying that we could resubmit our research proposal from last summer. Apparently it’s been misplaced. For now, we have temporary approval to begin our data collection, but I’m not really sure what that means exactly.

Tuesday 14/6
Today the three of us discussed the issue with data entry, and how we are going to get everything finished in time. We want to present our results at the mentor meeting on the first of July. We also plan to travel upcountry before the meeting so we need to be finished before we go. Our friend Moses has been helping us, but we are still going to be pressed to finish before we travel to Hoima and Gulu. We’ve had several errors with data entry, and with all four people working on the files it’s becoming challenging to make sure we’re all on the same page. So far we have graded and enter 745 tests and it barely looks like we’ve even started. If you recall our sample size of 620 from last summer, then you have a pretty good idea that we have a lot of work to do!

Wednesday 15/6
Today we went to the foundation and met with Reverend. We discussed our plans to travel with him and we decided to meet again next week on Tuesday to finalize our plans. We are picking up more pretests in Hoima, and I suspect there will also be tests in Gulu since we haven’t seen any schools from that district yet in our stack. More work!

We ate at a Mexican place for lunch, and with exception of their tortilla chips, the food rivaled some of the best Mexican food I’ve had in both Mexico and the US. Afterwards we walked downtown to buy air time and to find a place where Ginger could take more passport photos since we have to resubmit our application. We sat inside of a small store, which is really just a room, for nearly 45 minutes waiting for her photos to develop. There was no air in there and it was very hot. We read the tabloids while we waited and I had forgotten how disturbing they are.

On the way home I told Ginger to go on without us and Nicole and I went by the SAS Clinic. Nicole got to meet the several of the staff, including Dr. Grace, Paul, Andrew and Rachel who happened to be there. Nicole switched her antimalarials from Doxycycline to Mefloquine, which is what Ginger takes. I am staying with the doxycycline even though it gives me crazy dreams. Afterwards, I tried to board a matatu and even though I was waved to by the conductor, the other matatu drivers stopped us and would not let us on. I couldn’t tell if it was because of where they were trying to stop, where we were standing, or because the other conductors did not want them to stop at the stage. Sometimes it’s funny, and they will fight about letting a taxi pull over especially if they are not at the stage proper. But, I really don’t know what was wrong. In short, not a day goes by where I’m not embarrassed somehow or questioning if I did something wrong.

Thursday 16/6
The data is never ending. I worked all morning while Ginger and Nicole went to the UNCST without me, which was necessary. I spent a large part of the day today thinking it was Friday, and I even opened the garage in anticipation of Grace and Annette’s arrival. Moses came a little later than usual and began to work. I went to meet Mary at a school to document the way that she proctored the pretests, which I think will give us insight into how the other mentors administered the tests we are grading now. The power was out all day, too, so I was happy to get out of the house. I was also anxious to get to the school on time. As a result, I got there really early so I just walked around. I pacified my hunger by reminding myself that lunch would be ready when I got home (of course, I was wrong about that since today is actually Thursday).

Mary did an absolutely fantastic job giving the test to the primary seven students. There were 320 of them outside on the courtyard, and we stood on a raised platform while she yelled out the questions. I took video and photographs of the experience and I was just in awe of how it all went down. The gratification I felt was immeasurable. In that moment, I could see the product of all our hard work, and the analogy of the dandelion seeds Ginger had described last summer came to my mind. Somehow, the seeds managed to turn into flowers against the odds. I never have felt so elated about a successful research strategy; our planning, methods and practice have created a genuine product that works and is replicable, although it needs to be refined. Even though our quantitative instrument has some flaws, the experience has been awesome. I loved hearing Mary ask the 20 questions and see the students fill out their papers. There are 2 videos in “week four pictures” so check them out!

I collected the tests and walked to get a boda to Kamwokya since there were rainclouds forming. It has rained so much this year, even though it’s the dry season in Kampala. I had this terrible vision of losing all the data and the answers running together on the wet papers. I held the tests really close to me, inside my bag from the AAA’s in New Orleans trying to protect them from the rain. I thought of how upset I would be if I were robbed today of all days, and determined that I was not going to part with the tests.

When I came home I realized it was Thursday. It was after 2 pm. The power was still off, and everyone was still diligently working on the data entry. I began to grade the new set of tests from the observation today, and then we decided to go to Mulago hospital to charge the computers and work more there. I wanted to go by the craft shop, too, and to get some coffee since I was tired.

I realized today that whoever ends up handling the pre and posts tests at SAS after we’ve left is going to need to have a developed a guide to reduce the potential for human error. We are working out the kinks of some of our own mistakes, and Ginger has been documenting the careless errors we’re making. The potential for human error is problematic and the ability to produce inaccurate data without knowing it is something we really need to think about more. We’re all still learning.

Friday 17/6
We ate bagels for breakfast. It’s the first time I feel like I’ve had bread because they’re so dense. I don’t know if they’re really overtly dense, or if I’m so accustomed to airy bread here. Either way, we only needed half of one each. We graded and entered tests all day long.

I talked to Grace about our tests, and she was curious about our sampling strategy. She told me that the IBES program would not work in some schools because children who are very impoverished do not share information freely with each other or their parents because they have a different relationship and outlook than others. They are busy doing chores, and are not “free” to discuss such matters. She told me that students can’t talk about HIV because of their poverty which creates a lack of confidence to freely converse on difficult issues, and because it creates a serious lack of free time to socialize with peers. I was annoyed because it seemed like she was telling me that the program was futile. I prefer to think that what she described may be true for some students, but not for all. And anyway, the ones who don’t feel confident are the ones the mentorship is geared toward.

I stayed home tonight while Ginger and Nicole went to meet Frank and his girlfriend Ruby for dinner. I just really needed some alone time. I watched Seinfeld and took my first real “break.” It was great.

Saturday 18/6
We are on a data entry marathon, and the end is in sight. One funny thing about this process: the Excel programs on both Ginger and Nicole’s computers are having a difficult time processing the large file that is our main database. As a result, we had to start making individual files for each school. Someday we will laugh about the computer software we tried to use, and ponder how computer programs like Excel have become much more powerful since 2011. We’ve been discussing finding a free statistical software package like R or encouraging the foundation to purchase Access for future analysis. Any thoughts on this issue would be very helpful.

Sunday 19/6
We were supposed to be leaving for church at 9 am, and the rain prevented us from leaving on time. We decided to wait for the storm to pass since the city sleeps when it’s raining and it makes traveling more dangerous because the roads are so slick. We left for church around 11 and reached Kireka by noon. We went to Echiba’s church this week, which is just down the road from Mary’s house.

As we walked up to the third floor of a building that has several other offices and shops, we passed a painting of a stairway to heaven. The analogy was not lost on me. Fortunately, the service only lasted around an hour after we arrived, since we were so late. I did, however, enjoy listening to the visiting Nigerian pastor, who was telling jokes in his sermon. At one point, he said “There’s no rush! We’re not in Russia!” His accent was really very different from Ugandans and I especially liked the way he said, “Amen.” He told everyone to put all of their worries in little bags that they should press deep down inside them and to let God handle their stress.

Afterwards, Echiba took us to the Hospitality Lounge, where church members encouraged us to join the congregation and had us introduce ourselves. We also were given a tour of the facilities. Echiba did not have his family with him at church because of the weather, and he did not invite us back to his house for lunch to meet them, which surprised me a little. I wonder if he was upset that we were late. In any case, we called Mary and told her we wanted to stop by. When she heard my voice she said, “Ah! You come!!”

We ended up beating Mary to her house as she was still at church, and we also woke up baby Shem who was sleeping. I didn’t mind because I love playing with him. After we hung out for a few hours we ate lunch. Mary served us “baby portions” as she calls them, although it was still really a lot of food. We left around 5, and Julius took us on a quest around the neighborhood; he was determined to help us get three Rolex’s from a vendor even though it was early to be selling them. A rolex is akin to a breakfast burrito, only it has cabbage, onion and tomato inside the egg and it is wrapped in chapatti instead of a tortilla. They are so delicious and we were excited for Nicole to try one since she’d never had one before. See pictures!

Monday 20/6
Moses came over to work with us today, and we all knew we would finish entering the tests by the end of the day. 2,482 tests later, we finished! In other news, Moses has been trying to get into a German language school in Germany and he was accepted today. He used the money from selling the computer I left for him last year to buy a passport, so now all he needs is a student Visa and a plane ticket. It seems likely he will achieve his dream to study at a German University and be closer to Sonja. I am so happy for them both. He had to leave right after he found out to go to school, where he takes night courses to study German here in the city. After he left, we decided to skype with Sonja and she seems elated about the news. It’s great. Ginger and I were talking about how we have been rooting for their cross-continental love affair, and it seems like they will end up living happily ever after. It’s like a movie.

Tuesday 21/6
We made it to the foundation by 9:30 to meet Echiba and discuss our plans for focus groups at three target schools from last summer. Echiba is going to help us make plans with the school administrators since some of the schools have been zoned out of mentorship this year and are no longer receiving the IBES program. We took a break after meeting with Echiba and had some chai next door while we waited for our next meeting. It was supposed to start at 10 but it was postponed (it wasn’t clear if it was because Reverend had an engagement or if Beatrice did). The actual meeting ended up beginning at 12:30. We made plans to go to Hoima and Gulu this weekend with Reverend. We leave on Friday and we will be back on Tuesday afternoon. I’m excited to see how mentorship is going in Hoima, and to reunite with the mentors we met last summer at Meeting Point. I am also thrilled to be traveling north into parts of the country I have not yet seen. I now have to catch up on writing/blogging/emailing and skyping before we go without internet for five days!

Wednesday 22/6
Today Ginger and I went to the post office and to the Aristoc bookstore. I wanted to purchase a book about birds to take with us on our trip, but they are so expensive I decided not to buy one. I should have gotten one before we came. Hindsight. Nicole went on her first outing to meet with local NGOs today. She is running out of time, so I hope she can network and make some connections before we leave. Time is so different here.

The rain in incessant and so is our lack of electricity. Ginger and I worked on analyzing the data all afternoon and prepared the descriptive statistics to be presentable for next Friday after we return. Things are starting to happen rapidly now, and I remember feeling like we were scrambling last year when we had only six weeks left. The pressure is even greater now at four weeks. I know it will somehow all work out because it always does. I am sad to be leaving so soon. I really want to come back next summer, even if only for a short time, but I don’t think that will be possible.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

6/6 - 11/6

Monday 6/6
I am definitely sick. It feels like a sinus infection and I have the worst headache ever. The only difference between this and a normal sinus infection that I’ve had is that I’m exhausted and slept almost all day. Ginger and Nicole were really sweet and brought me some Sudafed from the store. I sound like a frog.

Tuesday 7/6
It rained heavily delaying Moses as well as Grace, Annette and I’m sure anyone else going anywhere in the city. I feel absolutely awful. Moses arrived late to help grade the pre-tests and while I tried to help, I found it impossible to focus on the task or stay upright so instead I went to lie down. Ginger decided that I was more ill than I realized (which is one of the many reasons why she’s a great friend), and started calling people to drive me to the SAS clinic. Silas picked us up within the hour and he was really worried because he thought I had malaria! He told me that I am still too “American” running to the doctor for every little thing. The truth is, I knew I was going to need antibiotics to cure the sinus infection I had, so I figured I may as well start taking them. Plus, just to be on the safe side, I don’t want to be sick around the children in schools or mentors who might have HIV even if I don’t think I’m contagious.

We ran into our friend Rachel at the clinic; she was there with her son who was quite ill. We also saw a man we recognized from the Eritrean wedding at the clinic. He wanted our phone number and to take us to dinner. I told him to give us his phone number instead, in my frog voice. He did, and we told him we’d have to check with our Eritrean friends first. He didn’t seem to understand, and I’m pretty sure it was lost in translation.

Yay for Z packs! Ginger was also instrumental in the process of understanding which medicines to take and when, since they gave me 4 prescriptions. The nurse explained the medicines to me 3 different times, changing the dosage and hours each time, so I was thoroughly confused, especially being sick. Ginger somehow deciphered what he said and she wrote on each packet so I wouldn’t get them wrong. I already feel loads better.

In other news, Grace’s maid quit today and she was forced to bring her almost two year old daughter, whose name is either Paula or Nancy (or both), to work. She was running around the house and super cute. She wore our tape as bracelets. She shrieked with delight and laughed at everything making it impossible to rest. I wanted to play with her but I was too tired. She’s adorable. I sort of hope she comes back on Friday when I’m feeling better. She kept saying, “Wan-gi!” which means “yes please!”

Oh man, I am feeling so much better. Everyone in Uganda says you have the “flu” whenever you are sick - even if you just have a cold. They attribute this illness to dust and fumes from the roads. I think that’s what caused my sinus infection. In fact, I’m almost positive.

Today, Moses came over to work on data entry. I graded tests all day, and Moses and I talked about how to improve the test. He seems to think that the test is decent, and didn’t have many suggestions to changed it. When we were in Amsterdam, his girlfriend Sonja told him he had to invite us over for lunch sometime this summer. He asked us to come on Saturday, and he also set up a chance for us to talk with some secondary students who have a debate club while we’re there. I thought that would be a good idea, and asked if we might be able to use questions from the test to see what they know about HIV. Then, I realized that would actually be a great place to pilot our focus group questions, and he agreed. So now, we are going to test run our focus group on some older children who don’t have the IBES program. We will use the results to tweak our questions before we go into our 3 case study schools for the real thing. Moses has been really instrumental in helping us throughout this process, and I think he is a great researcher. I gave him a copy of my book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down because he’s interested in Medical Anthropology. He is such an avid learner, and great with kids. I suspect he’ll end up teaching in Germany.

In other news, Ginger and Nicole left the house for a short time today. It was Nicole’s second time out alone, but her first time going somewhere she’d never been by herself. I think she had a successful meeting with a contact at Makerere University. Ginger went to Mulago Hospital and I was a little jealous because I love the craft store and the café they set up to earn money for families affected by HIV. I’m getting a little stir crazy, so I think I’ll have to get out of the house tomorrow.

Thursday 9/6
Today is another public holiday, Heroes Day, so all the schools were closed. To enjoy a day off, we decided to go to Garden City and we walked there and back. My sinus infection is still bothering me, especially when I smell exhaust which burns my nose and I can feel it in my lungs. But, it felt really great to get some exercise after 3 days in bed. It was pretty hot today, and we were all sweating, even Ginger who rarely does. As we walked, some guy yelled out to us, “Hey! Americans! African-Americans!!” it was hilarious.

At Garden City we went to look for presents for Joan’s children, who are coming over on Sunday for her birthday. We decided to make tacos when they come, as an “American” meal. Ha. We also went to the bookstore, and since I’ve already read two books I picked out a third, The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. So far it’s pretty funny. Ginger picked out two children’s books for Joan’s kids. I forgot how desegregated society is here when it comes to children, until Ginger said something. They are everywhere all the time.

I was really happy because we shared a falafel plate at the Lebanese place in the mall. We looked at the movie listings but nothing caught our fancy. Then, we sat down at a coffee shop and outlined the rest of our summer. How exactly two weeks have gone by already is beyond me. We made a schedule, planning when to travel to Hoima, Gulu, and the Ssese Islands. We also wrote better interview questions for mentors and focus group questions for children. We discussed some challenges and how to overcome them when possible. Ginger and I have talked at length about how the rigor and rigidity we learn in methods courses doesn’t translate into the experiences you actually have in the field. Things rarely play out how you plan them here, so we have to be accepting of the roundabout way things unfold in their own way a lot of the time. I feel like conducting fieldwork here gives me more insight into the scientific versus humanistic debate within the discipline of anthropology on a daily basis.

We are going to supply the organization with a guide about how to internally evaluate themselves in the future, without our help. This includes focus group training, interview and focus group methods, and survey writing, collection and analysis. Basically, how to do everything we’ve done so IBES can continue to be evaluated and improved. We also decided we wanted some feedback from the SAS staff about our ongoing collaboration and evaluation of their education program since it’s our last summer here. We hope to get some constructive criticism so that when we go into our doctoral work we can plan to do our jobs better. This is especially important for me because I hope to do research on evaluations and health programs for my dissertation. Both of these were Ginger’s ideas, and a great ones too.

After we got home, Ginger worked on data entry and I graded the last test in our sample. We still have some tests to collect in Hoima and subsequently grade. We definitely have our work cut out for us. Tomorrow we are going to the UNCST to assess the status of our IRB application one more time. I think we are going to try to get our money back. It’s a shame because we can’t publish without it, and while I don’t mind doing this work because the foundation finds it useful, it would be even more beneficial for the program to gain notoriety through a published journal article outlining it’s successes and education strategy. The bureaucracy here is really unbearable at times. If you can’t tell, I am not looking forward to going there at all because it is the bane of my existence.

Friday 10/6
The UNCST was a bust, as usual. I’m realizing that doing my dissertation in a place like Uganda is unappealing because it seems impossible to even to get a project approved. The offices had moved and once we found it, no one was there who could speak to us because they were on holiday. One funny thing about the new offices: they are swanky and in a new building. The entrance even has a wheelchair ramp and there is a guard with a metal detector that people have to walk through. The device, however, was unplugged. Ha.

Moses came over in the afternoon and we reworded our questions with him. I’d tell him what the question we wanted to ask was and he would phrase it in Ugandan English. We walked a little bit today, and watched Seinfeld before we went out with some of our old friends from last summer. Silas and Ken picked us up and we went to a birthday BBQ for Augustine’s sister. It was really fun and afterwards we went dancing for a little while. It seems like we are being invited to more and more social events. We keep having to turn down offers because we have conflicting events. If we hadn’t gone to the birthday party tonight, we were also invited to a party at Rose’s house in our compound.

We have not had running water for two days. Yesterday we had to rinse off using water we collected in jeri cans from the cisterns that collect rain water in our compound. We boiled some of it, and mixed it with un-boiled water until it was of the desired temperature. It’s hard to bathe out of a bucket but I think I am getting the hang of it now. You don’t realize how much water you use until you try to do it that way.

Today we went to Kyngera and I had a great time there last year, so I was looking forward to going back. I also wanted see what Moses would fix us for lunch, hoping it was going to be pilau (pilaf). I also was eager to meet the secondary school students and try out the focus group questions.

I was proud of myself for helping find the New Taxi park, and somehow getting us into the right taxi with Ginger’s help. The park was not as hectic as I remember and I wonder if the Old Taxi Park is just much crazier. We weren’t exactly sure where to get off once in Kyngera, we just knew that the ride takes around thirty minutes if there’s not a jam. Moses told us to look for a gas station and a bank, and we found it without too much stress. On the way we saw matatu drivers protesting the cost of driving people into the city. On the way back we saw the police barracks that were burned down during the riots.

Moses had a childhood friend from Mengo visiting. He speaks 9 languages and he is a dancer. His name is Innocent. They fixed us lunch and we chatted about the day. I love the quietness of Moses neighborhood. See pictures to appreciate. Right as lunch was ready a huge thunderstorm rolled through. We ate inside with the doors and windows shut, and I could barely hear everyone over the roar of the tin roof. At first, I like the sound and found it soothing. I even told Moses that people pay money for CDs that are just as relaxing. But as the rain grew really strong it actually started to hurt my ears.

We walked to the focus group in the rain, and Moses let us borrow jackets. It was freezing! I have never seen it rain for so long in Uganda. Or be so cold. The focus group was a total success and I enjoyed getting to know some of the students. One of them asked us if you can get HIV if you have sex with animals and another one asked us if it is true that albinos have the highest rate of infection. Other than a few cheeky questions like that, however, the conversation was great. Moses was fantastic as the leader, asking appropriate probes, waiting long enough for responses, encouraging others to speak up and making jokes to break the tension. You’d think he’d done a million focus groups, but it was his first time. The three of us invariably ended up talking at the end, instead of just being rapporteurs. It’s just another example of how things change on the ground.

A couple of funny things happened when we were leaving. First, a chicken got in Nicole’s purse, causing us all to laugh and make jokes about finding poop in your purse. Then, we took bodas from Moses’ house to the main road. The roads were totally mud because it had been raining for hours. I was terrified that the boda would slide out from under us, and we’d all end up looking like mud persons. Instead, the boda that Nicole and I rode on just misfired, and lurched forward, causing me to nearly fall off and then the bike just sputtered to a stop. The two of us sat there on the boda for a time as it rained on us, while the driver tried to kick-start it over and over and over again. I kept asking him if he didn’t want us to just get off, but he wouldn’t respond. By this time, our crowd of onlookers began to grow substantially and they were laughing and pointing us and making fun of our driver. I could tell he was frustrated and he just kicked harder and harder until it started. He sped forward, and we left them behind us in a trail of mud.

We weren’t as successful going home. When we got off at the New Taxi Park we started walking up the hill, both Ginger and I telling Nicole it was the only way to know you’re heading in the right direction. We were right - except for the fact that we were walking up the wrong hill, heading towards Mengo instead of Kampala. I think we were just tired and it was still raining and we were soaked. I was disoriented. One step forward and two steps back.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

5/31- 6/4

Today I woke up at 8 am, again! I think I am adjusting well, and I don’t even need an alarm clock. Other than going to the grocery store, and eating lunch, we stayed at the house virtually all day. We had three visitors, Cathy from the SAS foundation came by to talk to us briefly about our summer plans. Our friend Pharouk stopped by for some tea, and he drove Nicole to find an ATM that would work. Even though she tried a few times, turning her card and trying various strategies, Pharouk got it to work the first time. Kitufu! Later, Moses came over. It’s his 2 year anniversary with his girlfriend, Sonja, and we had arranged for them to have a skype date. It was a slow day, and I am anxious to begin work tomorrow.

We made it to Mary’s house by 10, proving that we are now experts at “keeping time.” Mary is one of the few Ugandans who really means 10 am when she says it, so she was happy when we arrived promptly. She calls us her white children. When she first saw us she tried to pick me up, then she really did pick Ginger up. Mary had lots of exciting news to share with us. We met her new boyfriend, Henry, who she plans to marry within the year. She invited us to the wedding and I think I am going to try to come, maybe just for a week next summer. It would be so much fun, and Mary is like a mother to me. She also has a new housemaid, Rosemarie, who is from her village in the west. Other exciting pieces of news for Mary: she bought a car within the last eight months, and her eldest daughter gave birth to her first grandson. His name is Shem and he is 3 months old. Things are going very well for Mary and her family right now. When she described buying her RAV-4 she told us she just said, “To hell with the matatus, and to hell with the bodas! It’s too risky!” haha.

While Nicole and I accompanied Mary to our first school observation of this season, Ginger made her way to the foundation. We are already dividing up which will make things so much easier to accomplish. Ginger met us later on, and it was nice to do an observation with all of us in attendance. The children are wonderful. I love them. I warned Nicole that they slap you and run away, and they will swarm you when they see a camera and so she wasn’t surprised when it happened. I’m glad I did because the school we went to has over 2 thousand students, and the classes are huge. We were outside when they went to lunch and it was organized chaos in the courtyard. Nicole brought a Polaroid so we can leave a picture with each class and they LOVE it! It’s such a fantastic idea, and much appreciated. We watched Seinfeld when we got home, which always makes us happy. Thanks, Mike, for letting me bring a few DVDs!!

Eggs and toast for breakfast! We made it to the foundation at 10, where we accompanied Echiba to another new school. SAS has begun to target schools with large populations in the city. We had a successful meeting with Echiba afterwards, and made plans for our summer research, including focus groups, traveling to the North, and conducting more observations and interviews. We also discussed the one thousand or more pretests we have to grade. Echiba told us there are more from Hoima, and we also think we should administer them in these new large schools so we have TONS to do. One exciting piece of news: Echiba told us that in lieu of a charity walk, they are going to do a music festival to communicate HIV this year. The festival will be themed and based upon traditional dance/music most likely. Echiba said that music and dance is a way to show the “emotional scenes and occurrences” that HIV/AIDS fosters within the community. I think it’s the best idea ever. We ate at the pizza place we loved last year, and went home. We’ve been losing power a lot lately

We graded tests for 3 hours and barely made a dent. For lunch today, we ate bush crickets and ants. I still don’t like htem much, but Ginger seems to enjoy them a lot, the bush crickets anyway. She dips them I ketchup. I just really dislike the antennas. I can’t separate from my mind that I’m eating a bug when they crunch. We had coffee at Roses, and basically ate 2 lunches. I forgot how much people make you eat here.

Nicole isn’t feeling well, so we went to the soccer match with Moses without her. I think it’s best she didn’t come because we walked a lot and it was pretty hot out. She would have felt worse for sure. After Moses’ team won, we decided to go watch Uganda play Guinea Bissau and stopped by the house for Gigner to get her Uganda Jersey. Nicole felt well enough to join us, so we all went to Steak Out and watched Uganda win 2-0. It was fun, and an early night.

We went to church with Mary, and it was very similar to last year. There were a few differences, however. This time, it lasted 4 hours. Also, there were traditional Buganda dancers and a collection for one of the 5 pastors weddings. We put 5K in an envelope around hour three. Then, at the end, one of the pastors passed earrings around. Whoever got a pair was asked to donate 5K for the wedding. Even though Mary go a pair, she handed them to me to buy them, so we ended up giving 10K UGX for the wedding. Interestingly, before the asked for money the second time, they passed out an itemized list of wedding expenses.

After church we hung out with the family, and played with baby Shem. He has lighter skin than his relatives and they kept joking that he looked like he was white and more related to us. I loved holding him, and he was so sweet and well behaved. He ate a lot, and they were giving him a bottle. Playing with Shem sort of makes me want a baby, which is something I never really felt before. I don’t know what’s happening to me!! When we ate lunch, the three of us shared 2 plates, which were not as full as everyone elses. We got seconds, which made Mary happy. Nicole ate her first sugar cane, and we had a great time. We were at Mary’s from 9:30 to 5. We got home at 6. It was a long day. I am also getting sick, which I really dislike. I didn’t bring any sinus medication, so I am going to look for some at the store today (Monday). More pictures coming soon!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

5/28-30; Days 3-5

In the middle of the night, Ginger hit her head on our headboard and it was so loud that I heard it through my earplugs. Soon after the power came back on and Nicole got up to turn off the lights. Ginger yelled out to turn off the light in the bathroom, I think she thought she was in the room she stayed in last year. I told her that was the kitchen and she said, “Oh, I’m disoriented.”

When we woke up we ate breakfast outside: toast and tea. It was a beautiful morning. We finally started to get moving and I noticed some activity in our compound: the Eritreans were decorating their cars with orange banners and they were holding elaborate flower bouquets. I called to Ginger and Nicole to come look because I thought it was a wedding party. Soon we saw the bride and her bridesmaids who wore orange dresses. We got brave enough to go outside and see if we knew anyone because we didn’t recognize anyone yet. After a while I went inside, which is when Ginger saw Rose, and she invited all three of us to the wedding reception for her niece. We were so excited to be invited to the reception. I love how serendipitous invitations to events are in Uganda, you just end up seeing someone and they invite you places you wouldn’t otherwise go.

Afterwards we went to the supermarket, which has really evolved since last summer. On the way home, Nicole slipped on the loose dirt road. She split her pants at the knee and scraped her hand. I felt bad, but it was sort of funny because she fell in extremely slow motion and I saw it happen. We only lost one egg, a quart of milk, and soy sauce, but Nicole was carrying much more than that. I’m glad she didn’t fall on the bag directly and cut herself on the broken glass.

I went all over the place to find internet before someone told me I can upload it on the SIM card in our phone. In moments like those, I remember that there is still so much I have yet to learn. Ginger and Nicole bought a wedding gift: a glass pitcher, glasses and some homemade peach preserves Ginger brought from her mom’s cupboard.

The wedding reception was awesome! The Eritreans were wearing western dresses or their traditional gowns which are white, with hoods, and made out of some almost see-through fabric that looks like it would be light and soft to the touch. I wanted to feel the fabric, but didn’t. They have elaborate colors and embroidery on the arms and down the center. I love the traditional hairdo for women. I want to do my hair like that sometime. Nicole mentioned how their flowy dresses are individualized with embroidery yet maintain their traditional custom of group identity. She pointed out that they allow the female body and image to be beautiful without being form fitting and revealing, like western dress. She's right and they are absolutely gorgeous women. See photos!

Despite the fact the bride and groom were Pentecostal converts, the rest of the guests danced after the cake was cut. We laughed because Rose warned us there would be no dancing. Because they are immigrants from Eritrea, at celebrations like weddings here in Uganda anyone of Eritrean descent is invited. It reminds me of Hafli’s in America that I’ve gone to. Actually, they also make the “yee-yee-yee-yee…” sound in unison, like I’ve heard at many Lebanese/Arabic functions, which made it seem more familiar. We ate too much, because the food is delicious. It's very similar to Ethiopian food. In retrospect we should have shared a plate. Kitufu!

I’ve been having extremely vivid nightmares, which I attribute to the anti-malarials. I hope they stop soon. Today we walked to town and we were stopped by the police after Nicole took a picture of a round-about. Nothing too serious came of it, and I really feel like they were just stopping us to exercise their power and probably wanted to talk to muzungus. The guard was smiling the whole time and his body language did not suggest that we were in trouble. I think it scared Nicole the most because it was her first venture to town and he was holding a large rifle. We are used to police officers with small guns, although to me it’s a gun either way. I think it’s also more intimidating because the guns are in their hands instead of strapped in a holster. It feels a little ominous to walk past armored trucks that hold tear gas, and see so many more officers with large rifles as they are much more prevalent this year.

We walked to 1000 Cups where we were reunited with Joan and shared some lunch. I already want to buy gifts. Please let me know what you might want me to bring back for you! We talked to some students from the University of Michigan. They have a mandatory 3 week cultural awareness class for undergrads, which I think is fantastic.

Moses and Richard came over for dinner. It’s Moses and Sonja’s 2 year anniversary on Tuesday, so they skyped and he opened the presents I brought from her when we met in Amsterdam. I don’t think they’d seen each other in real time since February so it was really special. After dinner, we gave Richard and Moses the baseball t-shirts Mom helped me find for them. They loved them so much and argued over who should get red or blue. I was so glad we found those for them.

Not much today. We walked to the post-office and Nicole is having problems with her debit card. Since it’s Memorial Day we can’t do much to address the issue until tomorrow. We ate at an Indian restaurant, where the three of us shared one plate. It was still enough to make us all full and I forgot how large the portions are here. Nicole took her first boda, which was during a high period of traffic. The drivers, in true form, went the wrong way on the round-abouts. I think Nicole is adjusting very well, and she seems to be much more confident than I was in the first week. I’m glad to see that she already is falling in love with being here. I am really happy to be here with both Nicole and Ginger.

Last night, Ginger drafted a letter of complaint with KLM/Delta and I only made a few changes before we sent it. The letter was actually pretty tame, despite how annoyed we were with our service. In other news, we joked about Nicole needing a full body cast because she has so many scrapes and unidentifiable bites, and we have been counting our mosquito bites (which are easy to identify). I have 10 so far. One funny story, in conclusion: There are over 1000 species of birds here, which is amazing for such a small country. As a result, we see and hear all kinds of birds in our compound. Nicole has been similarly fascinated about this fact since we arrived, and we both love the one that sounds like it’s laughing. So she often asks about what kind of birds are here. In the middle of the day, she said, “What kind of bird is that!?” to which I replied, “That’s actually a baby.”


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blog 2: Travel to Kampala and first full day

While we were in Amsterdam I ate one of the best meals of my life at the fancy restaurant called Supper Club on Tuesday night. The restaurant has beds to lay on, with overstuffed pillows. There are small tables on the long beds, and a three or five course meal depending on the night you go. I can’t get over how much fun we had splurging on that meal. It was worth it. We watched a short burlesque show during desert, and I ate steak (which I never do) and loved every bite of it. That was so much fun. Afterwards we danced with some middle-aged couples on the floor. We walked home to help ease the too-full-feeling we had from the delicious food. You will have to appreciate the night (and food) from the pictures we took. See the right-hand side for the link.

While Amsterdam was fun to explore, I didn’t particularly love the city and I was looking forward to traveling to Kampala. A few things I found interesting about our time there: people hold hands riding bikes and are very affectionate in public, particularly in the parks. Even people who are old do it. Amsterdam feels like a great place to fall in love. Equally interesting: people ride bikes wearing high heels, texting and sans helmets. On the way to the airport I asked the cab driver if people hold up umbrellas as they ride their bikes in the rain. He explained the physics behind why that would not work, although I’m not convinced because people seem to do everything else whilst riding bikes. It seems plausible they also can manage to hold up an umbrella against the wind.

Our friend Sonja visited us on the last day we were in the city and we had a marvelous time catching up. She had never been to Amsterdam before and she said the old buildings were somewhat different from Cologne, Germany where she currently lives. She took several pictures of the canals and streets as we enjoyed coffee and lunch. We chatted about our experiences over the past year and explored the two markets. She and I only skyped twice since I last saw her in Uganda so it was wonderful to catch up in person, and in a new city. She has future plans to start an NGO and wants to do so many wonderful things to help children living in poverty in Uganda. She is an inspiration. I am lucky to have met such a dear and lifelong friend in Kampala. I wish she were traveling with us this year, although it’s really neat that we can meet up to hang out in another country on our way to the field. Next time, Eritrea!! She was kind enough to bring us German chocolates and a children’s book, and she gave me a few items to bring to her boyfriend Moses and the kids from the slums they help find soccer scholarships in Uganda. Walking around all day, it felt like no time had passed between us at all. It seemed normal to once again be tourists together and it reminded me of when we traveled with her last summer exploring Uganda. I was excited to leave Amsterdam, even though overall it was a fun experience. I know now that I prefer places like Kampala to Amsterdam.

We had an unpleasant experience at the airport. KLM charged us 100 Euros each to check a second bag, which we had to do because they would only let us carry on one item even though we saw a ton of people carrying on two. We already paid a luggage fee leaving the US so we didn’t understand having to pay twice AND not being allowed to carry it since we would have been able to if we had a short connecting flight instead of an extended layover. That’s almost $180 each plus the original fee of $50 which we all paid before we left. It’s outrageous. In addition, our flight stopped in Kigali, Rwanda even though it was not on our tickets or in the original itinerary.

When we finally got to the airport we realized that our ride thought we were arriving the next morning. It takes an hour to the Entebbe airport, so we waited and chatted over sodas. I had the ginger flavored one called “Stoney” that I liked so much last year. By the time we left the airport it was almost midnight. We’d been travelling since 8 am. We got to Kampala around one, and had no way to get into the apartment so we had Reverend drop us off at Kabiira Country Club where we pushed two double beds together and slept from around 2 am to 9 am. That cost us about 180 big ones too. Then, we ate breakfast at the hotel, which was really delicious and free (thankfully). Afterwards Reverend gave us a ride to the compound, where we waited on the porch outside for Grace and Annette to arrive. It was gorgeous out and the dog that lives with Rose’s family in the compound, named Dee-dee, played with us for a while. I listened to the birds that sound like they are laughing and cursed myself for once again forgetting my binoculars. There are over 1000 species of birds here. I wonder how much it would cost to buy binoculars.

We took long naps, unpacked, and then Nicole and I ventured to the grocery store. I bought a journal to write in and really wanted her to have a short period of exposure before our long day tomorrow. I am excited to see the city with fresh eyes and look forward to walking off all the chocolate, bread, and cheese we ate in Europe. After dinner, the water went off so we couldn’t do dishes. I decided to write in my field notes/journal instead. After I finished writing my field notes, as I dotted the period to the last sentence, the lights went out. Both the power and water are still off. Nicole just told me she heard something scurrying around (probably a roach) and we switched our headlamps to the redlight feature. The battery on Ginger’s computer is waning so I have to make this blog short. Welcome to Uganda! Ironically, these experiences add to the multitude of reasons I absolutely love it here!