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.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 3 May 25th
I forgot to mention how I had to learn how to use the gas oven. I have a gas oven in Memphis, but this is the kind you have to light yourself. You have to strike the wax match (which is tiny and inevitably breaks) in just enough time to turn the gas knob on and let some escape before you light it. It took like 4 tries before I finally got it. We had a good laugh about that. We also turn on our hot water, turn on outlets, and turn on the gas as they are needed. So we save energy that way. It’s neat.
Today I met Annette and Grace. They are here helping us cook and clean. Grace promised to make us matoke with peanut sauce for when we came back. We went to two different internet cafĂ©’s before we found one (a third one that an employee from the second one walked us to) that could print out the necessary documents we needed to take to the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST). Of course, the internet there worked on one computer, and we had to change our files to Word 2003, to upload the previous blog on a different computer. In all we switched between 4 computers and 3 stores. Once I got my flashdrive to work, and could read my emails, it was worth the wait. I received the nicest emails from Mom and Mike, and it was really wonderful to hear from everyone who commented on the blog. From here on out, since I am having such difficulty with the internet, I think I will mostly upload on the blog. Internet is a luxury I take for granted in the U.S. But how I love hearing your responses to the blogs!
Ginger impressed me again today, after we bought more cell phone minutes. This guy was haggling me to buy purses and she said, “Stop it, she doesn’t want any!” and pushed the bag away. He was so persistent before, but that stopped him! She is brave. I’m so glad I am here with her, because sometimes I don’t know what I am doing at all. We walked some today too, and we couldn’t find the UNCST, so we took a boda which is basically a dirt bike/motorcycle. I was so terrified at first because they weave in and out of traffic like it’s no big deal. Plus passengers do not have helmets, and hang on to the back of the seat instead of the driver. But then, with the wind in my hair when we started going really fast, I was calm. It was refreshing and exhilarating. I guess that is why Dad likes riding without a helmet so much. You really feel like you’re riding. That’s not to say I didn’t repeat, “Please don’t fall off” in my head a few times before it was over. I actually enjoyed it, though.
Once we got to UNCST, we of course didn’t have the appropriate documents and number of photographs. Ginger and I both were frustrated but we laughed it off, because it’s just bureaucratic loopholes. Then, we took a matatu which is a taxi bus. We got off near the foundation to walk the rest of the way. Since we were passing the pizza place that she frequented last year, we went in to eat lunch.
For some reason, the store fronts are deceiving here. There is a small door, often a concrete wall around it, so you can’t tell what the area looks like on the other side. It was like that at 1000 Cups of Coffee too. When we descended the stairs at the pizza place, we walked into a huge open space with tons of trees and flowers. There’s no way you could have known that’s what it was on the other side. The leaves hang over in a canopy, and there is a large number of tables outside where you can sit and enjoy pizza/Italian food. The owners are Italian and there are tons of pictures of Italy all over the walls. I ordered a real coke, which is sweetened with sugar cane here. It was so yummy, and nice to drink in the hot afternoon under the cool canopy. We decided to get the Hawaiian pizza (because pineapple is so wonderful here) and it was really delicious. So now, I’ve had Hawaiian pizza in Uganda. Ha!
Next we went to the foundation, and I met two supervisors and one administrator. They were very interested in the project, and excited about the new SAS year. The students just started the program this week, with the material from the Life Skills unit. We are going to be working closely with them, in order to conduct interviews and focus groups this summer. They have already begun to implement many of the recommendations Ginger suggested from her time here last year. They are very supportive of our project and excited about the research. Their enthusiasm made me excited as well. This is finally real!
Then, we came home on another boda. The driver and I had a long conversation about Uganda on the ride back. He was telling me how much Ugandans need jobs. I think he thought because I am American I could help in some way. I told him I was just a student. It made me feel bad. I thought about how people get upset about the lack of jobs in America. It’s obvious how different it is elsewhere. There is so much we take for granted. Like trashcans and stoplights. There are virtually neither in the city of Kampala. There is so much traffic and trash. However, the direction we came home from was really nice and gave a view of a different level of the city. We were higher up and it was worlds apart from the bottom, which is much dirtier and less prestigious. I want to help but I don’t even know what to say. Then, we arrived at our street and walked the rest of the way home. When we got home, Grace and Annette were finishing dinner. We saw the biggest praying mantis I’ve ever seen on our porch while we sat outside waiting. He was enormous and grey/brown instead of green. We just finished eating matoke (which is mashed green bananas and looks like mashed potatoes) with peanut sauce that Grace made for us. They call peanuts ground nuts, and hence: g-nut sauce. She also cooked some kind of greens mixed with cabbage. For desert: pineapple. She also made homemade tangerine juice. I can’t tell you how good it all was. After dinner, Andrew came over and we talked for a while. Now, it’s all Ginger and I can to do stay awake past 9 p.m. and not sleep till noon. In all, today was a good day. It’s amazing how the pace is different here. It took us all day to accomplish a few tasks. I kinda like that. Even though people are walking everywhere, they aren’t rushing around and shoving you like in New York. Tomorrow, we will try to get a head start on the paperwork we need by Monday. Cheers!

Day 4, May 27
We are both having a terrible time sleeping properly. I keep waking up at 3 am, and staying up for hours. I also have had some seriously odd dreams, which aren’t scary, but I wake up pouring sweat and wide awake. Last night we were up at the same time, and Ginger heard me sneezing. She said she thought about coming in to hang out. I guess it’s because we are going to bed when we would be waking up and waking up when we would normally be going to bed. How bizarre. Tonight we are staying up late to try to combat the insomnia that begins halfway through the night. (fingers crossed)
This morning we slept in until noon, again. That’s the problem. We luckily didn’t have too much to do today. We went to get Ginger’s passport size photos made, and found a place that did it for 5,000 shillings. A fair price, and she got 6 of them. It was funny though because they took us upstairs and there was a wooden box the subject sits on, and the umbrella-shaped flash devices on either side. The old fashioned flash gadgets. They make a loud noise (like a gunshot) when the photos are snapped. Also, the photographer fixed her hair, placing it behind her ears, and adjusted the angle of her chin. It was like Glamour Shots. And the flash is so loud. We were both laughing, but trying not to. Haha.
There are merchants everywhere on Kampala Road. People were walking up to us with items for sale like belts, fresh cut sugar cane, fruits, etc. People even try to sell you a manicure. People are sitting around on tapestries with lots of different jewelry and knickknacks that they are selling. The women are sitting/laying under umbrellas waiting for customers.
We also saw one of the SAS Clinics that provides medical services, etc. We went to a neat bookstore and I bought a book called Ugandan Society Observed. It’s written by Kevin O’Conner, a journalist who writes for the Sunday Monitor. I’m excited about it. The bookstore was really fun and we spent a lot of time there. After we left, a small boy ran up to me smiling and holding out his hand. We grabbed hands, and then he ran off. He was so cute. I think he just wanted to touch a muzungo.
Then we walked to Park Square to wait for a friend, Richard. It’s a green space in the city, where people rest and sit under trees. There was a nice breeze, and people were socializing. There was a man standing there preaching with a bible in Luganda. We found a nice spot, and I noticed three young women sitting several yards in front of us. They were laughing, and one of them held a camera. I told Ginger they were trying to discreetly take our picture, and she didn’t think they were. But then, they were much more obvious, and we were certain they were taking our photo. We smiled for it, then I took theirs. I took the opportunity to take more of the park.
That’s the thing, people seem shocked to see us all the time because we are the minority. On the matatu (taxi-bus) it’s hard to see who is inside. Often after the door opens, people look so surprised to see who they are going to be sitting next to. We just kinda laugh and say hello. The other thing is that there are no stop lights, so often traffic gets backed up pretty bad. The matatu have 15 seats, and they usually accommodate more people than that. People sit close together. There is a driver and a conducter who will yell out the window where it is going. I’m getting better at understanding where the matatu are headed. It’s hard sometimes because they talk so fast. Since there are no traffic lights, the traffic builds up quickly. The drivers will turn off their engines once the traffic gets thick. I guess to save gas. I thought of Mike approving of that because he tells us not to let our engines idle for more than 18 seconds. I also wonder if they go through many starters because they turn them on and off. I (and likely Mom and Mike as well) appreciate the good it’s doing for the environment, however. Less exhaust, pollution and fumes is always good.
After we met up with Richard, we went to a restaurant. We talked pretty late (around 7-8 pm) and he is very interesting. He asked many questions about America, and we asked him many about Uganda. He is from the countryside and many of his family members still live there. We hope to visit when we go to Murchison Falls since it’s close by. I’m so excited to travel to rural parts of Uganda. This Sunday we are going to visit an orphanage with him. One of his friends’ girlfriends is from Germany and started the orphanage. She is having a party for the children. We were invited. Yay!
As it got later, I was getting nervous about mosquitoes. I had repellent in my purse but I didn’t want to use it in the restaurant in front of everyone. So, I went to the bathroom and put it on. But, I never saw the first mosquito, and I guess they can’t breed well in the city (which is what Ginger explained). It makes sense. In any case, we made it home safely and mosquito-bite free. We watched the pilot and first episode of Seinfeld before we started writing. It was nice to laugh, and reminded me of America and my friends and family. I so often find Seinfeld-isms in daily life, but it hasn’t happened here yet. Tomorrow we are going shopping. We are going to bring our backpacks so we don’t have to carry everything in a collapsing cardboard box. That was precarious. I am going to cook eggs tomorrow for breakfast because Ginger said they are so good, and we bought a lot of them. After that we will head back to the foundation, hopefully to use their computers. We might make banana bread tomorrow night. Cheers!


  1. It sounds like you two are making the rounds with ease. i am proud of you for riding the dirt bike sans a panic attack. i hope you are taking a lot of pictures of these concrete to garden spaces I am excited to see them. Also, I wish I was there, where the crowds don't shove. Love you and miss you, and proud of you both!


  2. I love reading what you are doing in Uganda Meagan! It all sounds so interesting and fun! I also like that you are able to watch Seinfeld and think about us. We think about you all the time and miss you!!!! Love you so much!

  3. PS - I can't wait to see pictures!! It is obvious from your descriptions how much we have and don't even notice (like you said trash cans and traffic lights). I saw a little bit of that in Jamaica, but your blog is really eye-opening. I also hope you took a pic of the praying mantis! I know my dad will want to see that haha! Can't wait to read your next entry!!!