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, May 26, 2010

Travel, Days 1 & 2

Today is the second day I am in Kampala, Uganda. I am really excited. Ginger and I traveled for a long while to get here and ended up getting to our compound at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday night, which is really 4 pm EST. That means that since my flight took off at 12:48 pm EST on Saturday, I traveled well over 24 hours before reaching the destination. It’s amazing to think how long that feels, compared to when people didn’t have such convenient modes of transportation.
An acquaintance from the foundation, the Reverend, picked us up in Entebbe. When we first were loading our luggage into his van, Ginger and I both stood on the right passenger side, waiting for a door to open that was not there. I noticed the Rev open the other side and started to walk around, but I guess Ginger didn’t see him and she just stayed there. That’s how tired she was. After we both got in, his wife got in the left front seat and I thought, “Oh his wife is driving us home.” Then, when he got in the right side and started the engine, I realized my mistake. That’s how tired I was. It was neat to drive on the opposite side of the road like they do in Europe. I never had before. And then we took the long, bumpy ride all the way to Kampala in his van.
It was so bumpy. He kept slamming on the brakes and my seatbelt kept getting tighter and tighter. I was afraid to unbuckle and re-buckle so I just let it happen. The people drive somewhat recklessly, and I thought we came close to getting in a wreck a couple of times, but we were fine. I realized that walking around yesterday too. People just are not as cautious as in America, or perhaps we are too cautious?
Then, we pulled into a gas station. Two small boys with baskets on their heads walked up to the van selling something. Maybe gum and fruit? An attendant filled our gas for us, and the Rev didn’t have to get out of the van at all. After that, I sort of dozed the rest of the way but I remember seeing so many people outside walking around. Late on a Sunday night, there was a man getting his hair cut and the shops are open. I thought that was neat. People were selling fabrics and food, and getting their hair cut. We passed a few restaurants and bars that were still hopping with people. I recalled how that had struck Ginger her first time here, because she was so tired. I couldn’t agree more. Why aren’t they all sleeping!? Haha.
When we arrived, we met Janette, and she is really nice. She gave me a hug when we were introduced. She had cooked us a wonderful supper of tilapia, potatoes, onion, carrots, and tomatoes, which we ate half of. Then we each showered and went to bed. Earlier I saw a lizard crawl inside the door, but I didn’t even care I was exhausted.
We slept for like 13 hours. I think we actually woke up at 2:30 here and we went to bed before midnight. We got up and decided to walk into town to exchange money and get cell phone minutes. That afternoon (the 24th) it was drizzling, and the rain felt great and kept us cool. When we first stepped out the front door of our apartment I could see the city in the distance. It looks amazing. There is a mango tree in our backyard with wooden ladders that are climbed to grab the fruit before it falls to the ground. The compound walls are lined with plants and shrubs and the walls are crawling with ivy. In some parts the ivy is completely covering the trees and it makes them look like optical illusions from a magic eye.
When we turned the corner to head toward the gate, the guard was there. He is super nice. His name is Gerald and he has the cutest, fluffy, white puppy named BeeDee. I am so happy there is a dog that I can pet here. There is also a Jackfruit tree in front of our apartment. I want to eat the fruit, but I don’t know if it’s allowed. I don’t think I even know what it tastes like. We exited the compound and started to walk toward Kiira Road on the way to the city. All along the way people would say, “Americans! Hey, Hello, How are you?” It was funny. Then these kids yelled out, “Muzungo!” And pointed at us. That means, “white person.” It made me smile. They were adorable.
I was so impressed with Ginger. She knew her way around like she had been living here for the past year instead of in the states. She is making this transition so much easier for me. Her lack of fear when crossing in traffic will hopefully slowly rub off on me. The city is huge, and we walked for a few miles, I’m not sure how many. I would guess 3-4. There are cars and taxi-vans and bodas (like mopeds) zipping all around. You sorta “have to commit” as Ginger put it, when you cross the road. It’s intimidating. We stopped by 1000 Cups of Coffee to see if Ginger’s friend Joan was working. She wasn’t , but I was so excited in the shop. Mom would love it. It is so quaint and there were a lot of Americans in there. They also have an adjoining craft shop where they sell lots of stuff like jewelry and souvenirs. I am definitely going back there and glad Ginger knows someone there so we have an excuse. 
After we exchanged our money, we went to a different coffee shop next door to the money exchange place. I was starving. All I had eaten all day was half of a baby banana. (which by the way is the best banana I have ever tasted and I can’t believe I have never actually experienced the true taste of a banana my whole life. It’s creamy and sweet and has a hint of tanginess to it. I cannot get over the bananas)
Ginger ordered a latte and I decided to try something new so I got the “banconcoction” off the specialty coffee list. Gingers came first and looked amazing. Mine came next and did not look like coffee at all. It was yellow. I tried a spoon of it, and my eyes shot open and my nose crinkled up. It was like WHAM: ginger, lemon, onion all at once. I tried to be a good sport and drink it but, on an empty stomach it was making me feel ill. It was insanely sour.
The fruit tray was huge. Papaya, mango, apple, watermelon, pineapple, passion fruit, tangerine, a big banana, lemon (they are green here). When Ginger ordered it I thought it wouldn’t be enough, but we couldn’t even finish it all. It was so yummy! I love fruit. After we were done the server asked if we didn’t like my drink. We told her it was toooo sour. She laughed and said it was for people who are sick. It is supposed to help drain sinuses and ease a sore throat. We got a kick out of that. I was just trying to branch out, and it was the first thing I ordered here. Haha. The server was so nice though, she brought me a latte to go, which was much better.
Then we took the taxi to the store. We bought groceries and carried them home, and we made it there just before the mosquitoes came out. It was dusk, and a few of them made it inside with us, while the others were banging against the glass trying to follow us in. I hate them so much. We went around killing them and then the lights went out just before we were going to cook dinner. Luckily, we have a gas stove and we were just re-heating the leftover tilapia and potatoes that Janette made us. We used our headlamps to maneuver around the apartment and ate our dinner by candlelight. We laughed about day and our journey thus far. I think this is going to be a wonderful trip.
After dinner, I went to the bathroom and saw the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen. Then, I saw one even bigger. Both were hanging out in my bathroom, and then I saw what I thought was a third, but turned out to be the lizard. I called out to Ginger, and we both came to the bathroom with a shoe in one hand and bug repellent in the other. We must have ran in and out of the bathroom screaming 10 times before we actually got enough courage built up. Then Ginger went in the bathroom with spray blasting, and I was slamming the shoe all around. We got the first one in the bathtub, but the second one escaped. I was surprised to see Ginger so afraid of a roach. I mean, I was afraid too, but she kills bears. That’s how big and slimy these monsters are. The second one we found later scurrying under her bedroom door. We got him too, but now we know they can fit under the doors which is actually scarier. YUCK!
Friends we have made in the animal world thus far: fruit flies, roaches, mosquitoes, lizards, black spiders, and bats.
The bats zoom around outside eating mosquitoes. Ginger and I hypothesized keeping bats in your yard as a way to combat the mosquitoes and malaria. I mean can’t they just drop off a whole bunch of bats and let them seek and destroy? It is really neat to see them, though. They are big. I’m hoping my lizard friend eats the roaches and mosquitoes inside too.
(Tuesday) we didn’t do much, just typed our notes out and went over preliminary scheduling.
Ginger and I cooked a fabulous dinner Tuesday night with cashews, onions (which are tiny purple onions), tomatoes, garlic and basmati rice. We added masala seasoning. It was great, but we didn’t measure the rice and ended up making a ton. It makes for great leftovers though! Then, we sat around reading until a friend, Joan, stopped by. She was so animated and funny. I really like her. She is going to cook for us sometime so I can try traditional food and she got a kick out of my “concoction” drink experience. Her sister also makes dresses, so I hope to purchase one from her. It will be neat to pick out my own design and colors, and have it tailor made. Joan also said she would take us on a coffee tour.
Today we are going to a meeting with the foundation and take our paperwork to the University (and hopefully fulfill our IRB so we can start interviews). We have been to 2 internet cafes today and I am having a hard time getting my flashdrive and internet to work. Ginger seems to have no problems. I can’t wait until we get internet at the house. This morning Annette came to wash our clothes. I took a picture of them hanging up outside. We have a magnificent view of the city from our compound and I went outside and took pictures this morning. Today is going to be exciting since I get to meet people from the foundation. Hooray! More later, big day today. 

I love it here.


  1. I'm so happy for you and this blog made me laugh so much! I loved the recount of animal friends/encounters. I love that across the world you are still pushing yourself to try new things like the "concoction". Have fun and take lots of pics.

  2. Hahaha this is great! I would have screamed too if I saw huge roaches... I scream at the ones I see now that aren't so big lol! I am so glad you are having a good time! I love you!

  3. Meagan!! I have this fantastic feeling for you and Ginger after reading this. I am so excited for you, I know you are going to do some really amazing work and truly experience your surroundings. I hope the trip continues to be blissful and that "Ginger the Bear Hunter" leads you with conviction until your training wheels come off! I love you and miss you! Blog more!


  4. Meagan, This is a great story. I love the way you write. You crack me up. I was laughing so much. I can envision all of it. It is like I am there watching it all just by reading this. Please tell us more. It is facinating. I wish we could see some pictures. I am glad the Bear Hunter was there to help you kill the roach. Please tell Ginger hi for me. I am glad you are together and she knows her way around. Thank her for me for teaching you the ropes. You will catch on fast. Enjoy, love life, learn and teach. I miss you and I am so happy for you and Ginger.

  5. I loved reading about your trip. Sounds like you are off to a great start. Like your Mom I could picture the places you described. you have a real gift for writing. Take care and can't wait to read more. love from the Leighers

  6. awesome, meagan, just awesome. keep the blog posts coming!

    -david brinn