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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 10th through June 14th

Thursday June 10th
Today I received confirmation of my Teaching Assistant position at the University of Memphis! I will be teaching Introduction to Cultural Anthropology in the fall! I am so excited and Ginger has been giving me advice, because she taught last year. It’s hard for me to concentrate on everything here, because I am making plans for next semester already. This morning I was working on my CV resume because I want to apply for doctoral programs in the fall. Things are happening so fast!

After Ginger and I got ready, we met Mary, a supervisor, an hour earlier than planned at the Nakawa Taxi Park. I think Ginger is feeling pretty ill because she gave the wrong change to the conductor and seems a bit out of it, which is unlike her. We went to a school that integrates children with learning disabilities with the rest of the students in classes. They have a teacher who uses sign language in class, and the student to teacher ratio is 3:1. It’s impressive. I feel like this is a much more lucrative way for all students to learn. Instead of sectioning off students who have difficulty into different classes, they tweaked the curriculum for the mutual benefit of each kind of student. This way, children learn to interact and work together at a young age. It makes sense to me, but American public education is so different. I remember stigmatized “challenge” classes and short-buses. It’s like institutionalizing people instead of giving them a fair chance to survive in the real world. I really think they have a great school. They also have a pool where they provide physical therapy, and exercise for students. A few of them went to the Special Olympics for swimming. They asked us to stay for lunch, posho and beans, but Mary invited us to her house.

We walked a long way before we got to her house, and we were quite sweaty. She offered for us to rinse off in the bathroom. I was confused and I didn’t know if I was supposed to completely disrobe and shower. She brought a huge towel and laid it on the bed. There is no door to the bathroom and I was scared I was doing the wrong thing and she would walk in and ask me why I was naked. So I whispered loudly for Ginger and she said to just take a shower. So I did. I felt much better afterward, even though we put the same clothes back on.

Mary was fixing fresh juice when I came out. Her housemaid prepared posho, pumpkin, sweet potato, beef stew, g-nut sauce, greens (mixed with beets?), and matoke. It was a feast. Her son, Julius, came home to meet us and have lunch, and we sat on the floor on beautifully colorful straw mats. Mary sat with her legs fully outstretched in front of her, scooping out massive portions for our plates. I sat “Indian-style” and Julius told me I sit like a Muslim. We said that in America, people call it “Indian-style” and he said, “Yeah, Indians sit like that too.” Haha. Ginger tried to explain what we meant, but I'm not certain he understood.

We could not possibly eat it all. After we were served, her housemaid, Jova, sat on the floor with her legs bent and to the side (properly) beside us. Occasionally Mary would tell her to bring something else, and Jova would get up to bring out items like sliced tomato, onion and chili peppers. Mary squished the peppers with a spoon. She only mashed up four of them, and they are quite small. I used my finger to get a little bit to put on my posho, which is like a hardened lump of grits. She told me the peppers are hot, which is why she only broke open a few of them. Even though she warned me, I wasn’t expecting it to be as hot as it was. They were crazy-hot, and I accidentally got some of it on my face even though I wiped my fingers off with a napkin. Since I had to use my fingers to pick up, it was unavoidable. My face stung for an hour.

Afterwards, we enjoyed the fresh juice and looked at hundreds of photographs of their family. Julius thoroughly explained the details of each photo as we went through so many albums. It took a couple of hours. Afterwards, we took pictures with them, and they were curious about pictures of our families. Ginger only had one of her Mom on her camera to share. They walked us to the road, after giving us a papaya and peppers to take home with us. Along the way, Julius stopped to buy us each a “rolex” from a roadside vendor. They are basically omelets on top of a flat bread like pita bread. They roll them up, hence the name. The vendor mixed cabbage, tomato, and onion to make the omelet. I could see dirt on the eggs as he cracked them open. He was very skilled with his knife, and even used it to flip the omelet. We ate them when we got home, and they are so delicious. We weren’t even hungry!

Friday June 11th
Not much today. Grace made chicken tandoori, a traditional Indian dish. She also made “avocado ice cream” which was avocado blended with lemon juice and whipping cream. It was strange, but good. We wrote almost all day, then we watched the opening ceremonies of the World Cup on the tv. The networks made it possible for anyone to watch who has a tv and antennae in Uganda. It’s a huge deal because it’s the first time that the World Cup has been held on this continent. Africans love football (soccer). And, so many lesser-known countries participate in the World Cup. It’s neat to feel the energy and excitement. Even Grace was excited. The opening ceremony was very cool. Grace asked me in a roundabout way to turn on the first game, Mexico vs South Africa. She watched as she finished our laundry. After the first game, we went out with Jude and Sylas to watch Uruguay play France. It was really fun. There were next to no females out, and they kept saying that wives KNOW their husbands are going to be out late watching the games. I thought it was interesting that they do not go out together.

Saturday June 12th
Today we set out to find a pump for the 18.9L jug of water we purchased. We are afraid if we try to pour it we will just end up spilling it everywhere. We went to four stores before we finally found a pump. The one Rose has acts as a lever, and we were having a difficult time describing it. I’m sure people thought we were crazy when we described it using our hands to press up and down. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to find the simplest things. For example, two of the four stores sold the machines that serve the water hot and cold (like you see in offices) but not a pump. The employees would tell us they are too expensive and they discontinued them because no one purchased them, yet they have these high priced water systems. We were going to give up and just buy a funnel and hope for the best when we finally found one at the fourth store.

Afterwards we drove to Entebbe with Jude and Derrick to watch America play England. They said they wanted to show us the lake, too. We went to this bar/club where people do karaoke, dance, and watch sports. I say “karaoke” tentatively because it is not the same karaoke as practiced in the US. Instead, people go up on stage to lip-sync and perform dance routines they choreograph at home. People take it very seriously. At first I thought that’s what was going on, but Jude explained that sometimes after karaoke, the hired performers who are employed at the club will come on and dance. These guys were such good dancers, and I was so impressed. The choreography was like a mix between hip-hop and jazz. What an interesting job the dancers have. I am not sure if America has dance clubs quite like that, but perhaps I’ve just never been to them. Of course, I was more interested in watching them dance, than the game. After they were finished, many people got up and danced. There were some women there who were dressed very scantily and watched themselves dance (provocatively) in the mirrors. Jude explained that they were prostitutes. You can tell because they give you inviting looks, even to women. One woman had HUGE hair, and she was quite tall already but she wore really high heels with very short shorts and a tank top. She was really pretty and looked like a girl out of a rap video. I couldn’t look away, and she was dancing right in front of us. I hope my face didn’t show what I was thinking. Sometimes my facial expressions give me away. Ginger and Jude told me that there was a strip club up stairs, but we did not go up there.

After the game, we went to Lake Victoria. It was pretty late (around 11 pm), and I was nervous about crocodiles and hippos. Derrick told me I was being paranoid, and we don’t have anything to worry about since they cut all the grass and the snakes are gone. I thought, “Great, I hadn’t even thought of snakes!” Our visit to the lake turned out to not be very scary after all. Ginger has a tiny light on her keys that is used to shine light when you unlock a door. There was not much of a moon and the night was very dark. We pointed her small light out toward the open water, and Derrick said if the crocodiles were out there we would see their eyes reflecting off the light. The light did not extend very far, since it is so small anyway, which made me doubt its reliability as a crocodile detector.

I took pictures with my camera using the flash, imagining that I could see their eyes that way in the resulting photographs. Nothing, just blackness. In the end, I took my shoes off and put my feet in the edge of the water. The water was warm and the sand had a bunch of crushed up shells in it. I looked for a shell but there weren’t any. The waves splashed on my ankles and I decided that was good enough for me and stepped away from the water. It was just so dark out there, if there was a crocodile, you would never see it coming. Derrick pointed to an island he used to swim to when he was in college. I thought it was close, but he said it’s farther than it looks. We looked up and saw so many stars in the sky it was beautiful. Ginger tried to find a constellation, but we couldn’t. Then, we went home.

Sunday June 13th
Today we rested. Sunday has truly become the day that we don’t really leave the house. It’s nice. We wrote all day and at one point we were both working really hard when something odd happened. I thought I was going to faint and I felt disoriented like my balance was off even though I was sitting down on the couch. In the exact same instant, I looked around to see if the walls were shaking. I took my headphones off and Ginger and I looked at each other and simultaneously asked if the other had felt the same way. We both felt it, which was a relief because I thought something was wrong with me. We never figured out what it was. I guess some sort of tremor, like an earthquake? It was an unsettling feeling, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.

We expected to have Roger and his friend over in the early afternoon (they said after lunch) to visit, but they never called. We met Roger last week in Kyengera, he is one of the coaches of the soccer team we watched with Richard. He was bringing the team captain of one of the soccer teams he coaches to visit us. We knew we had to speak to them, to give them directions to the house, so it wasn’t like they could “pop in.” We figured they might expect dinner so Ginger made guacamole and I helped chop vegetables to go over rice. We waited and waited, but they did not have their phone, and we couldn’t get in touch with them. Finally we decided we were hungry since it was around 7:30 and they still weren’t here. We decided just go ahead and eat, and we each helped cook. As soon as I took out the bowls to serve our dinner, they called.

It’s hard to explain how to get to our compound in the first place because cell phone service is quirky, and Roger has a thick accent so Ginger had a hard time trying to tell him where we live. We decided to meet them at a landmark nearby, a fancy country club, and just walk back with them. We somehow got there before them, and after we waited for a while in front of the Kabira Country Club they finally showed up and we walked back home together. We gave them some of the food when we got back. I added some cashews on top of the rice and veggies, because it’s so good that way. They thought it was so weird, and did not like it. Roger said the cashews taste like chocolate. He was squinting and making a face like it was unbearable to eat. I saw him swallow a bite with a cashew without even chewing! I don’t understand how he’s never eaten them before since they are sold in the grocery store. In the end, they wasted the whole bowl of rice and vegetables! I was annoyed, but Ginger ate their cashews off the top of their bowls. At least they weren’t wasted. We listened to some American music, and they wanted us to dance but we were too tired. They love R Kelly, Rhianna, LL Cool J, and other older bands. It’s funny, sometimes when we go out we will hear the oldest songs, and outdated artists but everyone loves them.

Monday June 14
Today we went to use an internet cafĂ© because we already used our 1G of internet. We printed out some important documents and then we went to the SAS Clinic to talk to the accounting personnel again. We found out we have to pay an additional $300 US for our application to conduct research. It never ends!! When we were there we saw Andrew, and made some plans to work out our trip to Hoima this weekend. We want to do an observation of a school there, then travel on to Masindi afterward. We are going to go to Murchison Falls. I’m so excited! After that, we felt like we got a lot done in a short time, so we had lunch at this place called the Crocodile. We keep finding restaurants and stores with tons of white people. It’s odd because I never see them walking around or even in the matatus. I don’t understand where they come from! It also annoys me. Like the other day when we went to look for the water pump, we saw these 3 English people. They had on hats, hiking boots, sunglasses, bookbags, and water canteens. They looked like they were going on safari, and they were in the middle of the most urban area there is here. It’s a MALL. Tonight our friend David is stopping by, and we are going to watch a movie Ginger broug


  1. Congrats on the final confirmation of TAing!! I'm glad you'll get to do the cultural class since you helped Dr. Williams with his class and you can talk things over with Ginger too. I know you'll do wonderfully. You always did so well when presenting in class and you're enthusiasm will be contagious! I'm happy the class I TA will be an ANTH 101 course so I get a change from teaching the biological, as much as I enjoyed it. That's crazy about the mini-earthquake thing. I heard that micro-tremors may be so small our sense of movement isn't triggered but it still makes us nauseous or disoriented. So weird! I have only been present for one earthquake, but I didn't notice it because I was jogging :) I love all the photos you have been posting and I think all the food looks go good. That's hilarious about the pepper though. I always eat the hottest ones by accident and end up crying. Good luck with all the red tape and observations. I know it must be frustrating but just imagine how much effort you don't have to put into projects at UM because you can use your research over and over like I did! Recycle and reuse, yup. Take care and have fun! Nic

  2. Meegs! I miss you so much! I wish I could of been there when you were having your inner struggle about getting naked in someone elses house! It makes me really miss you because I can totally see your face struggling with the decision haha! I also would have liked to see your face while the pepper was presently stinging it, you're crazy. I am so happy and proud for you and everything you are doing there. Also, I second Nicole's congrats on the TA, you are going to be amazing.

    A second congratulations on keeping it together despite your fear of crocodile/hippo attack at Lake Victoria. This is yet another instance where I feel your facial expressions would have been golden.

    Keep up the good work to both of you and continue to be careful. I would like for you to make it back so that I can see the body language and other associated antics that come with these stories! Love you!


  3. Congratulations on your Assistant teaching position Meagan!!!! That is so wonderful! Love and miss you!