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.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 2nd - June 5th

Today we traveled back to the UNCST to speak to a secretary about our research proposal. We are hoping it may not take the entire six WEEKS to complete. We fixed a few of the forms that were unclear, and left. Apparently they have a stack of applications so it’s the sheer volume of applications that takes so long. Afterwards we had time for lunch before our meeting at the foundation so we were walking towards the pizza place. We walked past an Indian Restaurant on Kampala Road. There is a large Indian population in Kampala and earlier in the week we talked about eating at one of their restaurants. Since we intended to eat pizza, we were torn. We couldn’t make a decision, so I suggest we flip for it on a 100 shilling coin (they are the largest like quarters). It was between the bull (Italian) and ram/crane/crest (Indian). The bull won. That’s how we make some decisions!

After our pizza, we walked to the foundation. Ginger quizzed me on one of the road names along the way and I got it wrong. I guess I haven’t absorbed it quite yet. But in my defense, there are very few street signs! Our meeting was successful and we have quite a lot of work cut out for us. It’s doable, though. Funny thing about our meeting: there were only 3 chairs, and 4 of us were meeting. I decided I would sit on the floor, which I honestly didn’t mind because:

1. I sit on the floor all the time, and
2. It was cool on the floor and I was quite hot from our walk.

However, soon after I sat on the floor it upset people. They kept asking me why I was sitting on the floor, because “floors are dirty.” One of the supervisors wanted to know why, and then a lab technician walked by and asked me why. The other supervisor, who was a bit late to the meeting, looked shocked to see me on the floor when she entered. Another passerby stared at me like I was crazy. After I said I was fine, that I preferred to sit on the floor, and Ginger explained that we do it all the time at home, we finally began our meeting. Two minutes later the phone rang. I heard the supervisor say into the phone, “I don’t know, but I think she prefers it. I will ask her.” When she hung up she asked me if I wanted to stay sitting on the floor! I guess it would have been easier to find a chair somewhere. Once again I explained that I was fine. After the floor-seating issue was settled, we had a very productive meeting!

We took a boda home because the fumes get so bad during rush hour that it is hard to walk and breathe them in. I think it is what made me so nauseous the other day. There is so much beautiful vegetation growing all around us despite the polluted air and soil.
When we entered our compound, we were greeted by Rose. Her family is from Eritrea and she lives in the first unit in our compound with her daughter, Delina, and their dog Dee-Dee. She invited us in, and we ended up having a traditional Eritrean dinner with them. Her brother and two sisters are visitng. I love serendipity! They were just sitting down to eat the meal they’d finished preparing when we came inside the compound. The meal is centered around a giant round piece of njarra which is a spongy bread. The bread was placed on a large round platter on the center of their coffee table. The family members sat around the L-shaped couch. In two separate bowls they’d prepared chicken in a spicy sauce and a variety of mixed vegetables. The chicken was attached to the bone, and there was a lot of spicy brown sauce in the bowl with it. After we washed our hands in their bathroom, we all sat around their coffee table on the couch. Rose said, “We eat,” and one of her sisters began to use a ladle to dish out the chicken and its sauce onto the large, round, njarra.

Her sister used the ladle to spread around the meat and sauce all over the center of the bread, then she spooned out individual portions of vegetables in front of each of us, on our section of the bread. As she scooped our vegetables, Rose broke the meat away from the bone and tossed it near our “areas” on the bread. We used our hands to break the spongy bread apart, and ate with our fingers. There were no napkins so our hands were pretty messy . I immediately accidentally dropped some food, but no one got upset or went to clean it up. It was so delicious, and much like the food I had at the Ethiopian restaurant in Memphis, but so much better. Apparently Ethiopia and Eritrea are similar in culture and food, according to Rose. Afterward we had dessert of pineapple and jackfruit. I’d never had jackfruit before. It looks like little, yellow, stubby toes, with a big seed in the middle that resembles a large smooth almond. It was really good, and has an interested texture. After that, Rose made coffee from scratch.

She roasted the raw coffee beans in a small skillet over high heat until they smoked and turned black. She wafted the smoke toward us, and said that is the custom for us to smell it during preparation. Then, she ground the beans up in a grinder. Delina described how it’s traditionally ground with a mortar and pestle. Next, she took a grey, ceramic vessel and she poured in the ground coffee and added hot water. The vessel has a rounded bottom, a handle, and is decorated with relief etchings on its sides. We both want one. They use a piece of thick fabric that is woven in a circle to hold the vessel upright in place, and strips of colored confetti-like fabric are stuck into the spout, which act as a filter. We use small cups, much like sake cups, and identical to the kind we drink Turkish coffee from at both Mom and Fudwa’s house. The coffee is really good, but different. It is much more bitter, and no one reads the dregs at the bottom to tell my fortune after I finish my coffee like they would at home. As we sat with them, we dipped saltines in the coffee, and talked about straightening our hair. They were all really impressed that we don’t color our hair, and let it air dry without chemicals. They spend lots of time in the salon, dealing with their hair. It pays off though, because they all have very long and beautiful hair. We had so much fun with them. I loved it.

Today is a public holiday: Martyrs Day. The day is dedicated to pay respect to 3 Christian men who were burned at the stake for their religious beliefs. School is out, and many places are closed, so we decided to go to the grocery store to see if it was open and get a few items. We really needed water, and of course we walked out of the store without it. Ginger realized we forgot it when we walked out, I decided to go back in and buy it. I told Ginger to go ahead home without me, which she did, and then I walked back by myself. I wasn’t scared at all. In fact, it felt great to be out walking around and being independent. It’s probably a good thing, since next week we will be traveling to schools alone to conduct observations. Start small. When I returned, we spent the rest of the quiet day at home writing in our journals. We also made a calendar of observations days and created our invitations for a parent’s day.

Today we were going to go to the clinic but there was a storm. Instead, we hung around the house while Annette and Grace worked. It rained AGAIN while our clothes were outside drying. I typed out a response to several questions posed by a man from the University of Memphis magazine. They are going to publish a 1-2 page article about our project! Ginger and I are so excited that our project and the foundation will be recognized!!!!!!!

We walked down to a little BBQ place for dinner. The waiters bring around a kettle with warm water inside of a large plastic bowl with a bar of soap. We washed our hands, and then the food came out. BBQ is not like BBQ in the US. It is pieces of salted pork, on skewers. I was not a fan, but we only got one stick with “accompaniments” to share. Ginger knows me pretty well now, especially my weirdness about meat. She ordered only one because we’ve had many discussions about “gristle and fat.” She doesn’t quite understand what I mean by gristle, which I explain as the surprise bite that has a chewy, knotted, ligament-esque quality. To her gristle means something off the grill. Either way, she knows what I mean by now, and she was right that I wouldn’t like the BBQ. I did, however, try it. Afterward, we went to a “fast food” place where I could get something to eat. They sell food that requires a fork and knife like Indian plates, as well as burgers and pizza. Most “fast food” in Kampala requires a fork. I got a small veggie pizza and we watched customers drink coffee with their burgers. It’s an odd combination I’m not sure I’ve seen before.

Today we napped during a storm, and I called Mom using Skype when we woke up. It was nice to talk to her, since we usually talk almost daily and it had been nearly 2 whole weeks. I uploaded a bunch of photos; there are now 2 weeks worth. The links are on the right. Then, we decided to go see a movie. While we know where the Cineplex in Kampala is located, there is no phone number to be found online or movie show times. So we decided we’d walk around the “mall” at Garden City if we got there early. On the matatu into town, the driver didn’t stop at Park Square where we needed to get off. I yelled, “massau” which means stop. It was the first time I had told them to stop in Luganda, in fact, the first time I’d said to stop at all on a matatu. Everyone looked at me (because of my accent/pronunciation I’m sure) but they stopped. I felt good.

We were going to see the new Sex and the City film, which is advertised everywhere in Kampala. We invited Jude, a friend who mentioned wanting to see it earlier in the week. The mall at Garden City has a bunch of shops, and it is indoor/outdoor. Basically, it is open air, as the center opens up to the sky, and the food court and children’s playground are open to the outside where there would be giant windows in America. There are no stairs, only a winding ramp up that goes up 4 or more floors. I thought it was for people with handicaps but there are also elevators. I can’t figure out why there are no stairs. The fountains inside the mall have no pennies in them, or any change at all. Ginger said people would probably take them out. Before the movie started, we went into a few shops. Then we bought hummus and vegetables at a Lebanese restaurant in the food court overlooking the golf course. It was really good, and we bought some Pita bread to-go, which we will use for guacamole. It was interesting to see a Lebanese restaurant in a mall, which would be unlikely in the US.

When we entered the movie theatre, a guard scanned us for weapons with his wand. He also felt the outside of our purses. It was sort of weird because we were already INSIDE the mall. The popcorn Jude bought came in a very small bag compared to American theatres, but I don’t know what, if any, the other size options are available. When we got inside, the theatre was FREEZING. I am already not used to A.C. apparently, and it reminded me of how I am usually cold in American theatres too. There was only one preview, unlike the 12-15 minutes of preview we experience at movies in America. Other than that, the movie-going experience was the same. The film was pretty good, but I didn’t know before we saw it that it was set in Abu Dhabi. It was kind of interesting that we are in another culture learning and experiencing the differences between Uganda and America, and in the film the characters are in another culture experiencing culture shock in the United Arab Emirates. How bizarre. When we came home, Ginger was preparing to bathe when the power went out. Instead, she boiled water on the gas stove, and took her bath old fashioned style.

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