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, June 9, 2010

June 6th to June 9th

Sunday 6th
Today we respected the Sabbath. Other than updating our blogs, uploading more pictures and doing some reading, we basically rested. Ginger is sick and I am just tired. It’s amazing how much time goes by so quickly. I made pasta today, and Ginger fixed a really great vegetarian sauce to go with it. We bought some local mozzarella which is not a mild cheese, and is fact funky. It’s growing on me, but it is much stronger than the mozzarella in the states.

This evening Joan came over. She went camping on an island at Lake Victoria with some friends over the weekend. I really think that sounds like fun, and totally want to do it. I doubt we will have time unfortunately. Joan ate her first Oreo tonight, provided by Ginger, and we looked at photographs on Ginger’s computer from last summer. Joan is in many of the pictures, and she was surprised to see they’d taken so many of her. Then, Jude came over too and we all played Gin Rummy. We had so much fun, and they learned pretty quickly. Then, they showed us a traditional game here, which is really just like UNO. We had so much fun playing cards. It reminded me of college, learning and playing cards with Karen to all hours of the night. :)

Monday 7th
Today Ginger napped some before we went to the foundation. We planned to go to the clinic before our meeting with Reverend, but decided against it. When we left, we saw a friend, Asha, driving toward her home on her lunch break. She invited us to a cookout at her house this weekend. Yay!

After our meeting with Reverend, we went to the clinic. We tried three different doors before someone told us it was the second door, and you have to push, not pull, to enter. Once inside, we took care of some financial business, and we met Dr. Muhumza’s father. He was very nice, and offered to take us home since his driver was just outside. I thought he offered to take us to lunch, but I must have misunderstood because soon we were pulling into our compound. He came inside, and asked us about our trip and our project. He wanted to make sure we were comfortable in the compound, and asked us many questions. He told us about his 10 children, several of whom live in the US. Then, he asked us if he could say a prayer.

I am not the most religious person, but sometimes people ask me to join in prayer. I was raised Catholic, and many of the prayers people say are familiar to me. When I was growing up, you knew a prayer was over once everyone said “Amen.” Dr. Muhumza’s father is a very nice older gentleman who wanted to say a special prayer for us, so we bowed our heads. He said one of the kindest and sweetest prayers I’ve ever heard about making sure we are safe in our home, in the environment and society of Uganda, etc. and then we all said “Amen.” However, as soon as we’d finished, he kept going. I thought, “Wait – he said Amen. The prayer is over, right?” But apparently it was not over. I was trying not to smile because I felt like a little girl in church when I’m not supposed to laugh. Plus, the second prayer was even kinder than the first. Finally, he got to the end, and we once again we all three said “Amen.” In that second, I felt sure the prayer was finished, but I was wrong yet again. He went on to give a third, and final, prayer for us. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. I guess I felt that it was such a serious moment and he was genuinely being kind, but that put the pressure on for me to do anything but laugh. I tried so hard to suppress my laughter, but I continued to feel the giggle wiggling its way up my throat. I could hardly contain myself, but I made it through without laughing out loud. He was so nice, and I would have felt really bad if I had started laughing. After that, he said goodbye, and we finished writing for the day.

Tuesday 8th
Today we went to our first school observation. It was a private school and we traveled with one of the supervisors. In Kampala, people call traveling “moving.” So we moved to this school, which has no electricity or running water. The bathroom is a pit latrine, and is covered with spider webs. After signing in with the headmaster, we went into a classroom. The class we observed is a Primary 6 class, which is basically sixth grade. The students were seated at desks that look like small picnic tables cut in half. The desks seat two or three students and they face the blackboard, but they were sort of pushed together forming U’s.

The school is a boarding school, as many of the schools here are, where children live throughout the school term. I am still learning about the school system but I think the school terms begin in February with a break after Easter, and a break in August. Then the school year ends in December, so there are a total of 3 terms. During breaks, children living in the boarding schools go home to their families. It seems like the students in government schools go home daily, since we see them walking home all the time. Both public and private school students wear uniforms.

The students stood up and greeted us in unison as we entered the classroom. We introduced ourselves, and the teacher asked them to welcome us. I introduced myself first and in response they said , “Welcome Maggie.” I guess I will start calling myself Maggie, since Ginger calls herself “Jinja” like the town here. After our introduction, two students gave up their desks for us and they carried it over for us to sit. I at first thought we would be a distraction, but the students faced the front and answered questions like we weren’t even there. I loved hearing them answer questions, and I was impressed with their answers. They stand up to answer questions, which is really a great way to learn public speaking at such young ages. I know college students who would be intimidated by that! The school observation was very interesting and I learned so much about how different school is here in Uganda.

Tonight I had cassava for the first time. Grace also cooked sweet potatoes and beans. The sweet potatoes here have green veins and they are white instead of orange and they have a much chalkier texture. They are still really good, just different. After lunch/dinner Ginger went to bed early since she is still feeling poorly. A short while later I heard her yelling for me. There was a cockroach on her mosquito net. Earlier in the day we talked about how the poison must be working, but apparently we were wrong. It was flying around in her room. Have I mentioned how gargantuan these roaches are? To reiterate: she’s pleading for me to come in and spray it through her shut door, and I am on the otherside of the door trying to develop enough courage for the task. I took three deep breaths and went in spraying and screaming. He ran around to the other side of the bed and I chased him, and he started to limp around. I thought the worst was over, but we never found him. Ginger thinks he must be in her suitcase. Great!


Today is another public holiday, Heroes Day, and Ginger is feeling a lot better. I feel bad for her, but I didn’t realize how bad she actually was feeling until she told me she was beginning to think she had malaria. Thankfully, she is feeling better, and I guess I should be glad to know that if she says she feels really bad, it means it’s really bad. She isn’t whiny at all, like I am when I am sick. Since everything is closed today, we can’t go to schools or the foundation. So, we rested some, then traveled to the coffee shop. Joan was working, and she showed us some pictures of her family. One of them was a funeral for her children's grandparents. No one wore black in the photographs. We asked her many questions about funerals and preparations that take place after people die. Somehow we got on the topic of suicides.

She told us how people who hang themselves are buried differently. She described suicidal hangings as "bad omens" and people who do that are not to be touched by anyone. Therefore, they dig a large hole underneath the body as it hangs, wherever it is, and cut the rope. The body falls haphazardly into the hole, but no one is allowed to fix the position of the body. Whichever way the body lands after the fall is how they are buried. She asked us about American burials. I told her about our caskets, cremations, mausoleums, and bodies donated to science. Ginger brought up people being buried in above ground tombs in New Orleans. I think it's interesting to talk about, although it is a rather morbid conversation to have.

After we decided to leave, we walked past the market. I bought some handmade earrings and a bag stitched together with different colorful fabrics that I will use to carry papers in when we go for observations at schools. Ginger got a really cool imitation Juicy Couture (sp?) purse that is red. Afterwards, we went home and caught up on all of our writing. We are going to bed early because we have two more school observations this week and the World Cup starts on Friday. It is in South Africa this year so everyone here is really excited!

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