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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 12th-July 28th

Monday July 12th
Today we tried hard to find out any news about the bombings. Unfortunately, there was a problem with our internet so we had to rely on newspapers (most of which only showed graphic photographs of the deceased) and local news channels on the television. It was difficult to find any information, because people were still being treated at the hospital and officials were really still trying to figure out what happened and why.

We spoke to a few friends, and one friend had a family member, an uncle, who attended the Rugby Club the night before. He never came home and was not answering his phone and the car he drove was still at the Rugby Club. There was no way to know his location or whether he was alive. A few hours later, after searching several hospitals and clinics, he was confirmed dead. Essentially, it was still chaos as families tried desperate to locate loved ones who never came home. At the same time, life resumed as normal throughout the city. We only ventured out to retrieve newspapers from the store.

Tuesday July 13th
We still had no internet today, and people told us one of the bombs disrupted the “Orange” tower. We decided to walk to Mulago Hospital, to use their internet. Unfortunately, it is not an open network so we had to go to an internet cafĂ© instead. The internet was slow going there too, and it took us an hour to send a few emails to family and to check the BBC/CNN/Embassy websites.

Tonight, we talked to friends many of whom knew someone hospitalized or whose life was cut short on Sunday. I spoke to our friend, whose uncle died in the blast. He was heading to the vigil for his uncle. People bury their dead quickly here, within a day or two. At the vigils, extended families and friends congregate together and celebrate the life of the loved one they lost. They walk through the living room, which has been cleared of furniture to make room for the casket. The family usually has a bonfire, some spirits, porridge or chai, and they laugh as they tell stories and share premonitions they had about the person’s impending death. They stay up all night together. After the funerals, people are not supposed to cry about that person any longer. Someone said people who are truly sad will go to numerous funerals to cry freely about someone they are still mourning whom they are no longer permitted to cry for.

Tuesday July 13th
Friends are still finding out loved ones died in the hospital from injuries and infections resulting from the blasts. I hate terrorism. I made some banana bread to take to Mary, who has cooked for us so many times. She and her housemaid tried a piece while it was still warm and they both loved it. I went to two school observations with Mary, and then a funny thing happened. In America, everyone is familiar with the sound of an ice-cream truck driving through neighborhoods selling treats to children. We’ve heard the music here driving near our house several times, but never saw a truck. We always wondered where the music was coming from. Today, I heard the music as we walked toward a matatu stage, and I saw a man on a bicycle. He had a big wooden crate rigged to the front of his bicycle, with a bright orange cooler inside of it. He was blasting the music and making his way down the crowded street. I asked Mary if he was selling ice-cream, and she said yes. Mystery solved!

Thursday July 15th
There have been numerous hoaxes and false alarms in taxi parks about bombs. People are already making jokes about bombs and I can’t understand the humor in it. I’m afraid of going too deep into the large taxi parks or markets just in case. However, it seems like this was a one-time attack. Today, Ginger was out, and I stayed home to work with Moses. Sonja called to tell us about a bomb in the Nakasero Market. I got nervous because Ginger was near there, and she did not answer the phone when I first called. She came straight home for no reason, though, as the “bomb” was a hoax.

Friday July 16th
We decided if we have to evacuate the country we will go to Kigali Rwanda. We do not even feel threatened at this point, but people keep asking us, so that’s it. Other than that, I worked on our pilot tests, and Ginger went on another observation. The water cut off around 7 pm and did not come back on before bedtime.

Saturday July 17th
Happy Birthday Mike! We walked to Garden City today to buy supplies for our American Meal. We thought it would be fun to do something nice for our friends who lost loved ones because we feel so helpless. When we left the water still was not on.

We bought supplies to make burgers, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato fries with Rosemary, and baked apples. The amount of cheddar cheese we bought cost almost $25 because it was from Ireland. We laughed about how some things are so cheap here that are expensive in America, like fresh produce. Cheddar cheese, however, is exorbitantly expensive. We wondered if the water would be back on when we returned, and what we would do if it wasn’t.
When we came back home, the water was, of course, not on. Gerald helped us fill up jerry cans from the rainwater storage containers in our compound. They are so heavy when they are full of water. We washed dishes, and I showered with one of the jerry cans. Then, as I began to prepare the macaroni, the water came on. Dinner was a success and I think everyone had a great time. They loved the macaroni. They all thought it was bizarre that we eat raw green peppers. They were reticent to try even a bite of one, but with some prodding they finally did. People do not try to hide their displeasure with the taste of unfamiliar foodstuffs here. Haha.

Sunday July 18th
Today I walked to the supermarket for milk and airtime, but I stopped at the DVD stand outside before I went in. They sell movies for 3,000 USh. That’s like $1.25. I cannot resist this temptation, and a few weeks back I purchased two movies. One of them did not work. The saleswoman told me I could return the film, so I came back a while later with it. I was so excited that I was going to get my money’s worth for a movie. Everyone told me there was no way I could exchange it since she was not selling movies in a store. I walked home so happy with myself, and honesty in business transactions. I’d exchanged the exact same movie, too! When I got home, it didn’t work either. I guess the DVD they are copying from has an error. Shtoof.

Later, three friends came over to share their plans to develop an NGO in Katakwi. I’ve come to realize how common it is in Uganda to see social activists and people here uniting to fight for a social cause. Many people want to start social programs and organizations to help others. They want to create one that empowers women, people with disabilities, and generates a functioning economy in impoverished areas. People seem to care about each other immensely in this country. Even strangers.

Joan came over tonight and we played scrabble. It was so much fun. We gave her some leftovers from the American Meal and she seemed to like them. Minus the apple. When we walked her to the road to say goodbye, I recalled the first time I met her. It was also the first time I left the compound at night. My perceptions of my surrounding are radically different now. I remember being so scared with my mace in my hand and constantly looking over my shoulder. Now walking around just feels so normal.

Monday July 19th
Not much. I worked on the tests and read today. Everyone should read The Invisible Cure by Helen Epstein. It’s fantastic.

Tuesday July 20th
Nothing from the UNCST or President’s office. We are not going to be able to conduct focus groups and I want to scream. I cannot believe the bureaucracy here. Ginger and I are considering writing an article about practicing anthropology in Uganda and the loopholes and hoops you have to finagle. Ugh.

We went on an observation today, and it seems the rains are back. The sky fell out right when we arrived. Afterwards we met up with Sonja and Moses to plan our trip to Jinja. We are going horseback riding on the Nile!! We saw Joan and Rose’s family today as well. I love their coffee and their company.

Wednesday July 21st
I completed the pilot test, and compiled the results for the foundation and for each individual mentor. It actually worked, and the results are revealing about the nature of the program. Ginger and I found our way back to a school we had been to once, by ourselves. The entire time we walked a storm was brewing and the electricity in the air made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. By the time we reached, a serious downpour and thunderstorm ensued. It was difficult to conduct an observation while the rain leaked through the schoolhouse roof. The rain and thunder were loud, and the students had to shift around the room to avoid getting wet. Plus the students were unusually rowdy and we couldn’t even see the board. “Things go kerflooey.” Fortunately the mentor had a long session, so after a while the rain settled down and we could hear better. Tonight we invited a few friends over, including a British woman who lives in our compound. I made spaghetti with homemade sauce from scratch. It was only so-so, but the company was great.

Thursday July 22nd
There was no observation for us to go to today, so we went shopping with Sonja. We had lunch at the same Indian place we went to last time. In the craft market, I had two vendors tell me that I am good at bargaining. I got an acrylic painting on canvas that the artist wanted 120,000 USh for. I ended up paying 55,000 USh. I enjoy bargaining, and I have mastered the body language, teeth clicking, head shaking, and looking/walking away that it takes to reduce prices. If only I could bargain in America.

Friday-Sunday July 23-25
It is my birthday. I am somehow 26 years old.

Both the observation and mentor evaluation meeting were cancelled unbeknownst to us. Ginger went to the observation, and we went to the foundation together after lunch. They basically told us that the meeting was rescheduled for tomorrow (Saturday) and that they “didn’t think of you people.” It would have been nice to know, since we were going to Jinja in the afternoon, but nonetheless, I got the chance to interview the administrators about some of the questions I have about the foundation.

We left for Jinja around 5 on Friday for the weekend. See pictures to appreciate how fantastic our weekend was. We went horseback riding on the Nile, visited Bujagali Falls, had a picnic at the source of the Nile, and explored Ssezibwa Falls. I had the best birthday weekend ever.

Monday July 26th
We are so tired. We tried to write but mostly kept laughing and reliving our weekend. I am going to miss Uganda.

Tuesday July 27th
Ginger and I are talking seriously about coming back. We will leave our proposal to do its thing at the president’s office and try to come back next summer. At the very least, I will be more prepared and comfortable doing fieldwork now that I have experience here. It takes almost a month to adjust.

Wednesday July 28th
We are busy coming up with preliminary recommendations for the foundation before we leave next week. Then I worked on transferring files, and uploading pictures and music onto Ginger’s computer. I was going to buy a flash drive here, but a 4G flash drive is 120,000 USh. That’s like 60 dollars. I argued with the salesman, and told him in America it would cost $15. The Indian salesman at the Uchumi Supermarket told me, “In India, it would cost $10. But this is Uganda.” I should have said, “the jerk store called and they’re running out of YOU!”

I am looking for a flash drive, or a way to save my music files because I decided to leave my PC for Moses to use when he starts his NGO with Sonja. His birthday was Monday and it seems like a great present and something he really needs. They came over for dinner, and I made stuffed green peppers. He was so excited when I told him I was giving him my computer. We tried to go bowling afterward, but the lanes were closed by 9pm. I asked they guy if we could at least have a beverage before we left, but he said no. I said, “Do you just not want our money?” And he said, “No, we don’t.” But it wasn’t malicious, he was just being honest.

Instead we went to a Japanese restaurant in Centenary Park, and smoked a melon and apple flavored hookahs. It was so funny to watch Richard smoke it, because he has never smoked tobacco before. He was blowing the smoke out of his nose rapidly like a bull. We had a great time there, and it was actually more fun than we would have had bowling.

1 comment:

  1. Well Meagan, I don't know if I should encourage you to be an Applied Anthropologist or a traditional ethnographer, I love reading your writing. You have a real gift for detail, language, and humor.
    I'm glad you had a beautiful birthday weekend, and I hope that faux bomb threats don't greatly disrupt your enjoyment of your last weeks there.
    I am also glad you didn't tell the salesman about the "jerk store". I just feel like that might have ended badly :)
    Wouldn't it be amazing to include in your paper about how bureaucratic and difficult the system is there, some expression of how paradoxically the constitution of activists, community, and social movements is incredibly strong and vibrant. (Empower and Critique)
    It's so amazing that you are having such a fantastic experience. I almost feel guilty when I think about how I am ready for you to come back and tell me all about it, because I can feel your sadness and attachment to your work there.
    Enjoy the rest of your time and tell Ginger I said "Hey homey". I miss you both so much and wish you the best travels and finales.