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.

Friday, July 2, 2010

June 22-July 1: Ginger's Birthday Week!!

Tuesday June 22nd
Nothing much today. We worked and wrote all day about our weekend, went to the store, and worked on finances. Surprisingly, we are spending well within our budget.

Wednesday June 23rd
We split up today because writing is taking us so very long. Ginger went to an evaluation and I stayed home working. Later, I traveled into town alone, and met Ginger at a Chinese restaurant. I decided to be brave and order meat. I like the atmosphere of the restaurant, but the food was gross. I felt bad because Ginger was so excited, but I did not like mine. It was like fake, processed, rubbery chicken. And the meals don’t come with rice. I thought all Chinese food comes with rice? How bizarre, right? From now on I will stick to ordering vegetarian.

When we got home we divided up tasks. I worked on the test we are piloting for the foundation. I really like constructing surveys. Who knew? We are going to have measurable data soon, and we will be able to provide the foundation with an evaluation tool. Hopefully the test will go smoothly!!

Thursday June 24th
I finally finished writing, and was preparing to leave for a school evaluation when the supervisor called and cancelled. Instead, I went to Mulago Hospital to use the printer/copier at the School of Public Health. At some internet cafes, if you want to print, the employees access your flash drive for you. The same is true at the Mulago printing services. It’s frustrating to try to explain what you want to print (what folder/title) sometimes. When I came home, I prepared envelopes for the mentors to give out the pilot test, and organized parental, adult, and child consent forms for our parents meeting in the morning.

Our friends Jude and Peter came over, and we watched Hot Tub Time Machine. I realized there are lots of homosexual scenes that are “funny” in American comedies. It really is not that funny. Afterwards we played cards, Gin Rummy, and Jude and I conspired to throw a surprise party for Ginger on Wednesday with a cake, instead of celebrating on Friday. She has no idea!!!
P.S. I am so thankful that my step-dad, Mike, handed me a deck of cards as I walked out the door to the airport. They are such a hit here! Yay for serendipity!

Friday June 25th
This morning we got on the wrong matatu and realized it once we failed to recognize our surroundings. I was on some other planet, thinking about the parents meeting we were on our way to conduct, and the mentor meeting after. It seemed like a lot to try to do in one day.
We took a boda to meet Mary, and another boda to the school. Most women sit sidesaddle on their bodas here, in an effort to maintain their dignity. Women almost all wear skirts, too. Mary is comfortable with herself, and therefore, hikes up her skirt to straddle her boda for safety’s sake. She will ask the driver to lean the bike way over, so she doesn’t have to lift her leg up very high. I think it’s great. She is also as afraid of riding them as I am. Haha.

The parents meeting went surprisingly well. The students decorated the school with bouquets of fresh cut flowers, signs welcoming us, and toilet-paper-streamers were hung from the trees and windows. I felt so honored. I am not used to being treated so formally and welcomed like royalty. The students had songs with accompanying dance moves that they sang and danced for us. The first song welcomed the visitors, the second was about unity in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the last was asking for help in the fight. The performance brought tears to my eyes. I was so moved, as we stood there in what I like to the call the firing squad line. We stand against the wall of a school house in a line, facing the students and staff to introduce ourselves at most observations we go to. We often end up answering questions in such a line, but today we were just observing their welcoming ceremony.

Then, they sang the national anthem. Their beautiful voices were interrupted by the sound of an angry chicken, and I looked to my right to see two young men wrestling a chicken to the ground. Ginger said, “Don’t look they’re probably going to slaughter it.” Despite her warning, I could not look away. I even got my camera ready. After the song, they carried the chicken hanging upside down my its talons. It was alive, but not struggling, just clucking away. I thought, “are they seriously about to slaughter a chicken in front of all of us without a bucket to catch the blood?” Then, I thought, “Why are they only going to slaughter one, there are over 70 people here! That won’t be enough meat. Is the chicken just for us?!” My mind was running wild, and I had the camera ready, but the director of the school explained that the school generates income by raising chickens, making paper necklaces, and signs. They use the chickens as a learning exercise as well. Oh. Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.

The parents meeting went extremely well. We walked around and assisted the parents, answering their questions. Many asked to me to help them come to America, send their children to America, or with help paying their school fees. So many people here need money or assistance just sending their children to school. One man who is a guardian of 5 children asked me how the ones he can’t pay for will benefit from SAS. I told him we are hoping to see whether or not students in the program are sharing the knowledge with children who are not in school. It’s sad. Then, we had a meeting with all the mentors. Ginger described my speech explaining how to proctor the test like “blowing a dandelion in the wind.” It felt like that to me to, as they are not very active listeners and I spoke to a sea of blank faces. I hope it works. Either way, the ball is rolling on interviews, parental consent for focus groups, and our pilot test. Woo-hoo!

Saturday June 26th
Today we went shopping. I really needed some jeans to protect me from mosquitoes, and we both needed a break from work. We went to the grocery store to buy cake mix and cheese afterward. They take your bag from you at the entrance, and at nice grocery stores they give you a number for the cubby hole your stuff is in. It’ good that they do that, because otherwise I would walk out and forget my bag.

Later, I went out with Rachel and she took me to the coolest place. I think the place is called Abracadabra, and they have a dance floor in front of a stage. The curtain was pulled-to and they had a projector showing the USA vs. Ghana match. The game was particularly intense, and I felt odd being the only American, so I cheered for Ghana. I honestly would prefer if Ghana won, since the World Cup is in Africa for the first time. Ghana was the only African country still in the running. After they won, the live music began. They have traditional dancers, and songs, but they have a huge band with people playing a multitude of instruments: brass, drums, guitar, keyboard, bongos, tambourines, flutes, etc. It was so much fun. I was the only muzungu there, and I danced anyway. You cannot come to Africa and not dance. They had specific traditional dances for each tribe, and the dancers changed outfits accordingly. You can tell who belongs to which tribe, because people who are not members of the tribe leave the dance floor for that song. As far as the Ugandan night scene goes, this was the most fun night I have had. So many other places play rap songs and booty-dance. This place was awesome, and I loved it. My friend Rachel kept telling people I was a Ugandan who traveled away for school, so that is why I have such a funny accent. Haha

Sunday June 27th
Today Ginger went out to watch Germany play with Sonja and Moses. Before she left I texted all of our friends to invite them to her surprise party on Wednesday. I stayed home and made banana bread, which burnt on the bottom. You cannot maintain temperature easily with our gas stove. The bread was really good, though, minus the bottoms. Sort of like muffin tops!

Monday June 28th
I am so excited about Ginger’s birthday. I think everyone is going to come! Today, we stopped by Roses house to ask her to take our water cistern to fill it at the store. She offered to do it when we bought it, with her car. We decided to bring her some banana bread, and I think she liked it. She would break of a piece, and toss it underhand to various family members to try. Her mother-in-law was visiting from Eritrea.

Her mother-in-law is very interesting. She has long curly black hair, and the most interesting hairstyle. The way it is braided reminds me of the way we used to wear our hair for dance competitions. Instead of French braids, however, she has twists that are raised up. Beside the large twists are a series of 3 tiny braids. The braids/twists stop halfway up by rubberbands, and the rest of her hair flows in big wavy curls down past her shoulders. She is striking and exotic looking. I enjoyed talking to them and we had coffee again, which is so delicious. Ginger and I realized we do not know much about Eritrean etiquette and we were uncertain if we overstayed our welcome. It is hard to leave Rose’s house quickly. They gave us finger-food she brought from Eritrea. We tried some toasted oat-type thing, and another dried fruit with an enormous seed in the middle. I put the whole thing in my mouth without realizing it had a seed, and Rose told me not to bite down. I probably would have broken a tooth. It’s funny, they just throw the seeds on the table, without placing them on a plate. I like that.

We went to Mulago hospital to make copies again, because the parents requested copies of the consent forms. We went by the craft shop that supports patients with HIV and others receiving various care at the hospital. I bought lots of presents. J Then, we went to the café, which also helps support patients. I like to try to support them by purchasing crafts and food in the café. We had bagels, too! (Bagels are non-existent in most places, including the grocery).

Tuesday June 29th
Today we met with Moses for a training session. He is going to work with us on our project. I think he is going to be a great fit, and I am really excited to have a male research partner who is informed about Ugandan culture. His perspective is imperative to our work here.

Later, we all met up to go to the Ugandan National Theatre to celebrate his new employment. Sonja, Moses, Ginger, Richard and I all met for dinner beforehand. We ate at this great Indian place, and we all got vegetarian plates (minus Richard). We shared like we were family. We all dug in to try everyone else’s food. It was delicious. None of us finished, except for Richard, and I honestly do not know how he fit all that rice inside of him. We asked him if he had a food baby, and then Ginger had to explain what that phrase means again. Haha. Afterwards we saw live music outside at the Theatre. The band (Percussion Discussion) was pretty good, but nowhere near as talented and vibrant as the band I saw with Rachel.

Wednesday June 30th
Happy Birthday Ginger! I left with the phone to work with the foundation. I made a series of phone calls and ran out of airtime, so I had to buy more. I am not used to having to constantly pay for a phone. There is no way to do it online, so you buy scratch off cards with minutes at booths on the road. It looks like the surprise party is a go! Jude is picking up some Black Forrest cake from the Sheraton Hotel. I am going to take her to dinner, then suggest we meet up with him when he calls. Everyone will be waiting at Fatboyz, this bar down the street from our house.
Work-wise, I got a lot done today. I interviewed an administrator at the foundation, and went to two schools with Robert. We have successfully planned 3 more parent meetings. Now all we need is for the UNCST to approve our project so we can conduct focus groups with children!
The Thai place we went to for her birthday dinner was excellent. It had gorgeous landscaping and swift service. The food was outstanding. I was so happy it went so well. Ginger had a mango-martini to celebrate and it was out of this world tasty! A few people kept calling asking where we were, and one guy sent a text saying he couldn’t make it, which Ginger read. I turned off the phone completely, so that she would not be totally aware of what was going on. I tried to pretend like I did not know they were up to. I told her we should leave to unravel the mystery! Then, we went to Fatboyz. Everyone came, minus a few people who were sick. It was so much fun. The DJ played Ginger the happy birthday song, we ate cake, and danced. Several people brought her presents, and even people we know have very little money came with gifts. It was so nice. One guy said he bought her something to remember him by, when she opened it there was a wooden carving of a gorilla inside the bag. We laughed and laughed. I’m so very glad she had a great birthday and that she was surprised. You can tell how great a friend she is and how many people love her, even after they’ve only known her a short while.

Thursday July 1st
How is it already July!? I worked today in the field, and Ginger stayed home to work on job applications. We are running out of time!

I went to the foundation, made more copies of invitations, and picked up some of the pilot tests. Four mentors turned them in early (they are due tomorrow). I flipped through them, and it looks like they are filled out properly. Some of the seeds from our “dandelion” made it safely!! After work, I went to the National Theatre and bought more presents. As soon as our research project gets approved to interview children, we are going to be working non-stop and I want to be sure I have stuff to bring home before it is too late for leisure activities. We worked all night writing and I feel so hopeful that we will get everything done on time.


  1. Happy birthday to Ginger! I am so jealous of all the methods experience you all are getting! I think it is awesome that you enjoy building surveys now, what a fantastic project that makes you love surveys haha.

    What kind of jeans do you get in Uganda? And how are the scenes in America not funny? I have so many questions!

    I love your blog, it is so much fun to read, keep it up!

    It is already July, so get ready to come back to all of us on the other side of the pond and share your stories.

    P.S. please tell me you're bringing out the classic dance moves in Africa, a little washing machine, a little salad toss etc!

  2. I loved this post! Thanks for writing! And I can't wait to hear about Ginger's birthday party!