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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

5/28-30; Days 3-5

In the middle of the night, Ginger hit her head on our headboard and it was so loud that I heard it through my earplugs. Soon after the power came back on and Nicole got up to turn off the lights. Ginger yelled out to turn off the light in the bathroom, I think she thought she was in the room she stayed in last year. I told her that was the kitchen and she said, “Oh, I’m disoriented.”

When we woke up we ate breakfast outside: toast and tea. It was a beautiful morning. We finally started to get moving and I noticed some activity in our compound: the Eritreans were decorating their cars with orange banners and they were holding elaborate flower bouquets. I called to Ginger and Nicole to come look because I thought it was a wedding party. Soon we saw the bride and her bridesmaids who wore orange dresses. We got brave enough to go outside and see if we knew anyone because we didn’t recognize anyone yet. After a while I went inside, which is when Ginger saw Rose, and she invited all three of us to the wedding reception for her niece. We were so excited to be invited to the reception. I love how serendipitous invitations to events are in Uganda, you just end up seeing someone and they invite you places you wouldn’t otherwise go.

Afterwards we went to the supermarket, which has really evolved since last summer. On the way home, Nicole slipped on the loose dirt road. She split her pants at the knee and scraped her hand. I felt bad, but it was sort of funny because she fell in extremely slow motion and I saw it happen. We only lost one egg, a quart of milk, and soy sauce, but Nicole was carrying much more than that. I’m glad she didn’t fall on the bag directly and cut herself on the broken glass.

I went all over the place to find internet before someone told me I can upload it on the SIM card in our phone. In moments like those, I remember that there is still so much I have yet to learn. Ginger and Nicole bought a wedding gift: a glass pitcher, glasses and some homemade peach preserves Ginger brought from her mom’s cupboard.

The wedding reception was awesome! The Eritreans were wearing western dresses or their traditional gowns which are white, with hoods, and made out of some almost see-through fabric that looks like it would be light and soft to the touch. I wanted to feel the fabric, but didn’t. They have elaborate colors and embroidery on the arms and down the center. I love the traditional hairdo for women. I want to do my hair like that sometime. Nicole mentioned how their flowy dresses are individualized with embroidery yet maintain their traditional custom of group identity. She pointed out that they allow the female body and image to be beautiful without being form fitting and revealing, like western dress. She's right and they are absolutely gorgeous women. See photos!

Despite the fact the bride and groom were Pentecostal converts, the rest of the guests danced after the cake was cut. We laughed because Rose warned us there would be no dancing. Because they are immigrants from Eritrea, at celebrations like weddings here in Uganda anyone of Eritrean descent is invited. It reminds me of Hafli’s in America that I’ve gone to. Actually, they also make the “yee-yee-yee-yee…” sound in unison, like I’ve heard at many Lebanese/Arabic functions, which made it seem more familiar. We ate too much, because the food is delicious. It's very similar to Ethiopian food. In retrospect we should have shared a plate. Kitufu!

I’ve been having extremely vivid nightmares, which I attribute to the anti-malarials. I hope they stop soon. Today we walked to town and we were stopped by the police after Nicole took a picture of a round-about. Nothing too serious came of it, and I really feel like they were just stopping us to exercise their power and probably wanted to talk to muzungus. The guard was smiling the whole time and his body language did not suggest that we were in trouble. I think it scared Nicole the most because it was her first venture to town and he was holding a large rifle. We are used to police officers with small guns, although to me it’s a gun either way. I think it’s also more intimidating because the guns are in their hands instead of strapped in a holster. It feels a little ominous to walk past armored trucks that hold tear gas, and see so many more officers with large rifles as they are much more prevalent this year.

We walked to 1000 Cups where we were reunited with Joan and shared some lunch. I already want to buy gifts. Please let me know what you might want me to bring back for you! We talked to some students from the University of Michigan. They have a mandatory 3 week cultural awareness class for undergrads, which I think is fantastic.

Moses and Richard came over for dinner. It’s Moses and Sonja’s 2 year anniversary on Tuesday, so they skyped and he opened the presents I brought from her when we met in Amsterdam. I don’t think they’d seen each other in real time since February so it was really special. After dinner, we gave Richard and Moses the baseball t-shirts Mom helped me find for them. They loved them so much and argued over who should get red or blue. I was so glad we found those for them.

Not much today. We walked to the post-office and Nicole is having problems with her debit card. Since it’s Memorial Day we can’t do much to address the issue until tomorrow. We ate at an Indian restaurant, where the three of us shared one plate. It was still enough to make us all full and I forgot how large the portions are here. Nicole took her first boda, which was during a high period of traffic. The drivers, in true form, went the wrong way on the round-abouts. I think Nicole is adjusting very well, and she seems to be much more confident than I was in the first week. I’m glad to see that she already is falling in love with being here. I am really happy to be here with both Nicole and Ginger.

Last night, Ginger drafted a letter of complaint with KLM/Delta and I only made a few changes before we sent it. The letter was actually pretty tame, despite how annoyed we were with our service. In other news, we joked about Nicole needing a full body cast because she has so many scrapes and unidentifiable bites, and we have been counting our mosquito bites (which are easy to identify). I have 10 so far. One funny story, in conclusion: There are over 1000 species of birds here, which is amazing for such a small country. As a result, we see and hear all kinds of birds in our compound. Nicole has been similarly fascinated about this fact since we arrived, and we both love the one that sounds like it’s laughing. So she often asks about what kind of birds are here. In the middle of the day, she said, “What kind of bird is that!?” to which I replied, “That’s actually a baby.”


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blog 2: Travel to Kampala and first full day

While we were in Amsterdam I ate one of the best meals of my life at the fancy restaurant called Supper Club on Tuesday night. The restaurant has beds to lay on, with overstuffed pillows. There are small tables on the long beds, and a three or five course meal depending on the night you go. I can’t get over how much fun we had splurging on that meal. It was worth it. We watched a short burlesque show during desert, and I ate steak (which I never do) and loved every bite of it. That was so much fun. Afterwards we danced with some middle-aged couples on the floor. We walked home to help ease the too-full-feeling we had from the delicious food. You will have to appreciate the night (and food) from the pictures we took. See the right-hand side for the link.

While Amsterdam was fun to explore, I didn’t particularly love the city and I was looking forward to traveling to Kampala. A few things I found interesting about our time there: people hold hands riding bikes and are very affectionate in public, particularly in the parks. Even people who are old do it. Amsterdam feels like a great place to fall in love. Equally interesting: people ride bikes wearing high heels, texting and sans helmets. On the way to the airport I asked the cab driver if people hold up umbrellas as they ride their bikes in the rain. He explained the physics behind why that would not work, although I’m not convinced because people seem to do everything else whilst riding bikes. It seems plausible they also can manage to hold up an umbrella against the wind.

Our friend Sonja visited us on the last day we were in the city and we had a marvelous time catching up. She had never been to Amsterdam before and she said the old buildings were somewhat different from Cologne, Germany where she currently lives. She took several pictures of the canals and streets as we enjoyed coffee and lunch. We chatted about our experiences over the past year and explored the two markets. She and I only skyped twice since I last saw her in Uganda so it was wonderful to catch up in person, and in a new city. She has future plans to start an NGO and wants to do so many wonderful things to help children living in poverty in Uganda. She is an inspiration. I am lucky to have met such a dear and lifelong friend in Kampala. I wish she were traveling with us this year, although it’s really neat that we can meet up to hang out in another country on our way to the field. Next time, Eritrea!! She was kind enough to bring us German chocolates and a children’s book, and she gave me a few items to bring to her boyfriend Moses and the kids from the slums they help find soccer scholarships in Uganda. Walking around all day, it felt like no time had passed between us at all. It seemed normal to once again be tourists together and it reminded me of when we traveled with her last summer exploring Uganda. I was excited to leave Amsterdam, even though overall it was a fun experience. I know now that I prefer places like Kampala to Amsterdam.

We had an unpleasant experience at the airport. KLM charged us 100 Euros each to check a second bag, which we had to do because they would only let us carry on one item even though we saw a ton of people carrying on two. We already paid a luggage fee leaving the US so we didn’t understand having to pay twice AND not being allowed to carry it since we would have been able to if we had a short connecting flight instead of an extended layover. That’s almost $180 each plus the original fee of $50 which we all paid before we left. It’s outrageous. In addition, our flight stopped in Kigali, Rwanda even though it was not on our tickets or in the original itinerary.

When we finally got to the airport we realized that our ride thought we were arriving the next morning. It takes an hour to the Entebbe airport, so we waited and chatted over sodas. I had the ginger flavored one called “Stoney” that I liked so much last year. By the time we left the airport it was almost midnight. We’d been travelling since 8 am. We got to Kampala around one, and had no way to get into the apartment so we had Reverend drop us off at Kabiira Country Club where we pushed two double beds together and slept from around 2 am to 9 am. That cost us about 180 big ones too. Then, we ate breakfast at the hotel, which was really delicious and free (thankfully). Afterwards Reverend gave us a ride to the compound, where we waited on the porch outside for Grace and Annette to arrive. It was gorgeous out and the dog that lives with Rose’s family in the compound, named Dee-dee, played with us for a while. I listened to the birds that sound like they are laughing and cursed myself for once again forgetting my binoculars. There are over 1000 species of birds here. I wonder how much it would cost to buy binoculars.

We took long naps, unpacked, and then Nicole and I ventured to the grocery store. I bought a journal to write in and really wanted her to have a short period of exposure before our long day tomorrow. I am excited to see the city with fresh eyes and look forward to walking off all the chocolate, bread, and cheese we ate in Europe. After dinner, the water went off so we couldn’t do dishes. I decided to write in my field notes/journal instead. After I finished writing my field notes, as I dotted the period to the last sentence, the lights went out. Both the power and water are still off. Nicole just told me she heard something scurrying around (probably a roach) and we switched our headlamps to the redlight feature. The battery on Ginger’s computer is waning so I have to make this blog short. Welcome to Uganda! Ironically, these experiences add to the multitude of reasons I absolutely love it here!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The beginning of Summer 2: Amsterdam

A quick recap on what's going on:

In May, I graduated with my cohort from the University of Memphis, and I will miss them all dearly over this summer and as we all move on with our lives. I moved to New Orleans recently, and I look forward to beginning my PhD in Public Health from Louisiana State University in the fall.

I am thrilled to be traveling with two of my best friends and colleagues, Ginger and Nicole! The past year has been very exciting for us all and being reunited feels great. Nicole just completed her first year as a doctoral student in Medical Anthropology at the University of Kentucky and Ginger is beginning a doctorate in Public Health from the Oregon State University this fall. I am looking forward to sharing the journey to Europe and Africa with them both. Please read their blogs to catch up on the latest news from abroad as they have already written more than I have! I need to catch up!

We arrived safely in Amsterdam, although there were a few bumps in the road. First, my plane was delayed in Greenville, so I barely made it to Atlanta in time to get on the flight to Amsterdam with Ginger and Nicole. Fortunately, I was able to board but my luggage did not make it! It arrived in Amsterdam at the end of day two.

We decided to extend our layover in Amsterdam on the way to Uganda this summer. I’ve never been to Europe, so this is a very new experience for me. The primary source of transportation here appears to be biking around the city, or simply walking, which makes the city seem quiet despite the bustling of large crowds. The city has a very modern feel, even though it's quite old, which contrasts with the quietness since there are few cars. Even the tram is virtually silent. Amsterdam is actually nothing like what I expected.

The first day we walked around a TON and I was dead tired. We couldn´t go to our room until after noon, even though we arrived at the airport early. Everyone tells you that the place you are looking for is 5 minutes around the corner but it never is. I was so tired I could barely appreciate being somewhere new. Finally we got to go to the hostel. I don´t like staying in one very much because I really prefer my privacy and everyone is very young and here to party. Anyway, Í´ve never stayed in one before so I at least appreciate trying it out once. I was surprised about the subtlety of the girls advertising themselves in the window in the redlight district. It was oddly tasteful.

I love the canals and the boats, and the variation in flora. The first two days we explored the Redlight district, and the open air market and flower market. At the flower market, I was expecting cut-flowers but it’s primarily bulbs and seeds for sale. We also have figured out the trams now, and learned them in an attempt to visit the harbor and see larger boats. It´s colder here, so we are wearing layers and jackets each night. We decided not to go to Cologne, and instead our friend Sonja from Germany, (who we met in Uganda last year), is going to come visit us here on Wednesday. We discussed going to Bruges but we decided not to spend so much money. Instead we are going to go out to eat at this really fancy place called Supper Club. Today we went by there to make sure we had reservations.

For dinner the second night, we decided to buy groceries and eat a picnic in the park. We brought bread, cheese, salami, red and black berries, and olive paste. We had the most lovely picnic, and laughed while we chatted. It was beautiful out. The parks are so well used here, and it was nice to feel like we were behaving like natives. That was my favorite part so far. Afterwards, we went dancing. Sunday we went to the city of Haarlem. Its much smaller and more like what I expected of Amsterdam. It´s quaint and quiet and much less like a big city. I like it better there. We toured a windmill and learned how complex they are. I was really impressed with our guide, and when we went to the top it was really windy and I was terrified because of heights. I thought the windmill had started! I can’t wait until we figure out a way for everyone to see the pictures. Nicole is doing a great job documenting each day.

Today (Monday) we toured the Van Gogh and Anne Frank House museums. I was really moved at both, and had a great time viewing the exhibits. Tomorrow we are going to the Rembrandt museum. I’m sure both Ginger and Nicole have blogged about the trip more in detail so I’ll let you catch up on the rest through them. Cheers!

A few observations:

- Everyone takes bikes and there are very few cars. Bikes are the primary form of transportation. It's very quiet as a result

- At restaurants all the chairs face out to the street/square enhancing the sense of a real community

- There are lots of cute dogs that are well behaved walking without leashes

- The canals and houseboats are gorgeous