Saturday, May 14, 2011

Amagara ni Marungi (Life is Good)

I spent Easter in my village and went to church with my neighbors. The service was long but had music and dancing. The best part was that they had a translator so most of the service was given in both Runyankore and English – otherwise, it would have been a painful 2.5 to 3 hours of not understanding much at all. A young woman from the area was launching an album so gave a “concert”. The music and dancing were good but the girl needs to learn how to lip synch better – it was very obvious she wasn’t singing. I entertained everyone during one song by getting up and joining the dancers on stage. Afterwards, we came home and I ate lots of local foods with my neighbors for dinner (matooke, sweet potatoes, millet, and some very tough beef. Even Gertrude, my neighbor, said the beef was tough, and when a Ugandan comments on the toughness of the meat, you know it’s really tough. And they wonder why I rarely buy meat in this country…).

Villagers buying beef the day before Easter. They slaughtered 4 cows that day, and they sell the meat by the kilo by just hacking away with a machete – no such thing as real cuts like sirloin or T-bone steaks here.

Easter church service with music and dancing. Even the pastor gets into it.

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a World Malaria Day event at my site. 5 other Peace Corps Volunteers came to help out, and the day included music to draw people to the event, lessons about malaria transmission, prevention, and treatment (some of which was taught by yours truly), speeches by local government officials, a youth poster contest, and a raffle for several mosquito nets and a bottle of insect repellant. Although I had worked hard preparing for the event, I decided that morning to have no expectations so as not to be disappointed if we had a low turn-up (a survival mechanism I’m learning to have in Uganda – be pleasantly surprised if things work out) but was very happy when over 225 people showed up for the event. The District Health Officer was our guest of honor, and he was very impressed by the size of the crowd and wants to help us do more health events like this around the district. The event lasted far longer than I ever anticipated – speeches from every local government official imaginable, guest speakers showing up 3 hours late, etc. – but everyone deemed the event a huge success. While I really enjoyed planning and hosting the event, and acting as the country coordinator for all the Peace Corps events for World Malaria Day in Uganda, I was very glad it was over because of how much work and time it had taken to prepare for the day.

A representative of the District Chairman addressing the crowd at World Malaria Day

The next day was my birthday, April 28. The actual day was spent in the village, and was lazy in a wonderful way. Some of my Peace Corps friends were still at my house (including my friend Jesse, whose birthday is also April 28!), so we had French toast, watched a movie, then just chilled all day. For dinner, my friends Gertrude and Janephur cooked us millet, posho, and g-nut (peanut) sauce. The food was nothing out of the ordinary but the gesture was so nice. The following day, I went to Mbarara for the weekend to meet new PCVs, who had just finished training and moved to their sites around the southwest, and to celebrate my birthday. I enjoyed a few days of eating good food, watching the royal wedding (everything looks even fancier when you live in an African village), lounging at the pool, getting a full-body massage, buying a ton of clothes at a big weekly market (4 skirts, 2 shirts, and a cardigan for about $11), and dancing with friends at a popular nightclub, Heat, which is outdoors and has fire pits and music videos playing on big screens.

The weekly market in Mbarara where I bought way too many clothes. Shirts go for 20 to 50 cents, so a shopping spree here isn’t quite as expensive as in the U.S., and since Ugandans don’t know the good American brand names, you find shirts from The North Face or Banana Republic for the same price as everything else.

However, that Friday also marked the biggest riot that has occurred since demonstrations began in Kampala and other cities several weeks ago for the “Walk to Work Campaign”, which the opposition is heading to protest rising fuel and food prices. Downtown Kampala had tires burning in the streets and riot police everywhere. One of my Peace Corps friends was on a bus in central Kampala during the riots and described a scene of pure chaos, saying that no vehicles were entering the city and taxis and buses were all heading away from downtown as fast as possible, even without passengers. A man almost threw a brick at his bus until the driver made a pro-opposition hand gesture. Despite this major riot, during which time the main opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye, was seriously injured by police and has been recovering at a hospital in Kenya, things have been fairly peaceful since, and all PCVs are safe.

I’ve continued teaching at Kyera Agricultural Teaching College, and last week was my lesson on goats and sheep. When I asked the students what a female sheep is called, they said “Eee-way”. I wrote “ewe” on the board and explained that it is pronounced “you”, but only later realized the irony – the word for “you” in Runyankore is “iwe”, which is how they were pronouncing the word for a female sheep. Maybe they’re right after all. Also, although I regularly watch movies with Ugandans, probably the most entertaining movie-watching experience happened when Jesse and I showed the college staff two extreme sports videos. The first was of our training group’s white water rafting trip on the Nile. Whenever a boat flipped, they would matter-of-factly exclaim, “And now you die!” with the typical Ugandan noise of disbelief and amazement “Eh eh eh eh eh eh…” They just couldn’t believe people actually do such things on “water which is like smoke.” Hilarious and made me realize how crazy white people really do look sometimes. We followed that with a video of really extreme skiing that even amazed me, which produced many more hilarious comments from the Ugandans.

My house has suddenly been raided by mosquitoes and is a buzzing hotbed of the bloodsuckers every night. I’ve taken to walking around my house for a good 20 minutes or so before going to bed just killing mosquitoes by clapping my hands together or slapping them against the walls. Kibo watches me while this happens with wide eyes and a confused expression, and I can tell I look crazy and slightly disturbed during this now-nightly ritual. I’m hoping that the coming dry season, my recently-cleared compound (it had tall grasses before which can harbor mosquitoes), and the fact that I now kill 5-20 mosquitoes every night will soon get rid of my problem.

I’ve started calling everyone who calls me muzungu either black guy or omweraguju, which means black person in Runyankore. A lot of times they don’t really know how to react and are stunned into silence, but others around them always laugh. It’s difficult to explain to people that where I come from, it is racist to call someone by the color of their skin, so if they don’t like being called “black guy”, they shouldn’t call me muzungu. I also made an entire taxi full of people laugh (again – this always happens), but this time because the driver tried to get me to take aboda boda (motorcycle taxi) past a police checkpoint because I had been sharing the front seat with another woman and it is illegal to have two passengers in the front seat (even though they often squeeze in three). People laughed when I vehemently refused and told the driver I would not help him do something illegal, but if all passengers would refuse illegal practices, the roads here would be so much safer – however, nobody ever seems to stand up against overcrowding or bad driving.

I began a health education series for mothers at our child immunization outreaches. Our first session discussed family planning options, including a condom demonstration using matooke (a green banana/plantain) which always makes everyone laugh. The lesson was only about 15-20 minutes but I feel it was effective, and afterwards at least one woman asked for a Depo Provera injection. Feels good to see results from my work! I’m also planning on doing a women’s health day next week with information about family planning, HIV and STIs, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and menstruation, including selling Afripads, a low-cost reusable menstrual pad that saves girls and women a lot of money, keeps girls in school (many stay at home during their periods because of embarrassment from using towels, rags, feathers, etc. when they are unable to afford a pack of Always), and is environmentally friendly.

I officially ate the first thing I have grown myself – green beans from my garden! Amazingly fresh and delicious, and 100% organic. Maybe I’ll continue a garden back in the U.S.?

Finally, one last interesting anecdote. I knew before that the people in my region, the Banyankore, are split into two ethnic groups, the Bahima, who are the prestigious minority who have traditionally been the cattle owners and therefore the group with money and power, and the Bairu, who were traditionally the agriculturalists and lower in society than the Bahima. President Museveni himself is Bahima. The two groups often look physically different, with Bahima people known for lighter skin and thinner noses (also, Bahima women tend to be very large! People say it’s all the milk they drink). However, what I was recently told is that these two groups are actually the same ethnic groups as the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda, who are now famous for being the focus of the Rwandan genocide. The Bahima are essentially Tutsis, and the Bairu are Hutus, the difference being that they are now part of different language groups so have different names.

I am going to try to write more frequent, shorter blog entries to make it easier on my readers. It doesn’t feel like very much happens here on a daily basis but when I sit down to write a blog post it always gets so long!

1 comment:

Simenya said...

I landed on this blog while searching for any information on Runyankore language and the Banyankore. I enjoyed reading though it. Could you please post more on the blog. Wonderful blog!