Saturday, June 4, 2011

There's no hurry in Africa

On the way to town today, we saw a truck with this quote emblazoned on its side. Pretty awesome.

I've been getting so much mail. Thank you all so much! It seems that getting mail to Arua is like 12 times quicker than going through Kampala. Letters have only been taking about 2 weeks or even less to reach me. I have heard it is a lot slower the other way, so you may have to wait months to get mine, sadly.

In the last few weeks, several things of interest have occurred and several things of interest have not occurred. My house still doesnt have a bathing area/latrine, so that's been interesting. Although I'm generally an advocate of infrequent bathing stateside, here in the hottest part of Uganda, it's pretty essential to bathe every day. The structure IS however, being constructed. it's just a matter of time. No hurry, right?

Otherwise, I have started working, which has mostly consisted of me biking to all of my schools to meet the headteachers and students formally. My counterpart introduces me, and then I speak to the staff about my possible role in the schools, and then I greet the entire body of students in Lugbara. I have ten schools that I'll be working at, so by now, more than 10,000 students in the villages around me know me and my name. Getting around is hysterical. We chose the 10 nearest schools to where I live, and even though they are relatively "close", it consists of me sweating my way through miles of biking, while my counterpart calmly motorcycles besides me in a full suit. I'm not allowesd to ride motorcycles, which is really hard to explain, but i think that seeing us coming down the road...a foreigner struggling on a bright red bike with a ugandan going about 3 miles an hour on a motorcycle, has probably traumatized many villagers.

I've recently started to accept that much of what I do probably traumatizes the people around me, whether it's biking in the rain, biking with a helmet, sitting and watching while Tom cooks or cleans, trying to speak Lugbara, walking instead of taking motorcycles.... I guess it's all part of the cultural exchange/hilarity. But I think it's good because it dismantles conceptions of Americans/westerns, at the same time as showing an example of how we live. I respect that here women do most of the work, and especially the cleaning/cooking bit, but I think it's appropriate and beneficial to show that in America, sometimes a man and a woman can cook together, or that even a man can cook for a woman.

Instead of writing about my job, which is frankly still in its beginning stages with teh majority of my time spent observing classes and meeting teachers, i thought I would write about several interesting occurences in my sub-county that may shed light on the cultural differences that I encounter daily.

The first happened a few weeks ago, when I was coming home from a day in town and found that a giant mutant mouse was living in my kitchen. I'm not sure when a mouse becomes big enough to be a rat, but it definitely was on the fringe of being a rat, although still cute enough to be a mouse. That's the exact thing. Americans tend to think animals are cute. We fawn on them. We feed them. We even protect them. So, instead of killing the mouse, which was frozen with fear under my stove, we decided to gently lead it out of the room with a broom so that it would run back into the bush. The minute that the broom came near the mouse, it went bat-shit crazy, and sprinted straight out of my kitchen, and beelined across my stoop to my neighbors stoop (which are connected)and we immediately heard the little boy next door burst into tears as the mouse ran by him into the open door. So, this was pretty funny, even though we had indirectly caused this problem. We both went over to see what was happening, and the entire household was in a dissaray, objects flying through the air, women on their hands and knees, yelling, crying...Tom and I both started laughing with the neighbors as they tried to get the mouse out of their room, but then our laughter dissolved into silence when we saw the mangled corpse of the mouse fly in a high arc off the stoop into the grass. What followed was nothing short of horrifying, as all the children ran out into the grass, to play with the dead body and beat it with a stick. I don't know what lesson I learned that day, but maybe that a hilarious sequence of events can turn macabre pretty quickly, and that the concept of loving animals and pets is not here in Uganda.

The second occurrence didn't happen to me, but happened to Tom. On his first day of teahing, his first day of teaching EVER, in the middle of his class, his students started running out of his classroom. He was in the middle of a get-to-know-you activity and everyone started leaving, running out of the classroom. He felt pretty terrible, thinking that he was too boring and had no class control. Finally one of the students explained that in the nearby church, a goat was giving birth to a man. Later, one of Tom's fellow teachers told him that he has arranged his lesson around the goat's delivery, so that he could go watch to. I'm still unsure about the status of the goat-child, but I have had it confirmed from several students.

The last occurrence happened this morning, while we were getting ready to embark on our epic bike journey to town. Our plan was to get food and especially food that we could make into a picnic tomorrow morning. We wanted to finally climb up the big hill that our subcounty was named after, and that sits right in my backyard, and bring the picnic with us. I had been meaning to forever because I think the view up there is probably incredible and peaceful. Anyway, upon leaving, we told Tom's neighbor, who is a public figure, and he stopped us in our tracks. He told us that we would have to talk to the local councilman in my village and that he would have to accompany us, because otherwise, people would get suspicius. Apparently the hill is somewhat of a sacred place and people would think we mundus were going up there to steal/charm snakes and also stop the rains from coming. Tom and I both laughed uneasily and promised that we wouldn't climb without first consulting the local councilman. It was one of those moments when we were just feeling more comfortable and integrated in the community, and then remembered that things like the drought or misfortune can be attributed to our presence, that we are sometimes seen as sorcerers. I jsut hope that people don't think we are causing the lull in rains right now... It just reminds me that maybe some people are still hesitant and suspicious of our presence in the village, and that i need to work extra hard to overcome these cultural barriers and be trusted and known by all.

In other news, I have been cooking a lot! Cooking takes a lot more time here but I think I've become a lot more patient for everyday tasks. I go daily markets almost every day to get tomatoes, onions, avocados, mangos, cabbages etc, supplemented by when I go to town twice a month to get stuff like pasta, bread, and other items at the supermarkets. Recently I have been cooking a lot of pasta and rice, but also baked beans, Ugandan style beans, ratatouille, indonesian peanut pasta, avocado soup, and others. It feels nice to cook and I'm definitely doing it a lot more than I thought I would be. I guess \I have to eat, after all.

Love and lions,
ilse

4 comments:

  1. Ilsers - great post, as always. What an adventure for all of us - we live through your eyes and experiences. Love, Mumsy

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  2. I'm loving your posts, Ilse! And I'm proud of you for cooking...I just tried to call you but in the words of the very composed voice that sometimes answers your phone, "this number is not available at the moment"...love you, er-bear

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