Sunday, May 22, 2011

For how many cows can I have your girl?

There are something like 40 different tribes in Uganda. It's one of the unique parts of the country. The borders were mapped out with little foresight or understanding of the land's history and people, and so like many African nations, many tribes are even split between neighboring countries. Tribe is often the first thing established by two Ugandans meeting, and English is sometimes the only language in common. I have been asked several times what tribe I come from in America, and I never know how to answer. I don't think Americans, for the most part, share this same notion of tribe, although we do sometimes have strong regional pride. I would be happy to come from the tribe of "Minnesotes".

Learning about Uganda has been so eye-opening and makes me realize how little I knew about African culture coming here. It's a two-way road, of course, and this was illustrated clearly to me this morning when during the workshop the English language was described as "the language of the white people from England." I think there is a wealth of history, knowledge, and tradition to be learned and absorped both on the Ugandan and American side, and this cultural exchange actually comprises 2/3 of the Peace Corps's goals. So, with that in mind, I'm going to use this blog post to give a brief lesson in Lugbara and greeting in Uganda.

I have mentioned the importance of greetings before in posts, but this blog will give you an example of the daily exchanges I have with people, that range from bewildering to boisterous. Although Uganda is comprised of many different people and traditions, I hve found that warmth and curiosity seem to exist equally throughout the nation. Matching the warmth found in so many people here is one of my goals for service, and thus, I have had to learn the proper and appropriate ways of greeting here. To appreciate just how much I have had to change my ways, Iwould like to give an example of how I would greet someone in teh U.S., say walking down state street in Madison, Wisconsin.

Scene: I am walking home from a coffee shop and spot an acquaintance walking on a straight course towards me on the sidewalk; somenoe who might have lived in the same dorm as me or someone who may have sat next to me in a freshman English class. Lets call them personIdon'treallyrememberbutprobablyshouldsayhitobecauseitwouldbeawkwardifididn't. In this scenario, I have three equally mortifying options:
A. Pretend to be talking on cell phone
B. Pretend not to see him/her
C. Walk towards them, panic, and then blurt out "HI HOW ARE YOU" right as they are passing

In Uganda, peoplewhoyoudon'treallyrememberbutprobablyshouldsayhitobecauseitwouldbeawkwardifyoudidn't do not exist. You say hi to everyone. And you say it as if you have known them for 20 years. That's actually not completely true. As a young female here (eek 24!!)I will not greet large groups of men who are vaguely my age. In Uganda, men of generally- my- age tend to aggregate in large packs(gaggles? murders? prides?), whether they are working as boda boda drivers (waiting for business), or just hanging out. They will often call out, "hello sister" to me, or if I am walking with a male like TOm, will sometimes ask him how many cows I am worth. This exchange will usually start by them yelling at Tom, "Is this your wife?" and when he tells them no, they will start to make offers. Tom usually tells them that I cost 30 cows, which maybe two people in Uganda could afford. It is a good way to stop the conversation and get a laugh. I'm totally not worth 30 cows.

Anyway. So, say that I am greeting anyone BUT a giant group of adolescent and post-adolescent men....

Scene: Me walking down any random dirt road/at any work function/anywhere really doing anything in Uganda. I spot someone who I either know/don't know/or might know.
Me: Mi ngoni! Ila ngoni?(how are you? how did you spend the night)
Them: Ma muke. Ala muke. Kani mi i? (I am fine,I spent the night well, and you?)
Me: Ma muke. Awadifo. Aku ngoni? (i'm fine,thank you. How is your home/family?)
Them: Aku ala! Mi enga ngoa? (My home/family is well. where are you coming from?)
Me: Ma enga cua___. (I'm coming from the market)
Them: Mi enga cua afa di je? (You are coming from the market buying what?)
Me: Ma enga cua nyaka je. (I'm coming from the market buying food)
Them: Ee'. Mi mu ngoa? (Yes. Where are you going?)
Me: Ma mu akua. (I am going home)
Them: Mi Lugbara tisi? (YOu are with Lugbara/youspeak lugbara??!)
Me: Ee'. Ma Lugbara ti oni. (Yes, I am learning lugbara)
Them: Awadifo mini asizi (thank you for your work)
Me: Awadifo mini indi (and for yours)
Them: Mi a ci ala (travel safely)
Me: Mi oa muke (stay well)

This is just an example of a conversation that might be had with someone passing by. It's pretty funny to think of the on-the-run greetings I would half-heartedly shout out in AMerica. Here it's an insult to not ask about someone's health, family, home, and day.

It's much briefer with children. They tend to spot me, starting yelling "MUNDU! MUNDU!", chase me, and then assault me with "how are YOU? how are YOU?", or my favorite, "BYE BYE!" instead of "hello."

Love and LIons,
Ilse

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

I've decided that this quote by Confuscius will be the one that comes to define my PC experience, or at least the one that I hold closest to my heart, not only here in Uganda, but everywhere that I go. It is, of course, especially important while I am here, as I wish to be fully present in my life here, rather than dwelling on the past or future. I strive to put care and importance into every interaction that I have, to always meet the smiles and eyes around me. My program manager, who I saw yesterday on her tour of the West Nile area (checking up on us volunteers), asked me how I liked being "deep in the village", and then told me that she tried to put people with a lot of heart deep in the village. Simply put, I wish to live up to this heart, that I know I have. I have to thank my dear friend Liz Myhre, for she was the one who gave me the parting gift of a bookmark that had this quote on it. It has become so important to me.

Another philosophy that has become manifest in my life (although it's still early on in my service here) is that I'm learning the best I can not to flip out over the small things (something I hold a degree in). It's more a matter of diverting my attention and not thinking or dwelling on these things. Never to lose my peace of mind. It works out well in uganda where one of the most common phrases is "It's okay!"; which is a multi-purpose phrase that can be said in response to a wide variety of statements, such as
"my house is on fire," or "a strange dog bit me," or "I have no idea what's going on right now" (the latter being the most common in my case).

Enough wishy-washiness. It's only that everyone is completely right when they say that you do Peace COrps to learn about yourself, and that's EXACTLY what I'm learning- that there is a lot I need to learn about myself. It's nothing so easily defined by these tidy quotes I lvoe so much---they just serve as sign-posts along the way. I love it here because I am being forced to do things that I never saw myself doing before, and I am in situations that would ordinarily make me uncomfortable, and all of these things are likewise forcing me to recognize qualities in myself that I never saw before. Some good, some bad, but all seemingly new to me. I guess it's like any time in life when you are challenged or uncomfortable--- you somehow shift a little inside to rise to the occasion.

Big news is that I have a new address that you can reach me at. Ilse Griffin, P0 box 933, Arua, Uganda. Use it whenever and often.

In other news, my two-week-old life as a volunteer has been both spectacularly interesting, and also very relaxed. Relaxed because the biggest part of my communtiy integration includes sitting and shooting the breeze with my neighbors. Sitting and doing nothing is an important part of passing time here, and I'm going to be really good at it in a few years. I feel like I have slipped into a new life, that of Ayikoru, but I'm still trying to maintain "Ilse". I love the moment that I introduce myself in Lugbara, the smiles that form on sometimes apprehensive faces. Sometimes, I explain that my Lugbara name has the same meaning as my American one. I go my three different names here; Ilse to my fellow PCV's, Ayikoru in my village, and Griffin at my college (my principal and Deputy are not Lugbara,and therefore can neither pronounce Ilse or Ayikoru). The first week I spent completely in my village, settling in, exploring, meetings neighbors, and now this week and the next I am at at training at my college for all coordinating center tutor's. I'm h ere with three other PCV"s who report to the same college. The training is long- 9-10 hours a day for 14 days. It's more a formality than anything and is not very helpful for us, not to mention that our learning styles are considerably different. I've realized however that at the same time as my patience is steadily increasing, my attention span in also steadily decreasing, so I can come away from an entire day of workshop with like 10 sheets of doodles, 150 pages read in a book, and a smile on my face. (SOmetimes I feel more murderous). Part of me wishes that I could be in my village, integrating, cleaning my house, figuring out the local markets, practicing language...

There are some highlights that I wish to relay. On my first night at site I made friends with the local midwife, who is around my age, and also operates the local restaurant where I sometimes eat. She knows about everyone in my village and splits her time between delivering babies and cooking food, always with a vigilant handcleansing in between. In the evening, I witnessed the latter part of an unexpected birth outside on the grass. Minutes after the midwife had disposed of the placenta, she turned to me and said, "Ayikoru. You have not eaten all day. Come and I will make you dinner." Amazing. I hope I can work with her with secondary projects.

On Easter Sunday, my friend THomas and I went to the local parish in our sub-county, which housed probably thousands of Lugbara and Congolese people. At the end of the service, they made an announcement about who we were and what we would be doing in the community, and then Tom and I trolled our way to the front of the church to everyone clapping and both introduced ourselves in Lugbara. It's good because now many people in our communities will udnerstand why we are here and not fear us. After the service, we were flooded by parish children, who all wished to greet us by holding out their hands. I think it was the first day that I was truly overwhelmed, just by the large volume of people who wished to greet us and know us. I'm not exactly a shy person, but I'm not used to being center of attention. I think that since this visit to the church, I have already become much more accustomed to this attention. No matter where I go in my community, I have to greet everyone, and stop to talk to them. This is a lovely part of the culture, and it also pertains to when a person is flying by on a bike, apparently. I have spent several of my days merely walking around and greetings everyone I see, meetings important membrs of the community.

My house is stil definitely not ready, but getting there. I still need a bathing area and latrine and stronger locks, but I think that itwill actaully happen, eventually. I'm getting used to less privacy. It's a sacrifice I'm completely willing to make especially because I have such incredible neighbors and people around me. To all who wish to visit me eventually, you should! I live about 7 hour bus ride from Kampala, but I think there is a way you can fly into Gulu.

I apologize for this incoherent blog post. THere is so much I would like to write about btu the minute I sit in front of a computer, I can only think of several snapshots that I'll never forget, like walking up the narrow aisles of this parish church to face a thronging mass of people, and greet them unsteadily in Lugbara.

Love and Lions,
Ilse