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SO MUCH has happened since I deplaced in Entebbe not even 24 hours ago. Morgan, Lydia, Chaney, Doug and I were picked up by Robert (after the most casual of customs check...did they even look at my passport? debatable). We headed to the African Roots Guest House in Entebbe which was about 1/3rd as glamorous as the picture I found online, but it was 100% functional. Oh-and I forgot to mention there were open doors at the airport that left out to the jetway. Guards with machine guns were chatting nearby though. Anyway, the drive to the hotel was short, but the roads were red, the stars bright and the semi-rundown gas stations plentiful. I slept alright and even got a semi-warm shower. I'm not expecting many more of those. I heard howling dogs, roosters and birds all through the night. I met the rest of the interns that will be stationed around Masaka. Had a great breakfast at the Inn...toast, pineapple, mini bananas and eggs! After one sad but uncritical toothbrush casualty (s/o to my mom for making me bring 2!) we piled onto a minibus and headed out.

I'm not sure how to describe driving. I could have gotten whiplash with how fast I was looking around. Storefronts are piled wih goods of every kind. Some are painted bright red to advertise for Cococola or Airtech. Others are yellow with big signs for MTN. Most are just brown mud with a tin roof. The streets are full, full, full of people. Children, some cows and goats...a few lost chickens...The roads are mostly reddish brown--which leaves everything a little orange from the dust. There are patches of corn, papyrus and other little "gardens." Groups of men on boda bodas (motorcycles) wait on every corner for customers. I was just....wow. I really felt like I was in someplace new!

Our first stop was in Kampala. The city is huge and the traffic, chaotic. The roads are crazy busy and there are virtually no rules. We stopped at the big shopping mall called the "Oasis." I think we were a spectacle--a white parade as we exchanged money, got phones and SIM cards and ate lunch. I exchanged $100 US dollars which equaled 254,000 shillings. I really don't have a good handle on the money. I need to go through, count and organize. The decimal points are throwing me off! We went to the pizza place for lunch. Apparently it is one of the most popular places for non-Ugandans (the mall, not the restaurant), so there were a lot of western food options. The pizza was alright. The cheese was off...not bad...just different. Looking out the window of the bathroom there were timber supports three stories up. Quite the juxtaposition because inside, the mall looked like it could be in the US.

Leaving Kampala we headed toward Masaka. The view, the street vendors, the fields, the cattle...its safe to say I am in the "wow everything is awesome" phase. We stopped at the equator. There is a little monument and 3 buckets to text the Coriolis effect. Wow, physics! Masaka was just 30 minutes south of the equator. Its hard to tell how much of the town we have driven through on our way in. It is all so intimidating now, the weaving rows of buildings and people everywhere. How will I ever figure this place out? I'm really hoping I become comfortable here. Lydia, Julian and I will be spending the week in Maska at Hotel Zebra because our host families are too far outside the city to commute for orientation. I'm really hoping this doesn't mean visits to Masaka will be too hard or impractical.

We had a bit of orientation stuff at the hotel. Now everyone is sitting on the patio, on their laptop. I think pictures have already been uploaded to Facebook. Aye karumba. Speaking of cross-continental trends, "Call Me Maybe" played on the radio in the minibus today. Phil was jamming, but Julian was highly distressed that even in Uganda, he cannot get away from Carly Rae Jepson.

Okay. Time for a shower and bed!

Lauren

 
 
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I have a lot to write about today. I am currently out on the patio at Hotel Zebra, watching the news. General Sejusa is the big news. he has fled the country and a paper that published a letter allegedly written by him has been shut down. Radial news sources say this is or could be leading to a coup, but Robert (the FSD international support person) says this is just talk. While there is certainly order in Uganda the threat of something like a coup has never been a relevant thought in my life. I wonder how biased these sources are--or if any average Ugandans are nervous. Also watched the movie "Blood Diamond" with Julian and Lydia last night. I was weird that some of the settings looked sort of familiar or reminiscent of Uganda.

This morning Julian, Lydia and I went to the bakery on the main road before headed to the FSD offices. I got a crueller. If I am going to be honest, it was pretty terrible. SO SO DRY. We had some language training (I need to practice!) and discussions about host families. I wish I was able to share my host family experiences after my first day. There seem to be a range of experiences. Chandler's family has 12 kids. Matt was woken up at 5 am for call to prayer. Almost everyone was given excessive amounts of food. I wonder what my family will be like??

After lunch is when my day got really interesting. We all piled in a special hire and drove to St. Jude's. I thought it was about 6 miles outside the city. This cannot be true. It was maybe 20 kilometers on a paved road and the nanother mile or two on a dirt road. There was most just unworked land alongside the paved road. There were many mud homes and structures along the dirt road. I kept looking at them and trying to guess if that could be my home. There were no shops. This was not a city. No wifi cafes, hotels or tourism. The further we got outside the city, the more anxious I became. The other 11 interns, thought I just met them a few days ago, are my one support system. I don't want to lose that. I wish that meeting up after work was an option. The thought of walking to the main road and trying to catch a taxi is intimidating to say the least. And going into Masaka would be the easy part. What would I say on the way back? Drop me off at the dirt road inlet??

If isolation is fear #1, uselessness is fear #2. The project is already so successful. I was reading about it online. Its gotten funding by the UN. It trains 20,000 farmers each year. The farm was small, but still so impressive. Every bit of space is used. I don't know what I could possibly contribute. I don't know THAT much about agriculture--certainly not as much as the people who work there. I thought the whole feeling useless thing was supposed come later. Not on day 3!

We were given a tour by Bashir. The 3.7 acre farm is on a slope. With the cows, pigs and chickens in their structures at the top of the hill (by the gate and offices) and there were completely integrated fields down the slope. A catfish aquaculture pond was at the base of the hill. The place was just so well done. The seed beds were raised, the furrows on the slope were curved to prevent erosion...it was just really impressive.

I also met Jude, my host brother. IT was awkward. We had nothing to say. He is tall, lanky and soft-spoken. After touring the farm, he brought us over to the house which is right across the street. Its crazy nice. Big gates and a stone wall. There is a sitting room with a couch. My room is nice. I have a bed, chair and desk. There is even a bathroom with a toilet. So....I move in on Thursday. Jeepers.

Lauren

 
 
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Well, I have completed my sensitization workshop. Sort of on accident. I went with Josephine and Josephine's sister (who went to the burial) and Jude and the Butale teacher. Really not sure why that group of people made sense...I'm sure there is some logic I don't see. [Update: it was at the Butale teacher's house. He organized the group and his wife is in it.]

There were maybe 18 woen, but they trickled in. I think the final count was about 30. Some were older, others still quite young. A couple had toddlers and babies with them. Maybe half were wearing gomezes, the other half, long skirts. Madame Josephine, Jude and I sat on a chair and bench that were brought out from the house.

Jude went around ,collecting money. They all have weekly deposits into the group savings account. Then Josephine talked about me. There was sporadic excitement....it was weird not knowing what was said. I introduced myself and the project. I was really flying by seat of my pants. And it was like talking to a wall, because no one could understand me! Every reaction was really delayed (it had to be translated). But--there was much cheering when Josephine translated my message. So, I guess it went over alright.

Next, I went around and collected the name of each zone and made a schedule of when trainings would take place. I also took down the name and phone number of the zone leader, who would be the custodian of the drier. It was a spelling and pronunciation nightmare. I eventually did complete the task. I will have two trainings next Tuesday, 2 next Wednesday, 2 next Friday and 1 the following Monday. We will cross the “follow-up” bridge when we get there.

I also wrote down each woman’s name. Haha. My interpretations got pretty amusing by the end. One woman might be called “Spacious.” I will do my best to learn them! A lot of the women in the group are in households that don’t have a patriarch. Several are widows. One woman walked into the meeting sobbing. Jude explained that her son had died of HIV that morning. He was in Kampala, and she had just gotten the news. I can’t imagine. And I can’t fathom how she made it to the meeting.

The women asked Josephine what they could cook for me when I visited. I told her to tell them “anything.” I hope I don’t regret that but I don’t want to be picky. Whatever these women can d or give to me is already excessive.

The most touching part was when the women asked if they could name me. I am now Lauren Nandawula, which means lioness. They chose this because the group organizer is from the lion clan. So, I am his daughter. Josephine also translated for me that they chose Nandawula because I am strong (apparently they heard I work hard at St. Jude) and brave (for coming alone to Africa, leaving America and my family behind). I don’t know how to express how genuinely touched I am by this gesture of acceptance and inclusion.

Josephine drove home. She doesn’t even try to avoid the pot-holes. Uffda. We did stop for chapati though. Joy and jubilation!

I worked on my lunch and budget etc etc all afternoon and then did laundry. Woohoo. Clean underwear. Boycotting the bucket bath. Hoping for a trip to town tomorrow!


 
 
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Today went!

It started out slow (what’s new?) I practiced my talk while Josephine encouraged me to harass Paul about the driers. After welcoming our Aussie visitor from QSA (thinking dancing, drumming, aye aye ayes and tossed flower petals) I went with Paul and Bosco to visit Mr. Kayondo—the dear carpenter. He had one drier finished and there wasn’t a ton of progress on the others. And he wanted another 123,000 ush. Bugger. Josephine was unamused with him and Paul.

But—around 11 am, Jude and I headed to Kabulassoke. The training was supposed to start at 9 am, but details details. I was hella nervous, but it went really well! We visited zone Tulibumu first. Josephine Yiga’s house is a permanent structure. My students all sat, taking notes as I spoke and Jude translated. I talked about eating a balanced diet, maternal nutrition and infant/young child nutrition. In the second portion of the training, I discussed how solar drying works (it’s all dependent on temperature and moisture!) and I went over the four basic steps of solar drying: preparation, drying, storage and consumption. Both groups has many questions, which I was mostly able to answer. I was grateful for how engaged they were. At times it was difficult to “get a feel” for the audience because Jude needed to translate everything I said.

In all the training took a bit over an hour. Then I went inside and chatted amiably over a HUGE mug of chai. I successfully avoided the curdles too. #winning. I also had a huge hunk of bread, a bunch of sweet bananas, a biscuit and a hard boiled egg. After assuring Josephine Yiga that I had in fact eaten enough, Jude and I were sent on our way with about 6 packages of fruits and vegetables all tied up in banana fibers.

The next zone was Ali Yani Amani or something like that. One of the women from the first group came with too, for reasons unclear to me. These women were not as outwardly warm, but they did ask a lot of questions, so I am taking that to mean they care. After our presentation we had a 3:30 pm lunch in the house. Sarah’s house was not as nice (it was built with mud bricks rather than concrete). The walls were decorated with old Manchester United posters and a few adds for Pepsi. The poster read “Drink and Drive, Win one of four Toyotas!” I tried to explain to Jude why I thought it was funny, but he didn’t understand. We ate matooke, greens, cassava and chicken with soup. The chicken was defeathered, but that was the extent of the processing.

I rode from the first to the second training in the back of the pick-up truck (where everyone else sits)—but this horrified everyone else. They don’t understand the forbid appeal! Back at St. Jude I spent the evening hanging out with the staff at the new center. I was so content to just sit there with the staff. Lillian (Sarah’s toddler) still is terrified of me. She screams whenever she sees me. Josephine says she is wrong in the head. Several desensitization strategies were attempted. No success yet.

Starry night on the drive back. Must sleep

 
 
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I have been putting off writing about my day, because I don't know where to begin. I suppose the beginning is as good a place as any.

I worked on my final report this morning. I have a few budget odds and ends to tie up before I am totally done. But--it is mostly complete. The internet came on around noon, so I was able to check email and facebook. Heard from both of my parents. Its odd to think I will be home in one week. Having an Asian Noodle Salad at Crave in the Mall of America. That is NUTS.

But I digress.

I changed into my gomez. Shakila tried to help me tie it…Joy fixed me. I enjoyed some popo before heading out in the Prada (not the truck!) with Jude and Mr. Ndawula. The drive to Kabulassoke went quickly. Funny how when you want to savor something, when you want time to slow down, it seems to go in double time. (Or cut time? I should ask Eric.)

28 women attended my farewell party. It was hosted by the Ndawula’s.

First came the songs and dances. The youngest Nalongo—with the missing tooth—led most of the songs, but Jude’s shadow friend sand a jaunty little number as did Florence. The songs were sang to me and about me. “Welcome Lauren/Maureen/Noreen…may God bless you…we wish you a safe journey…bye bye Laureen bye bye.”

Following the songs came dancing. I left my comfort zone back in Busense (or maybe even America) and danced along. Jude tied a raffia belt/skirt on me and I danced right along with them. Jude’s shadow friend was the best dancer—her hips MOVED. Josephine had some moxie too, though her style was much more sensual. Lots of pelvic thrusting! There were 2 big drums and 1 tall skinny drum. My attempts at playing them were pretty dismal. I wish Eric could have been there do to a better job!

Several people gave speeches. Aminah’s was by far my favorite. She wrote a note on behalf of the group. The English was rough, but it was one of the most touching things anyone has ever done for me. I will treasure that note! After speeches, I ate and ate and ate. I had a luwomba—and even had a Riham cola.

After lunch, Mr. Ndawula showed me his parent’s house, the family graveyard and introduced me to half of his family. And everyone wanted pictures! Before I knew it I was presented with a mat and money for a dress (chitenge). I hugged everyone, alternating between welaba and webale. Oddly enough, this part of the gathering was devoid of any emotion. It is sort of mechanically happened.

The drive back to Kabulassoke was shorter than the drive out. I said goodbye to Mr. Ndawula, my father, at Butale Mixed Primary School. I said “Take care, my father.” What else is there to say?

Back at home, I made chapatti with Shakila. She even invited me. There wasn’t much of a recipe just a dash of this and a splash of that, but it was fun to cook with Shakila. And, I was so happy to have the chance to make chapatti.

Here is my guesstimation.

Chapati

-Dice onion
-Shred carrot
-Dice green peppers
-Mix vegetables

-add a few pinches of salt, some water and cooking oil
-Add egg and milk (optional)
-Add flour
-Mix until dough is not sticky
-Kneed into balls/discs
-Using some additional flour, roll into thin pancakes
-Fry (quickly) in cooking oil
-EAT EAT EAT


I enjoyed my chapatti and chatted with my brother, Jude. It was so reminiscent of my first week when the power was out and we talked in the dark over tea. Where has the time gone?


 
 
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I could easily write about the meat of my day. The mushroom training, getting my finances settled, even going to Masaka with Josephine and Moses. But, I don't know how to write about my dinner.

I’m not helping my situation by listening to “The Call” by Regina Spektor—that has become the song of the trip for me.

I’m so tired, I need to sleep, but I want to never forget this night! I think I will include a paraphrase of the speech I gave at dinner.

Ahem.

“I don’t want to say much, but I would be totally remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to say thank you. I came to Uganda, not knowing what to expect. I knew almost nothing about St. Jude. I knew it was a 3.7 acre demonstration farm and training center. I knew I would be living with the director. That is about it.

My time here has exceeded my expectations and then some. I have learned a ton. I have learned things that I can apply in my studies and my life at home. I have gained a better understanding of the challenges facing Ugandan farmers. And I’ve also learned how to vaccinate a chicken, milk a cow, shoot an arrow and make chapatti.

Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your support of my project. Thank you for including me even when I was pretty useless. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for making me part of the St. Jude Family. It is my hope that we will meet again, but until then, I will miss you all very much.”

Dinner was eaten in a stratified manner. There were notable absences (Sam and Edison!) I ate with Josephine, Margaret, Patrick and Jude. I think a lot of the employees are too intimidated to eat with me. Rosetta brought me a strawberry Fanta—my favorite. Josephine insisted I have a (warm) Heineken. After dinner, I sat and talked with Harriema and watched Lilliam dance to the hip hop music videos. That girl was stanky legging and dropping it low. Jude suggested she get a strippers pole…which is inappropriate, but still funny.

I thought people were dispersing…but everyone magically reappeared and even sat at one table. After I gave my speech, Josephine, Paul, Nor, Harriema and Patrick all spoke. Josephine declared me to the best intern that St. Jude has ever had. She said my absence even on the weekends was felt by everyone. She implored me to stay in touch. She sent claps to America for my parents. Paul acknowledged the impact of my work, citing the reaction of the Kabulassoke women as the proof of the difference I have made. He admitted that he struggled with me at first—always harassing me about wearing gloves etc. But, my eagerness to work on the ground helped me fit right in. Nor said he would never forget milking with me. Harriema mentioned how special my friendship is to her and how much she has loved greeting me every morning. Patrick talked about what an example I am at such a young age—and how evident it is that I love what I am doing.

Hearing those words made me feel really good about the time I’ve spent here. It’s easy to be critical and dubious of social work…but this helps me believe that I have touched lives. And that is really powerful.

I walked back from the new center with Harriema, Sam, Nor, Ronnie and Edison. It was only 8:30, but it was dark out. The stars were out and the night was perfect.

 

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    There are selected journal entries from my time in Uganda.

    Note: The years have been changed on the journal entry dates to allow readers to scroll through the posts in chronological order. The month and day are accurate.

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