Monday, 18 June 2012

Goodbye Kampala, Hello Mbarara!

My time in Kampala has ended (well, for now), now its time to get down to business in a town called Mbarara, in Western Uganda. So I had spent the past two weeks in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. I was waiting for the physician with whom I will be working to come back from a conference, which was held in Washington DC. She has finally come back and we have traveled to Mbarara where I will be for the next two months working on my research project. I’ve actually been in town for 5 days. I just didn’t get a chance to post the update sooner, my bad:)

About Mbarara

Mbarara is located in Western part of Uganda. It is the 6th largest town in the country. Mbarara was not always this big though. In 1955, when Alan Forward arrived in Mbarara to serve as its new district officer, he found himself “chocking in the dust” of what seemed to have the atmosphere of a one-horse town. Indeed, at  the end of the colonial era, Mbarara was too small to be ranked among the towns whose population exceeded 4000. By the early 1990s, however, the one-horse town had grown to become one of the largest towns in the country, with the population exceeding 40,000. Mbarara is, in short, the most rapidly expanding town in Uganda.

The climate here is much colder than that of Kampala. The mornings and evenings can get down to the 30s (a little too cold for the month of June if you ask me) and middays are usually in the 60-70s. I just love the tropical weather. The town is much smaller than Kampala. I’ve only been here for 5 days and I feel like I know where everything is located. The supermarkets, the banks, the restaurants, the beauty salons...I can get to the them with no problems. I was in Kampala for 2 weeks and didn't know where anything was. Here in Mbarara, there is only one main road, called the High Street. This is the only road into and out of town. It goes right in the middle of the town, dividing it into two sides (West and East). Nearly everything is located on the High Street: banks, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, shopping malls/boutiques, gas stations, churches, hospitals, parks, they are all on this street. Unlike Kampala, there is no getting lost here. If for some reason I get lost, all I have to do is find the High Street and will eventually find my way back home. The smaller size of the town means there are also lesser people here compared to Kampala, which means it is less crowded here. Sometimes Kampala was so crowded that I felt like I was suffocating, especially during rush hours.

The downside to the smaller size of town and quieter environment is occasional boredom. I haven't been able to visit any tourist attractions simply because there isn’t any nearby. There are a few national parks that I would like to visit sometime but they're all located at least 2 hours away and transportation is a challenge since I dont own a car and not very many public transport reach there. The town is said to boast perhaps the best selection of hotels and other tourist-related facilities but they are aimed mostly at local businessmen. There is not much sightseeing, which is probably good for me because I can spend more time doing what I really come here to do.

One of my favorite things to do when I go places is meeting new people. Like the people in Kampala, people here too are very friendly. I have been meeting really nice people at church, at the hospital I work at (Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital) and sometimes in restaurants and stores; however, I haven't been able to befriend many because of language barrier.The local language spoken here is Runyakore, which is different from Luganda (the language spoken in Kampala).  I don't speak Runyakore; however, I taught myself to speak Luganda using some words I found in the Bradt guidebook, so I can actually manage to form a few sentences in Lunguage. The only thing is, very few people in Mbarara speak Luganda and fewer speak very little English (except for those who are educated), so this makes communication very difficult.  Whenever there is a language barrier, I try to gesture my words. Sometimes I look crazy doing this, but would be surprise how much is conveyed by my gestures and that is what counts. haha

Apart from the chilly weather and language barrier, I really like living in this town. Mbarara is a small university town. At times it reminds me of Iowa City. The town is known for its famous university, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST). Students travel from all corners of Uganda to come study here, their families come to visit them, and businessmen come here to make money off of them and their families. Students, professors and other staff members, businessmen, and their families are who make up the majority of the population. When school is in session, there is a boom in business and the local economy. The opposite happens when school is out and the town becomes less active  (sounds like Iowa City, doesn't it?).

Anyway, this is all I have for now. Till next time! 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Obstacles of Life: Are they really the devil's work or curses from God?

Today my Ugandan friend Dorothy invited me to go to church with her; it was a Pentecost church. I call myself catholic, so I normally attend catholic masses, but I would attend just about any church as long as they believe in Jesus. So I went to the Pentecost church with Dorothy. Anyway, I am not writing this blog to talk about religion, I am writing it to talk about what happened in church today.

Today’s sermon was about praying and asking God for protection; protection from evil spirits that is. The evil spirits that the pastor was referring to are witchcraft, wicca, sorcery and other uses of black magic. The sermon was very interesting to me because I don’t believe in witchcraft and all the other stuff, and the fact that it was being discussed in church, by a pastor, was just intriguing. The pastor started the sermon by saying that witchcraft is becoming more and more common in the community and it is very sad that some members of the church and their relatives are partaking in this practice. He went on saying that spirits of sorcery have attacked several community and church members causing sudden malfunction in marriages, unemployment, and death. At one point, he shouted, “My heart tells me that some of you in here are under witchcraft attack right now. I am here to awaken you because some of you are ignorant of what is happening. My brothers and sisters, we need to pray and tell the devil and his followers enough is enough”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not only because I was doubtful of what he was saying, but also because I never thought of witchcraft as sermonic.

The pastor was standing at the altar facing us, the audience. Behind him was an overhead with  a list of “the signs of witchcraft” displaying on it. The signs were as followed:
1.     Loss of peace
2.     Unexplainable sickness and/or death
3.     Unexplainable financial loss and delays
4.     Tensions in relationships/marriages
5.     Failure/closures of churches and other religious institutions

He reassured everyone in church that if these things were happening, then they were certainly under the attack of witchcraft. As he went on taking about the signs in detail, in my head I was thinking about a million things that could cause the things listed above that were not related to supernatural forces.

Why did the sermon intrigue me?

As you already know I came here to do a research project and my proposal for the project is regarding the knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about sickle cell anemia (SCA) among parents/caregivers of children with the disease in Uganda. I’ve read tens of research papers on SCA published by African researchers from all over Africa and one thing they all had in common was that there is a huge knowledge gap about Sickle cell diseases between care-givers/the general public and healthcare workers. Most people in “Africa”, specifically Sub-Saharan Africa, believe that SCA is either something to do with witchcraft or a curse from GOD. Only a few of them believe it to be a medical problem. Today’s sermon explains where such beliefs come from. During the time I’ve been here, I’ve learned that religion is stronger than politics and anything else and hence people are more likely to listen to religious leaders than doctors or anyone else. This not only impacts the way society operates, but it also affects the way people respond to health policies and such. Anyway, I can’t wait to see what I come up with at the end of my project. I wonder if the results will be similar to those suggested by the researchers whose work I’ve read.

The pastor (whose name I don't remember) praying for and with church members

Another shot of the pastor praying for  church members

There Are a Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa (A Coca Cola TV ad)

Most people who know me, know that I am a very proud Congolese and African woman. I take great pride in my native land, culture, and background. Though, I have to say, I didn’t always appreciate who I am and where I come from. In fact, it wasn’t until I moved to the United States when I begun to embrace my origin and cultural heritage. I was 11 years old then. Since I moved to the U.S, I've met many people and made many friends. When I meet people for the first time, the first thing most of them ask me after noticing my accent is where I am originally from. I say I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and then I would see a blank look on their faces like they have no idea where DRC is. So I say Africa, I am from Africa, and then they would say “oooh OK”. The next question that usually follows is if I lived in huts with lions (or some wild animal) while I was in the Congo. I've even been asked if I had seen a car or tall building before coming to the U.S or if I had food to eat while living in Africa. As ridiculous as these questions are, some people do actually ask them, believe it or not.

I used to ask myself, how ignorant, uneducated, and uninformed can someone be to even ask such questions? Then I realized those questions reflect what people learn from the media. The West’s media representation of Africa usually involves naked, malnourished, and sick children living on the streets; adults who are suffering from HIV/AIDs, TB, and Cholera; contaminated foods and water; beggars on the streets; animals, forests, and jungles. This is how most Westerners I’ve met who have never traveled outside the boundaries of their countries think of Africa. Though all of the above is true about some parts of Africa, it does not define Africa. Africa is much more than just hunger and poverty. It is much more than naked hungry children and sick adults. Africa is love, peace, and joy. Africa is the past, the present, and the future. Africa has some of richest countries in the world with abundance of natural resources.  Because of its riches, it has been exploited, degraded, neglected, and savagely suppressed for centuries and its recovery from this has been nearly impossible to achieve. That is not to say that Africa is as dark as some people think it is, because even with all the misfortunes that have happened, Africa and its people are always on top of the world. They never stop moving forward. Their determination, achievements, and strive for independence and development are something that the media in the West fails to show to people.

During the past years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time teaching my friends, and some strangers, about the beauty of the MOTHERLAND. Through teaching them, I’ve also learned to appreciate her. I’ve learned to appreciate my land and my culture and traditions. I’ve learned to appreciate who I am and where I come from.

I was watching TV a few days ago and saw something that put a smile on my face and made me even more proud to be an African. It is the latest Coca Cola TV ad for Africa. It inspired me to write this post. In the ad were 7 short phrases that say:

·      While the world shakes and stumbles, Africa dances to a different beat

·      For every bank bailed out, 2 million Africans send money back home

·      1 in 5 European club players is African and million more are ready to shine

·      As authorities try to tame the internet, Africa becomes the most mobile- connected place on the planet.

·      For every international band trying to sell a song, 5000 African bands go live.

·      The world’s most admired man is African, and so is the most beautiful woman.

·      While the world turns grey, we (African people) live life in full color.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Eat, Drink, and Talk

        A few days ago I met Dorothy, an English teacher at a local primary school and activist for a non-profit organization called Children Ministry Charity. Her charity supports underprivileged children (0-18 yrs old) by sponsoring for their education and other basic needs. Yesterday she took me to the school where she teaches and introduced me to some of the children. I met about 15 of them. I was told most of the children there were either victims of child abuse or orphans. On the wall of the school main hall was displayed a group picture of them when they were about 5-6 years old, now they’re in their teens. As Dorothy was looking at the picture and explaining to me who was who on it, I could really tell she was proud of those kids. She had “that look”, you know, the one that says, “WOW, you’ve come a long way, I am so proud of you” hahaha.

        Anyway, after school was out, Dorothy invited me to her home to meet her family and to have dinner with them. I honorably accepted the invitation. When we got to her house, I was kindly welcomed by an older man who I later learned was her dad and he’s in his early-90s. There were also GodFred (19 y.o), Sam (23 y.o), Carol (17 y.o), and Anna (16 y.o). I knew Dorothy was in her late 40s, had never been married, and had no family around Kampala, so I was wondering who all those people in here house were. It turned out 10 years ago she decided to adopt some of the children from her organization so she chose three children who she thought were most vulnerable and those were Godfred, Anna, and Carol. Sam is her younger brother.

        As we were walking into the house, Dorothy shouted, “everybody meet my friend Jeanne, she comes from America!”…… “oh this is Jeanne?” Anna asked and then she said, “she’s not a MUZUNGU!”. Muzungu means, “WHITE”. I guess when Dorothy called her family earlier and told them that she was bringing a friend from “America” home, they automatically assumed that I was white. I couldn’t really tell whether the color of my skin was a good or bad thing, and I honesty wasn’t too worried about it. I was to busy being happy that I was actually visiting a Ugandan family in their home for the first time. I had been looking forward to this opportunity since I got into the country. What I was even happier about what the fact that I was going to eat a home-cooked meal for the first time in 11 days… It is amazing how fast a person’s values changes depending on the location they’re in. As much as I love eating out, I never thought I’d miss home-cooked foods.

        Dorothy’s family was very kind and welcoming, except for her dad. He was very quiet. After welcoming us, he sat down on the couch and did not say a word. I went up to him and almost shook his hand and then I remembered that in some countries a woman or younger person shaking hands with an older man is culturally inappropriate; so I asked Dorothy how younger people greet older people in the “Baganda” Culture. Baganda is what Ugandans are called in their local language, which is Luganda. Anyway, sure enough Dorothy told me that they usually position themselves lower than the person they’re greeting. She said since her dad was seated, most people would kneel down and extent their right hand to him and so I did.
Dorothy's father and I. Dorothy is at the door instructing me to kneel

I did it 

He finally said spoke to me. He asked what I was in Uganda

      I noticed he was using a cane to support his left side of the body. I tried to make small talks with him but he would just stared at me, so I stopped talking. Dorothy noticed the awkward silence and immediately informed me that her dad’s communication has been impaired since he had a stroke in 1996, which left him paraplegic. She said when he stares like that, he’s usually listening but he just can’t respond to what is being said. I have to say though, for someone who is in his 90s and physically impaired, Dorothy’s father looked better than most younger and healthier people I know. 

       I was at Dorothy’s house for about 4 hrs (4-7pm). During that time, we ate, drank, and talked…well, I was the one doing most of the talking. I felt like I was being interrogated the whole time I was there. Dorothy and her kids asked a million questions, and I probably answered 99% of them. They wanted to know everything about the U.S. Their questions involved everything from education to politics to the western social life, and even things from Hollywood. Most of the questions they asked me were about things they’ve seen in movies and on the news and reality shows. Most people here have satellite TV, so they get most of the European and American channels. They have seen things on TV and wanted to confirm whether or not those things were true. I answered their questions to the best of my knowledge. The nonsense I learn from reality TV and entertainment news and the two classes I have taken in the Department of Political Science paid offJ.
Dorothy, Carol, and I about to eat dinner

Dorothy, Anna, Carol, and I...Can't remember exactly what we were laughing at!

      The most interesting question I was asked, which I found to be funny, was “why is it that President Obama doesn’t visit his father’s village in Kenya more Often?” LOL. Well, that is a personal question and since I don’t know Obama to a personal level, the answer was “I DON’T KNOW!!!”  I could tell they were not satisfied with my answer, so I made a joke saying that if I ever meet Pres. Obama in person I would ask him that question, better yet, I will write him a letter when I get back home. I don’t think they got the joke because I was the only one laughing at it. LOL. ANYWAY, I had a good day.
From left: Anna, Me, Carol, and Godfred

Until next time!!!