Friday, June 30, 2017

Diving into East African Life

When you travel to a very new place, you notice the differences first. Similarities come later. As this is my first blog post, I’ll do my best to give a few good pictures of some differences.
  • I noticed the first difference when I stepped off the plane. The air here is simply mostly water. No need for Chap Stick, just try not to drown in the humidity.
  • Uganda was settled by England right? Yeah, so people speak English and I won’t need to worry about understanding anyone.
    • HA! I only asked “what?... say again?... Huh?” about 6 times before resorting to smiling and laughing nervously to myself. Yes, people speak English, but there was still going to be a language barrier.
  • Still at the airport, we got used to the idea that things in Uganda just take more time. Period. When we got out of the airport, Betty had been waiting outside for two hours. Our plane had landed 5 minutes late. This is the first of many examples.
    • Food can take many hours to cook. A good dinner here usually boils for about three hours, unless it’s beans where it can take more like 6 or 7
    • A simple exchange at the bank that would take only 3 minutes in the states might take a few hours since the line moves so slowly. (Something in the computer system?)
    • Lighting a gas stove in America takes about 2 seconds, here it takes about 20 minutes to light a fire and get the charcoal set
A luxurious four burner Charcoal stove

  • The other half of the large bag was being carried by Betty’s friend who lived close to the airport. On the way to the car, we seemed to run into almost every passerby coming the opposite direction on the path.
    •  Riiiight… England settled Uganda. Brits drive on the left.
  • We took a bus the next morning to Soroti (the town we’d be working in for the next month and a half). I quickly learned that transportation in Uganda was not decided by the traveler. As soon as the bus company learned we were trying to get to Soroti, my bags were already out of the car we had come in, and I was being dragged by 3 shouting men into the bus entrance along with Katya and Betty, (who seemed as if nothing was out of the ordinary)
  • Looking around a city street packed with people, I was painfully aware that we were the only people in sight that did not have African skin, and judging by the looks everyone was giving us on the street, there were not many others in the whole city.
    • After getting to Soroti we realized that we may very well be the only “mzungus” in living in the entire city. (Mzungu is a word for white foreigner, and all of the small children smile and laugh and yell “mzungu hi!”, “mzungu how are you?” “Mzungu!”)
  • I had thought it was hot the night we flew in. I was in for a real surprise when I was sitting in a crowded bus with my knees jammed into the seat in front of me under the baking sun coming through the window.
    • Not only do you swim in the air here, you swim in your sweat.
  • Roads in the US are generally paved, and generally passable at about the speed limit. Uganda does not follow suit. Some of the road to Soroti was absolutely gorgeous, not a blip in sight. Other parts were colored bright rusty red since they were made from the local soil, and the surface was probably more pothole than not pothole.
    • Almost all the road work is imported from India or other Asian countries despite there being an enormous population that would be willing to be employed to work on roads. Some believe the government lacks the capital to invest in highway paving machines, and thus contracts small sections of road externally.
  • On the bus, I failed to recognize that there were no stop signs or street lights. It was impossible to ignore, however, zipping through busy streets on the back of a motorcycle taxi called a Boda Boda. Four others were carrying our bags, Betty, and Katya.
    • Helmets would just be an inconvenience.
Three people to a BodaBoda near Sipi Falls (2 weeks later)
  • Driving through the less populated areas of Soroti, it was clear that both running water and electricity are luxuries only the wealthiest can afford. Most get water from hand-pump wells in filling large yellow plastic jugs that resemble diesel cans. (I’ve seen about 50 jugs in line to be filled at one time)
After living here for a little while, I began to notice some less obvious differences.
  1. People here feel like they must show their wealth. Even if you live in a clay hut, you still wear perfectly clean clothes in public.
    • Additionally a person’s weight is considered a way of showing economic standing, and if your guests don’t gain weight, you are considered an indecent host.
    • Yes, they are attempting to fatten us up.
  2. In America when most people get off work, they do something fun they enjoy. Embracing fun activity. Here, there is less of a drive to do things for fun. If you do not need to use your muscles to work, most people will sit, talk, and relax. Americans live for adventure, Ugandans seem to think adventure is exhausting.
  3. Women absolutely have a lower standing than men. Parents wish their children will be boys. Women do all of the housework and cooking (which takes so much more work than in America.) 
    • Most of the gardening and harvesting is done by women. No Boda Boda drivers are women. I guess most Taxi drivers are male in America too, but it’s not 100% like Uganda. 
    • If a family only has enough money to send one child to school, the girl will be learning how to take care of the house instead.
  4. What happened to experimentation? Here, they play one game of cards. That’s it. In America children make up card games all the time, creativity and individuality is much less valued.­­­
  5. If you are white, you will absolutely be charged more for things. Not always, but it happens. The market is usually a place for negotiation.
  6. Foooooood Oh my, what do they do to bananas in America to make them taste like plastic? How do they make pineapple here taste like it has twice the goodness? Why does that fruit named Jack look big enough to eat me?

7.  People slaughter animals. Yes you can argue that animals get slaughtered in America too, but no one thinks about it, they just get meat in nicely packaged morsels from the supermarket. Here when you get meat, the vendor hacks it from a piece of animal carcass hanging from the ceiling in front of you.

8.  The sky at night is awesome! At least this time of year there’s been lightning in the surrounding clouds every night. Usually in the distance, but sometimes closer.

And that’s all from Soroti, Uganda this time. I’m sure there will be much more to learn in the coming weeks.
Sunset by our appartment

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