Ummmm…..

You Are Lost!

Begin Scene. 

Local Ugandan:

Eh, you are lost!

The Ugandan exclaims dramatically, approaching the American.

Lost American:

Hi Ester, ah, no. Not really. I’m just walking to that duca.

She states with a puzzled look, pointing at the shop. 

Local Ugandan:

How is there?

She asks in a long drawn out baritone, descending the pitch with a long breathe out.

Lost American:

There?

She pauses, perplexed by the question.

The duca?

Again, she half-points and pauses.

I haven’t made it there yet…. I…. um….. I don’t know.

She states slowly, now more amused than perplexed.

Local Ugandan:

She laughs a deep bellowing laugh, every inch of her body beginning to shake.

She reaches her arm back wide, open palm, then smacks her hand into the American’s hand,

making a loud crack. She holds tight, swinging the American’s arm,

locked into the local Ugandan handshake.

How is home? Did you bring gift for me?

She gives a jolly laugh.

 Lost American:

Ester, you know, I live here now.

She speaks slowly, trying to speak clearly.

 I live in Uganda.

She waits for Ester to acknowledge this known fact.

 Local Ugandan:

But how are the people there? How is Obama?

She continues to swing her arm, with the American’s hand in grip,

swaying her hips side to side as she shifts weight between feet.

Still smiling a big jolly grin, with her mouth slightly open.

 Lost American:

Which people, my neighbors?

The American shakes her head a bit in confusion.

Wait… What?… Obama?

She changes her posture and lowers her tone once she realizes the confusion.

Ester, I just walked from my house, you know that I live just down the road.

Now leaning into the Ugandan grip, waiting for Ester to acknowledge the confusion.

 Local Ugandan:

Ehhh… but you’ve been lost. How was that side?

She asks gleefully, not fazed by the American’s inquisitive expression.

 Lost American:

Lost? I’m not lost.

She speaks quickly, forgetting to use her Ugandan accent.

Which side?

She shakes her head again in confusion, with a burrowed brow.

 Local Ugandan:

Hahahahahaaa!

The local Ugandan gives another deep bellowing laugh, swinging the American’s arm;

confirming that the handshake has not yet met the minimum 3 minute local standard.

The Ugandan continues to smile that big jolly grin, with mouth slightly open,

as if waiting for a response.

 Lost American:

Wait… are you talking about my home here or my home in America?

She now is very amused and smiles a jolly grin back to Ester.

 Local Ugandan:

Yes.

Ester replies quickly and emphatically. She continues to stare at the American,

only now her big jolly smile has reduced to a soft polite grin.

 Lost American:

Yes?

She asks slowly.

As if she were a teacher repeating a wrong answer to the student,

in order for them to recognize the mistake. She is still quite amused with the conversation.

 Local Ugandan:

Arnold Schwarzenegger!

She exclaims loudly, the jolly grin is now bigger than before.

 Lost American:

She joins Ester for another grand laugh as they continue to shake and sway hands.

Ester, we talked about this.

She pauses to re-consider explaining the bad news again to Ester.

Arnold lives in California. I’m from Florida. They are different states.

She laughs, so entertained with Ester’s enthusiastic spirit.

 Local Ugandan:

You send greetings to Arnold for me!

She leans back, cupping the American’s small right hand into both of her large hands.

She squints her eyes and flashes all of her white glowing teeth,

as if someone shouted “cheese” for a picture.

 Lost American:

But, I haven’t been back to America in over a year,

and someone like me wouldn’t know Arnold or Obama in that way…. why….

Ester interrupts before she can finish.

 Local Ugandan:

How is the voting, those people in Florida will pick the next president soon?

She speaks quickly, not concerned with getting an answer.

 Lost American:

Okay, now you have the right state… kind-of….

She mumbles to herself, as Ester continues to talk over her.

 Local Ugandan:

Eh, I have been missing YOU!

She dramatically emphasizes the “you” as she once again cups the American’s right hand with both of her hands.

 Lost American:

Ester, you just seen me last Friday!

Now the American is laughing in amusement, fueling Ester’s energetic conversation.

 Local Ugandan:

Your family was missing yoouu. Those people must be so happy to see yoouu!

She speaks almost in rhythms, as if singing the words, elongating the “you”s.

 Lost American:

But I didn’t see my family. Ester, it has only been two days.

She again leans in, locking eyes, trying to help Ester understand.

I didn’t fly back to America for the weekend.

She waits for Ester to acknowledge the confusion.

 Local Ugandan:

Yes, friend!

She pauses, gives one final shake to the hand.

You have reached!

She shows all her teeth again for the jolliest of all smiles.

She drops the American’s hand, raises both palms up and gives a small sort of bow, turns, and walks away.

 Lost American:

Okay Ester, nice time.

She chuckles to herself, arms hanging freely at each side,

and watches Ester walk away with a very cheerful sort of stride to her steps.

 

End Scene.

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As a foreigner in Ugandan, there is one thing that you learn very quickly.

And this one thing is so vital for your everyday survival.

This one thing must be taken very seriously.

Laughter.

Every day is a new experience, and, every conversation is a new adventure.

Often times, it is not the topic or the words you choose that matter here. It is your tone, your expression, and, your willingness to share a smile or a laugh. As a foreigner, we must let go of what is “right” or “wrong” and just enjoy all the little things that just feel right.

Many times, people in Uganda are just appreciative if you have taken your time to stop and greet them. They have a moment to feel special, to feel important. And in that moment they seem to be truly happy with you presence. After all, they say being present is present enough.

But, if you are “not around”. If your presence has been missed,

the locals here will let you know it. Here is another common phrase from Ugandan 101:

You are lost!

This is not the sort of “lost” you are familiar with. Not the confused wanderer lost in a foreign city without a map.

The Ugandan “lost” simply means “I haven’t seen you in a long time.”

And some cases, a Ugandan “long time” may be just two days.

Just know, to be “lost” in Uganda is to be missed.

Take it as a heart felt acknowledgement that they were wondering if you were okay.

My Peace Corps service has been flying by at hyper-speed!

I’ve just celebrated ONE YEAR in country! Although, it feels like I just arrived a couple months ago.

And now as I have a few weeks to relax and reflect on my blog, I realize that I’ve been lost!

So, here it is.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

It’s about time to let you all find out where I’ve been.

Recaps and Updates to come….

Another Perspective…

Many volunteers in Uganda have a unique experience specific to their site and their sector. But, mostly we all encounter similarly strange scenarios in the field. Check out this very realistic and funny comic created by a Returned PCV from the health sector. Yep, this sums it up. Shout out to Emily Cobbs… Hope you’re enjoying life back in Amerika’

comic about PCV in Uganda

Two Foot Won Feet

Shifting my weight from left to right, I was able to ease the pressure building on my thigh. A discomfort caused from balancing my weight on a bench only 6 inches wide. We joked about packing his friend into my suitcase on a return flight to America…. We considered whether or not airport security would notice the stowed-away passenger, or, if a person could survive the 15+ hour flight from Africa to the States. We teased and laughed at the thought.

The man seated beside me on the wooden bench was thin, like most Ugandans, with smooth skin and a genuinely jolly appearance.

He began to translate for the elderly man who was working diligently to repair my broken sandal.

At times we all quietly observed people moving through town, without a need to fill the air with small talks. It was a comfortable silence you would have with a close friend. Sitting in the side alley looking out, we could see a woman dressed in a white satin gomezi with purple flower print take a short break. She crouched down for about 15 minutes, leaning against the post centered perfectly in the cracked sidewalk. The bodas kicked up dust from the street construction and cars politely honked to signal their arrival as they merged back into traffic.

It was there, sitting under the cast iron stairway in the narrow corridor, that we find happiness. Each of the five men continued with their normal routine, managing their small businesses. The youngest man selling phone cases shared his rice with the eldest man, whom was seated below him on a small concrete block. A box with a pile of shoes queued for repairs rested patiently at the old mans feet.

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The watch salesman quietly counted his shillings hidden in the lower drawer of the slim glass case, then stared into space. It seemed he was daydreaming about an extravagant lifestyle away from the hustle of Mbale Town street vendors.

The man seated on the brick ground in front of me greeted every neighbor that passed by. He took extra time with the young primary school boy whom came to pick up his repaired sneakers.

The boy tested the newly stitched soles with a few swivels, then looked up at me coyly with a smile of satisfaction.

Surely the boy was pleased to have his shoes back, with soles fully attached.

My bench mate and companion during the wait for shoe repair shared stories about his dream to visit Tijuana. He introduced me to the group of men working under the stairwell when I first arrived to inquire about sandal repairs. As we talked, he assisted the other two men with gluing the sandals, and completed the final inspection after the others completed the stitching.

After showing him the photo of his friend stitching the sandal, he comfortably took hold of my iPhone and scrolled through my pictures. Without words, I demonstrated how to zoom and sweep through pictures. He mostly enjoyed seeing pictures of sunset at Tororo Rock.

When a man approached, my bench mate quickly gave up his one foot section of butt space for the elderly customer. As he reached for his crutches, I noticed my bench mates well polished shoes, but, there was something strange with his right leg. He quickly left then returned with a small spool of thread requested by the customer.

Once they exchanged seats again the difference between my bench mate’s legs was obvious.

His right foot hung lifelessly, about one foot shorter then his left.

He told me about the organization for disabled Bugisu and the Savings Institution that they established for members. The group repairs tarpaulins and work side jobs to raise funds for their organization. I was invited to attend their Wednesday meeting, and in true Ugandan fashion, I was told that I would be “most welcome”.

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As agreed, we exchanged 8000:/ ush for both pairs to have the deluxe mending; a combo of reinforced stitching with highly toxic glue. It was sad to crawl out from my bench below the staircase. My five new friends shared with me a new perspective of Uganda, as well as a new love for the people.

That two foot section of shared bench won my heart. And with newly repaired sandals, they won my feet.

(Cheesy enough for ya?). 😛

Want to learn more about the savings initiative for the disabled? Well then, Google this long beauty:
National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) Programmes for Economic Empowerment

Or just click here:
“We Can Manage”

The Hills of Manafwa

We follow the orange clay road past small homes made of mud walls with thatch roofs. The beautiful mountains of East Uganda rest quietly in the background as the villagers gather their produce on the streets.

We were traveling to meet a farmer’s cooperative in Manafwa for coffee training. We arrived at a small church located near a primary school, surrounded by the mountain’s foothills. The children laugh and play in the open field as we gather for another day’s work. Simply a lovely scenery for a lovely day.

Real Hard Work, Uganda

Everyday we come across some of the most hardworking Ugandans. Finding steady income in Uganda does not come easy.

There are no applications, no interviews….. no jobs in the rural villages.

You must be an entrepreneur with a strong will to survive.

Traveling from Mbale to Tororo we pass by many men with bike-loads of ripe green banana. They spend their days buying the sweet banana from rural farmers, then transport them to Tororo markets for export to Kenya.

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The mountainous terrain in the East of Uganda provides some challenging foothills for these men to climb on their journey. They often hop off their bikes and push the heavy loads.

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The trip can earn them about 50000ushs profit for the days work.

This is the true definition of a day’s hard-work.

Respect.

Mbale Village (not town)

Mukono… A nice city outside of Kampala with rolling hills and the best roasted goat street meat to date. I was there for an event with Feed the Future at the Colline Hotel, a fancy shin-dig. The youth targeted farmer conference (Exploiting Opportunities – Go for the Gold) was encouraging for the future of Uganda’s young people. Although I have to mention that Uganda defines anyone under 35 years as a “youth”…. I’ll be forever young in Uganda 🙂

The even was a combination of seminars, break-out sessions and field trips to different Agricultural sites.

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NaCRRI researcher showing youths rice at the greenhouse in Namulonge.

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Youth learning about different Maize varieties from NaCRRI.

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Tour of coffee seedling project at Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd.

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Learning about the “mother garden” at Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd.

The attendees were creative but most importantly they were passionate about starting different businesses in the agriculture industry. Everything from growing coffee seedlings to a developed Android App on how to manage your chicken farm (Luunda Lite). Jessica Wadja even stopped by the hotel in time for the demo on making “paw paw jam”.

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But the diplomatic figures and well-paid executives who attended the event make me wonder if they truly understand their impacts. Or if they truly understand what it is that the common people need. The US Ambassador gave an encouraging speech to the Ugandan “youths” about the opportunities for entrepreneurship, but, there was something missing… a connection was lacking. He spoke with his heavy draw at a race speed that was impossible for some to understand. I overheard two hotel staff behind me ask, “is he from America?” All the Ambassador needed was a little bit of Uganglish (Uganda’s special touch on English).

Luckily they followed up with the language understood by most, money. A few checks were handed-out to the farmers who had the three best ideas on “how to make the agribusiness industry cool”. The grand prize winner’s idea was to build youth farming resource centers; an idea worth half-million Ugandan shillings from USAID.

Overall the event was a success but with two weeks in the field, I was REALLY ready to get back to Mbale.

My night couldn’t have ended in a better way. I found my neighbor’s house-girl/maid sitting on the stoop with a blue plastic cup of beans and rice. As usual, she welcomes me back and invites me to join her. We sat and talked about her plans to visit her baby girl next month (back in her home village outside Bududah). The 4yr old neighbor boy joined us on the stoop to share a story; he told us how he drove his father’s car to Kampala from Mbale Village and got into some Kung-fu style battle with a punching balloon. We laughed when he insisted that Mbale is a village, not a town, and laughed even more as he demonstrated the epic punching ballon story.

The orange sky slowly darkened to an luminescent royal blue as we ate our matooke rice and beans on the cool concrete steps. Just as the shadow of Wanale Mountain began to sink into the dark sky, the little boy announced it was time for his bath.

The house-girl laughed when I thanked her for the meal in Lugisu and took the neighbor boy home. A peaceful ending after a tiresome two weeks.

Back Alley Computer Repairman

One thing that you cannot trust in Uganda is the power. It is not only a matter of being on or off. You also have to consider the voltage and stability. Even with a power protector and Dr. Voltz regulator, you can be certain that your electronics will be damaged in some capacity. For me, I’ve been through an iPhone charger and laptop cable. All things considered, it is not bad.

When my laptop stopped recharging I thought that there would be no chance of finding the cable I needed in Mbale, or even Uganda. But I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask around. My counterpart recommended Damascus, a local computer repair guy. We planned to meet behind the CD store, but as I walked through the back-alley a woman asked me who I was looking for. She immediately took me by the wrist (as Ugandans’ typically do when they want to show me anything) and had me sit in a cramp hair salon. Three woman sat patiently as their hair was being perm, sewn and pulled into the latest fashion.

Damascus arrived and glanced at my charger. He swiftly lead me through another alley behind a locked gate and opened up what seemed to be his apartment door. On his couch was the exact charger for my laptop, only with the Uganda socket. For only $6 (15000shs) my laptop was working again. Happiness.

Finally Home!

After some weeks of delay, we finally are able to move into our home. Although we no longer have the luxury of hot showers at the guest house, it is really nice to have a place to truly relax. This is my second weekend my Ugandan home and I absolutely love the compound. And the view!

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No more hanging my clothes in the hotel bathroom to dry; I now have two different clothes-lines to call my own. Really, it is the simple things in life that make us happy.

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We are slowly picking-up more things for our kitchen and were able to cook our first meal in almost three months. Nothing better than being able to decide exactly what you want to eat, and to eat exactly when you want to.

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We were happy to have Kate stop-in as our first guest.

So we prepared the finest American foods we could get our hands on: MREs.

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Shout-out to my sister Lynn for sending the goods!

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