Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Adventurous Birthday Weekend

Thank you to all who have asked about the car - it is fixed.  It simply needed a new battery.  I still owe the car mechanic 20,000 shillings ($12) since I didn't have enough cash with me when I went to pick up the car!  He didn't mind...said I could drop it by sometime.

This weekend Nate and I went on our first African adventure outside of Kampala.  We drove to Jinja - a city 2 hours northeast of Kampala famous for being the location of the source of the Nile River.  We camped right along the Nile.  The sound of the water was the best night-time noise maker!  Some friends of ours had gone whitewater rafting during the day on Saturday and we happened to be camping at the same organization - Nile River Explorers - that guided their rafting trip.  We hung out at a beautiful outdoor bar overlooking the river and watched the video of their experience.  We saw some amazing birds and also a monitor lizard in the river.  At first we thought it was an otter but then Nate took out his ridiculously large lens and zoomed in - it looked like a small crocodile (maybe 4 ft long?).

I'm 26 years old!  My birthday happened to fall on a Monday this year, so I convinced Nate that we should start celebrating Friday night.  Friday night was low key - running, yoga, reading and watching political T.V. Saturday we dropped Romeo off at a friends and left for Jinja.  Camping was great and Nate told me that we had an "appointment" at 10:00 on Sunday morning.  After enjoying coffee on the Nile we drove to the secret destination - Nile River Horseback Safaris!  Ever since my days in Denver, I've been begging Nate to go horseback riding with me.  He came through like he always does and planned a two hour ride through villages and along the Nile.  It was a wonderful surprise.

The Nile is beautiful - huge and surprisingly clean.  The banks of the river are covered with bright green plant life - it was a nice break from the dust and heat of Kampala.  Nate is posting our pictures to flickr now, so check out "Nate's flickr collection" under "websites we recommend" if you want to see some pictures!

On Monday - my actual birthday - we worked during the day but had some friends over in the evening.  We made hummus, guacamole, salsa and bruschette and our guests brought red wine.  We played the bowl game (a version of charades) and had lots of fun!  Oh and of course we had chocolate cake.  The Joy of Cooking was a huge help with the frosting that we took turns whipping by hand.

One more story than I'll leave you.  Today is a public holiday in Uganda, but nobody knew for sure if it would be until 6:30 this morning.  Its officially the end of Ramadan, but apparently the religious leaders decide this by seeing if the moon truly is full the night before the holiday.  A friend here compared it to our Groundhog Day...did the groundhog see his shadow?  So people are supposed to have day off, but that's tricky for clinics, policemen, guards, etc.  These people still have to work but do not get paid extra for their work.  This has brought up some heated discussions at the clinic where I volunteer.

I always forget to talk about my thesis I'm supposed to be writing.  Remind me...I'll tell you next time :)

Miss you all.  Thank you for your emails, e-cards and facebook birthday greetings!  I feel loved.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Car Craziness and Cute Children

Unfortunately this follow-up to my last email is not a whole lot better. In fact, it might be worse...but don't worry - I am taking it all in stride by telling myself, "It's Africa!"

So last I wrote, the Land Rover had been jumped, I drove around charging the battery, went to bed, and woke up the next morning to find that it was dead again. The update is that I now owe Sarah and Dan's friend Doug 50 kilos of steak (its all he eats) for all the help he has offered over the past couple days. He came over today, started the car, and then led me to Ssanga's Land Rover fix-it garage. This was just a couple of hours ago, so please pray that the diagnosis is not too costly. We're hoping it just needs a new battery.

The humorous part of this whole saga is the way the Ugandan guard looked at me when I said that no, in-fact, we do not need your friend King to come over and jump the car and drive it to the garage because I - a white woman - am going to drive it there myself. I guess I can't blame him - he was just looking to capitalize on this economic opportunity.

I had to be pretty aggressive to follow closely behind Doug as we drove to the garage. In the end it was quite exhilarating and empowering for me!

Oh - one more bit of humor. Nate asked the eMi team to pray for my safety on the roads while he and the team were away this week. The next morning he read my text message saying, "the car battery is dead again" He and the eMi team liked God's answer to their prayer.

Okay - a little bit more about something other than broken down cars...

Today I was walking with 2 Ugandan colleagues down a red dirt road to reach a clinic. Anyone who knows anyone who has every traveled to African knows that the children love to run after white people yelling, "mzungu!" They often say "bye mzumgu!" A friend of mine asked a Ugandan why they say "bye" instead of "hello." The reason she got is, "well, you are always leaving - you never stay." But today some children said something much more complicated to me in Luganda. I asked my colleagues what they said and Joel said, "Bye Mzungu! When you return, bring us some sweets!" Then later an older child said to me, "Mzungu, will you be my sponsor?" So African children really do feel the effects of these child sponsorship programs we are all reluctant to give to!

Its Friday! Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

About driving in Kampala...

As Nate mentioned, I started driving this past weekend. It can be frustrating and scary, but I actually felt more comfortable than I thought I would. Nate left Monday morning and I walked to work since the clinic where I go on Mondays and Fridays is close to home. I had no need to drive Monday evening either, so the next time I got in the car was Tuesday morning. I had to do a lot of positive talk to prepare myself for this moment and I really was ready...but then...the car battery was dead. So I grabbed Dan's helmet and walked off in search of a boda boda (motorcycles that act as taxis).

I viewed this incident as a blessing in disguise - thinking maybe I was being protected by not having a working car. Tuesday night was nice - 3 girls came over for a ladies night dinner and before they left we tried to jump my car. I felt like 4 girls jumping a car would make our ladies' night complete! We read directions online to make sure we were connecting the right clamps to the right parts, but nothing happen when we tried to start the car. Even the guard and 2 other security guards could not make it work with the jumper cables. They did however push the car and get it started that way. I was excited as I drove around the neighborhood at 10:30 pm charging the battery....

But of course - this is Africa - things cannot be that easy! I came out this morning and attempted to start the car again, but it was dead again. Maybe its actually an electric car that must be plugged in at night?!? Luckily I have Wednesdays off, so it was not too big of a deal. But I still want to know what is going on! Why does this happen when my mechanical engineer is gone?!?

Well, hopefully I will have a more positive story to share soon. For now I will have to embrace this free time at home - perhaps I should begin working on my research project for my MPH? :)

Ciao everyone,

Monday, September 15, 2008

First Project Trip

It's been three weeks since we arrived, and today I'm leaving for my first project trip.  We're headed up to Luwero, about two hours north of Kampala to work on a project for the organization Sufficiency of Scripture (SOS).  We'll be there until next Monday.  I'm going to be working on some electrical, some civil, and some graphic design tasks.  I'll try to keep a journal of sorts while I'm there and post it on the blog when we get back.  I should be able to add a lot more pictures.

Since Alicia is staying in Kampala this week, she needed to learn how to drive the Land Rover.  On Saturday, her first time driving, she drove back from Entebbe (30 miles south of Kampala) in heavy Saturday evening traffic.  She picked up Ugandan driving amazingly quickly!  Better than I did.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Two global health experiences in one!

We've officially begun our work here in Kampala. Last Tuesday we participated in a scavenger hunt with Nate's organization - eMi. It was right up my alley and a great way to get to know the city a bit more. Since then we have been traveling to work together in Sarah and Dan's rugged car (a must in a city with so many potholes). Without trying, we managed to find 2 orgs that are only 2 miles apart. So he drops me off about 1 mile from the Hope Clinic and then drives the other mile to eMi in time for daily prayer time. At the end of the day we meet up some how and Nate drives us to our house - a 15 minute drive. Someday I may say that I drive Nate home, but for now I am "letting" him deal with the wheel!...Driving here is ridiculously crazy, scary and unorganized.

So far we've been blessed with good health. I have had some trouble with excessive, horrible dreams at night - a common side effect of the malaria meds we're taking. For those of you who have heard about my normal dreams, this may not seem like a negative side-effect, but it is. I usually dream, but they often involve kittens and Christmas. All this has changed since Mefloquine entered my body. SO, I've decided to stop taking them. Mzungus definitely get malaria, but it is very treatable and not terribly widespread in the city.

Today I had a great afternoon at the clinic. I started a "train the trainer" nutrition program for people in various communities who are often major sources of medical information in their communities. Since Africans are often much more relational than Americans, we used our first 2-hour session simply getting to know each other. I introduced myself and right away someone said, "oh! like Alicia Keys!". Yep, exactly. Five out of the six attendees spoke English and one was willing to translate in Luganda - the most common language after English. We played nutrition games and talked about which topics would be best for the 6-week training. I was pleasantly surprised by the group's honesty and openess about what would and wouldn't work. Tomorrow I will start another class - this one is targeted towards parents and will likely focus on infant feeding, hygeine, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and diet diversity.

One last thought - I was thinking tonight how cool it is that Nate and I are here together. Our drives home are filled with stories from our days, and this makes me feel like we are both having a "double-time" experience. Working separately during the day and sharing transport, stories and food together at night is the perfect combination!

As always, thank you for your love and support! Enjoy fall for us in DC and WI (and wherever else you're reading from where fall is a beautiful season)


Monday, September 1, 2008

Vacation is over!

We enjoyed one more day of vacation today since its Labor Day in the US. Everyone else in Uganda worked today, but since the US Embassy was closed, we stayed home with Sarah and Dan. It was a lovely day filled with exercise in the morning (Sarah and I went running - giving Ugandans a chance to say things like, "good exercise!" or "who is winning?" or "they are training"), shopping at the arts and crafts market, reading (a book I bought called Food and Nutrition in Uganda) and now cooking some homemade pasta sauce to eat with macaroni for dinner.

I've learned a few things about nutrition in Uganda (more from conversations with people than from my new book):
1) Diets here are starchy! Matooke, sweet potatoes, kassava, Irish potatoes, rice and chapatti are some common carbohydrates. While this is good as an energy source, it seems that people fill up on these foods and skip veggies that supply needed vitamins and minerals
2) Beef, goat and dried fish seem popular while chicken is by far the most expensive animal meat. Sarah says the price of chicken has tripled in the past year. Dan says it always tastes funky anyways
3) Most Ugandans grow some produce, but don't seem to eat it themselves
4) Peanuts are called "groundnuts" or g-nut for short
5) Milk and yogurt are available, but are often transported and stored without refrigeration leading to spoiled milk often enough
6) A decent meal at a restaurant has run us around $5-$8 - not bad, although more than I would have guessed

Thanks for reading! Writing about food helps me to learn the info I need to learn in order to be an effective dietitian here! As we begin our work this week, we'll write more about our nutrition and engineering work. Happy Labor Day!

See Where Our Pictures Were Taken