Monday, November 22, 2010

It's My Life

So, they're been no big events going on here lately, but my mom tells me that even the little things of everyday life are interesting (of course she's my mom, and for reasons I don't think I will be able to comprehend unless I have kids, she finds my every move "interesting" :) , so I guess I'll share. Although I've been getting used to the way of life here, it's interesting to reflect on the small aspects of life and think about how different they are from home.

Even simple stuff , like baking cookies, is an adventure here. Last week, I, along with a couple of friends, attempted to bake cookies to take to the kids at Off-Tu Children's Centre. The original recipe we found was for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Well, those ingredients aren't really available here, so we had to make some substitutions.  First we had to use all white sugar instead of brown sugar, not too bad. Next, every store in town was completely out of chocolate, so we decided to nix the chocolate and go for straight peanut butter cookies. That shouldn't matter, right? Regular peanut butter is available here, but we, thinking we were smart, thought we could use Ugandan "gnut paste with special added sim-sim", which is much cheaper, since it would be mixed in, and no one would be able to tell the difference. Ok, that one was a big mistake. Our recipe called for baking soda, but we can only get baking powder here. After googling a substitute between the two, and the majority of our hits being "there is absolutely no substitute for baking soda" (that was just not going to cut it) or "combine baking powder with cream of tartar to make a baking soda substitute" (honestly, if I can't get ahold of baking soda, you expect me to be able to get cream of tartar?) we found a website that suggested using three times as much baking powder as baking soda for a substitute. So that's what we did.  I forgot to mention that there were oats in these cookies. So when we put the dough in the fridge (on a pizza plate, of course!) it reminded me of my mom's uncooked meatloaf. The actual baking was an escapade in and of itself. I've never before seen cookies get lighter in color as they bake! Ok, so they wouldn't pass for American cookies, but they were super sweet, and the kids LOVED them.

Here's something else you wouldn't think of: In Uganda, primary schools take a long break at Christmastime, equivalent to our summer break in the U.S. For my kids at Off-Tu, Friday was their last day of school. They'll come back in February and will start a new school year at that point. For the last day of school, Off-Tu had a graduation ceremony for Top Class (our equivalent of kindergarten) with all the little 5 year olds wore caps and gowns. It was an all day event-- each grade level did songs and readings, and various administrators and teachers made speeches. My host mom from my homestay in Mukono runs a primary school, so I attended their Top graduation as well. Off-Tu puts a huge stress on kids learning English, so their program was entirely in English, while Mother's Care's program was in Luganda. At the end of each of these,we had cake. Cake is a huge deal here: it's only for super-special occasions; everybody watches as about 20 honored people try to hold the knife together and cut the cake. Then they cut it into SUPER small pieces. Everyone gets a bite-size piece, but they all say it's so much and that they cannot each that much sweetness (I have yet to understand this reasoning since most Ugandans use about 3 tablespoons of sugar in a 6 oz. cup of tea).  

This weekend I went with one of the USP staff members and visited a church in Kampala. It was awesome! It was a church with people from a mixture of many cultures, but with an American pastor. I felt like I actually went to church for the first time in three months. On the way back, we stopped at a vegetable market, where I bought a head of broccoli. That was also AMAZING!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rural Home Stay

Life seems to be chugging along here at UCU, although I'm in Africa, I still have a lot of aspects of "normal" college life.  Most of the time it's not super exciting, just the normal reading, writing papers, attending classes, and going into the capital city, Kampala, to waste money on the weekends! I just finished all of my required internship hours at Off-Tu Mission, but I will probably continue to go (not as many hours a week) until at least Thanksgiving. I'll try to give you the highlights of the exciting things I've done lately.

A couple weeks ago (yes, Mom, I know I am not good at updating this thing :) we went on rural home stays where each American students stayed with a Ugandan family in the rural Ugandan bush of Soroti (a district about 5 hours away from Mukono) for the week of October 23- 29. I stayed with the Amurets, an older couple, whose children were all grown, but had several non-related younger people living with them. For that week, I slept in a mud and thatch-roof hut, bathed under the stars, learned some basic phrases in Ateso, and didn't wash my hair  or see another white person for an entire 7 days. Our home, or "compound" was a circle of buildings including a main house made of cement, several huts for sleeping, a cooking hut, and a bathing enclosure with no roof.

Our daily activities consisted of washing clothes by hand, washing dishes outside on the ground (it was literally a pit of mud when I finished) "digging" (hoeing), picking ebolo ( greens) and green grams (kind of like peas, but the pods are black when they're ripe), walking about a half mile through the bush to get water from the bore hole and carrying back a 5 gallon jerrycan of water on top of your head, cooking, and visiting friends of my host family. It was super hard work, but my family took pity on me as a "delicate American."  I  have to say, carrying the water jug on my head is an accomplishment I'm pretty proud of, even if I did have to steady it with my hand. I think the most interesting thing for me to get used to was the sense of time, we never really had a schedule for anything, and just did things when Toto (my host mom) felt like it. This meant "breakfast" was around 1pm, "lunch" at 5 or 6 pm, and "supper" at 11pm. When we went visiting friends, we had no set agenda, and sometimes would just talk with people along the roadside or in the marketplace, or just sit with people for hours, sometimes not saying anything. While we visited friends, and even with my host family, I got to spend a lot of time answering some very interesting questions about life in the United States or trying to clear up some false assumptions about American life. These included " Do you have dirt in America?" ; " Do people there drink water?"; " All of America is one big city"; "There are no plants are animals there, everything is imported." The media sure hasn't helped with African perceptions of the U.S. ! 

Since we were in a different region, the food was different also. In the Mukono District, the local fare consists of rice, beans, and matoke (mashed plantains). In the Soroti District, we ate a lot more meat, and also millet bread. Millet bread is basically millet flour poured into boiling water and stirred to a gummy consistency. It looks kind of like chocolate pudding or brownie batter, tastes like nothing (although my roommate [HEY RACHEL!] thinks it tastes like dirt!), and has the a sandy, grainy, gritty consistency so if you chew it, you end up with the feeling of sand between your teeth.  Did I mention the Ugandans show hospitality by serving their guest  about 4 times as much food as everyone else is eating? Oh, and speaking of eating meat, I got to slaughter THREE chickens. This included cutting off the chicken's head with a knife that I wouldn't consider sharp enough to spread butter, plucking off the feathers, peeling the skin off the feet, and removing the internal organs (only some of them, the" good" stuff is served to the guest of honor, i.e. me).  I really wasn't as squeamish about the chicken as I thought I would be, and by the third one, I was an old pro ;)

Staying in the African bush was one of the hardest weeks of my life, I literally started counting down the hours until I would be picked up, but it was also an awesome experience. I loved my host family and was so sad to leave them. Toto (my host mom) was so spiritually mature and was a great encouragement to me. It was a CRAZY week, but I am so glad to have that experience.