June 30, 2011 | | Leave a Comment
As coordinator of DukeEngage’s Uganda team, I arrived in Africa with lofty aspirations of instituting some form of personal autocratic regime. Well, it seems that the free winds of the “Arab Spring” have been blowing also through our group: when I sought a volunteer to pen our first journal entry, I soon found that the tables of power had been turned already within the first week, as the group united to assign the task to me. Clearly I must pragmatically accept the new reality and seek to appease the masses… so here I go.
We have been together in Uganda just 4 full days now, but have already had a few adventures and it feels like we have been here much longer. It is always interesting how time seems to stretch like that when every day is full of brand new sounds, sights, aromas, questions and impressions!
One of my amusing memories from the week is leading my teammates through the roadside churning of a Kampala street the first night, on our way to find a restaurant for supper. We wove around parked boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), hopped over a ditch, avoided stepping in the gutter, sidestepped a matatu van slowing to let off passengers… A bike zipped by going the wrong way without lights. The smells of roasting corn and grilling goat kabobs mingled as music thumped from streetside restaurants. Chaotic, but exciting! It really felt like we were immersed in Uganda now.
Then I looked over my shoulder and couldn’t help chuckling: stretching out behind me there were 13 bazungu in a long single file line, weaving with me through a sea of Africanness, following my every move. We formed quite a procession!
The same happened today on the way to Mayanja Foundation, with whom we will be partnering this summer. There was my bazungu line, curling its way faithfully in my footsteps down the meandering hillside trail.
We decided to christen our group the Bazungu Train. We’ll see if it sticks. Eddie suggested we promote it as the new Ugandan reality TV show!
So what are we learning so far? To adapt to the soft spoken Ugandan accent and to cross the street with confident ease… well maybe not quite yet, but we are well on our way.
We know that bananas are yellows, potatoes are irish, and peanuts are G-nuts. We pick someone from their home (no picking UP here) and we raise our friend on the phone. When we relieve ourselves, we take a long or short call, depending on the need. We also were surprised walking into the restaurant that first evening, to learn that they do not sell any food… just meat, chicken and fish! I still don’t have it all figured out, but I think “food” refers to any of the main starchy foods that form the base of the Ugandan diet.
So far the group has been great. They are adapting fast and are fun to be with. Our residence for the summer is basically a private Ugandan dormitory. With two long hallways of rooms with shared bathrooms and showers, it feels rather like being on campus – minus the gothic architecture, of course). I’ve quite enjoyed the feeling of being back in a dorm, talking and laughing in the hall with fellow Dukies. Community and camaraderie are great in life. And that’s something I’ve found to be true the world over.