Friday, April 02, 2010

Hello Muzungu, How Are You?

…is the rhythm that accompanies me down the street. I walk past the many stalls where they sell banana's (for cooking or for straight up eating), tomatoes, small green bell peppers, egg-plant, chapatties, greens (like spinach), sorghum, sweet potatoes, and posho (made from cornflower and water, rather tasteless without sauce) and ground nuts (peanuts) that they often grind and add water to to make that sauce. I'm dodging the occasional kid that has not spotted the Muzungu (white person) and is making a dash for some place or another in between and in awe by the amounts of chickens they fit in a pen.

When I arrived we were cooking on coals since the stove didn't work. While cooking it dawned on me that I had not seen a washing machine in this house and when I asked Juliana (the 16year old who keeps this place up and running since Veronica who is housing me has one un-usable leg so is not capable of the housework) she replied that she did laundry on the weekend, by hand. Why did I ask? we had a washing machine??? the next surprise came when I wanted to take a shower. No warm water; which is okay, I don't mind cold showers but yeah! Welcome to Africa!

The next major adjustment is eating habits. They don't really eat breakfast -Tea with powdered milk (NIDO!!!<--- memories!) and some white bread to dip in. (Yes you dip it because it is only soft the first day) and then lunch only at about 3... dinner at 10?! anyone who knows me knows this is going to be a problem, so I'm trying to find my way around that; eat an apple and a banana, and if someone remembers to buy it some white bread. Mama Lydia, the lady who runs the clubhouse, caught on and has started to make me eggs in the morning. However I know this costs her plenty money which she does not have so after having been here for a week, I think I can manage myself enough to get my own food.

I'm very welcome at the clubhouse, the members are a lot more open then they were in the US, for some reason they seem more social. I have been given the name Namazzi on my first day in as like anywhere else I go people tend to trip over the pronunciation of my name. Namazzi means water, but also life sustaining force, so I have quite the name to live up to! It also makes me Buganda (part of the Baganda people and part of the Lion tribe) which apparently can be derived from the structure of the word. I took to the name the moment it was suggested, and have been introducing myself as Namazzi ever since. It generates a lot of laughs and curious looks but it is appreciated.

When I enter the clubhouse I’m always welcomed: Sulabulungi! (how was your night?) and I respond with “Bulungi” (Good). Nothing in this country is accomplished before a proper greeting. The Clubhouse is much like it was in Hawaii except that now I do not necessarily get everyone's stories but am part of the crowd. They have a work ordered day where everyone is supposed to have a task, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the chickens, growing mushrooms (and I mean the ones we eat for dinner) or learning computer skills. Some have a real Job and come in for lunch to hang out. I'm trying to write a proposal to get some funding from some NGO's around the world to see if they want to sponsor the building of some houses. This is quite the feat because I have little to no idea about how building a house works here and since we have no funds at all other than a family in the US that sponsors us we can hardy go to a contractor to ask him to make a bill of quantity without which we can hardly send of a proposal! So we're trying to work all the connections we have and additionally it seems like we (the clubhouse members) are very capable of making stones themselves. They were surprised I hadn't thought about that!

Housing is necessary as housing here in general is quite different from what we are used to in Europe. They are often just one room for sleeping and one for living, cooking is done on coal outside the toilet is a hole in the floor and water comes from the tubes that randomly come out of the ground. Often the patients here are shunned, and not welcome at home, told to stay away when they leave the house and generally not accepted. Some of the people my age go to school but no one will sit next to them so the clubhouse really is a place to be accepted and have a family, even more so than in Hawaii.

I was becoming a little claustrophobic in the house we live in. My room has the most windows but the rest is rather dark. There is a high wall around the complex, typically African with pieces of glass bottles on top to make sure no one climbs in. But I came to the realization that even though we make the one hour ride to the clubhouse in the morning by car I can probably walk it in the same amount of time, or at least take the local bus half way and walk the rest. Traffic is rediculous and driving even rediculouser!!! although it takes a lot of skill to maneuver the way they do without touching anyone else. 50% of the roads are dirt roads and all have potholes that are generally bigger than the tires of a car so you can imagine you don't want to test the puddles in rainy season. So even though in Uganda they drive on the left hand side we drive right about 40% of the time too.. or simply in the middle.

The Baganda one of the bigger tribes of Uganda speak Luganda and this is the language most everyone speaks in Kampala. So, trying to pick up some basic words of this one is putting my efforts for Swahili to shame. I am having a good time trying to break all the stereotypes they place on white people. 1: I walk places... (no this does not make me tired or my feet hurt) 2: I know how to wash clothes, cook and clean all by myself! 3: All European women know this and no- we do not have people to do this for us 4: I'm not rich and I ask for my change if they think I'm going to let it slip 5: I'm not racist?! And of course I can eat local food.

Today is Sunday: church-day! Whoa, are they Christian or what! And wait.. last time I checked no, I'm not. And yes I love discussions about this but this needs a careful approach here! Of course me and my curiosity accepted the invite to accompany the the lot to church. I must say the pastor, who was from Kenia, was great to listen to. The mixture of topics and jokes and African english entirely held my attention. I was not prepared for the active participation of saying Amen and praise the lord, and holding hands and raising them over my head. Awkward!

I love it here though!! The weather is friendly (It is raining season so I fell asleep to pounding rain yesterday) and the people are too. Juliana is making my stay here much easier since she wants to learn everything about the rest of the world and everything I know. She is the workforce of the house (comes home at 6:30 from school or 8 if she stays to study, then makes tea (6pm) and dinner, I started doing the dishes (Imagine the things I know how to do), she cleans the house on Saturday and does laundry (I have joined her ins this effort too) usually she goes to school on Saturday morning so then this is Sunday work and that is about it. She learns very fast, talks about relationships sometimes like a 30 year old and other times like the age she is. She is always smiling, always at beck and call of her sister (Veronica) and will spend every free minute in my presence, to take me walking, indulge in my curiosity for road side foods, introduce me to her brother or simply to pick my brain.

English is altogether an interesting challenge here. Not because they don't speak it but because they have a very different pronunciation and a way of telling you things. I don't always catch on, which means that sometimes there are major misunderstandings. As of yet the worst thing that happened was that I got lost trying to get home in the dark by local bus. We had just gotten stuck in the traffic Jam caused by the mourning over the Burial Tombs (was this world news?) and spent 40 minutes sitting on top of each other in a small van and of course I had the broken chair and could not lean back. Thank goodness I had a Fiona with me who (is a clubhouse member and has plenty time and is willing to show me stuff) and at least she could make a phone call here and there... I recognized the place and would have probably found my way home, but this was slightly more reassuring since dark in Uganda is really dark! and the roads are dusty and muddy and there is the occasional pig running around and "note to self" it is not safe and under all circumstances to tell someone you are lost. Thank god my brain was primed and kicked in just before I did confirm the man's question.

The biggest shock I had so far was going to the hospital. It is a serene place on the outskirts of town. there is a nice breeze and the buildings, though small, look clean and well kept. There are two houses for the mentally ill: one for women, one for men. They all wear the same shirt/dress: A green, square piece of cloth with openings for the head and arms. They wander about, lie on the grass in front of the building, some eyes rolled back, drawling, some have sores, most are really hungry and they look like they have a mental illness. The sleeping spaces are two big rooms that lock down with heavy gates, since when they get too excited they are sedated and locked up. Beds are about one meter apart and though they look clean they are old and privacy does not exist anywhere. (Anyone seen "One flew over the cuckoo's nest?" well this was similar but with less privacy.

Some slightly more with it would come to see me, talk to me, touch me, shake my hand. (I hope I did not cause too much excitement). I also caught myself not wanting to touch some of them because they looked unclean. I don't know myself like this and though I did shake everyone’s hand if they offered it, I did distach the lady that attached herself to me. The girl we were supposed to visit (a clubhouse member) had relapsed and we couldn't see her because she had also been put down. In the male building I had a man suggest we should go around the corner to have some fun and some others really eager to shake my hand. I am usually not nervous around people but I must say there was slight discomfort being stuck between cultures and the mentally ill... It was good to be outside the gates again.

On behalf of the clubhouse I wrote a Memorandum of Understanding for the Head of Psychiatry to obtain the freedom to walk in and out and visit our members at our own time (We spent quite some time waiting to talk to people to obtain permission.) Mama Lydia has studied and worked at this hospital for 11 years -you'd think they'd cut her some slack.

So far that is all I have. Or at least the explainable bit!! :) Now all I need is internet! sigh... I knew I was an internet junkie but I'm definitely going through withdrawel! So... send me mail, I'm hungry for your news! Oh and as a parting thought: Malaria pills make you dream funny!!! I have thus far: met the president of Uganda walking on a red carpet that was spread on the dust road and watched the Dutch National Waterpolo team lose to a team assembled of players from Uganda Kenya and Congo... and then I wake up to someone’s driver washing the car -every morning… I was not meant to sleep in!

Tulabagane edda (see you later!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting life. Reading this brings back the realization that we are so privileged to have all the comforts of life here.

Keep doing the good work Namazzi! :)


4/05/2010 2:09 pm  
Anonymous Taco said...

Hey meik,

Good to hear from you! Hope you've got a great time! sound like you've got the 'lariam' malaria pills ;-)....
enjoy your stay!
Taak and Tina

4/05/2010 8:41 pm  
Blogger Catri said...


NGOs might be hard to reach for fast funding - u know the red tape... So, check some big US universities websites for student clubs or associations. Contact them and share the story. Many big US universities' students are interested in helping.
It all depends on how much u can use the internet.
Stay safe!
Happy Easter!

4/06/2010 9:44 am  
Anonymous longlegs said...

Beautiful stories. Reminds me of some far away times. Do they make bananchips fried in palm oil? They go really well with warm beer ;-) Back in Iran now where it rained! this morning.
People will start flying in this month to assess the progress of the project (very little) and I will be very busy but try to get in touch.

Love Daddy

4/09/2010 11:23 am  
Blogger brittany kamai said...

mann i soo love it. sufficiently jealous as you might imagine :)

take care my friend. i enjoy the extra email updates sent to me as a friendly reminder!

namazzi!! love it! it is perfect for you

man that market of fresh food makes me jealous :D

4/14/2010 12:54 am  
Blogger eddie said...


4/14/2010 7:44 pm  
Blogger xxxx said...

Wanted to say Happy Birthday and hope you celebrate it well there.
love from me

5/02/2010 10:02 am  

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