Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Just tidying up

I will probably have a couple more things to post as a develop film from a disposable camera I bought in my last weeks in Kampala, but if anyone is still checking out this blog and is interested, I'm going to be switching back to my other blog, "The Infusion," a miscellany of baseball, books, and obituaries.

It's good to be back.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A post from home

I got back on Wednesday afternoon and have done pretty well, jet-lag-wise, until I finally hit the wall last night. I went to bed at 7 and woke up this morning at 4, which is still far closer to PST than Kampala time, so no complaints.

I expected it to be more of a shock to return, but for the moment it almost feels like being in Uganda was a dream. I have some evidence that I was there--most importantly an email from Joseline saying she misses me. But it's also hard to imagine that I really spent three months away from home.

Keeper clearly missed me. I went out to do some grocery shopping yesterday and when I came back, he was so glad I was home he stuck his head through a window pane in the door. Luckily, there was a curtain over the window on the inside so the only damage was to the glass and not to Mr. K.

Strange things have pleased me. I was thrilled to be able to use my credit card at the Amsterdam airport to buy things like...tea and a croissant. That made me happy. It was refreshing to see cars that stay in a single lane. I was so happy to have a turkey sandwich, turkey being largely non-existent in Uganda. Though I had a hot shower in my Kampala apartment, hot shower plus water pressure is a wonderful thing. And big box stores. I was coming back from the airport and kept saying, "Look! It's Circuit City! It's Target!" I guess I'm more a product of my consumerist culture than I knew.

I've also been startled by the light. It stays light until well past 8:00, which is unnerving, and I've been waking up when it gets light in the morning because that's what woke me up in Kampala. I think I've mentioned this, but being close to the equator, daylight hours are 7:00 am to 7:00 pm year round. At first I found that weird, but I'd gotten used to it.

I miss the roosters.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Last post from Uganda

There's a lot more to report, but I'm not going to get the chance to do so before I get home. For a while there I had internet access in my apartment, but it has vanished again. I am posting this from an internet café in Ntinda as I go out and about doing errands on my last full day in Uganda.

There was a time there a few weeks ago when I was ready to call it quits and come home because I was pretty miserable here. Now I’m ready to come home because I think I’ve done what I needed to do, my time here seems complete. At the last I think I was able to offer something to MCDT despite my spotty attendance record. I made some friends here. I got to see pretty much everything I desperately wanted to see. I didn’t get to Jinja, but I still hope to see the Botanical Gardens in Entebbe tomorrow before my flight. I didn’t have a rolex (a breakfast burrito made with a chapatti), but I’m not going to push my stomach to accommodate it now. Overall, I feel satisfied. I’m both sad to be leaving and happy to be coming home, which is a pleasant if slightly melancholy mix.

Saturday, coming home from lunch with Fred, I stared out the window of the matatu trying to take everything in so I could remember: the vendors at the taxi park, the stalls with bright fabric, the feel of bouncing over potholes, the intersection at Wandegeya, the vendor at the corner of my street selling maize grilled over a charcoal brazier with the husks all around her. I won’t be able to hold it all. I think I’m going to miss it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Last day at the office

It was a bit poignant, actually, and accidentally I was allowed to be generous and I'm glad of it.

I brought in a cake to say thank you. The biggest cake I could find was about the size of a travel box of Kleenex, but it did the trick, and people seemed really pleased. But I had also brought the books I had read that I had no need to drag back to the States. The staff fell upon these like ravening wolves. I was surprised. I'd actually brought them thinking Taryn would like them, but I realize too that new books are an incredible luxury. They are expensive here. A new paperback mystery costs almost 20,000/= (about $12), and if your salary is 200,000/= a month, books are not going to be on the top of the list.

At any rate, the books disappeared far faster than the cake. And then Olivia, the head honcho, made me stand up so we could get a photo, while Susy brought out a present for me! I really hadn't expected it, given how little I have done in my time here. But it was a substantial gift: a lovely basket, and a plaque made from wood showing zebras under a thorn tree.

The loan officers headed out for a day in the field, Taryn with them, and I waited for Justine who arrived about a half hour later. Her son has been suffering from malaria, as I said, and won't eat or drink because he can't keep anything down. Poor Justine! Especially as this was a particularly busy week. With the holiday, they are fitting in extra meetings on the other days, and Justine needed to go out to the field.

I asked if it was OK if I gave her an American-style hug. She assented, but afterwards also shook my hand. She bustled around getting stuff together to go out to the field while Sissy, the office assistant, told her all sorts of things that needed to happen.

Justine and I went out together, but her route took her to the left and mine to the right, so by about 11 a.m. this morning, I was done.

I had a good talk with Olivia, too, while waiting for Justine's arrival. I told her I was glad for the opportunity to work at MCDT for a reason we both agreed upon: we got to meet the people. It's off the main roads and in remote neighborhoods and they are people I would never have met otherwise. Some I liked a lot, some I didn't, some I simply felt neutral about. But I got a chance to meet them, and that is the gift that this fellowship has offered me. I'm very, very grateful.

A prayer request

I'm in Justine's office hoping she'll come in before I leave on this, my last day at MCDT. She was late in yesterday because her son is suffering from a bout of malaria. We're hoping he's not worse today. Please keep Joseph in your prayers, and all those who suffer from malaria.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Barack Obama's nomination as seen from Kampala

Here's the article from the front page of the New Vision today.

At St. Joseph's Primary, Ndeeba

Today I went with Susy, one of MCDT's loan officers, to a meeting held at a school in Ndeeba. Just off the room where we were meeting with borrowers was a preschool class. Most of the teaching seemed to be call and response in form, with this wonderful rhythmic character. I didn't understand it at all, of course, until we got to the point when the teacher said, "How are you?" and all the preschoolers in unison shouted, "I AM FINE!"

"How are you?"
"How are you?"

over and over again.

When I came out at the end of the day, a few children, probably not from that class, were standing in the yard. I said to one, "How are you?" He promptly answered, "I am fine," and seemed pleased and startled that this actually worked.

I feel the same, actually. This morning a woman walked in and said, "Sebya tyano, nnyabo," to which I answered "Bulunji," as is proper. She said, mmm. I said, "Sebya tyano, nnyabo," and she said, "Bulunji." Mmm. Then she started saying all sorts of things I didn't understand. I'm sure I goggled a bit and turned to Susy for help. "She said you are doing very well," Susy told me. Mmm.

Now THAT'S a Gospel procession!

This was on the front page of both The New Vision, and Bukedde online (the Luganda daily).

From the Martyrs Day mass at Namugongo yesterday.

Don't tell the folks at St. Gregory Nyssa or they'll get ideas.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Martyrs of Uganda

A friend of mine who is preaching at the midweek service at his church this week noted that today, June 3rd, is the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. He asked if this was an important observance here.

The answer to that is that it's a friggin' HUGE observance in these parts. It's a national holiday, for one thing. Banks, post offices, government offices are all closed. MCDT is closed. Walking around the neighborhood, more of the small shops around here are closed today than were closed on Good Friday.

Here's the deal, very briefly: in the late 1800's, various pages and members of the Bugandan court became Christian converts, both RC and Anglican. In 1886, the Bugandan king, or kabaka, Mwanga II, told them to give it up. When they refused, these converts were tortured and killed in various nasty ways, leading up to a group of some 30 Christians being wrapped in straw mats and then burned at Namugongo, about 10 miles from the city center.

The observance is bigger than just Uganda, too. This event is credited as the beginning of indigenous Christianity in Africa. I read in the paper last week about a group of pilgrims from Kenya who were walking 600 km to the shrine in Namugongo. People come here from all over the continent.

Various miracles were attributed to the RC martyrs, leading to their canonization in the 1960's. I'm not sure when the Anglican martyrs were canonized; the whole process is different. But the general sense I get is that these martyrs are important, not only for their great faith and sacrifice, but because they're "some of our own." I'm not sure how many other great holy sites and pilgrimages are in sub-Saharan Africa, but this certainly is one of them.

I decided to pay my respects and make a short pilgrimage as well. Below is a picture of the shrine that I lifted from the web.

Only imagine it so thronged with people there were parts where you couldn't move. One man walking near me told me that 3 MILLION people come to the shrine. I don't know about that, but I have no doubt tens of thousands of people were there.

I took a boda boda (see below) to the base of the hill leading to Namugongo and walked over a couple of hills, following a trickle of people headed that way. Once I reached the area of Namugongo, the people filled the streets, walking on the left side, like traffic, with no cars allowed through. On either side of the street were vendors of all descriptions. Lots of them were selling paper visors with a depiction of the martyrs surrounded by flames on it. There were also some pretty graphic T-shirts with the slogan, "Martyrs of Uganda, pray for us." There was also lots of other stuff: clothing, umbrellas, cooked grasshoppers--you name it.

But as far as the religious part of it went, this seemed to be a Roman Catholic celebration. Even though the martyrs were both RC and Anglican, I didn't see any Anglican presence there at all.

I went to the shrine and walked all around the grounds. The shrine itself wasn't open, apparently, but there was a service going on from an open-sided grass thatched hut by a large rectangular pool. I couldn't quite tell because I could never see it, but my guess is that's where the service was coming from. Again, thousands upon thousands of people sitting on the grass or the muddy ground to listen to it from loudspeakers all over the grounds. I heard some of the prayers of the people, offered in all different languages: Swahili, Luganda, Luo, etc. The grounds of the shrine, too, were packed with vendors. Many were selling religious tracts, rosaries, and things of that nature. But I also saw some Manchester and Arsenal underwear for sale. Behind the toilets, there were people cooking matooke, beans, and other food.

I also saw one child with a badly burned face, sucking his thumb as a vendor tried to sell him and his mother something.

There was something about it all that was incredibly moving. I was of course reminded of Jesus' cleansing of the temple, but I also got at least an inkling of what that might have looked like, of how important it was for people to come to that one location, of what a huge windfall it was for the vendors as well as profitable for the temple.

One boy tried to sell me a certificate, signed by the bishop (I think), that certified that I had made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Martyrs of Uganda. I was very tempted, too. But I don't actually need a certificate. I've still been there. And it was mighty powerful, too.

Via boda boda

I leave a week from today and I'm starting to consider my list of "Things to do before leaving Uganda." Riding a boda boda, or motorcycle taxi, was tentatively one of them. Thus far I have refused to take one, having already seen two accidents involving boda bodas. But today the opportunity arose and I took it.

I was on my way to the shrine at Namugongo, but had given my Kampala A-Z map to Taryn, so my directions were a little sketchy. I knew I needed to reach the Northern Bypass and go beyond it.

At the top of a hill in Kiwatule, I could see the Northern Bypass in front of me. It didn't look quite right on the map. I asked a man standing in front of the police post in front of me if following that road would take me to Namugongo. He started to give elaborate directions in decent English, then flagged down a boda boda. Giving quick directions is some language that was most certainly not English, he then turned to me and said, "The boda boda driver will take you where you need to go."

Well, OK, then.

Here's the thing: if I was going to take any single boda boda ride, this would be a good one. There were decently paved roads and little traffic and a short ride. So I got on.

I was terrified the whole time. Helmet? Are you kidding? I just kept thinking, "If we come to a sudden stop, I'm going to die." And even though the roads were decent, there were still potholes, bumps, and general unevenness. A matatu passed us close on the right, beeping at us. Turning corners, I was never sure whether to lean into the curve or away. And my other worry was, "If something happens to me now, the people at home are going to kill me."

But I arrived safely at the foot of the road leading to Namugongo and I can check "boda boda" off my list. I promise I will not be doing it again.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Another disappointing day at church

I haven't had communion since Easter. Did you know that? The 8:00 service at All Saints Cathedral has communion every Sunday, but otherwise it's a once a month deal, and with one thing or another, I haven't been at a service that offers communion on that one Sunday a month when they do.

But this morning, I was going to get communion. St. Andrew's Bukoto a short walk from my apartment announces on their sign that communion is on the first Sunday of the month. I was really looking forward to it.

And so I went to the 8:30 service at St. Andrews. I arrived a few minutes after 8:30, thus unfortunately missing the confession and collect for the day and arriving just in time for "Praise and Worship." Here are the words to one of the songs:

How wonderful is your name, O Lord.
How wonderful is your name, O Lord.
How wonderful is your name,
How wonderful is your name,
How wonderful is your name, O Lord.

How excellent is your name, O Lord... (marvelous, beautiful, etc.)

This music lasted for 20 minutes. At which point we had someone lead us in a prayer that lasted maybe 5 minutes but probably less, followed by our Scripture reading: Genesis 1:1-3, 26-31. That was it. That was our Scripture for the day. Then we said the Apostles' Creed, which was the one time I heard Jesus mentioned all morning.

After that, we all sat down for the notices, aka announcements. The notices were introduced by a clergyman (at least he was wearing a clergy collar) who welcomed us to St. Andrew's Bukoto on this, the second Sunday after Lent. WHAT??? No one in the congregation flickered an eyelash, though apparently someone seated behind this clergyman brought the error to his attention because he turned around, listened for a few moments, then turned back and said, "The second Sunday after Trinity."

The notices then proceeded to take--I am not exaggerating--30 minutes. Twenty minutes were spent on the building appeal, inviting people to come forward to purchase a prospectus of the new building for a minimum donation of 5,000/=. When people came forward they were to take the microphone, say their name, and announce how much they were donating towards the building fund. We kept doing this until all the prospectuses (prospecti?) had been sold. Then the head of the building fund said that now was the time for people who had questions or comments on the new building to stand up and offer them. No one did. He said, "Since no one is ready for that right now, I will conclude." The vicar then continued with more notices! He concluded with an impassioned invitation for everyone to attend Bible study at 10:00 which ended with everyone singing "My Bible and me," while holding up Bibles in the air.

The notices finished at 9:40, followed by two offertory hymns, followed by the sermon! It wasn't the worst sermon I'd heard in my time here. It actually looked at the Scripture and applied it to people's lives, for one thing. I figured he was a young seminarian, though, given the style of his preaching: "In verse 1, we see that God created the universe. That means that God is a creator..." That kind of thing. So he wandered on for a bit, making some good points about how God shares creative power with us, and some strange points about how a meat-free diet helped his backache, at which point he shared that he was in his 50's. Now, maybe he's still a newbie priest, but it becomes a question.

At 10:00, a warden in the front row passed him a note that he glanced at and quickly wrapped up the sermon. The vicar gave the benediction, we passed the peace, we sang a recessional hymn and we all left.

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO COMMUNION? If I am allowed to ask. As we left, though I wasn't about to cry, my throat felt constricted and I felt once again a deep disappointment in the church here. There were many things here that I did not expect. A lack of both Word and Sacrament in the Church of Uganda is one of them. It has certainly come as a shock to me. I would never have guessed that it would be in the liberal Bay Area where I could more commonly hear stories of Jesus' life and ministry, find churches that minister to the poor, and receive the sacraments.

I asked another parishioner who was walking out at the same time I was why there wasn't communion. She said, "I think we'll be having it next week." I'm not counting on it. Assuming I can get myself up and out of bed, I'm going to the 8:00 service at the cathedral next Sunday where at the very least I might be able to partake of the sacraments. Or it may just have to wait until I'm home in two weeks.

The new Fellow

The time for my fellowship is drawing to an end, can you believe it? I'll be coming home on June 10 and this week is my last at the MCDT office.

A new Kiva Fellow arrived in town on Friday who will be working with MCDT starting next Thursday, ensuring a very smooth transition for everyone, I think. Her name is Taryn and she's getting an MBA from Cornell so you know she knows a heck of a lot more than I do about finance, micro or otherwise.

We met yesterday for lunch so I could fill her in a little on the background. We ended up spending the rest of the day together, taking a couple of matatus, first up to my apartment in Bukoto and then back to the Garden City Mall to see "Sex and the City" (as I talk about in the next post; very strange experience, seeing that movie here).

At one point, our matatu, full to bursting with people, was chugging painfully up the hill to Ntinda when it stalled and died. The driver got it started, promptly turned around and zipped back down the hill. Taryn asked me, "What's going on?" I said, "We're going to the Shell station." She said, "How did you know that?" And the strange answer is, I just knew.

I knew exactly what had happened. The matatus don't get a full tank of gas, usually buying 5,000 or 10,000 shillings-worth at a time. The matatu had about run out of gas, so they needed to head back to the gas station that's strategically placed halfway up the hill. That's just what happens here.

Taryn asked how I knew what the fares would be for the matatus, and that too has become something I've gotten a feel for. It's strange to me that it's in this very little thing, the matatus, that I am so aware of nuance and etiquette while other larger issues are still rather monolithic. Probably because I have spent a lot of times using the matatus, more than I have, say, visited people's homes, I have a slightly better sense of the complexities of the social interactions there.

As we headed back downtown, I pointed out various neighborhood: the stop where you get off to go to MCDT; Wandegeya where Taryn will catch matatus from the place where she's currently staying. Taryn said, "How do you know all this?" And the thing is, of course, I didn't at first. I told Taryn, wait 10 weeks and you'll know all this, too. I mean, I knew absolutely nothing when I arrived--certainly less than Taryn does, who spent a month in Tanzania last year. But I certainly now have proof that I have learned something in my time here. And it is satisfying to know that for a newcomer, at least, that knowledge appears to be impressive.

Sex and the City of Kampala

I went out last night with the new Kiva fellow, Taryn (who arrived in town on Friday and needed to stay awake until a reasonable hour), to see "Sex and the City" at the Cineplex.

I enjoyed it, actually, though my priest head was saying, "You people so need pre-marital counseling, it's not even funny." But I couldn't help but wonder, "What do these Ugandans make of all of this?" The closet the size of a small city, the teetery-high-heeled shoes--well, everything. I don't know, and I don't really have anyone to ask. I spent the movie with part of me wondering what it would be like to watch this as a native of Kampala. I have no idea.

The one thing that occurred to me, though, is how many more images the average Ugandan has of the U.S., and some of its particular cities and places, than the average American has of Kampala--or most any foreign place, for that matter, with the possible exception of Paris. In the movie it's an imaginary New York, an imaginary L.A., to be sure. But they are suggestive of the genuine article.

When people here ask me where I'm from and I tell them California, they have an idea of what I'm talking about. If someone here tells me they're from Tororo or Mbale, or even the nations of Niger or Nigeria, I'm still not quite sure what that conveys. My ignorance simply continues to grow.