Sunday, April 18, 2010

blogging on two glasses of wine...maybe three

It's my third day in England.  The ash continues to coat the atmosphere between 3000 and 11,000 feet, although you could have fooled me, as the silicon-particle ash is invisible.  My luggage is "somewhere in Terminal 5" as the friendly British Airways customer service agent informed me today when I changed my reservation today for the second time since Thursday.  I'm not worried.  There might be some pressing situations waiting for me on the other side of the pond, but what can I do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.  Except make the best of it.
So far making the best of it has been lovely.  A train ride down to Eastbourne, where Felicity's parents live, but they are stuck in Spain because of volcanic ash as well, so we have the house to ourselves.  A walk along the seaside promenade between Meads Village and Eastbourne to have fish and chips and some shopping (because I had no clothes), and a walk through town; a day in Brighton enjoying the beautiful sunshine along with the rest of Brighton in the Lanes and on the seaside before hitting a nice pub, falling in love with the Dark Star Espresso Stout (THE best thing ever!!!!) before they ran out, and meeting some awesome folks to hang out with the rest of the night; and a nice, brisk afternoon walk from Meads to Beachy Head to see the lighthouse today before stopping at a local pub and heading home to make a nice dinner.  After a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, I thought I should update my friends and family about what I have been doing.  As you have already figured out, I am managing.
I have no idea when the airports will open airspace, when I will get a seat on a plane, when I will get home.  But until then, here I am.  Felicity is heading home to Edinburgh tomorrow.  I so want to go with her, but I want to stay near the airport in case they open airspace again and I happen to be able to catch a seat on some flight to the US last minute.  Alas, Edinburgh is one of the most fabulous cities I have ever visited, but this time it just isn't possible.
On to my next glass of wine...what does tomorrow hold?
Life is definitely all about flexibility, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My last day

My last day in Kampala.  I have been preparing to leave Uganda for weeks now, so I am not running around like crazy doing last minute errands; instead I am sitting thinking about what it means to leave.

How was Uganda?  The question is inevitable when I return.  Of course.  And I will respond, Oh, it was great.  But that response is a convenient social escape, and does not do justice to either the experience or the enormously contradictory feelings I have about the experience.  In many ways, the work I came to do here in Uganda was similar to extended-period work I have done in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Brazil over the years: all of the experiences involved some kind of project work for a coffee cooperative, either paid or volunteer,  and most involved research for my thesis or dissertation,  All involved a process of going somewhere, learning a new culture, learning to live in that culture, and working through all of the difficulties I would have with that particular culture to achieve some kind of collaboration that everybody could be satisfied with.   

Here in Uganda, the collaborations have been incredible fruitful: a proposal for a staff capacity-building project, the development of a proposal for a climate change adaptation project for farmers in the cooperative, and the completion of a diagnostic study for a possible tourism project, as well as farm surveys and interviews for my own PhD research.  Working with the cooperative staff and members on this work taught me a thousand lessons in humility, in patience, in acceptance, and in the danger of judgement.  But the loneliness of living in Mbale, the feeling that no matter how long I stayed, I would never fit in, never be anonymous, never stop being alien, other, was overpowering.  Maybe I could have overcome it, maybe I would have grown out of it after a couple more months.  But instead, I decided to leave a month early.   

So Uganda has left me feeling hopeful for the future of Peace Kawomera and disappointed by some of the setbacks I witnessed, humbled by my experience and proud of my work, enthusiastic about the future and ambivalent about what I will do with what I have learned.  I will miss this place, the people I worked with here, the friends that I made and hopefully will keep, the beautiful green mountains I worked in.  But I am breathing a sigh of relief that I am going.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Mzuuunguuuuuuuu! Mzuuuunguuuuuu!  Mzuuunguuuuuu!

The high-pitched voices rang out like church bells, sometimes near-sounding but other times far-reaching and echoing through the neighborhood all the way up to my fourth-floor veranda.

Mzuuunguuuuuuu! Mzuuuunguuuuuu!

Damn, I thought, the local kids are doing it again, calling incessantly every time they see a mzungu (white person) leave their apartment and descend the outside stairs facing their houses on their way out to do whatever it is us mzungus do.  We always wave, but they keep calling, wanting some other response.  Maybe they want us to dance or something.

But it kept going.  The voices kept ringing...calling...

So I went out onto the veranda to see what was going on.  Below, two houses away down the narrow dirt road stretching into the neighborhood, a group of two or three kids were kneeling together in a circle on the edge of the road, heads lowered and hands cupped around their mouths as they called, mzuuuuuunguuuuuuu! mzuuuuuuunguuuuuuuuu!  Once in a while they would life their heads and I could see that they had been kneeling over a small sheet of plastic placed over a hole in the ground.  They would fiddle with the plastic, pick something up, occasionally chase something around on the ground.  The voices echoed from farther away - looking past the first group of children kneeling on the road, I saw various groups kneeling in dirt yards, on the sides of paths, on the road...all kneeling and calling...

What on earth?  What are they doing? Is it some kind of ritual the kids were play-acting?  I remember I did that with my friends when I was a little girl - we would perform mock sacrifices with grasshoppers, experimenting with "magic" and generally doing the silly things that children do to explore the supernatural and natural order of things.

My neighbor Leanne came up to the fourth floor to check on her laundry which was hanging to dry at the end of the veranda.  I asked her if she knew what they were doing. Trapping white ants, she told me. Trapping white ants.  Nothing supernatural.  Apparently, the high-pitched calls "disturbed" the ants and made them come up out of their holes, these big white ants, a delicacy in these parts.  I haven't tried them myself, but supposedly they are scrumptious.  Kind of like the fried or dried grasshoppers with chili and lime that you get in Mexico.  Yum.  Ugandans also eat grasshoppers as a delicacy, but it isn't the season right now.  But last December, when they were in season, all the kids were running around our building catching them to bring back for their families to enjoy.

I burst out laughing after Leanne revealed the mystery of the kneeling, shouting children.  Of course!  They are calling "muzunuuuuguuuuuu" because the ants are white! They are calling "whiiitteeeeyyy! whiiitteeeyyyy!" in the local language.  I explained my revelation to Leanne and we both got a good laugh out of it.  It's not just us! We aren't the only mzungus!  The ants get labelled too!  Funny enough, I think we both felt a kind of relief when we realized this.