Saturday, December 27, 2008

Doctor Jesus: Authorized Dealer


Next time you get sick, you know where to go!

Christmas Culture (Shock)







Ugandans celebrate Christmas, big time. But, in different ways. Here you won’t find holly, Santa Claus, or Christmas cookies. Instead, you’ll find things like fish tied on cars’ grills to take to the relatives people are visiting, an assortment of festive hairstyles we’ve named ‘Christmas Hair’, and the evidence of hundreds of animals butchered for Christmas Day feasts. It’s going to take a few years for these varied celebrative expressions to give us that coveted, cozy Christmas aura.

The Pearl of Africa INDEED

Three days after we flew down to south Uganda for a break, we started a 6-day long holiday with some American friends, Travis & Kelsey Harris. Travis is a pilot with AIM Air who is stationed in Entebbe for the next three months. We headed out at 8am, driving west towards a town called Fort Portal. The roads were some of the best we've seen in Uganda, rivaling an American highway. Five hours later we set our eyes on Fort Portal for the first time. The first night we stayed at a campground called CVK Resort. It is located on one of the crater lakes in the area, Lake Nyabikere. Although a beautiful setting, the resort boasted more in the advertisements than it could really offer. The owners of the resort told us to watch out for a hippo that liked to roam around the crater lakes. While taking a walk that evening, we learned from some locals that the hippo had not been spotted in five years. It was a good story though. We slept well that night. The one thing we remembered distinctly of our experience there was that the frogs & crickets were making almost deafening music all evening.

The next morning after the continental breakfast (stale bread with yummy marmelade, egg of our choice, banana, and coffee/tea), we took a bumpy road to another area of Fort Portal. The day was gray and mists covered the lake. We were planning on spending the day in Fort Portal after we had dropped our bags off at the next hotel. We arrived at Mountains of the Moon hotel to find that we didn't want to leave. The hotel was a cozy and posh environment with lots of activities to choose from on the grounds. We relaxed by the pool, tried out a steam room, and drank tea while reading and watching the Rwenzori Mountains in the distance.



The next morning we were headed south towards a town called Kasese. Before reaching our next lodge we wanted to hike some in the Rwenzori Mountains. You can see them in the above picture. They actually have snowy peaks that were named by the Italians back in the day. After thirty minutes on another bumpy road and many staring Ugandans, we found a forestry office that could offer us a guided tour. They usually offer seven-day tours to tourists who want to reach the peak of Mt. Stanley (peak is called Margharita). We opted to hike three hours that day through a rain forest filled with fertile plants, exotic flowers, and just a few monkeys. The ground was wet and slippery as we were hiking near a rushing river. The guide told us that this particular area got about 250 cm of rain a year. I learned that our park guide, Solomon, has moved far away from his home village & family in order to keep his job and send money home. Sadly, this is the story of many Ugandans.



After leaving the Rwenzori's, we headed towards the Kingfisher Lodge. Before reaching it, we spotted a typical tourist trap....the equator sign. :)



The next two days would be spent at Queen Elizabeth National Park. It's a game park where birds and animals can be seen roaming freely. We drove for hours, spotting herds of cape buffalo, elephants, kob, warthogs around every corner, guinea fowl in the road, water buck & the spotted bush buck, one baboon staring at us from his tree perch, and a forest hog who was almost our dinner. He ran in front of our vehicle at top speed. We also enjoyed scenic views of crater lakes & valleys. After a dusty game drive, we decided to spend our afternoon on a river boat exploring the channel where some of the animals relaxed. The highlight of this trip was watching buffalo and hippos play together. We even spotted a baby hippo learning to swim. We passed a fishing village while on this tour and the villagers stared back at us as if we were the show. A boat full of burned muzungus in floppy hats with big cameras was probably a sight to behold.





The last two days of our trip were spent at Lake Bunyonyi, even farther south near the Rwandan border. I was tired of riding in a car by this time. We stayed at Bunyonyi Overland Resort which was located right on the lake. Our lodging was in tents, seated on platforms, elevated on stilts overlooking the lake. The view was spectacular from our tent and the weather was nice and crisp as we had drove up in elevation to get to the resort. The chilly nights reminded us all of Christmas weather. It was hard to get out of our warm beds at night to use the outdoor restrooms. We tried canoeing without success. The canoes were homeade dug-outs and ours kept turning in 360 degree circles. It was quite frustrating. It was even more frustrating to see the fishermen going out successfully in these canoes. A treat that we enjoyed at this resort was crayfish at dinner. They caught it fresh in the lake. We did have some unfortunate encounters at this campsite. The employees kept trying to overcharge us. We had to continually ask for receipts so we could see they were being honest. When we went canoeing, the guy informed us it would cost about $5. We agreed and went out and paid him when we came back. We then asked our friends if they had paid the same and they informed us it was only $2. We immediately went to the guy and asked for change, which he gave with a smirk. Terrill tried to talk with the manager of the campsite soon after the incident and the manager just shrugged off Terrill's concerns. This also happened to us quite frequently at meal times. The waiters claimed that they couldn't add right. They even asked for our help in adding the bill. We had a feeling that all the employees were in on some kind of scam. Needless to say, we probably won't return to that particular campsite for that particular reason.


So, this concludes our holiday. We had a long drive back to Entebbe but were excited to arrive home on the 24th and rest from travelling.

Bloglessness




We do apologize for the long episode of bloglessness. It’s just that the last two weeks before we flew down for Christmas holidays were insanely busy, and then we took a week-long getaway to western Uganda. Then it was Christmas. Then Boxing Day. Then…is now. We flew south this time because the thought of a two-day road journey was unbearable after being so worn out in Kaabong. We just needed to get away, fast. Two hours in the air versus two days on the road.

A Celebratory Goat














Before we were due to leave for our Christmas holiday in south Uganda, our employees approached us and asked if we would donate a goat for them to eat on Christmas day. It is a popular tradition for people to eat meat on Christmas day and the meat of choice in Kaabong is almost always goat. We talked with our compound neighbors (MedAir) about this request and decided that we would throw a party for the employees before Christmas so we could enjoy the goat roast together. So, on December 13th, we purchased our goat for 32,000 Ugandan shillings (it equates to about $16). Our day guard, Nguran, spent most of the morning slaughtering and preparing the goat for roasting. I volunteered to provide some seasonings & oil for him to marinate the meat in. He also cleaned out the intestines of the goat and boiled them as a special delicacy for the employees. The muzungus (white people) in the group did not participate in devouring this delicacy. Besides the goat, we were providing chips (french fries), stromboli, carrot cake, and cokes. The party was supposed to start at 3pm, but in true African tradition, we started at 4pm. Everyone gathered around our portico and there was a period of awkward silence before Terrill said some words of gratitude for the service they'd provided us the past six months. Next, the Project Manager of the MedAir team stood and said a few words along the same lines. After a prayer, the food was passed out and eaten in a contented silence. At least I hope it was contented, although it might have been more awkwardness. After the food was eaten and the hands were washed (everyone was eating with their fingers), most of the employees headed over to the MedAir compound to lift weights and admire those that could show-off while lifting weights. Terrill & I headed back to the kitchen where a mound of dishes stood. I must admit that goat fat was the most disgusting thing I think I've ever had to wash off dishes. The night ended with my feet up and a book in my face.



Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving




One thing about living in a remote, semi-desert corner of Uganda is that major American holidays like Thanksgiving tend to fail in delivering that warm, familiar holiday feeling we're used. Still, this Thanksgiving, we were fortunate enough to celebrate our thankfulness with some friends from Medair. Amber prepared a morish meal of pork loin, mashed potatoes, golden oats, glazed carrots, pumpkin pie and a simply unbelievable apple pie. Each one of us at the table shared at least five things we were thankful for, and for the rest of evening we basked in the glow of friendship and communal gratitude. Thanks!

Ik Orthography Workshop




Our organization likes its catch-phrases just like any other. 'Orthography Workshop' might as well be called 'Alphabet Meeting'...whatever we call it, we held our first one this past Saturday. I spent about three hours discussing the Ik language and how to write it, while Amber cooked us up a delicious lunch. It was an enjoyable, memorable occasion. I'd spent the last several months researching all the sounds of the Ik language and thinking about what letters we could use for them in the Ik alphabet. Recently I felt it was time to get some influential Ik leaders together and ask them to choose the alphabetic symbols they like the best. If only it were that easy...




If it was just a matter of choosing symbols, we could choose anything to represent the sounds of a language, including & % $ # and @. Some of the factors we have to consider are: how easy will the alphabet be to type on a keyboard, how much should it resemble other languages in the area, how easy will it be to teach and learn...etc. As of Saturday, the Ik have decided on the letters they want to use, and now I need to run their choices by my consultants.




The Ik want their language to look different than other languages. It would be convenient if the Ik alphabet could resemble Karamojong, Swahili, Luganda, or English. But then again, English, German, French, and Spanish have different looking alphabets. I believe part of the reason for their desire to be different is the fact that they've been marginalized and oppressed for decades. They are determined to be their own people and to be recognized as such. I can't blame them for that. It's just amazing that deep-seated, long-standing ethnic identity issues can affect something like an alphabet so practially. The Ik men at this meeting rejected certain letters for the sole reason that they looked like Karamojong letters. Because of that, we had to choose letters that aren't easy to find on keyboards. This whole process involves balancing a host of diverse factors. It's difficult, but I feel very privileged to be a part of the process. And so might you.