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Mzungu to Muganda: Orientation

May 27, 2011

Musibye Mutya Gettysburg! (Good afternoon!)

Updates: All of Gettysburg folk are alive and well! I have been in Africa for what has felt like the shortest long week of my life. Make sense? Nope. Do most things here make sense? Not really. Has that led to an exciting adventure? Yes.

In order to not bore you with every detail, here is the general run down of everything…Sorry but I can’t help. Let’s start with the arrival. We traveled to JFK real early to catch a flight, said goodbyes, then shipped off on our British Airways flight. I want to note thumbs up to British Airways, very classy and surprisingly good air food (much better than salted nuts and a soda can the size of a pinky. Yeah I am talking to you Southwest). The flight was kind of like a Star Wars movie marathon. We start with 4, 5, 6; you are happy watching the first two awesome movies and are pretty tired by the sixth. Then you take a short break at Heathrow then start up 1, 2, and 3. At first you are really excited about seeing the prequels to Star Wars, then by the 3rd episode (21st hour) you just want it to end already. We finally landed Friday morning disoriented by the blazing sun, foreign signs and rambunctious taxi drivers. We couldn’t find our taxi driver, but a few calls later and a half hour; we were headed to the Entebbe Guest House. First noted change: Uganda time is NOT US time. Literally, many people in Baganda region consider 7am the first hour. In addition, no one is on time and schedules are real flexible and loose. This will be a recurring theme in this blog.

At Entebbe we settled and decided to adventure to the zoo. After a quick rip off taxi ride (our money skills increased later), we got to see the beautiful Lake Victoria and the … Later on we met all the other interns from FSD arriving at the Hotel and had our first taste of Ugandan food that night. FSD interns, all very nice and we all bonded very well. The interns represent Universities such as Notre Dame, USF, Emory and even Winnipeg University in Canada. I had fish and rice with fruit. Food was great and fresh. This though, was not a true Ugandan meal (see later). We got to meet our program coordinators after our first night under mosquito nets (by first night I mean a few hours of sleep due to my body adjusting).

After all bonding over our Jetlag, oddities and favorite things to do at school, we headed to Kampala to grab cell phones and exchange currency. Kampala is extremely crowded with people and boda-boda drivers (motor bike taxi). It is the most similar to a modern urban city in Uganda. Our orientation was supposed to be solely in Kampala, but due to the recent protests on every Monday and Thursday, we directed to the quieter Masaka for Training. By watching the news and talking with Ugandans, one can see that the political atmosphere is very charged. People are upset about rising costs and corruption of officials in the Musevini government.

After a quick tourist stop at the equator and a hectic pothole filled ride in a taxi, we arrived in Masaka Town. It is a very bustling small town that reminds me of a bigger, more crowded Gettysburg with a market, boda-bodas, tons of cell phone advertisements, people selling products everywhere and many half built buildings. In other words, it is nothing like Gettysburg. We stayed in Hotel Zebra for the night and trekked five minutes to Foundation for Sustainable Development office in the morning. At FSD we have Cynthia our international coordinator, Mariam the local organization coordinator, Anita Mago the overall supervisor for the Masaka branch and her cute granddaughter Roya. Now, I won’t bore you with the entire orientation schedule but we basically went over a crash course in Lugandan, a crash course on the history of Uganda and many of its sociopolitical issues, culture in Uganda and living with a host family and finally adjusting to development work. In between we had lots of tea, explored town, visited a sustainable farm, saw the making of a barkcloth, and met our host families.

I reside in a small village ten minutes outside of Masaka Town called Kimanya A (pronounced Chi-Man-Ya). I live right next door to Kate and about fifteen minutes from Margot. Our house is quaint and modest but beautiful. I am currently living with Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ddungu. Joseph is a photographer and Agnes is a farmer. They have 8 kids aged 14-28. No one is really home because they are in boarding school, university or living in Kampala. However, for this first week Barbara was home. It was great having her around because she is only two years out of college and talks to me about basically everything. Life in the house was quiet at first, but my whole family is warming up to me. I have been trying my hardest to learn Luganda. Although they all speak English, they appreciate my attempts to speak the language. The language also really helps with the bodas that I totally not riding and getting things in the market. My mom challenges me every night to eat plates of matooke. Luckily the walk to town may help burn some of these carbs.

Quick list: New and different things

o   Luganda is a beautiful language and the emphasis on the way words are said truly brings out the hospitality of Ugandans. A greeting is long but important.

o   Stares – you would think that I am walking around in a Giant Perogie Costume around here (Gettysburg Library Folks know what I am talking about). There are so many stares and cries of Mzungu (foreigner)! It is funny and cute especially when little kids wave. However, it can get annoying many children come up and introduce themselves and ask for 100 UGX, I am always polite wave and say Sente Salina! (I don’t have any!)

o   Waving is different, and the phrases even translated in English are different. A few that stuck out to me were the different between Hot (spicy) and Spicy (lots of spice and not actually spicy). Looking good here is looking smart and to walk carefully is slowly by slowly)

o   Pit latrines and cold bucket showers = ehh

o   Non flushing toilets and warm bucket showers = much better 

o   Africa is nothing like the place I saw in my head, even though I have seen plenty of pictures. The landscape is beautiful and people are everywhere in Masaka town. That being said, the air is polluted and the streets are quite rocky and dirty. Boda bodas whip past you in the street (pedestrians have the wrong of way here).

o   Meals are eaten much later and are CARB LOADED

o   Matooke, the staple food that comes from bananas does NOT taste anything like bananas. Even ordering food is different.

o   My favorite things to eat here so far are: Chipati, all the tea, rice, fresh avocado, fresh pineapple, and even the masses of matooke are growing on me. I even ate nsenene aka grasshopper. Yea… 

I am too excited to be here and every day has its ups and downs. Last night the interns all got to go to the market, negotiate food then cook an American style dinner for our host families. It was really fun but a bit frustrating to negotiate and figure out a meal in a completely foreign setting. Needless to say we could have Uganda’s Next Food Network Star (if we had added more salt).

Throughout this week I felt more and more comfortable being here. When people are sassy and make jokes, it is fun to throw it right back. No one gets offended they just laugh. A little boy the other morning called me an Mzungu and I yelled back Size Mzungu, nze Muganda. In bad Lugandan I told him I wasn’t a foreigner but one born in Baganda (this region), the boy was shocked I yelled back at him then went on hysterically laughing. It is the small smiles here and there that get to me. Hopefully the next week will be filled with many more. Also I should have no problem posting anymore; I bought a magical stick that gives me internet everywhere. I miss everyone back home and hope that all the other interns are having great experiences. I start work at The AIDS Support Organization on Monday at 830am. It is a huge organization in Masaka and offers services from support, to ARV delivery, reducing stigmatization and on. The first week will be all observation and seeing where I can fit in. First things first is to look smart and get to know everyone.

Welaba, Siiba Bulungi! (See you later!)


Mike Altman




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