Fun fact: bug spray apparently acts as a nail polish remover
Hi everyone. I’m currently passing through Luwero, headed north to Gulu. (No, this is not a Bolt or Megabus with wifi—it’s easiest for me to type up my blog entries in Word on my own netbook, stick it on a jump drive, and transfer it over to whatever computer I have to use in whatever internet café I can find). We had our last dinner in Kampala at Faliza Ethiopian Restaurant in Kabalagala, across town from the hotel and apparently a pickpocket hotspot. As Stefanie acknowledged, this was probably not such a great idea as it meant we had to go through horrendous traffic, made even worse by it being the Friday rush. Muna turned off the engine more than once, and we’d be sitting in a hot van for anywhere from five to fifteen, twenty minutes. For the young men wandering the lines of traffic, dodging boda bodas to peddle watches, belts, pants, socks, maps and framed pictures of ManU and Liverpool through open car windows, this was an excellent business opportunity. Stefanie was especially popular, as many men tried to sell their wares to the lovely “madam.” She also managed to strike up a conversation with one of the five female taxi drivers in Kampala, made easier by the fact that the cars were less than six inches apart. (I snapped a picture of a matatu with “Trust in God” written across the bottom of the rear window—you have to if you want to make it out of traffic alive).
I don’t know how Muna did it, but he got us to Faliza in one piece, with even some wandering around time to spare before Faliza had our food ready. We picked our way through the narrow sidewalks, winding around a host of street vendors selling delicious-smelling chicken, beef, goat and pancakes in front of colorful storefronts. (In case you’re wondering, Kabalagala means “pancake.”) We decided to stroll away from the main drag and headed into a more residential area, passing people right-to-right (you walk like you drive), including a group of goats minded by two little girls. (Leon nearly had a showdown with the alpha male—I have my suspicions who would’ve won). We came upon a group of boys playing soccer in a big fenced in yard, a grazing goat acting as an informal keeper. Further up and off a side street was a grouping of really nice homes—they looked more like something I’d expect to see in San Diego. As is the norm here with large and well-to-do houses, they were behind a very tall and very sturdy security gate, one of them painted white with gold-colored butterflies. We decided not to dawdle, as behind each gate probably sat, stood, or slept (depends on the time of day) a smartly-uniformed private security guard armed with a very large gun. (William has assured us that they “usually” don’t fire them). By then, it was time to head back to dinner, which was delicious. I’d never had Ethiopian food before, and the edible napkin-like tortilla thing (obviously I’m using its proper name) was fun, if incredibly messy, to try. I’m not entirely sure what was in the various pots I ladled food out of, but I figure that’s probably for the best.
Speaking of questionable food, for lunch on our way up to Gulu we stopped at a roadside hotel where I had my first experience with my meal staring back at me. We had a choice of either fish or chicken—I opted for the fish, and it actually wasn’t that bad, if a little disconcerting. Usually fish at home doesn’t include the head. This lunch stop also marked my first encounter with a pit latrine, which I shan’t go into any more detail about other than saying it wasn’t a “VIP” latrine, as it lacked a pipe extending up through the roof to get rid of the smell.
Following lunch we crossed the Nile, which was incredible. But don’t expect any pictures—the UPDF soldiers guarding the bridge across the rushing water would’ve arrested us for spying. This bridge was a significant military outpost during the war—up to the bridge you could travel pretty safely on the road, but upon crossing it you were in LRA land. As we drove from the Nile to Gulu, it was a little weird to realize we were traveling the road that Matthew Green (not to mention many others), author of Wizard of the Nile, which was part of our required reading, had written about—the one where, a few years ago, you couldn’t travel after dark and in the early morning, and even if you were traveling during the day you probably wanted to do it with an armed escort to ward off an ambush. But the LRA are long gone from the area and we arrived safe and sound.
I hope the answer to that is Eyo, warii maber, or that you (plural) are doing well in Acholi. This section of the entry is coming four days later, sitting out front of Rock Lines Traders, a computer shop werhe one of my host sisters, Harriet, works. She very kindly came to fetch me from nearby National Water, Gulu Branch, when I got myself lost coming back from lecture. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, is a slightly disconcerting experience, not in any way aided by the fact that my culture shock seems to have hit a bit early. It is, in an impolite word, a bitch.
I hope you don’t think that the somewhat wibbly-wobbly state of my emotions is reflective of my host family, though, because so far they’ve been wonderful. All of our families descended upon our hotel in town yesterday, with big hugs and even bigger smiles. My host mother, Lamwaka Dorine (surname first), came to pick me up and take me back to my home for the next three weeks—a small compound made up of two concrete structures, plus a VIP latrine with attached shower bloc. Oh, and a bunch of chickens that my host mom sells for broilers as a side business. All the neighborhood children were there to greet me when I arrived—it seems that a munu (white person in Acholi) in town causes quite the commotion. I was a bit taken aback when all the little girls dropped to their knees when they came forward to take my hand—I knew that it was customary for Acholi females to do this in the presence of an elder or someone else of importance, but had never considered that I would be counted among them. Eventually the crowd thinned, leaving just my two (unexpected but much adored) host nieces, Claudia (2 going on 3) and Kadija (6). Claudia ran into another room to grab her doll to show off to me and seemed to take a shine to me when I set about plaiting her hair. Both of them were quite talkative…in Acholi. They seemed to like my exaggerated befuddled expressions, though, and I am happy to report that peek-a-boo is a universal winner. Soon thereafter we moved outside to begin preparing a dinner of chicken, beans, rice and cabbage. I wasn’t allowed to help, though that’ll probably change soon.
Culture shock is still alive and kicking. I’m really hoping that’ll pass soon. But anyway, onto fun stuff: Yesterday we went to meet with a traditional Acholi chief and the chairman of the elders, which was quite an experience. The chief wore a Hawaiian shirt and khaki cords. Both of them seemed to think that the Acholi traditional justice system, which emphasizes truth-telling and cleansing, was the best way to deal with the war, and that the ICC case presented a huge roadblock to peace. They also distributed a booklet that details the Acholi Customary Law system, including a detailed list of the various fines one must pay for various offenses. Our personal favorite was the fornication fee. During the visit, a group of youths performed traditional dances that I got some video of—one was for young, unmarried girls to show off their “talents,” a couple were courtship dances, and another was for visiting dignitaries. We joined in at one point, much to the amusement of the locals who seemed happy to watch us make fools out of ourselves.
Tomorrow we go to Patiko Baker’s Fort, the old Arab slave trade post where the strong slaves were bought and the weak ones were beheaded. We’ll apparently be able to see the indent the axes made on the execution block, strategically placed so that the heads would simply roll down the hill. Cheery stuff.
For any early birds reading this, a good time to call (my time-7 hours ahead eastern, 8 hours ahead central) is when I take my lunch from 12:30-2:00 (though it’s usually more like 12:45). Also, I have a 40 minute walk home from classes at around 3:30ish most days, and then I have to be back at the compound usually by 6 p.m., which could also work—I’m usually in bed by 10, though, but am up at 6:30ish, which could work for the night owls. Just be aware that when I’m at the compound I have absolutely no privacy, so I might not be able to talk as freely as you may like.
Other than that, there’s not much else to report.
Until next time,