Wednesday, January 12, 2011
It was my last day in Uganda that next morning, and I started to feel nostalgic for our trip before I even left. I knew I had a beautiful ride home to look forward to, and a tour of the Bugisu Cooperative Union (with the best cup of coffee I have ever had).
That final day I really soaked in the air, the people, the scenery, knowing it’d be my last breath of open air in Uganda for a while, but I knew I’d be back soon. I had discussed with our IPRO coordinator about the possibilities of coming back soon to build the banda during the summer, an accomplishment I look forward to having under my belt. The day was full of reflections; in my head and through conversations, with my optimism I’d be back whether it was for the project or my future, which is coming up faster than I know.
Robby Keen, the head of a Ugandan NGO gave us a speech at the BCU that morning about how important it is in our youth to take advantage of having "free time" (versus being married, settled down with children) and travel around, giving our time and small amount of money to give back to the community/society/humanity. I could see myself in Uganda doing work in the same scope of this IPRO project, at least hopefully using my architecture degree to help build buildings that are needed versus “needed”. I never really saw myself building commercial buildings, high rises; I see myself building smaller scale buildings with a bigger change. Schools, hospitals, bandas… This project made me realize my calling as an architect. I am a globetrotter, and the planet is my jungle gym. We’re all part of the same earth, which is why the Ugandans were so welcoming. We share the same home (earth), so of course we’d be welcome there. Why wouldn’t we be? It’s my responsibility to share the knowledge and sources I grew up with with my neighbors, as they’d do the same with me.
I/We will see how far I can help bring this IPRO project. If I can see it to the end, the banda completely built, I will cry tears of joy as this is only the beginning of what I want to do with my life.
This is my final entry in my journal, as I couldn’t even write fast enough to jot down my thoughts (prior to being near a computer)
"I CAN’T WRITE FAST ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN ALL OF MY FEELINGS.
Words don’t do justice for my last two weeks out here. I had no idea what I was getting into and this trip has changed me. If I were to write, I wouldn’t know where to begin. The people, the food, the scenery, the environments. Or I could categorize it by cities: Rome, Pompeii, Istanbul, Kampala, Mbale… I could write chapters, but nothing but the experience itself will teach you how I feel."
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
This feeling of accomplishment only enhanced during our third day in Mbale when we went all the way up the mountain to Geoffrey’s father’s (Bernard) house (and Geoffrey’s ancestral home) to meet Bernard and see the actual coffee farms. With more welcoming and personal introductions, we were on our way through the tall matoke/passionfruit/apple trees down to find the coffee trees, new and old, by the farmers themselves. I felt self conscious, honored, and extremely happy where I was at that moment. This was a big deal for us students and for the farmers, as it showed both of us hope in each other for the continuation for this project. The farmers gave us a step-by-step process on how to grow, pick, pulp, wash and dry the coffee beans. It taught me a lot to see it in person and volunteer to help with a lot of the steps. After the long tour of their farm, we of course were fed yet again by Bernard’s wife; turkey, rice, fresh avacado, pineapple, chapatti… Another spectacular meal by the Ugandans.
An unfortunate worry of ours was buried in our heads; the 2 p.m. rain. During a formal sit down with Jake, Bernard, the farmers and our class, it started to rain…heavily. We were so convinced how awful the roads get washed out, and it would be rude for us to be rushed during such an important sit down between Crop to Cup and the farmers. It was a small feeling of helplessness, but we were reassured “we can relax”. The climax of the trip in my opinion was sitting in Bernard’s living room, the rain down pouring on the aluminum roof above us, and Jake and Bernard doing their next steps in their business together. The harder it rained and the deeper in the conversation it got, the more fidgety I may have gotten about our safety down the mountain; however it was amazing and real to see this interaction between a CEO of C2C and the farmers themselves.
Having been in a nasty car accident a while back, the next part of my trip was the only part I felt uneasy and unsafe (no matter how much I had trust in our driver, Noble). The roads were slippery (an understatement) and about 7 locals had to guide our truck down the hill as it slipped and slid from one part of the road to the other, getting stuck in holes, and at one point we were at a 45 degree angle down the road, the tire right under me being the most helpless. I couldn’t breathe, as it was an identical feeling to a rollover I’d experienced in high school, but this time we were on a mountain rather than the flat planes of Nebraska. I felt silly at the end, but you can’t help a fear like that.
It was a mellow night that night, after falling in the mud, being terrified of falling down the mountain, and an exhausting (mentally and physically) dinner of meat (?) and chapatti, I decided to make it an early night, write down some thoughts, organize the materials from our site measurement and sleep.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Getting woken up by a rooster directly outside of my window was a great way to start my Christmas in Africa. It was the day we were to head halfway up the mountain to Geoffrey’s home to attend church service and dinner. Again, the car ride continued with more driving by local villagers and their homes, saying “melembe” to each other and getting smiles, waves, and “mzungu!’’s back. When Africans see a van full of mzungus (white men), they open their eyes widely and wave, and usually walk/run up to the van. We were almost like celebrities or Miss Americas. Geoffrey’s was a continuation of the hundreds of warm welcomes we got. We were greeted by Geoffrey’s wife, Rose, who welcomed us warmly into their tiny living room and served us freshly squeezed passion fruit juice.
Each one of our presences there was acknowledged. Yes, we were a group, but handshakes and introductions from each of us were expected. As we kicked our feet around Geoffrey’s house for a bit hanging out with his adorable children, it was time to head to the Christmas church service.
That feeling I had in Kampala, the safety of our fishbowl completely keeping our skin from being exposed, started to fade as we got closer to the church. I heard children, tens, hundreds of them playing outside the building. They started chasing our mutatu once they saw our faces peeking out of the windows. We got out, and that was it. Hundreds of children’s eyes, all of them dressed in Sunday’s best, staring us down as if we were literally aliens.
(Usually when you arrive late to a service, a movie, or a play, you quietly sit in the back as to not to disturb those around you. When twelve mzungu guests arrive in a Christmas service in the village of Gibuzaale, the service stops, and everyone looks up. The group is then brought to the front two rows of the congregation, and there is a long introduction from each of them, translator included.)
It is a lot to take in for everyone, as every movement is watched and there is no anonymity like there is in the city here. Geoffrey introduced us, and we all introduced ourselves. (See ‘Christmas speech’). Everyone was so welcoming, so I welcomed them back into my home. No one else from our group had done that yet, and it was about time we showed some hospitality back. It was amazing how every single person we approached welcomed us. I can’t even explain. “You are welcome. You are welcome in our home.”
(I had later figured out we arrived two hours late to their service.) Three hours later of sitting on a hard wooden chair squished between two group members, we had seen and heard the lugisu Christmas service, offered our shillings, seen a goat being auctioned off and given some children our sweets and candies.
Another brilliant gift one of the students brought was bubbles, about 6 small colorful bottles of them (other gifts were silly bandz, chocolate coins, lolipops, and jolly ranchers). We were sitting around Geoffrey's yard under their tent (after which it had rained and gotten the back of my shirt all wet from the leaky holes). The bubbles were brought out and I immediately grabbed a bottle to play with the kids. I ran over to the road where a lot of children were playing, and of course they noticed me approaching. I told them to come closer, opened the bubbles and started blowing them. All I got after a few bubble blowings later were cocked eyebrows and a giant “WTF?” The little ones came closer and I showed them how to pop them. I frantically kept going until they understood it was a harmless, entertaining idea. That’s when the best part of my whole trip began.
More students came by with their bottles and the kids really started getting into the bubbles. They all started laughing and chasing the bubbles, igniting the laughter inside of me. I gave the bottle to one of the kids to try… I had to document this. I started taking pictures of the kids, and decided to show them what they looked like through the camera. I showed them one photo and the laughter roared. Twenty more times of taking pictures, showing them, and laughing ignited this huge euphoria inside of me.
It was time for food. Rose and the kids prepared an amazing meal of chapatti, beans, peas, turkey, beef, chicken, rice, matoke (and some bottles of their yummy soda Krest and Stoney) that was to be eaten by fingers. It was a spectacular meal. It was an excellent alternative to Christmas in Chicago, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else that day.
It was after delicious African tea and cake at the deacon’s house, more welcoming and socializing with the village locals (including kids our age, all at the university in Kampala), it really hit me how real this trip was that evening. I had spent summer mornings in Brookfield, told the story to family members and friends about this IPRO project, and spent two semesters working on the project with no knowledge of what life was like in Uganda. The lives of us students and the farmers we have pictures of up at our campus coffee shop finally collided. We rely on each other to live, us drinking their coffee. We were sitting in their home, practically holding hands after being half a world away (three long flights and a long mutatu ride). It was unreal, and I was again, happy as can be. We were halfway there, the more important half of this project.
(My Christmas speech:)
My name is Rebecca, I’m an architecture student. I’ve dreamed of coming to Africa my whole life, and it is even more beautiful than in my dreams. Thank you for being so welcoming, you all are welcome in my home. Wanala Nabi and Merry Christmas
Saturday, January 8, 2011
We left early for Mbale the next morning, which was probably my favorite day just because of the drive. As a daydreamer, I love long car rides, especially in a van with a large amount of people (road trip?!). It was in that car ride I felt the happiest I’d been in my life as of yet. It was the group, the scenery, the fact I was completely relaxed and had nothing to worry about but still knee deep in this banda project. I was in AFRICA! The wind was blowing in my hair, and I was listening to really good music. It was that moment that every bit of hard work I had done all year, my whole life, was completely worth it. I can’t even explain in words, but it was perfect.
I observed the scenery of an English countryside mixed with a jungle. We passed by endless amounts of earth houses constructed of mud, cement, sticks, bricks, hatched roofs. African people are so ORGANIC. They are earthly, and they are completely grounded with the planet. They wake up to survive, with not much money at all (compared to us) no smart phones, computers, purses, basically our “necessities”. The children are the most breathtaking beings I have ever seen. They walk around their homes with no agenda but to grow a day older, and enjoy the sunlight to light their day and only a candle lights their night. I would give anything for their simple, non materialistic way of life.
Our lunch was spent in Jinja, at the source of the Nile River in Uganda. The group split about 7 deep fried tilapias, eyeballs included. It was hard to watch as I don't eat much fish, but yes, I did try it at least. There were more craft markets to explore about, but just breathing in the air near the Nile River was enough for me. Oh also, monkeys are Ugandas squirrels. The people were laughing at my "MONKEYS!" comments as it's such a rarity at home.
After our drive into Mbale, we pulled up to a hotel. Mbale was a lot less busy than Kampala, but an extremely cute town. Each student had their own single bedroom with a bed, mosquito net (or princess canopy), toilet and shower. I was fortunately blessed with a full sized bed compared to others. We ate dinner at an indian restaurant (in a room with about 3 other white groups) which was yummy. Good food and good company.
Overall it was a great Christmas Eve.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Written by Becca Waterloo
(the start of many long entries)
The smells are...different; that was the first observation I made the minute I stepped off of the airplane. I knew I was somewhere new because of how dark it was outside, too. The airport was tiny and we were really some of the only white people there. Getting to the hostel, we loaded into a dust covered van and drove on the left side of the road in the dark. We passed by guards after climbing up a driveway (hill). A man named Freddy was extremely hospitable to us, the first of hundreds of Ugandans during our few days there. He immediately handed our dehydrated, jet lagged bodies some beers and water. Our hostel was an open flow of air, which compliments the Uganda equatorial weather. I noticed later that I was never in a closed off space; they are so passive about their air there. It was addicting.
We were given a room with twelve bed cubbies to wrap up in, each of us protected in a netted entrance to our beds. Oh yeah, we were also given a couple of squatting toilets (or “eco toilets”).
Waking up after about 5 hours was hard, but worth it with our curiosity to see the city. I still couldn't imagine what Kampala would be like. We took a twelve seat passenger van back down the hill and the daylight exposed the light brown dirt ground with uneven streets, tons of Ugandans walking down the street, bodas, and vans cutting each other off with their horns. Bodas had three people on them, 12 stacked chairs, a refrigerator... The air was filled with diesel fuel and smog, filling my lungs, making it difficult to breathe already. We pulled closer into the city where bodas and people were passing directly outside our mutatu, selling things or just staring into our fishbowl. It was then I actually started to panic. I didn’t see one white person in a crowd of thousands of Ugandan locals. After a couple of days you learn to be careful with whatever you're doing, as there are more eyes on you than you think. To experience this feeling constantly would be hard. We were counting down to the moment all twelve of us would get out of our fish bowl and get into the streets of Kampala.
It takes so much coordination to walk in that city. Things to stay attentive to:
-entrepenuers selling things
-pick pocketers (unfortunately)
-people yelling out MZUNGU! and sometimes grabbing your arm.
It was quite terrifying, and shocking. We had a buddy system though, as our pace had to keep up with the city's. All of it was hard, trying to keep up in the crowd while inhaling the fuel and the heat, coming from 0 – 30 – 60 into 80 degree weather. I think Jake took us there on purpose to give us that shock. It for sure worked; I could never see myself living in Kampala. Definitely Mbale though, I'll get to that soon.