Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The End

I have an announcement to make. Drum roll please...................

My two years have come to an end! I've moved out of my house and left the village of Naddangira. I feel happy, sad, excited, apprehensive, proud, nostalgic, confused, optimistic and a lot of other things that I cannot even put a name to. At the same time, I think I am still in shock and haven't truly realized that I am leaving Uganda. After two years here it is hard to imagine how different my life will be once I leave. It makes my brain hurt a little just to think about it. So I'm just trying not to think too much.
The last few months have been very busy as I tried to tie up loose ends and complete my projects, as well as saying goodbye to my friends and colleagues here in Uganda. But at the end of it all, everything was finished in time, including:


The "library" before we began. This room was not being used, except for storing a few musical instruments and old shoes (I don't know why they had old shoes, mystery to me).

The shelves, which were built by the first grade teacher, a carpenter, and myself, reusing lumber from broken desks and chairs.

Me, painting.
Some of the books, organized and labelled!

Teachers and a student working in the library to make instructional materials.


The library, with students peeking in at the windows.

A teachers showing her colleagues how to use some of the library materials.


The building in its original state, with children inside learning.


The Headmaster and the finished building.

Parents gathered for the official opening of the new building.

The thing that is hardest about leaving is leaving the people that have cared for my while I've been here. Everyone, from the women in the market selling food to the Principal of the Primary Teachers' College, has asked me, "Okomyewo ddi?"--"When are you coming back?" This is such a hard question to answer. I sincerely hope that I will one day be able to come back to Uganda and visit--no, I KNOW I will one day return to visit--but who knows when. And who knows who I will find still in my village. I may never see some of my Ugandan friends again. But enough of the sad side, I feel confident that I will keep in touch with some of my friends in Uganda, and even if we lose touch they have changed me forever.

My counterpart Lukman and schools I have been working with came together to organize a farewell celebration for me. It was thoughtful and touching and I feel so grateful to have spent two years in the Naddangira community. These people took care of me and welcomed me in a way I cannot explain! Saying goodbye was hard, but at the same time I felt good.

Kazibwe Joseph, the Headmaster of St. Pius Primary School, at my farewell ceremony.

Me accepting a gift of sugar cane from some of the children.

A few of the students of St. Pius say goodbye!

The teachers of St. Pius

The women I live with
(from top left:Nakayiza, Carol, Julie, Betty;
from bottom left: Annet, Siza, Rita, and Letishia).

My going away party at my house.
This was the awkward-dance-party segment of the evening.
Me and Lukman's family (from top left:Rayan, Hajirah, Josephine, Baby Riyaz, Me, Lukman; from bottom left, ____, Rahman)

I will leave Uganda on May 15th. I plan to travel in Malawi and Mozambique before returning to the US on June 17th. Get ready.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Cut it!...Imbalu Ceremony

Uganda is made up of approximately 50 different tribes (thanks colonialism!). Of course there are a number of similarities between the tribes, but there are also a lot of cultural differences. Language is a big one--there are something like 47 different languages spoken in Uganda!

The Bugisu tribe, found in the far east of the country near Mount Elgon on the Kenya border, is unique among Ugandan peoples in that it performs a circumcision ritual for all men. For a Gisu (the singular form of Bugisu) boy to enter manhood they MUST be circumcised. Publicly. The age at which the boy is circumcised varies, but it usually takes place somewhere between 14-18 years. The ceremony is a rite of passage and celebration, and there is a lot of pride attached to it's successful completion. Basically, it's a pretty big deal.

So, of course, I had to see a Bugisu circumcision ceremony: the Imbalu.

I went with my friend Dan to his colleague Tadaeu Mabonga's village. Mabonga's sons and nephew were getting circumcised and he invited us to come witness the ceremony and participate in the celebration. The ceremony actually takes place over the course of three days, with the actual circumcision happening on the third day. The first two days are mainly a series of dances and processions that mentally and physically exhaust the boys (probably so they're too tired to panic at the last minute and try to escape the knife!). On the third day they're smeared with a yeast mixture and dressed traditionally in beads the goat skin. Then they lead a procession of their family and friends around the village singing and dancing. At the end of the procession the friends, family, and neighbors gather around in a big mob, the boys standing on a cloth in the middle. Then a "trained" village man uses a big, big knife to cut off a rather large piece of foreskin. And viola!!! The boy has become a man! I've included some pictures below, although I did not post any of the more graphic shots. But it was an incredibly graphic experience.

The setting of the Mabonga's village.

Mabonga (right with the plastic sack) smearing his nephew with yeast.

The three initiates.

Now, you may be wondering what all the spectators do throughout the three days of this ceremony. Mainly they sit around drinking malwa, a locally brewed beer. Malwa is made from maize or millet and it's pretty chunky, and tastes a bit like I imagine dirty socks would. But it's a very social activity--everyone sits around the pot or bucket of alcohol and passes drinking straws around--and it's what I did from most of the two days I was at the ceremony. Of course I got pretty horrible uh, ...stomach issues, afterwards. But it was totally worth it.
Me drinking malwa with Mabonga and a neighbor.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lovely Lamu

The second week of December I took an amazing little vacation to Kenya. The goal: Lamu, a beautiful Swahili island about 7 hours (by bus) North of Mombasa. Gorgeous and amazing.

Yes, the water actually is this color. And it's warm! And yes, it is December!

On Lamu donkeys are the main mode of transport and transporting goods around the island.

A bunch of the noble beasts eating a huge trash heap.

Old architecture, old man, pink flowers.

Lamu is known for its intricately carved door frames such as this one.

Man making coconut jewelry, with donkeys who kept trying to eat the coconuts.

The market.

A dhow.

Ryan and I on a dhow that took us sailing, fishing, and snorkling.

It's the people that make the place

As my time here in Uganda begins to draw to a close (I'm coming home in May!!!) I have been thinking about what has really impacted me about this experience. You know, reflecting and all that emotional insight stuff. I have realized that the most rewarding thing for me is just having connected with different Ugandans. I don't want to be negative, but I do want to be honest, so I must say that work can be frustrating: I feel like I'm not really making an impact or that I am not doing enough when it seems there is so much that needs to be done. But despite that frustration, my friendships and the cultural exchange associated with them is what really has made everything worthwhile.

The person I feel closest to in Uganda is my counterpart, the Ugandan I work with, Lukman Kirya. He is a great great guy with an adorable, welcoming, and friendly family. My connections with Lukman and his family are the center point of my joy at being here in Uganda. Their acceptance of me and desire to include me in their lives is what has made this last year and a half such an amazing experience!!!

A few highlights of my inclusion in Lukman's Family:
  • Having a volleyball competition with a few other PCVs, Lukman, his wife Josephine, and his cousin Bruhan. Lukman and Josephine both killed at volleyball! It was great seeing them joke and compete with each other, as a lot of Ugandan couples maintain a very formal and gender divided front.
  • Lukman and Josephine eating thanksgiving dinner with me last year. They loved the American food!!! Josephine was super super pregnant with their third child at the time--I thought she might pop!
  • Being a bride's maid in Esther's (Lukman's cousin) wedding. I had to wear an awesome 90's-prom-style dress, complete with sparkly rhinestones and a full bottle of hairspray in my hair. Esther, her husband, and their three beautiful children are wonderful, welcoming people, and my friendship with them is now forever immortalized in the wedding picture I am in that is hanging on their living room wall!
  • Janat Gimbo (Lukman's sister) picking my mom up from the airport in the middle of the night when she visited. She also escorted us back to the airport after my mom's visit!!!
  • Lukman's mom weaving my mom a grass mat as a gift.
  • Spending the night at Beatrice Kiwalabye's (Lukman's aunt) house after attending a raging Ugandan party she was throwing

Most recently, I have been involved in two important family functions with Lukman and his family. First, Lukman and his wife Josephine had their Introduction Ceremony, which is when the bride's family meets the groom's family and dowry is negotiated and paid. For this ceremony we had to travel to Kenya, as Josephine is Kenyan and her family still lives there. We started planning the ceremony in September, having weekly or bi-weekly family meetings to discuss the budget, raise money for the dowry, and generally organize everything. Then, on December 6th, we travelled with 50 of Lukman's friends, family, and colleagues to Eldoret, Kenya to "buy" his wife! Below is Lukman's brother (left), Lukman (center), and I (self explanatory) after the Introduction Ceremony. For formal wear that Ugandan men wear is a long dress called a kanzu with a coat over top, while women were the silly dress with big shoulders and huge sash that I have on, which is called a gomez.

Here is me before the ceremony preparing to carry part of the dowry in on my head, as is traditional for women to do.

The second family function that I attended recently was a funeral rites ceremony (kind of like a memorial ceremony) for Lukman's deceased grandfather and aunts. For this ceremony we travelled to the Eastern area of Uganda, to the Bugisu region where Lukman's mother is from. I travelled to the village on my own, Lukman having gone a day early. He said that when he arrived the first question he got from everyone was "Where is Nakayiwa (my Ugandan name)?!" Being so far from home and the comforts of friends and family it is hard to express how touched I am to have been fully embraced by this family to the extent that it is just assumed I will be with them at any important event. At this ceremony the family also gave me a name from the Bugisu tribe, as Nakayiwa is from the Buganda tribe. So I am now Nakayiwa Wabule Brett! They make a big deal out of names here as each belongs to a tribe, but also within that tribe to a specific clan--i actually met the head of the Wabule clan while I was at the ceremony! He was very excited to have a muzungu clan member! Below (left to right) is Lukman, a cousin, aunt Beatrice, and wife Josephine.

After the formal part of the ceremony, the gathering turned into a big party to drink locally brewed alcohol, called malwa. You drink it through a long straw with a sieve on the end, because it is chunky with the millet it is brewed using. People will sit ALL day drinking it, hence the gargantuan bucket.

Aside from my relationship with Lukman's family, I also enjoy socially interacting with a few of the teachers I work with. I went to the market at the same time as one teacher the other day and she was so excited that she held my hand the whole time and was just so proud to be with me. I had a birthday party and seven or eight the teachers came and had a great time. I made them sish-kebabs, which they had never tasted before and they really enjoyed. One teacher proclaimed that he was changing the name from sish-kebab to delish-kebab! So many people in the community I live in are also wonderfully friendly and warm. There's a little old man who lives in my village who only speaks to me in Luganda. I only understand like 10% (tops!) of what he's saying, but he gives me things from his garden and wants me to teach him how to bake corn bread. And he always tells me in Luganda when I get confused, "Ojakuyiga, mpola mpola"-- "You will learn, slowly, slowly."

Saturday, August 2, 2008


In luganda "katogo" is a slang term meaning a mixture. Photo katogo...

Food given to me by the 1st grade class as a 'thank you' for reading to them
Curious children
My friend Sylvia and her daughter
Easter dinner at Sylvia's
Amy and I at Murchison Falls

My neighbors in our yard
My neighbor cooking dinner
Vet spaying my cat on my living room floor (scary!)
Empty classroom
Handing out school attendance awards

Head teacher addressing the students
Children practising traditional instrumental music
School dance competition
More dancing