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

Workin' it

I've realized that a lot of the information I communicate about my experience here has to do with culture, climate, and friends. All of which are very important. I realize, however, that I haven't really said a whole lot about my work. There is a reason for this: I have found it very difficult, and at times frustrating, to work in Uganda. I really really want to work, to feel useful and helpful, and sometimes that is just impossible. Africa moves at a different pace. A more relaxed pace, to say the least. So some days, many days, I spend my time reading, cooking, talking to neighbors, etc. I also sometimes doubt the effectiveness of the work I am doing--there are no instant results and it is hard to judge long term success/failure. Those frustrations voiced, I am in fact working!! And some of the work has been really good.

For one, I try to encourage schools to teach their kids life skills, those essential things such as self-esteem, assertiveness, and problem solving. I helped two schools to create life skills clubs. About 60 kids at each school meet once a week after classes to play games, do art projects, and talk with each other in a way intended to develop their life skills. I have found that it is difficult for the teachers to do these kinds of activities with the children. Ugandan teachers feel most comfortable teaching facts, lecturing, and testing children to gauge their "knowledge." But there are no right answers when you are talking about peer pressure, and the children only benefit if they are active participants, rather than passive listeners. So, it is a major change in style for the teachers. And it is extra work for them, which means there are some motivation problems. The club is no longer functioning at one of the schools. The teacher I was working with at that school failed to lead the club or even attend, meaning I was leading it every week without him. I had to make a decision: Do I keep leading the club, because the kids like it and might benefit? Or do I stop the club, because by continuing to lead it I am sending a message to Ugandan teachers that others will do their work for them? I stopped leading the club, which I think is a good choice in the long run, though maybe not so good in the short.

Here are kids in the life skills club playing a team-building game with their teacher.

Here the children are drawing rainbows that tell about the things they like to do, their families, and their values.

Another focus of my work has been a literacy project. With help from you all at home (amazing, wonderful, touching, inspiring help from home!) I have been able to introduce children's story books to teachers at two schools. Friends and family have donated over 300 books to this project, so in the coming term I will be able to include another school as well. Right now, the books are being used by seven teachers in six classrooms. And the kids love it!!!! Most of them have never read a story book before. For now, the teachers are using a method called free reading. This method, very familiar to most of us in America, but new and challenging here, allows each child to chose a book they are interested in and read it. Simple, right? Wrong. The teachers are not used to giving children independence and freedom in their learning, and the children are not used to having it. So it takes some practice. Next term I'll help the teachers to begin using the books in other ways as well. I hope to take some pictures of the children reading soon, so keep an eye out for them.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

New address

From here on out I am going to be using a new mailing address. Don't worry if you just sent something to the old address, I will still be able to get it. But from now on please send any mail for me to:

Brett Snyder
P.O. Box 5835
Kampala, Uganda

Thanks to everyone who has sent letters or packages--I get so excited when I hear from you!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm soooooo National Geographic

Mommy came to visit!!!! It was great, great, great! Ugandan culture is very welcoming and hospitable so all of the friends and colleagues I've made here were absolutely ecstatic to meet her (and greet her, they LOOOOVE to greet in Uganda). Check out some of the fun experiences she had in my home sweet home Naddangira, Uganda.
Upon arrival she was given a chicken by my neighbor as a welcoming gift.

Then, of course, we ate it. But we had to catch it first, and I'll be damned if those things aren't fast! But as you can see, we prevailed in the end--with a little help from some local children and my neighbor Daisy (pictured above).

Mama Brett (as everyone here called her throughout her stay) also got to meet my counterpart, Lukman, and his son, Rahman.
And she got to hold a million adorable babies, most of them not wearing any pants!

Aside from hanging around my place in Uganda we also went on a safari in Tanzania. AMAZING sights (Thanks Mom!!!). We went to Tarangire National Park, Ngorngoro Crater, and the Serengeti. It was very Ernest Hemingway. I'm also pretty sure National Geographic would hire me if they got the chance, just check out my vivid and action-packed nature photography skills.

But now vacation time is over and schools are back in session. This term I started after school life skills clubs at two of the primary schools I work with. Life skills are all those general abilities we need to lead happy and healthy lives, such as confidence, self-esteem, assertiveness, critical thinking, etc. Life skills can be built through games, art, discussion, role-playing, and a million other activities, so the kids should have some fun with it aside from it's learning benefits. I go once a week to each school and meet with about 60 or 70 kids. The age range varies, but I would say most of them are approximately 11-13 years old. The club is only in it's second week, so I cannot really report too much on it's success or challenges so far. Although, I can tell it will take a little time for the kids to understand the way I am teaching. Children here are used to being asked strictly factual questions. All questions asked in class have a distinct yes or no answer, rather than being based on opinion or personal experience. So when I ask children, "How do you think you'd feel if....." or "Can you remember a time when...." it is a complete paradigm shift! I have gotten very used to awkward silences following my questions (although part of that might be attributable to my accent and the fact that English is these kids' second language!). I'll keep at it though, because I think they will get used to it sooner or later, and I hope they will be in some way better for it.

What did you do this weekend?

Going to the market, fetching water from the borehole, getting hair braided at the salon, cooking on the charcoal stove.....a regular old Peace Corps weekend.