Monday, June 29, 2009

Fat Bastard Feast on Arrival

Traveling is exhausting.

Traveling for two days is doubly exhausting.

As the professor, I feel as though I have to be on top of things at all times. Thank God, I have the best students. If I falter, they are professional and will take up the slack.

I am older than the students and I get tired. I am a morning person and don't like to be up late. I need my eight hours of sleep. I also need food or I am a cranky son of a gun.

Three of us went on the trip last year, Zach, Lindsay and me. We had two new SBU students - Andrew and Lauren - and one student tagging along through Both Your Hands - Katie. We all knew each other quite well, but didn't know Katie. We hoped she was cool and mature and we were right. She turned out to be an excellent addition to our team. In fact, I would like her to be one of my students. Very bright and passionate.

Those of us who went on the trip were trying to describe the reception we would receive when we landed. It turns out that is an impossible task. Talk as we could, paint whatever picture we could, nothing really prepares one for the greeting at every turn.

Hugs and shouts and noises of all kinds greeted us. I found myself doing things I never do at home. I am not a hugger, generally, and I certainly don't make squealing noises when I see people I haven't seen in a year. But in Uganda, that changes. I find myself squealing and hugging and jumping up and down. Thank God I am wearing a sturdy bra!

Mr. Fred and his wife, Anne, and son, Joelle, along with Young Fred, his cousin, and some other folks greet us at the airport. Our reliable taxi driver from last year - Alex - is our official transportation assistant. I marvel at how the men are able to jam all of our luggage into the back of the taxi van and then fit all of us in the taxi. I do find myself saying that if fewer people greeted us at the airport, it wouldn't be such a tight squeeze, but that would dampen the enthusiasm of our greeters and hosts. It is not he first time I feel as though we are on display.

Mr. Fred has arranged for a fabulous meal at our hotel. We arrive in time to settle into our rooms for the evening and partake in this grand feast. He makes sure all of the Ugandan staples are there - matoke (steamed bananas), chicken, potatoes, cabbage, and ground nuts. I also seem to remember fresh fruit. Yummy! I devoured it as if I hadn't eaten in weeks.

Truth be told, we were fed quite well on the planes, but I don't generally turn down food. In fact, I didn't remember that food in Uganda was this good.

Turns out, this may as well have been my last supper.

About Africa 2009 - FINALLY

I have been home nearly a month from Uganda and have yet to write about my trip. This post should come after all the others. Writing and blogging while in Uganda is almost a fruitless effort. Getting online is painful. Trying to post to the blog, wrenching.

That said, I did take notes and did write posts by hand. Imagine the horror of writing with a pen on paper! What would my students say?

I find myself sitting in my zen room in my home with my calendar and my notes ready to write in this blog. I will alter the posts to reflect the date/time of the notes even though they are all written today (in theory).

To get in the mood, I am wearing my African-inspired caftan I picked up while in Uganda. It is long, billowy and comfortable. It is not sexy. But it does have my favorite colors - orange and black - and does have cool patterns on it.

And it was hand made.....

...Indonesia.

By Lady Farah Cactus.

That's what is written on the tag!

I don't know what lady Farah Cactus is. I am guessing the textile house. We'll see if we find it on the NY or Milan runways next season.

So let's head to Uganda.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stuffing myself like a bear getting ready for winter hibernation

The days leading up to our departure are filled with making sure I have what I need. Sunscreen, bug spray, shampoo, tissues, pills, books, paper, you name it.

I also found myself eating everything in sight.

Last year I didn't know what to expect in terms of food. Having gone to China the year before that (two years ago), I thought the food would blow me away much as it did then. The food in China is amazing!

The food in Uganda sucks.

Toward the end of the trip last year, I remember the students and I were talking about all the foods we missed from home. And when I got home, I remember eating all the foods I missed. I also remembered that I lost five pounds last year on the trip. That was good news considering that I was trying to lose weight. I thought I would lose weight again this year and welcome it. But I wanted to make sure I fattened up before I left.

Sure enough, I gained about 5 pounds before I left. That should pad me well enough.

I also wanted to remember to bring things I knew I would need like pepper. Pepper is a spice I use at nearly every meal and on nearly all my food. They don't have pepper in Uganda. I went through withdrawal last year and I had no intention of doing the same this year. Pepper was packed.

And I was ready to board the plane!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Time Flies

How i wish i could pull days closer so that the months run very fast so you come soon ha ha

That was a statement in an email I received from our contact in Uganda - Mr. Fred. I had told him that we would be returing in May/June and that May/June wasn't that far away. Time flies and we would be there sooner than later.

I just love that statement. It's poetic.

I posted this comment on TippyKayak also. I thought it should go here considering we are traveling to Uganda again. Not too far away!

The students also want to take a trip after the work in Uganda is complete. They want to go to Cairo. Since I have never been, and they asked, I agreed to join them. Several students want to continue after that also, but I do have to get home at some point. But, if I am in Africa, I may as well travel in Africa. It makes sense to me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We are dumb

We had the incredible opportunity of speaking with students in their classrooms. The classrooms are much as you would imagine if you ever watched Little House on the Prairie as a child or caught it on cable now.

Except they are just seats. There are no desks. Students have little pencil cases to carry their pencils, pens, erasers, whatever else would need to be carried. And, if they were orphans, had a key around their neck to lock the cases away in their trunks. The trunks also contained their clothes. Some of the students had a pair of shoes. Some had uniforms. Some had more than one shirt or more than one pair of shorts/pants or a skirt. Some had one and some didn't have shoes.

And I complain when I can't find the right shirt to wear with one of my numerous pairs of pants. And then I struggle with the appropriate or inappropriate shoes to wear, depending on the look I am going for.

The students write in blue book-like booklets with their pencils. And they write on their laps. And they are intrigued and ready to learn.

They have so many questions for us. It blew my mind to think about the things our students might ask. I can't imagine that any of them would have nearly the insight or the inquisitive nature of these students. I may be selling them short, but you tell me. A sampling of some of the questions (My abilities were challenged by trying to explain the answers to people for whom English is a second language. I was quite proud of myself.):
-Why are we black and you are white (try explaining this one)?
-Do you have AIDS in America?
-Do people steal your children? (I thought they meant kidnapping, but apparently, some tribes in Uganda still practicing the ancient religions will steal orphans and sacrifice them in an effort to improve something like their business or their lives in some way.)
-What do you eat (well we don't eat banana mash)?
-Have you been to the moon?
-If black albinos are white, are white albinos black?
-Do we have jiggers? (They are awful bugs that burrow into your feet and lay eggs that later hatch.)
-What is the difference between a lunar and solar eclipse?
-What is the largest river in America?
-Who is running for president and who do we support?
-Who is your president?
-What is your clan? (Each person in Uganda is a member of a clan. Clans have different names, usually of animals. I will have a separate post dealing with clans because they are cool.)
-What is the largest animal in America? They were shocked that we did not have elephants running around as they do in Uganga.
-What is the capital of the U.S.? They were shocked to learn it was not NYC. Ah, geography.

One rather astute boy earned the nickname "radio boy." He listened to BBC radio and had many questions:
-Are we creating people in America? (Explain cloning to someone who understands English. Explain it to someone just learning. Yeah, I should have gotten an award.)
-What is America going to do to prevent the meteor from hitting Earth in 2012? (Another student wanted to know if we would all be alive after 2012 and if should continue in school if we were all going to die in 2012.)

His questions were challenging and comical, in a sense. When we were asked about jiggers he raised his hand. I thought to myself, Jesus, do you want me to dry a diagram of the life cycle of a jigger on the board for you?

But as a professor, I should love the inquisitiveness. And I do. It just took me by surprise because I wasn't expecting it.

But I liked it.

And I said to the students afterward, Natty World seems to have some importance now, doesn't it? They asked quite a few science questions. What would you have done if we weren't all there with various degrees of experience?

I didn't think I would need to study to go to Uganda. But I better read my old texts and check out my old notes.

Of course I have them. What else would I do with them? Throw them out?

Perish the thought.

Hit a cyclist, score a point

We hit three cyclists while we were in Uganda.

Don't panic. No one was hurt.

Apparently that's as normal as buying milk and eggs for us.

Driving is menacing in Uganda. I don't know how more people are not killed.

We clipped three cyclists - just their handlebars. The fact that I am able to justify that makes me wonder just how acclimated I got.

The cyclists weren't the least bit phased.

And we grew less concerned.

The first man we hit, we pulled over for. Our driver made sure he was okay. I guess yelling at him for riding his bicycle into the taxi was his way of insuring he was okay. One of our guests in the taxi-van that day lamented about the irresponsibility of some cyclists. I laughed in that uncomfortable way you do when you are caught off guard. You aren't expecting someone to say something so crude, yet you wonder since you are in a different country with its own set of rules and norms if somehow I am overthinking the fact that we ran down an old man on a bicycle.

I say nothing to her and inquire as to the health of the cyclist. Turns out he is okay.

The second and third men were riding their bikes close to the van. There is no way to describe how close they were to the van. If I had the window open, I could have kissed them on the mouth without lifting my bum off of my seat. We clipped them likely trying to avoid a collision with a taxi-van coming in the other direction.

By the third, it was like hitting a pothole.

Frightening.

Bring a good sports bra....

Driving in Uganda...

I don't even know where to begin.

Yes I do.

Have you see photos in National Geographic Magazine (NatGeo to those of us cool enough to collect the magazines and that's me - super cool) of women in Africa? Of course, the photos are of naked women and are probably the first nude ladies young American boys see.

The boobs hang to the waist.

Some people have said it's because they don't have the support of a good underwire or don't know Victoria's Secret (her secret, by the way, is that women need to pay a bazillion dollars for silk panties).

I know the real reason.

Women drive around on the roads in Uganda without benefit of a really good sports bra.

I thought I was going to whack myself in the face with my breasts everytime we got in our car or taxi. My breasts are not huge, but they have some bounce and they certainly have more now.

People may think I am jesting. Indeed, I am not. I found myself holding my chest (not in a lewd way) to keep the sisters in place. And I wear good underthings! I have no trouble in the U.S. keeping the sisters strapped in with my boob seatbelt, but Africa was a different matter altogether.

I might make the cover of the next NatGeo issue in which they highlight tourists in Africa. My boobs will be hanging to my belly button.

And then I would have to run around topless, I guess.